Inner Access and Empathic Others
When you face a difficult situation, it’s important to meet it with all the skill you have. To do that, you might compartmentalize various parts of your experience. For example, you might know you are stressed, but be unaware of other more vulnerable feelings or bodily responses. This compartmentalization allows you to function in times when you need to make quick decisions and take effective action.
At the same time, continuing for long in such a compartmentalized state has its cost. You lose a sense of wholeness and self-connection. When the time is right, it’s important to access the fullness of your inner experience. Unfortunately, this isn’t necessarily easy. Accessing your inner experience, and landing in a sense of wholeness and congruity, requires some special ingredients.
It begins with your own intention to accept and bring warmth to whatever you notice. Acceptance doesn’t mean passivity. It means noticing your experience without aversion or craving. Such acceptance might also be called equanimity.
Next, from the is place of acceptance and warmth, it’s helpful to identify each part of experience as it arises, e.g., feelings, needs, thoughts, images, sensations, impulses, memories, and energy. As you are able to name various parts of your experience without getting lost in thinking and stories, three things become available to you.
First, you are better able to maintain equanimity. By naming experience as it arises in the present moment rather than giving your attention only to the stories of what happened or what others did, you remain self-connected and help with emotional and physiological regulation.
Second, by naming different parts of your experience, the various threads of experience can come into clarity such that the relationships between them make sense. This further contributes to equanimity and regulation.
Third, when you can name your present experience as it arises, empathic others can more fully connect and be present for you.
This last piece, the presence of empathic others, is essential for fully accessing your inner experience. You cannot fully know yourself, by yourself. The key here is empathic others that you trust to hold your sharing with compassion, interest, and caring. Without trust in them, you will likely find that very little arises for you to share. Without trust, you may feel numb or disconnected from own experience; it may seem to you that there isn’t much to share. When others respond to your sharing with their own reactivity, advice giving, or stories about themselves, you don’t have the space you need to let the layers of experience unfold.
With the presence of others who can offer empathy and gentle curiosity, you can find layers and layers of experience you didn’t know were there. As each experience comes into your awareness and is met with compassion from others, the tension around it can relax. It can have its natural cycle of arising and dissolving; thus making space for the next experience to come into awareness. Experiences often occur in interrelated bunches, when you get to the end of a single “bunch,” you will feel a sense of release and relief, and a call to action regarding your situation will naturally arise in that moment or a little later.
When your attention can stay with present experience and be fully met, you won’t become lost in it. It is mental proliferation regarding thoughts of what should or shouldn’t be in the past, present, or future that gives you a sense of being lost and has you accuse yourself of being self-absorbed.
When your sharing is less about present experience, and more about shame, blame, and should’s, it’s also difficult for others to stay with you. They are more likely to get caught by their own reactivity. They are more likely to try to move you away from your experience with advice or distraction. And while they may help you interrupt an unhelpful reactivity, uncontacted inner experience will continue to rumble inside of you.
To access your inner experience fully, your own ability to stay present and the presence of empathic others is needed. It could perhaps be simplified like this: Focused equanimity + identification of experience + empathic presence of others = regulation, a sense of wholeness, and greater access to wise action. Of course formulas like this are simply meant to highlight important aspects of infinitely varied and complex processes. They give a place to direct your curiosity and attention in your journey of awakening.
Take a moment now to name who in your life can hold a trusted space in which you can discover layers of your own experience and inner life.