Do I feel what you feel?

Dr. Charles T. Tart, Mindfulness, Institute of Transpersonal Psychology,

Lecture 3, Part 9 of 13 parts. To start class from beginning, click here.

Student: Is it possible to sense other people’s feelings while you’re doing the exercise?

CTT: Are you?

Student: A little bit. I was just wondering if that’s possible.

CTT: How do you know that they are other people’s feelings?

Student: I have a feeling they are. I don’t know.

(Laughter)

CTT: I would say experiment with that. And there is a good theoretical reason why. I mean, there’s a sense in which, as these bodies come from the factory they already have, what should we call them, empathetic receptors built in to sense what other people are feeling, because the basic human being senses things the same way, has emotional feelings the same way. When we’re caught up in our heads, as we are so much of the time, we’re not very sensitive to what goes on in our bodies.

The analogy I like to use is based on Gurdjieff’s idea of three kinds of brains. An intellectual brain which you’re all familiar with, it talks. Oh boy, does it talk! A body brain, which functions to take in information about you and the reality around you, processes it in its own unique style, and expresses its conclusions as patterns of feeling in the body.

But if you never pay attention to the feelings in your body, it doesn’t matter whether the body brain processes it or not. You don’t get it. So you’ve got an “advisor” that might give up good advice, not infallible advice, but advice. But you have to learn to “listen” to it, to sense its conclusions.

Same way with the emotions, Gurdjieff talked about the emotional brain. That has its own unique style of taking in information about your world and you, and coming to conclusions about and expressing it as emotional feelings. And emotional feelings have very strong body components too.

So again by keeping some attention in your body, in a way you’re training your emotional sensitivity without working directly on it. You may indeed then be picking up, or be becoming more sensitive to, messages that are reflecting how other people are feeling — or sometimes it may be “fooling” you. None of our senses is infallible, so you just have to experiment with getting more sensitive to them. Checking and crosschecking them against other things when that’s feasible, and staying slow and present, like I’m trying to model for you here and now. When I get a little theoretical like that, I have to watch very carefully that I don’t get caught up in the talking brain and forget to sense, look and listen.

Student: I just wanted to respond to that and say that yeah, I believe it’s highly possible. In semiotics, it’s called appropriate (***** unclear in transcript) sense, and it’s important to be able to discern because if one isn’t discerning, one doesn’t know whether they’re experiencing their own emotions or somebody else’s emotions. And somebody else’s emotions can be recognized as different and “foreign.” I think it’s an important thing to understand.

CTT: Yeah. Keep sensing, looking and listening. I started to get a little theoretical there.

(Laughter)

Student: My apologies.

CTT: Yeah. I got to be careful with that. I don’t want you to get the illusion that I know at every moment how well each of you is doing and so I know who’s failing right now. I don’t want that style projected on me.

(Laughter)

But sometimes it’s pretty obvious whether people are in their bodies or getting way up in their heads.

3 comments

  1. Dr Tart, I really like this post. It makes some of what I experience seem within reason somehow. That’s so nice. 🙂

    Does the sort of experience decribed by the student in this post happen quite often when people meditate in groups?

    Is it different meditating in a group than it is being alone? I’ve thought about going to meditation classes. My counselor worries that putting me in a group situation could be a challenge, but it might also be a good thing. I like going to hear live music because people seem to act together when they listen to a band play, rather than just thinking of themselves the way people usually do. It’s like everyones colors touch and almost merge into even prettier colors somehow. Is meditating in a group like that?

  2. “Is it different meditating in a group than it is being alone?”

    I find meditating in a group to be very different than meditating alone. It is much easier. It is easer to be motivated, you are not alone, you see other people doing the same thing – that increase your motivation. It is easer to remain still because of peer pressure – you don’t want people to see you fidget. It is easier to do several consecutive sessions (which we did at the Zen center, but not every class will go on for hours) because you don’t need self-disclipine the group provides the discipline.

    I think it would be great for you to take a meditation class where you will probably meet more non-rigid-skeptic type people who will probably be more open to what you experience. You might even meet another psychic.

  3. Anonymous,

    I don’t really think that I’m a “psychic”, I think I’m probably only as psychic as everybody else is. I maybe just notice it a bit more, that’s all.

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