In the last post I described an Empathic Seminar about the “N-Word”. In this post, I’ll debrief the experience and address some common questions.
What happened in the “N-Word” exercise?
We created a constellation of the system by identifying three points in the system: “Black Person,” “White Person,” and “N-word”. Three people stood in the center of the room and represented each of those nodes. Then, they just reported what they noticed. That’s it!
Where did the information come from? Were the participants role playing?
What we discover when we step into the system in this way is that the system creates a field of information that we perceive as physical sensations, emotions, and thoughts.
It’s not role-playing. I guide the participants to attend to their felt-sense (Key #2), and if we start talking too much, I cue folks to drop back into their bodies.
To help participants build confidence in the work, I often work blind – that is, I do not tell the representatives what they are representing until after we experience into the system. This way, they can have their experience without trying to make up what they think should be happening.
Is the information accurate? How do you know?
The number one challenge participants have is being able to trust themselves and their experience. For some, this trust comes easily. For others, perhaps because they are more analytically oriented, working in this way is more challenging. Because we are so used to relying on language and thought to convey information, it can take some practice to feel comfortable listening to one’s somatic (body) response as a source of information.
The most common question I get, the one that I still ask myself, is: Can I trust this information?
My answer, having been engaged in this process for the past 6 years: Absolutely. I trust the information from this process more than analytical approaches. That’s not to say that I always trust how the information has been interpreted! But I do trust how my felt-sense responds in the system.
The undefended body is the reason I have such trust in this process. Unlike our ego, which naturally takes a position and defends it, our somatic response is authentic and innocent. Though we may need practice listening and interpreting it, it does not deceive.
However, this process does not preclude thinking and research! So many lines of inquiry open up after this brief process, with each experience stimulating more possibilities. On the other hand, we have all had the experience of inquiry being shut down through argument or debate, especially when we are discussing emotional and triggering topics.
With this N-word example, we could follow up the process by conducting interviews or other research to see if there was any evidence to support what we learned.
But for folks who remain skeptical, I offer a simple question: do you trust your thoughts? Where do your thoughts come from? If you haven’t given this any serious consideration, Google the question and read through the results. Very stimulating research.
What’s the takeaway?
You have a superpower: one that reveals hidden dynamics, and can make sense of complex systems. It is hidden in this little thing we call empathy, but when you learn to engage it fully, you will perceive the world with a new capacity.