The Empathic Civilisation

A wonderfully illustrated talk – or better, fragment of a talk – by Jeremy Rifkin that I would love all my friends “world-change agents” to see and contemplate.

A good question to go with this is: “What is the most strategic contribution I can make?”

The Epiphanic Mood and the Power of the Heart

Picture by Matthew Fang

I’m in an epiphanic mood today – matter of fact, whenever I truly appreciate you being you, a flower being a flower and the house being the house, I’m in such a mood… only I didn’t know until today.

Becoming conscious of anything means, “There is something ‘out there’, independent of me, that alights in my consciousness as a particular form.” For instance: the flower on my desk exists out there, and when I become conscious of it – and by no means am I conscious of it all the time – its existence becomes apparent to me. But all the time it is out there, and it remains out there, whether I’m conscious of it or not. Therefor my being conscious of the flower does not really matter, neither to the flower nor to anything else out there (outside of my consciousness). This is the normal conscious state we’re all in.  And given our belief in physics and the relative permanence of things this is a very convincing way to be.

In the epiphanic mood (from the ancient Greek “ἐπιφάνεια”, epiphaneia, “manifestation, striking appearance”) on the other hand this way of being is turned back on its feet, or so it feels to me, saying, “Because I shine the light of my heart on whatever is anywhere – out there, in here, in between – it moves from existence into being; unless, of course, the ‘whatever is anywhere’ itself is epiphanic. Then in a very true sense two hearts resonate theophanically (from the ancient Greek  ‘ἡεοφάνεια’, theophaneia“appearance of God”).”

This presupposes that everything exists, but not in the usual physical sense where it doesn’t matter whether anyone is conscious of it or not. Rather it presupposes that everything exists in the Grand Potential and that, by the Power of the Heart, it is moved  from existence into being.

Being a radical I apply this epiphany to myself immediately. And then i see: my heart often slumbers, and when it slumbers, whatever there is, just is – I do become conscious of others and things, they do really and clearly exist but their epiphanic being is not awake. When, on the other hand, my heart is awake, like it is now, whatever exists in my surrounding truly comes into being.

The awakening of the heart’s power is, akin to our own awakening in the morning, a gradual process. And then, when awake, there are many graduations and degrees of wakefulness. Just today, when I’ve come to understand this (and remembering the many ways I experienced this before, understanding it differently or – often – not at all), I’ve been experiencing different degrees of its gentle power.

Directing this power at ‘me’ there is an all-pervading sense of wellness connected with it. And an intuition, that the Power of the Heart itself is an epiphany of a most divine kind, so really a theophany in the true sense of the word, a manifestation, incarnation of the Gods. A very first contemplation reveals the Epiphanic Mood to be compassionate by nature and a blessing for body, soul and spirit of the person.

What this does in contact with other beings, and most of all with others whose heart is awake, this only time will tell.

Meditation and Kindness go hand in hand

New research from the University of Wisconsin-Madison finds that we can acquire a greater capacity for compassion through meditation training, in much the same way as athletes or musicians train to improve their skill.

We’re in the midst of a revolution in brain science. The long-held dogma that brain connections are unchangeable after age five, is being usurped with findings that the brain is more plastic than we thought.

Researchers at the University of Wisconsin-Madison published a study in PLoS One this week, showing that our capacity for empathy can be learned and mastered – as one might learn to play soccer or piano. The skill here comes from meditation.

They studied the fMRI scans of 32 subjects, half were trained meditators including the Olympians of meditation, the Tibetan monks. The others were age-matched novices.

In the brain scanner, all were subjected to emotional sounds (like a baby laughing or woman screaming.)

They found that the insula (the area of the brain responsible for physical feelings of compassion) was highly active in the experts. And the right temporal-parietal juncture (an area connected to understanding anothers’ emotional state) was also much more active in experts than in the novices.

It may not be proof that we can turn a schoolyard bully into Ghandi, but it shows meditative training has a significant impact.