Memorable Quote: “Ask yourself: what’s the hurt underneath the anger, what’s the vulnerability under the defensiveness, what’s younger, underneath this adult surface?”
Synopsis: In order to treat others well, Rick tells us, we need to understand what is going on with them. We can’t simply treat them with generic kindness; if we want to sustain compassion, we need to cultivate genuine empathy. We need to have that sense in ourselves of what it’s like to be someone else. Rick describes the brain as having three circuits for empathy: one that simulates the actions of others (involving mirror neurons); one that tunes into others’ emotions, that has been shown to grow in meditators’ brains; and those that are meant to discern others’ thoughts, to “read their minds.”
In general, the more we are able to tune into ourselves, the more we will be able to tune into others. We can check to make sure we are paying attention to the other person, with our entire bodies. We can check to make sure we are open to their experience, because if not, we will not be able to receive them. We also need to check if we are judging the other person. We don’t need to agree with someone in order to express empathy for them, but if we are at war with or are disgusted bywith them, the gap may be too wide to bridge with empathy. We may cast this person out of our monastery, our office, or our family; but in order to be genuinely present with them, we cannot cast them out of our hearts.
I like: I found it powerful when Rick connected how closely linked our efforts at self-empathy are to our success at empathizing with others.
I wish: I wish Rick would have stuck more closely to how we empathize with the physical bodies of others; it seems like the core of connection can stem from the recognition that we are all embodied creatures.
More about the Speaker: Rick Hanson, PhD began meditating in 1974 and has practiced in several traditions. A neuropsychologist, writer, and teacher, he co-founded the Wellspring Institute for Neuroscience and Contemplative Wisdom and edits the Wise Brain Bulletin. Read more at rickhanson.net