“I wouldn’t do that if I were you.”
We’ve all been hearing that expression since we were kids. It’s an unquestioned means of cautioning someone against the wrong move. Subtly though, there are issues with what is implied. What we’re really saying with this seemingly harmless little statement is, “If only I could be behind the controls of your life…I’d do a much better job.” Well, you know what, no you wouldn’t, you’d do the exact same job. And if you say otherwise, then you are denying your capacity to understand someone, and sleeping in the cocoon of “knowing better”. If you were them, and you inherited their whole berth of life experiences, their psychophysiology and all of its unique gifts, and their exact place and role in the universe, you would do exactly the same thing.
And it is not even useful to pretend otherwise. Thinking we know better than someone does is not nearly the same growth medium as simply knowing them, as individuals. And not knowing by means of just cold hard data, which can be superficial and deceiving. It’s about seeing beyond the obvious and then sprinkling on some caring and understanding. And on a practical level, this is vital for our credibility. In this most un-humble age where everyone has a sweeping opinion about everything, this will prevent our own from being dismissed as an egoic attempt at self-elevation. As the saying goes: “people want to know that you care before they care what you know.”
What we are talking about here is compassion.
Compassion is a question of capacity. How much of another can you hold within yourself? This is not just a matter of feeling what someone else is feeling, which would be called “empathy” – more of a passive automatic response. To be compassionate, you don’t need to worry about whether you have this “empathic” disposition you keep hearing people invoke to ascribe specialness to their existence. Just as a supertaster tongue doesn’t pre-qualify you for a great culinary career, having the volume cranked up on someone else’s inner state doesn’t mean you lack the perceptiveness to intelligently relate to it. It is not about the quantity of what you are feeling, but the quality of your connection to it. In fact, without mastery, hi-fi levels of empathy can often be an obstacle to compassion, especially if an empath-identified person’s nervous system is not strong enough to handle the influx of ambient human energies. This can lead to a general distaste for people, experiencing their negative energies as something invasive and tormenting. Some naturally empathic people even end up going the opposite direction, closing themselves emotionally as a defense mechanism – especially if their mind is powerful enough to intellectually detach themselves from what they are feeling. You, Mr. or Mrs. Stoic, could even be one of those people – an ocean of empathy in an icy casing.
So to be compassionate we need good hardware. We need to work on our heart’s capacity to hold the being of others without being bulldozed by it. I do mean the physical heart, which may sound like a strange statement to those expecting me to talk about something “actually” intelligent rather than a plasma-pushing device. Well the heart is much more than that, but let’s not underestimate the power of pumping blood and its ability to nourish us – and let’s not think this about anything the heart does as having a strictly physical dimension.
The heart’s intelligence is a very sinewy material reality. Biologically, the heart has been discovered to consist of the same neural matter as the brain – neurons, neurotransmitters, and glial cells, which are highly electromagnetically sensitive (some perspectives may consider this the fundamental measurement of detecting someone’s aura). It’s a fiercely pulsing, thinking, and perceptual machine and this brainy bio-fabric and electrical activity is so often ignored because it doesn’t communicate to us and others like a brain would, i.e. using linear language.
The heart has an electromagnetic field, which has been measured as far more electrically powerful than the cranial brain’s, expanding 12-15 feet outward from the body in a sort of donut shape from two poles – one at the base of the spine and one at the top of the head. This is called a torus. Highways of this torus connect to the brain and its realms of intuitive thinking with the directness of the presidential red telephone.
The heart communicates through the subtle language of intuitive pulses and feelings. We are constantly in a state of electromagnetic broadcast to the world, radiating our torus-borne status of mind, body and spirit. These signals are constantly being absorbed and digested by other heart fields, which push the information to the brain through direct heart-mind neural lines, where they are processed by our emotional-cognitive brain regions. The intellect tends not to hear these subtler signals when it lives divorced from the rest of physiology’s intelligence systems and doesn’t allow much past its loud, authoritarian, and often dismissive voice. When the mind doesn’t trust the heart, you get over-cranked discrimination. So often the heart gives us a life-line into someone’s inner state and the intellect says, “Keep it away! We might get hurt!” (usually with considerable fallibility).
The two departments of heart and mind are inextricably linked and must be reminded how much they need one another: the heart opens our experience beyond the boundaries of the mind and the mind applies discernment to the action that follows such that it’s the right move regarding our general life trajectory – boundaries where boundaries are due. The more we re-integrate this heart-mind link, aligning the priorities of each department, the more we can be hugely, but intelligently compassionate. Daoist mystical traditions of China describe the awakening of this pathway as “Crane Energy” – the experience of an arcing artillery blast of sensation from the heart to the mind (sounds like the path of a torus to me). Open the channel to the heart and the intellect will listen once it realizes it’s not alone in the truth game.
In the next part we will learn a meditation practice that strengthens this heart-mind connection by engaging the mind to strengthen the physical heart itself, increasing its agency throughout our whole physiologies. We will then use this mental mechanism to expand the heart’s consciousness beyond our individual selves into the entirety of creation. This cosmic level of love is the full realization of our compassionate nature. And compassion is the keystone of a full-stack human intelligence: the deep, expansive, all-embracing knowing of the heart, combined with the discerning, clarifying knowing of the mind.