We’re at Sangha, my Thich Nhat Hanh mindfulness community and we’re starting our mindful walking. One step in front of the other, taking a breath with every step, solidly feeling the ground underneath our feet.
I always love this practice, it slows me down and solidifies me in the support I have from our Earth.
For the last couple of months I practice synchronizing my steps and speed with the person in front of me. A sort of bodily empathy.
“Can I let myself enter fully into the world of his feelings and personal meanings and see these as he does? Can I step into his private world so completely that I lose all desire to evaluate or judge it? Can I enter it so sensitively that I can move about in it freely, without trampling on meanings which are precious to him?” Carl Rogers, “On Becoming a Person”.
This time I walk right behind my husband. It’s enlightening to see where I’m stuck in my dedication to physically understand what it means to walk this Earth as someone else. I notice all kinds of judgments and evaluations come up: “That’s so unique: he drags his feet in a 45° to his other feet, as if he’s waltzing.” “That’s weird: he turns the corner in a 90° angle, as if he is in a military marching band.” “His steps are way too big!”
It reminds me of all the other times when I lose my empathic presence. Where I’m being triggered and focus my attention on my reaction to what someone’s sharing, instead of on their experience.
It usually doesn’t help with the connection, and certainly not with the understanding.
So now what?
- The first step it to acknowledge that I often hear two things at the same time: what they’re saying, and what I’m saying as a reaction to it.
- Then: honor that both voices are worthy of respect and being heard.
- And finally: make a choice what I want to do: pause the interaction and listen to the thoughts in my head first, or pause my inner voices and tell them I will listen to them after my connection to this other person.
When I am in that mindful state of knowing what’s going on within and around me, I can create the greater sense of connection and understanding I want: with myself and with them.
And you, what do you to maintain empathic presence? Let me know: I would love to learn from your experiences.