No matter who we are, there are only four possible ways we can engage with the world: reacting, resonating, responding, and empathizing. Where we choose to land on this spectrum of action determines our degree of agency, and therefore our humanity.
If I were to write nothing more than reactions to life, I would be showing you that I was at the mercy of the world around me. My practice would not be very detached, and I would be sharing the fact that I had no agency. Reacting to life means my sādhana would be just crisis hopping or pleasure jumping. The five senses would then be the vehicles that guide my practice. I would have no core.
Resonating with the outer environment would show that I still have a lot of work to do disentangling. When we resonate we are vibrating with the world and people around us, like tuning forks playing the same note. Some would say that this is a good thing, but even in this situation we forfeit our agency. We have no control over our reaction. So if we walk into a room with someone who is angry, we will resonate with them. We may think we are “connecting”, but in fact we are only absorbed in our own vibration, as the other person is in theirs. We can’t help anyone when we resonate with them; it’s the equivalent of two people clinging to each other as they both drown. We see this in countless relationships: what draws people together is only the fact that they resonate on a certain frequency, not that they truly connect. Two people drawn together by a shared vibration of self-hatred may believe that they are in love.
The way to use resonating in our practice is to see that when we resonate we have something to learn. The vibration we have can now be acknowledged, and we can work to still it in ourselves. The environment created an opening for the vibration that was already in us. Once we have stilled that vibration and mastered it, we will no longer resonate with others who have it. We will no longer make the mistake of believing we are on the same page as someone else when in fact our vibration is our own.
Responding to life is a recovery of our agency. Here, we are clearly assessing what is in our world and responding consciously and deliberately. We are no longer at the mercy of the world and people around us. Because we are disentangled, we neither react unconsciously nor resonate; we now have the distance to evaluate with discernment. This is where I speak of being with our experience, letting whatever comes up come up, and functioning appropriately on the physical plane. By responding appropriately, we will grind down the ego. Our wrong identification with the non-self is worn down. There is a discipline in our approach to life. We can only respond to someone else’s sadness appropriately when we do not use them as an occasion to wallow in our own sadness; we can then offer real sympathy, not self-indulgence masquerading as sympathy.
To understand true empathy, you have to understand subjectivity. The world in relation to the mind is an object. The mind in relation to the Self is an object. When the world is the object, the mind will appear to be subject. At other times, the mind will be an object. The mind is not self-illuminative. The Self is the only absolute Subject: it is the Perceiver, and can never be perceived. It is the Self of All.
When we empathize, we are in the groundwater of the Heart, and actually feel what someone else feels without resonating. We have not lost ourselves. We know the experience is theirs and not ours; we know it is not who we are. If we were resonating, we would just be feeling our vibration. By surrendering to the Self, we become capable of truly being with others.
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