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I have found that if i do not share or understand the perspective of others, it is difficult to appreciate their point of view so that one is able to be the viewer as opposed to the actor. How does one experience the experience of others?

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First - You may want to change your goal - or at least temper it in the short term.

How does one experience the experience of others?

This requires a very high state of being, and if the ego is trying to do it in order to

  • Be a better person
  • Be more successful
  • Become a better Buddhist
  • etc.

... Then you will harm people while not intending to do so.

As far as I can see, there are two points of access for what you seek to accomplish.

  1. Listening.

People always tell you everything. They may not say it in a way that you are comfortable or familiar with; and they may not say it such that their words clearly match what they intend to communicate (mostly they don't). But they reveal almost everything in their experience when they communicate. It's there if you listen.

Now this is the tricky part. Mostly what we do when we try to improve our listening skills is to try to listen better. Maybe there are some pieces of advice we employ, or some tips on being a better listener we follow (e.g. Ask lots of questions, etc). The vast majority of those tips are absolute garbage. They do nothing but strengthen the ego's ability to appear to be listening while providing nothing in the way of authentic listening.

Authentic listening is magic. This quote from Siddhartha by Herman Hesse does a very good job of expressing what is possible with real listening:

Vasudeva's listening gave Siddhartha a stronger sensation than ever before, he sensed how his pain, his fears flowed over to him, how his secret hope flowed over, came back at him from his counterpart. To show his wound to this listener was the same as bathing it in the river, until it had cooled and become one with the river.

Authentic listening grants freedom.

Here is your access to listening: Notice where you don't.

I once received the following koan (it was given with that label):

You don't listen. You never have. And you never will.

To really get that. To own that, and make it part of you - it allows for pure wonder. You can discover how ridiculously little you listen. Mostly we defend our lack of listening - trying to prove that we were listening - at least as best we could. If you take the case that you are not listening from the start - there is nothing to defend. What becomes possible is discovering the barriers between you and listening - and there are literally millions of them (e.g. They said something that reminded you of something you had to do; Something in what they said threatened you; You want them to like you; ad infinitum). Once there is awareness of an obstruction - the obstruction loses its grip.

What is present in the absence of the barriers to listening is listening. It is not something done - it is something that arises in the absence of obstruction.

  1. Everything anyone says has value:

This closely ties into listening. You can make anything anyone says gold - just because they said it. They said it - it matters enough to them that they said it - it has value. You don't have to like it. You don't have to agree with it.

A priori it has value. Humans have value - language is rich with value - what they say matters.

Before you can have the opportunity to get into another's world you must acknowledge to yourself (repeatedly) where you don't give a shit about their point of view. It's okay - people proudly defend nonsense all the time. More to the point - it's their point of view - what do you care? Tell the truth about it though. It's quite liberating. Once you are aware that you don't care at all about what another person is saying - you again have access to listening.

This may sound contradictory - it's not. When you can tell the truth about what's in the way of you fully being with another - there is nothing more liberating. We catch ourselves in kind of a trap otherwise.

We are thrown to only care about ourselves - it's kind of our default way of being. It doesn't look good to only care about ourselves, so we cover it up by pretending to care about others. While pretending to care about others; we are simply incapable of caring for others (it's like pretending to enjoy running while running). Once we can tell the truth (it's not a once and for all thing - it's ongoing) about where we're pretending (mostly just to ourselves - sometimes to others) - then we don't have to pretend anymore. When we don't have to pretend anymore we are free to truly be with other people. When we are free to truly be with other people; we can't help but love them. We see their nastiness and pettiness and we don't consider ourselves superior. We realize we are looking at ourselves - and what they are experiencing is instantly obvious because it is merely a shade of our own experience.

When the barriers obstructing our listening disappear - there is no distance between self and other - no difference between speaker and listener - then you don't have to wonder about how to experience their experience - because it's right there.

Note: There may come a point where one is always authentically interested and capable of listening and caring about another's experience. I have never caught a glimmer of a persistent state like that. For now it is enough for me to notice where I'm full of it - acknowledge it - and then allow the space for listening to arise.

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    Your koan reminds me of when I was at a retreat and I expressed my sincere desire to "help other people". One of the two teachers leaned toward me and said, "There are no other people." – user2341 Jun 14 '15 at 23:43
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    Nice. That's the trouble with sincerity. – dgo Jun 14 '15 at 23:50
  • "God helps those who help themselves." If only we could teach complete, all-encompassing identity with everyone and everything as a form of selfishness, it would be a better world! – user2341 Jun 15 '15 at 0:31
  • Tricky that.... – dgo Jun 15 '15 at 0:39
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I understood the question as, how to listen deeply, without imposing our will, our ego or impatience on the speaker.

First we must still our mind of all chatter and impatience, which isn't possible without daily meditation and mindfulness, so we must learn to practice properly.

If we are to be strong to help others, we must practice correctly.

Second, we develop compassion and loving kindness towards the speaker. When our mind is not caught in its own web of suffering, compassion comes easily.

Having developed the heart of compassion and loving kindness, we listen mindfully. Such deep listening, where we offer our true presence to our friend or partner will be much appreciated.

To be effective, we must practice deep listening regularly, by being present in the moment, and allowing our heart of compassion and kindness to open.

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With reference to both the question of how one experiences or understands the experience of others and also to the end note in post by User 1167442 about the impact of realising at times we 'are full of it' and how said realisation can, if noticed, cause us to pause.

My experience has been that it is when I realise and acknowledge the moments in which I am 'full of it' [and there have been many] the fabric of that particular aspect of my journey falls away and the associated responses to the situation [emotional, behavioural, cognitive etc.] lose their potency.

It is in those moments that I am most able to connect at a meaningful level with others. However, I do have to say that at times speaking and listening impose on the purity of the connection, communication and sense of understanding.

There are moments; are there not? when the speaking and hearing of words [being mere symbolic representations of our experience] does not sufficiently embrace the totality of the connection or the experience of either individual. No matter how well I can communication and/or hear/understand another's description of their reality, my ability to truly comprehend what that person is saying is always filtered by my experience and the meaning I subscribe to words/phrases being said etc.

What I'm saying here really is that for me there are times when speaking and listening no matter how well intentioned and how well practiced provides a format for sharing/caring etc but that which is exchanged is merely a shadow of the experience being described - which when effected eloquently is sufficient for the needs of most situations.

Sometimes sitting quietly in the presence of another can soothe the soul more effectively than being cognitive and trying to understand the other's reality.

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    Plus one for mentioning me! Just kidding. Very good answer. – dgo Jun 14 '15 at 23:48
  • @drcrpsych - How do you realize you are full of it? – Motivated Jun 18 '15 at 18:05
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Through unity one experience the experience of others.

When one does not share other's view, there is duality, my view and the other's view.

If we fully understand views as just conditioned thoughts: conditioned by class, society, upbringing, books one reads, inclinations, peers, parents, teachers etc.. then we realise that our own views are just as conditioned as the others'.

One view may be the result of more skilful thought, but it is also due to conditioning. So one may say this is skilful thought, this isn't but not this is yours and this is mine. When we see thoughts as just arising due to conditioning ( which is one, not your conditioning or mine conditioning) then there is unity. The arising of thoughts due to conditioning.

The unification of self and others into a single entity called a conditioned being, results in one shared experience!

As for understanding another's experience it comes through having empathy.

Empathy is the capacity to understand what another person is experiencing from within the other person's frame of reference, i.e., the capacity to place oneself in another's shoes.

How do we develop empathy?

We learns to see things from another person's perspective but we must first reflect on our own feelings to understand causes for the arising of a particular feeling.

And when we have an understanding of these causes, we begin the appropriate association of causes with the feelings. So when we put ourselves in another persons perspective then these associated feelings arise, though not in the same way as they arise in the other person. They arise with the understanding that the perspective of the other person causes those feelings to rise.

When we experience those feelings conditioned by perspective as a third party or bystander or observer, then mudita (sympathetic joy) or karuna (compassion) may arise depending on the feeling.

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Meditate! Once you understand how your own mind works, understanding everyone else becomes easy.

  • I am going to agree with this one, although it is "too short" to be a usually accepted answer. All the ideas about 1. develop compassion, 2. develop empathy, etc, seem to come at it from the end rather than where the OP is right now. There is NO WAY to comprehend the end without jumping in and starting to practice. Then it comes, slowly. Only with the complete flower bloom do we say "it is a flower", but what was it before that? How do we get started? This is a good answer. It has a carrot and a stick! – user2341 Jun 13 '15 at 17:21
  • I probably should've expounded some more, but yes, this is the essence of it :) – Ryan Jun 13 '15 at 19:36

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