One of the people I’ve been most excited to ‘discover’ this year is Eric Klein. Eric is a teacher, author and wise one. He founded Dharma Consulting to share the wisdom and leadership skills he has learned from four decades of spiritual practice with new and established leaders in Fortune 500 companies, healthcare, municipal, governmental and non-profit organizations as well as mid-size companies. Since 1989, he’s helped over 18,000 people through this work.
He also created the Wisdom Heart community where, together with his partner Devi, he offers spiritual teachings without any baloney. He offers accessible, practical courses in pretty profound spiritual teachings and tools, like What’s in the Way and Healing Family Karma, which I’m making my way through at the moment and which includes a wonderfully simple, clear explanation of what ‘karma’ actually means.
In short, Eric is a wise teacher and a great writer and I really want to share him with you. So I’m very happy that he is today releasing a new book ingeniously titled ‘50 Ways to Leave Your Karma‘.
Eric sent me an advance copy of the first 25 chapters of ‘50 Ways to Leave Your Karma‘ and I read it in one day. ’50 Ways’ is so easy to read that at first you might overlook just how significant it’s teachings are. Eric’s writing is funny and very approachable, and his own ‘doodles’ add whimsy to the book. But within the lightness there is much wisdom.
To give you a taste of ‘50 Ways to Leave Your Karma‘, Eric agreed to share one of it’s 50 chapters here on my site. I chose this chapter because I know many of you who gather at my little watering-hole are particularly interested in empathy, and how we can cultivate our own capacity for empathy.
(an extract from ‘50 Ways to Leave Your Karma‘ by Eric Klein)
I live in Encinitas, a town mentioned in the famous Beach Boy’s song “Surfin’ USA.” There are many wonderful surf spots along our stretch of the Pacific Ocean: Swami’s, Cardiff Reef, Stone Steps, Bamboos, Beacon’s, Grand View, to name a few.
When the waves are big, boards break.
Colorful, wildly decorated boards are snapped into pieces by the pounding surf. When the boards are broken open, what’s revealed is that they all have a foam core. Regardless of their surface design, the boards are the same on the inside. Just like people.
Inside we are all made of the same motivations, emotions, and human concerns. In the day-to-day challenges of life, it’s easy to forget this and see only our surface differences.
The surface differences are real.
People can bring different values, perspectives, and agendas to shared problems. People do reach different – and equally valid – conclusions about what solutions make sense. Differences are real.
But when you’re interested in resolving conflicts, reaching agreements, and moving forward together – it’s important to go beyond the surface and connect to what’s deeper.
To connect with others below-the-surface motivations requires empathy.
Empathy is your ability to feel and understand another’s inner experience. When you’re being empathic, you connect with another person’s experience at a deeper level. But to do this, you have to be connected to the deeper parts of yourself.
When your perceptions, insights, and understandings come from your surface-self, all you’ll be aware of is the other person’s surface-self. And this superficial view will highlight your differences.
It’s your deeper-than-surface self that is able to connect with their deeper-than-surface motivations and needs.
Fortunately evolution has wired your nervous system to do just that. You’ve got the neurological hardware to be empathic, an empathy-enabling structure in the brain called the insula.
You’re wired for empathy.
Here’s one indication of how important this part of the brain is: the insula consumes 8-10 times more oxygen and glucose than even your major muscles. Here’s how it works:
- When you feel basic emotions, your insula lights up.
- When you see others in emotional states, your insula activates.
Whether the emotional state is “inside” you or “outside” you, the insula lights up. The insula replicates the inner states of others – by generating interior bodily sensations within you, which allows you to “resonate” with another’s inner experience.
The more you’re in touch with your own bodily sensations, the more you’re able to attune to and understand the inner experience of others.
By strengthening the insula – you strengthen your neurological empathic hardware. By strengthening the insula, empathy gets easier. And also more precise.
A well-developed insula enables you to tune in more deeply and more precisely to another’s inner experience.
And when you are more tuned in, you’ll be able to respond skillfully to others’ inner needs.
Without empathy, your attention is focused on what others are doing – without any connection to their inner experience, motivations, or needs. When what they are doing isn’t working for you, the tendency is to attribute all kinds of negative intentions or qualities to the other person:
“He’s not capable of collaborating.”
“She’s just a difficult person.”
Instead of taking other people’s emotions personally, you become aware of the other person’s inner struggles. That she’s not just being a difficult person, she’s really a struggling human being. Struggling to adapt to change, navigate through difficult choices, and balance conflicting priorities. In short, dealing with emotional challenges just like you.
But how do you strengthen your insula?
By attending to your own inner bodily sensations you build your “insula-ability.”
Sensing the temperature and texture of the breath in your lungs activates the insula. Noting the sensations in your muscles and joints lights up the insula. When you pay attention to your own inner bodily states, the insula lights up. It’s a simple thing to do – with huge pay-offs for your life.
Who would have thought that simply by regularly attending to your breath and bodily sensations, you could get better at understanding others? But it’s true. The same neurological hardware is employed to do both tasks.
The simplest way to do this is through the regular practice of meditation.
Research shows that meditation dramatically – and positively – thickens the insula. Meditation literally builds your empathy hardware.
This means that you can get better at empathy – reading and understanding others – with your eyes closed. Through mindfully attending to your breath and body sensations, you can improve your ability to resolve conflicts, manage differences, and influence others. Just by sitting still and mindfully breathing for just a few minutes each day.
It’s regular practice that provides the best results.
If you take time each day to pay attention to your breath and body, the next time you’re in a conversation and the emotional surf surges – you won’t have to break any boards. You’ll empathically hang ten, dude!
Eric Klein is a best selling business book author and an ordained teacher in a 5,000 year old yoga lineage. This post is adapted from his free e-book 50 Ways to Leave Your Karma. To get your free copy go to www.wisdomheart.org/50Ways