Many people pride themselves on being brilliant thinkers. Perhaps they’ve spent much of their lives accumulating knowledge or amassing information about various topics. Such pursuits can offer positive stimulation and satisfaction, as well as a depth of knowledge that can help our world.
Sadly, Western education often neglects another aspect of our humanity — one that philosophers refer to as ontological — that is, existing in the realm of being. The popularity of somatic and existential approaches to therapy, such as Focusing, Somatic Experiencing, Gestalt Therapy, and Hakomi, point to the need for an embodied approach to psychotherapy and personal growth, one that doesn’t minimize the value of clear thinking but embraces being present to ourselves and to life in a deeply engaging way.
Gestalt therapist Fritz Perls knew the value of living an embodied life when he famously said, “Lose your mind and come to your senses.” Saying this another way, there is value in being empty-headed. I’m not advocating being dull-minded or clueless, but rather suggesting that we spend some part of our day experimenting with suspending our usual, repetitive thought process in favor of opening to a deeper aspect of our being — one that is connected to our body and the living, breathing organism that we are.
Buddhist psychology offers the view that the process of awakening is largely a matter of emptying and letting go rather than accumulating more knowledge, power, or information. Meditation and mindfulness practices have soared in popularity because they address a neglected aspect of who we are. Beyond stress-reduction, mindfulness practices such as those popularized by Jon Kabat Zinn, invite allow us to cultivate spaciousness toward our inner experiencing. Allowing time to get out of our heads and connect with our breath and body is not only relaxing, it delivers us to a place where we become more present to life and to each other.
The Buddhist concept of emptiness is the opposite of life-negating. Emptying ourselves in a certain manner allows us to connect with ourselves, others, and nature in a fuller, richer way. For example, emptying ourselves of our negative, core beliefs about ourselves enables us to live with greater degree of self-worth and dignity. Suspending our pre-conceived opinions about others and our attempts to change or fix them, enables us to be present with people in a more contactful, empathic way. Emptying ourselves of the desire to be constantly right enables us to heal our perfectionism and live with a life-affirming humility and empathy. As we identify less with our thoughts and live more in our body and being, we live with a greater sense of openness; we connect more intimately with life.
Empathy and compassion toward ourselves and others derive from the depths of our being. We cannot think our way into having empathy toward others; it involves an embodied, empathic connection. Going into our heads to analyze what is wrong with someone or offering unwanted advice removes us from the living interaction. We create distance in our relationships by clinging to our thoughts and beliefs, rather than opening to a dimension of our being that allows empathic resonance to arise spontaneously.
Buddhist psychology recognizes the value of clear thinking. What is called “Right View” or “Skillful View” is one aspect of the Buddha’s Eightfold Path. But one thing we need to think clearly about is how our thoughts, opinions, and judgments might disconnect us from ourselves and others. Learning to rest more comfortably in the depths of our being — taking time during our day to be present with our breath and ourselves in a gentle, spacious way, can help us live a more connected, fulfilling life.