Mirroring and Empathy

I’m finishing my last day of the circling intensive in Austin. I’ve been contemplating empathy.

A lot of times in circling, there’s a blurring distinction that happens between what one person is feeling and what I’m feeling. What the group is sensing and what I’m sensing. How much of it is a projection, how much of it is real? It’s hard to say, maybe impossible.

When someone is going through something it’s possible to tune into them like a radio station. My mirror neurons take them on.. And I can “become” them to some extent. This would be empathy, feeling what they’re feeling.

This is an embodied, physical action. One of my teachers has said, “When the Buddha meets a sad person, the Buddha is sad. When the Buddha meets a lonely person, the Buddha is lonely.”

Once both people are tuned into this same feeling, same “radio station”, you can be in their world and point things out.

Yet, this is not what most people do. Instead, they want to “understand” a person from a mental cognitive point of view. “Oh, you’re this type of person.”

But, what I’m finding with circling is the importance of empathy, to feel where they are at with my body first and foremost. Then I can understand them. It’s still a lingering question how long I need to keep the physical embodiment. But, the less clear or tuned in to how that person is, the more I need to stay with the embodied empathy.

There is this lingering question around burnout. My sense is that this capacity can be developed and trained more and more to be able to hold more and more. And that as long as I stay in presence and awareness instead of reactive, unconscious identification then even the negative, painful emotions don’t have to burn me out and can even energize me and make me feel more alive.

The willingness and surrender to take on another person’s world at this embodied physical level is a willingness and trust to let go of myself. Ultimately, my heart cannot be broken as Junpo would say.


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