We have two ways of thinking about the world. One way is separate and egocentric where the world happens to you, and the other is connected and impersonal where only experience exists. The first produces patterned thinking and repetition based on past experience, the latter produces authentic, original ideas. It is helpful for us to know that when we’re in the ego-state we’re inclined toward a process of equalization.
We Human Beings have ways in which we are smart that we don’t fully understand. As an animal we’re reading more cues than we’re consciously aware of. We’ve added a lot of egocentric evaluation to these senses so we’re confused regarding what we’re supposed to do with the information available.
I’m not sure if you saw the recent articles about the studies in European theatres, but using sensors researchers recorded audiences watching the same 100 films and they collected the scents from the pheromones that people exhaled in their breath during the movie and because everyone’s breath was essentially the same, they got a sort of scent/emotional fingerprint of each film.
As the audience’s emotions shifted during the story so did their pheromones. It got to the point where they researchers could put the sensor on you, have you watch a film, and just by watching your pheromones they knew precisely which of the 100 films you were watching! Now science just found that out, but you can bet that you’ve known it in a subtle way all of your life. This is how a dog knows if you’re nervous.
We all know if we’re relaxed and aware that it’s not hard to tell if someone’s displaying a false emotion. False pain, false fear, false anger. We don’t know how we know, we just sense that the person’s faking. Now think about how that comes into play when it’s time for empathy.
Someone being sympathetic means they are looking down at us from an emotional distance. They either don’t have the right experiences to fall back on or they choose not to consider them in relation to the other person, but that distance will create a separation that we now know has a scent signature. So the person receiving the sympathy actually knows it’s sympathy, not empathy.
Sympathy is when you’re at the top of a hole in the ground and you look down at someone at the bottom of the pit and you say, “That looks like it sucks.” Empathy is when you jump down in the hole with them, hug them and then say, “Hey, I’m sorry this happened but don’t worry. We’ll sit here until you feel up to it and then I’ll lead you out. I’ve been down here before.” The former smells like bullshit to us and it does not help us because we have not equalized our scents.
You’ve all done this when you’re angry. You’re yelling at your partner, you’re frustrated and you feel isolated and helpless and they sincerely help and help and help. But the sincerity of the help is the issue, because sincere help when you’re in that state just smells like sympathy. So it isn’t until you upset your partner that finally you feel better. Once they blow up too you feel strangely closer and more in alignment and you relax.
Just knowing this can make it less frustrating to us when we catch someone being unhelpful with their own recovery. We get it’s not them being difficult; it’s nature. In an ideal world we won’t drag them down to our low-consciousness separate feeling. When we’re self-aware we can choose to go the opposite direction and try to rise to the better feelings that our partner is offering.
Of course it helps if the partner stoops to meet us halfway but maybe they don’t notice the opportunity so you can’t count on that. We must be grateful when they notice and respond, we must be forgiving when they take a helpful route but one that forgets to align with us, and sometimes they’ll feel just as lousy as us and they’ll be more interested in trying to get you to align with them rather than the other way around. These are all reasonable ways to be human.
Even when we have trouble it is due to our efforts to resolve issues. The layer of language over instinct has created a period of confusion where we have not necessarily aligned our use of words with what really goes on. As time goes on, with things like this blog etc, people will come to understand human nature much better and if they do that improved relations are inevitable.
If your partner is struggling and you can feel they’re trying to get you to join them in low consciousness, don’t get defensive. Don’t demand that they meet you. Do your best to meet them halfway. You’re the strong one: you offer a safe place to rendezvous. They need you. Not to be patient until you blow up, but to be present. Because benign open presence feels like pure love, and it helps basically any situation.
Become more aware of your emotional tone and how it interacts with the people around you. We are animals and we do operate with certain sensory inputs, but that doesn’t mean we can’t process all of that through simple wisdom rather than a complex web of external knowledge. Trust yourself. All you have to do to reconnect with that flow of information is to stop believing that all of the things that are happening around you are happening to you.
Scott McPherson is an Edmonton-based writer, public speaker, and mindfulness facilitator who works with individuals, companies and non-profit organizations locally and around the world.
A serious childhood brain injury lead Scott to spend his entire life meditating on the concepts of thought, consciousness, reality and identity. It made others as strange to him as he was to them. When he realized people were confused by their own over-thinking, Scott began teaching others to understand reality. He is currently CBC Radio Active’s Wellness Columnist, as well as a writer, speaker and mindfulness instructor based in Edmonton, AB where he still finds it strange to write about himself in the third person.