Today at the Zen Center, I was listening to the dharma talk and the subject of resonance arose. I talk a lot with my students about resonance – with others, with circumstances, etc, and I felt like I got just a bit more insight into this idea.
When we are with someone who is angry or sad, frightened or feeling shame, and we find ourselves frightened or angry or sad, it’s easy to blame the other person, to see their feelings as the source of our own. In fact, many people will even attribute their experiencing of these feelings to the other person “leaking” them on to us. Some people see themselves as being super sensitive to feeling other people’s emotions and claim that they are merely empathically experiencing something that belongs to the other.
I have another way of looking at it.
Do you know how resonance works? Resonance is “a sound or vibration produced in one object that is caused by the sound or vibration produced in another” (Merriam-Webster). What does that mean?
Imagine that you and I are each holding a tuning fork that is tuned to B-flat. You strike your tuning fork and it begins to vibrate and produce a tone and, eventually, in sympathy, so does mine, because that’s the way resonance works. My tuning fork is all ready to vibrate at the B-flat oscillation, so all it needed was something to get it moving. Now I have, in my hand, a tuning fork sounding B-flat, and I feel the vibration in my hand, hear the sound in my ears.
So let’s look at this scenario; I am holding my tuning fork. It is mine, not yours, and it is already designed and primed to vibrate at B-flat. When you strike your fork, it is yours, and you are having your own experience of B-flat. If my tuning fork was G, or if, in fact, I had no tuning fork at all, you’d be having your B-flat experience alone. I might watch and hear yours, but I would not be having one of my own. We are like the tuning forks. It is only because I am already set to resonate with you, already holding that fear or anger, that I am experiencing the sounds and sensations of the experience you are having.
When you are sad, and I suddenly feel sad, it is because I am having my own sad tuning fork resonate in sympathy with yours. I already have the capacity for sadness; In fact, I am primed and ready with my feelings at the ready to receive your vibration, I just didn’t have an awareness that I had them until you expressed yours.
So when you are with someone who is angry and you find your own anger arising, there are two things to remember. One: that it is your anger, and it was already waiting there for you to sense and experience it. It is not the fault of another. It is not the trespassing of another. It is yours, and it’s just coming up for your attention.
Two: this resonance is something that you are sharing, and as unpleasant as the feelings might be, they are, in fact, a point of contact, a place of mutuality with someone else, a reminder of the shared experience of being human.
The best thing you can do with your feelings is to feel them, to acknowledge them. Not to indulge or feed them, but to notice and accept them, and, if you are lucky, recognize them as the connection between you and another, and see it for the gift that it is.