THE HEART OF PEACE
Eidetic Imagery as A Tool for Interfaith and Multi-Cultural and Racial Empathy

 

The Heart of Peace: A Project for Interfaith and Multi-Cultural Empathy is a project that uses the process of eidetic imagery to take us from learning and understanding to feeling and knowing. This process has grown out of the work and vision of Akhter Ahsen, Ph.D., the leading contemporary developer of Eidetic Imagery, a cutting edge and innovative field in modern psychology, and Jaqueline Lapa Sussman, author, therapist, and one of the foremost imagery practitioners in the world. Below is a brief overview of this process. Sussman offers workshops to introduce those who work in the field of human relations to The Heart of Peace experience. The goal of these workshops is to invite your feedback on the application of this process in relation to your work. Whether you are an educator, social worker, psychologist, community builder, clergyperson, or someone whose vision for the future includes the breaking down of old boundaries that divide us, we hope you will join us in entering The Heart of Peace

 

The Heart of Peace is a project using eidetic imagery to lead us to experience a deep interfaith and multi-cultural and ethnic empathy. This process continues the work of interfaith or race dialogue by adding an important ingredient to cross-boundary conversation. Through a process of mental imagery, we can move past the constraints of language and dialogue and access the universality that runs through the collective human soul. In other words, it can cultivate a human tribal consciousness. This imagery process brings one to the middle of all perspectives, points of view and critiques. It is for this reason that Dr. Ahsen identifies The Heart of Peace as a mid-critique process.

 

We enter The Heart of Peace when we are able to move out from our own orientation and access the other’s perspective to form a new central, or mid-critique, point of view. We move from the understanding we acquire through dialogue and education to the development of an eidetic empathy—a deep way of knowing. If we cannot viscerally feel our emotional way into the other’s situation, the obstacles that are keeping us from truth and empathy are still there when we get up from the dialogue table.

 

THE HEART OF PEACE

For many years, groups of culturally, ethnically, religiously and racially diverse peoples have come together in an effort to understand prejudice and create a world united in peace. In just the past 100 years, horrible social atrocities have ravaged cities and countrysides the world over and human nature calls for people to ask why – Why did Hitler and his regime target the Jews? Why were African Americans kidnapped from the homeland and sold into slavery? Why did Bosnia occur? Why can’t the Israelis and Palestinians find peace with each other?

 

The quest for understanding has long followed a path of dialogue – people talking with one another in the hopes of informing others of their experiences. Not just one on one, this dialogue has taken the forms of books, movies, documentary films, and public speeches. And while some change has occurred on social and political levels as a result of this continuous discussion, less progress has been made in bringing people together with true understanding and compassion for another’s historical and cultural experiences – an understanding that is the heart of peace.

 

Charged with the painful emotions of suffering, talking about and sharing one’s personal experience only scratches the surface. Listening only processes what is heard and often results in a debate to align one belief with another. Thus, dialogue is useful in beginning the quest, but true understanding, in fact true connection, is found in the imagination.

 

There is a new tool available that acts as a lightening rod for intercultural and interfaith understanding. Through a process of mental imagery, people can move past the constraints of dialogue and access the universality that runs through the collective human soul. Words speak of God’s imagination.

 

Dr. Akhter Ahsen, the leading theoretician in the field of Eidetic Imagery, along with Jaqueline Sussman, his longtime friend and colleague, developed a method for unlocking and using the storehouse of images in the mind to bring a person to greater universal awareness. Eidetic images – snapshots people have collected through their personal experience, the experience of others, media and history – allow people to bear witness to the suffering experienced in their own heritage and ultimately the suffering experienced by people in other cultures.

 

Based on Ahsen’s extensive scientific research, it has been found that imagination is freedom. He also discovered that people resist and “shut off” traumatic images of violence to their imagination, whether these were witnessed first, second or third hand. However, in spite of the resistance, images of trauma persist in the mind. Through the Eidetic Imagery method, people have a tool that will enable deep empathy for one’s own and for another person or culture – an empathy that allows for great healing and almost tribal consciousness.

 

In facilitated group workshops, Sussman shares the specific images that unlock each person’s spiritual vision of the universe. The images bring great understanding which move past fear and into understanding and engagement. In this way, Christians can find common ground with the Jewish experience; Muslims can see the universal links to Hindus; and African-Americans can find empathy with southern whites.

 

I. Image tools that allow one to experientially step into the Shoes of another culture, race or ethnicity.

 

Explanation of what it does:

 

We have no right to criticize another person or even assess the other person’s faith or race from outside. We have to break this barrier of self-centeredness and distance. By knowing the other faith or race in that personal way, we do not loose our own faith or self, we have in fact, two faiths and races in a genuine dialogue through one and the same being, rather than through two different beings. If we become responsible for our own knowledge because we have been there and gone to the other side of the river, the news we bring is still our own news, although it is about the other village.

It is from our own being that we share. The best traveler is the one who comes back wiser than prejudiced. The idea is not to expand one’s own narrowness; rather the idea is to see the sun that rises daily and not to refuse to see it by pretending to be blind. In each village rises a sun. We need to know that sun that rises in that village. If we insist that it is the same sun that rises in our own village, this is not true because each sun that rises in a certain village has its own flavor. Somebody may say, ‘you have to go there and see how the sun rises from behind that rock. It is magical, you do not find it here.”

 

2. Imagery tools to bridge the gap of knowing the Sacred Imagery or another’s faith and get to the essence of our own:

 

Explanation of what it does:

 

Images have always been a part of the religious tradition. There is no religion on earth in which Divine presence does not speak through images.

 

Why do we need to empathize into and engage with the sacred imagery of all faiths?
Because people of various religions have a tendency to consider the “others” images as unsacred. Empathizing into the sacred images of all faiths allows one to overcome the false notions and prejudices towards another’s faith. When one sees these through images, their natural sacredness is restored. In doing this, we can deeply come to know the sensibility and sacredness of not only our own religion, but that of another. The images allow for a profound understanding and sensitivity for both sides, our own and another’s. It expands one’s own spirituality and what has been forgotten and suppressed by propaganda and antipathy, which suppresses God’s intention.

 

3. Empathizing into all the global and historical holocausts on man.

 

Explanation of what it does:

 

By empathizing into and engaging with the pain of another’s historical experience, such as African slaves, the Jewish Holocaust experience, the current situation of global poverty and starvation, etc. one can deeply know the experience of another race, ethnicity, and culture and break out of the isolation of making them “other”. For example: when gentiles were encouraged to experience Holocaust imagery without fear or superimposed ideas, as had the second or third generation Jews, they experienced a personal horror without any overlay of criticism or indifference toward the event. They experienced a direct experience and true knowledge of the world.

If attention is not paid to the full experience of these images by avoidance or discounting of them, it results in total emotional flight in the person, which injures their knowledge. This flight creates a gap or emptiness, a void in he mind, which is of a special character of susceptibility that induces vulnerability in the person who is avoiding the painful images. They avoid dealing with the harsh realities of life, which creates a weakness in their character. Fear comes out of the void.

In light of this, workshops have been developed to restore imagination, especially where one’s imagination has closed down in a defensive, racist, or fearful way, involving themes of traumatic social situations. Even for those who are able to fully experience the Holocaust images, or all Holocausts historically perpetrated on humanity, seeing them again in this imagery context transforms the pain into a greater wisdom, compassion, and resolution towards a better world. The purpose is to overcome the mutual hostility that may come from another who is not part of our racial, religious or ethnic group. What we are doing to the other, what the other is doing to us. So, this is how the Holocaust is formed, by mutual distrust. If we fill the void through experiencing the pain and move towards engagement we become whole.

 

EMPATHY: THE BRIDGE TO UNDERSTANDING

By: Jaqueline Lapa Sussman

 

“One going to take a pointed stick to pinch a baby bird should first try it on himself to feel how it hurts”

African Traditional Religions Yoruba Proverb

 

All the world’s religious teachings implore us to love one another: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” However, as we grow, and the world deals us harsh and painful blows, our natural tendency is to close down, mistrust others, and become self-protective. We develop attitudes that separate us from others, allowing us to perceive them as “other” and different from ourselves. This tendency to close our minds and hearts has serious consequences, not only to our personal health and well being, but to the well being of all those around us. When our inherent connection to others is lost, we are then able to hate, even to kill. Yet the capacity to live the world’s greatest teachings, to truly see others as ourselves, is found within each of us in the ability to experience empathy.

Empathy is the capacity to identify with and comprehend another person’s feelings and circumstances. It is the total experience of being shoulder-to-shoulder, eye-to-eye, heart-to-heart, and toe-to-toe with another human being. With empathy, we attain knowledge of others through direct personal awareness of their experience. Empathy penetrates deeper than reason, allowing us to acquire knowledge through the senses and the heart, not merely through the mind. Through empathic connection, deep and pure knowledge emerges about others.

 

We are all born with the natural capacity to empathize. When we watch a sad movie, we cry as we experience the emotions of the actors on the screen. We feel what they are feeling. When a friend shares their sorrow or their joy with us, we join with them in the moment, and our separate sense of self vanishes. We absorb what they are experiencing. This occurs because one of the central qualities of the self is its ability to extend itself into others and to take their experience into our own being. Through this psychical process, we break down any narcissistic isolation and can experience true compassion.

We may think that to empathize with another means to sacrifice our own self, as we put our own needs aside and become totally present for another, but this is not so. The ability to experience empathy is the secret to personal happiness. When we feel at one with another, our hearts automatically open and we become full. It is as much an act of self-fulfillment as it is an affirmation of another. Our minds and hearts widen and we experience a sense of deep unity and love. As a result, we feel less alone, less alienated, and more connected to others.

 

In contrast, if we constantly think of ourselves only, we become isolated and our own personal burdens seem greater to bear. Narcissistic people are emotionally disadvantaged and have lost their ability to connect with others. The depth of their narcissism, and their inability to experience empathy, indicates the intensity of their own unfulfilled need for understanding. In fact, narcissists are unconsciously looking for empathy from others. Those who are incapable of putting themselves in the shoes of others are damaged people, whose functioning in the world is impaired. They often have erroneous, self-centered views about themselves and others, and these views prevent them from developing nurturing relationships and from the experience of genuine love. In modern views, narcissism is described as a clinical illness needing psychological treatment, but it has long been described as a spiritual ailment as well. The wonderful sage, the Dalai Lama stated that “ME, ME, ME “ people are the first to suffer heart attacks. He said that those who are empathic with “great open hearts” swim in an oceanic connectedness of emotional and physical well-being. For those who are closed down, the ocean dries up, and they are destroyed. ? ?At times empathy requires us to bear witness to deep and profound pain, and this may be difficult. However, avoidance or emotional flight from another’s suffering impoverishes our humanity, for we are denying ourselves the experience of some aspect of life. This creates a void of knowledge and emotional emptiness, as we close off from the painful reality of what we are witnessing. We are somehow saying, “No, we cannot accept this.” By refusing to accept all that life brings, we unconsciously admit our inner weakness. We are left impotent to take action in the world to effect positive change. We become self-protective and narrow. Being empathetic, able to fully accept and engage with all aspects of life– both good and bad–and act in accordance with it defines a person of psychological, emotional and spiritual integrity. Traditionally, the path to understanding has been through dialogue. However, dialogue has its limitations, as it does not allow us to experience another’s circumstance. We cannot step into their bodies or hearts, nor see through their eyes. True understanding is found only through the imagination. By imagining another’s situation, we are able to see, feel, and know that person in a profound manner. We can share their experience and dispel the separation that still remains after dialogue. In light of this, there is a new tool, Eidetic Imagery, which acts as a lightning rod for developing empathy.

 

Dr. Akhter Ahsen, the leading theoretician in the field of Eidetic Image Psychology, developed a method for unlocking the storehouse of images in our minds. Eidetic Imagery is a scientifically based methodology that studies how images of our life experience, stored in the brain, affect our emotions, our minds and our bodies. These images are neurologically recorded in the brain and systematically stored away for future reference as concrete imprints of real and factual events. When recalled, the eidetic image recreates a vivid experience of the events in our life with drama, clarity and detail. From this enhanced perspective, obstructions are overcome and solutions, powers, and abilities are brought to the fore. Eidetic Imagery allows us to gain access to parts of our consciousness that otherwise would be locked away. It is a powerful technique for developing empathy among people of different faiths, gender, race, religion, or points of view.

 

Imaging Instruction

 

Imaging is easy. Read the instructions below and, allow an image to be formed in your mind’s eye. (Most people like to close their eyes, but you may keep them open if you prefer.) Do not worry if your image is vague or vivid. An Eidetic image has three parts: the image you see; subtle or overt body sensations or feelings that transpire while seeing the image; and meanings that may surface as you see the image.

Relax and allow the images to unfold like a movie in your mind.

  • See an image of a person you want to understand better.
  • See where that person is and what he or she is doing.
  • Notice the person’s attitude, body language and emotions. Let the information come into view as you see
  • the image.
  • Notice that as you see the image, you gain a better understanding of the person.
  • If you do not feel empathy or understanding, or if you want to know the person’s point of view more deeply,
  • then do the next step.
  • Look through their eyes (you can do this in an image). What are they seeing? Let the information surface.
  • How do they feel as they are seeing it?
  • Let an understanding of their view emerge in you. Do you feel more empathy towards them?

Below are two condensed responses:

 

Empathizing into a colleague:

 

“ I see a person who works with me. He does not follow directions and I feel irritated. I feel I give him simple instructions and he does not follow them and then comes back to me many times. I see us in the office. I am telling him something and he seems to be listening and I think he got it, yet somehow it does not get through. The instruction becomes complicated when it should be simple. I feel tight. Looking at his body and face, I see that his body seems tired and he has a defeated look on his face. Ha, the image of him is shifting. At first he looked defensive. Now, he looks defeated. It makes me feel sad for him. I don’t feel as annoyed anymore. I feel more relaxed towards him. And I feel there is something I can do to remedy the problem. If I am more relaxed and not irritated myself, there is more opportunity for better communication.”

 

Empathizing into prejudice:

 

“I don’t understand prejudiced or racist people. I don’t like them. It is hard to believe how they can be so stupid. When I see the image of a racist, I see him taunting a dark skinned person. His face looks angry. His body is animated, filled with rage. As he sees the dark skin he just hates it. I have no understanding of his attitude. I have no empathy for him. In fact, I hate him. As I do the image and see through his eyes, I see that he is seeing Black people marching in protest. I see his hatred but now it is turning into fear. He is terrified of their “otherness”. As I see his fear, he seems weaker to me. He actually looks terrified. Now, I don’t feel as angry towards him. I don’t feel compassion for him, but I have a deeper understand of him. I also realize that my hatred or him is not so unlike his hatred.”