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Exercising Empathy

“Every fool knows the ocean contains a drop of water. It takes a wise person to understand that a drop of water also contains the ocean.”

I cannot count the times I’ve heard Zivorad say this. My understanding of this simple aphorism continues to unfold and expand. Turning over on itself, it recently sounded loud in my mind when I read a Facebook post from my friend and fellow social worker, Susan Bryant, on Why Race Matters.

In the context of our current political polarization, I often receive the question, how do we use AAIT with THIS? Aside from inviting an exploration of the shadow, I’ve been a bit at a loss. I KNOW that doing our deliberate practice has an impact on our state of being. What I don’t know is how that impacts those around us.

Clients often report that they will address some problem and their people lighten up about that same issue. Several years ago there was an experiment in Washington, DC. What began with a group of 800 meditators climbed to 4000 by the end of the month-long study. The upshot is that crime hit a steep decline, 23.3% during the month-long experiment.

My thinking here is that the more of us who can own and end the trance of our collective shadowed tendencies the better for all of us. Maybe there is a tipping point and each of us doing internal investigations into our collective shadow could make a difference.

When I read Susan’s post, I glimpsed at an opportunity to explore the wound of racism through this aphorism moving from the macro to the micro, stretching my capacity for empathy. Before even beginning, I recognized that I was unwilling to empathize with a white supremacist. Being willing to assume the point of view of another is the very heart of empathy. When I tried, I bumped up against a hardness in my heart – they don’t DESERVE empathy. That was a bit of a surprise.

How many of us withhold empathy when we don’t think someone deserves it? How does conditional empathy impact our clients and their relationships?

The first step in my empathy stretch was to integrate deserving empathy / not deserving empathy. I used the universal process for integrating universal polarities (students in the Essentials Training learn this process). Then I felt a bit more willing. The conditionality I had unconsciously placed around empathy softened and I found myself more able to peak through to the Being behind the supremacy.

Thinking of a white supremacist, I still had a kinesthetic and emotional response of disgust. To keep stretching my capacity for empathy, I investigated what exactly do I find disgusting? There’s a lot I find disgusting, but the biggest energy was around superiority. I could see my shadow here. I decided to work with this using what Zivorad calls the “crown jewel” of Spiritual Technology, Deep PEAT. PEAT stands for Prime Energy Activation and Transcendence. It is one of the methods students in the Fellowship Training Group learn. Diving through layers of psycho-emotional tension associated with superiority resolved in the integration of innocence and shame.

After this, I felt more willing to assume the point of view of a white supremacist, it no longer felt noxious to me. Though this was not pleasant territory – anger, fear, jealousy — a torrent of dark, pained energy. I’ll keep working with this. I’m white. I’m privileged. There’s more work to do, even though a part of me wonders if it is even worth my time. I know the benefit to me personally. I don’t know the impact on the macro. I don’t know if there’s a tipping point of people working in a variety of ways to heal the wounds of racism. Yet, what if the Washington, DC meditation experiment is on to something?

We know there are people who disagree strongly with us. For me, some of those people are white supremacists. We are NOT on the same page. People ask, how can we use AAIT to address —- fill in the blank of some awful thing we find ourselves challenged with on a social level.

What comes up for you when you consider taking the POV of a white supremacist or some other person with whom you strongly disagree? Do you have conditions around your empathy? What role do you think conditional empathy is playing in the lives of your clients?