Resonance – Separateness and Oneness

Resonance – Separateness and Oneness

This e-newsletter explores resonance – how we pick up on other people’s energy, positive or negative. How we can skillfully differentiate our energy and emotions from another’s and still remain open to the sense of Oneness that underlies all of existence.

The root trigger for this topic was watching a video on people’s reactions when some very clever researchers turned the stairs next to an escalator into a piano keyboard (the fun theory: piano stairs) I was captivated watching people’s joy as they spontaneously walked, jumped, bounced their way up and down the piano stairs. (66% more people took the piano stairs that day than the ordinary stairs previously.)

Experiencing their delight in my own body-mind, I got intrigued with how we can open up our hearts and minds in wholesome ways just by resonating with other people’s energy, and yet, when it’s necessary to maintain a sense of our own reality, separate from other people’s energy, especially when that energy takes a toxic turn.

May the reflections and resources of this e-newsletter (or new ease-letter, as I caught myself saying yesterday) be helpful to you and yours.


We can think of resonance as a kind of emotional contagion, for good or ill. When we walk into a warm gathering of the friends/family we feel safe with and loved by, our whole being relaxes and our hearts begin to sing. When we’re swept up in a tense, angry mob, we can find ourselves yelling “Kill ‘em! Kill ‘em!” in a way our right minds would never let us actually do. We can be hit suddenly with waves of anxiety or deep grief we weren’t feeling 30 seconds before when we come close into the energy field of someone else deeply overcome by those powerful feelings.

Resonance is the emotional energy or “vibe” human beings use to communicate with one another at a completely unconscious, reflexive level. Neurobiologically, it’s the mechanism that allows a school of fish or a flock of birds to swerve around together, communicating invisibly, instantaneously.

In his The Neuroscience of Human Relationships, neuropsychologist Louis Cozolino suggests that resonance is the ground floor of a three-tier circuit of emotional communication in the body-brain that evolved so that our ancestors on the savannah could sense immediately if someone from another tribe (or even within our own tribe) was safe or dangerous.

Resonance is essential for survival of the group – we’re wired for oneness – and, as social animals, we resonate with other human beings automatically without having to learn how to. As we explore just below, we have to learn how not to.

Resonance is the biological platform for attunement. With attunement we can consciously focus attention on our own emotional landscape, literally to resonate or align with our selves. We can also attune to another person’s emotional experience and “know” it from the inside out within our own bodies.

As we learn to attune to another and to ourselves simultaneously, we develop a “theory of mind” that can know “you are separate from me and I am separate from you. You can be experiencing one thing while I am experiencing something quite different. This sense of psychological separation is as necessary to our individuation and well-being as is being born into a separate physical body that is as unique a manifestation of Life as is anything in existence. We need to be connected with others yet contained in our own unique experience of the moment. We need to be “affected but not infected” by others, as dharma teacher Phillip Moffitt would say.

According to Peter Fonagy, British psychoanalyst and attachment researcher, we should develop this self-reflective T.O.M. capacity by the age of four but, as a psychotherapist, I work daily with honest, decent folks who are still struggling with this developmental task of differentiation. (See Exercises to Practice below)

The simultaneous emotional “knowing” that attunement allows becomes the platform for empathy – a deeply resonant, attuned understanding of another’s experience (or our own) that consciously integrates body resonance and emotional knowing with an accurate awareness of the meaning of the experience, to ourselves to the other.

Many scientists now believe it was the need for empathy that drove the evolution of the higher human brain. Empathy developed the phenomenal neo-cortex that now allows us to create governments, write symphonies and solve global warming. And it’s empathy that becomes the platform for the conscious, compassionate connections that re-kindle a visceral sense of oneness with all of humanity, that supports the generosity and joy of service.

As human beings, we live in the realms of separation and oneness simultaneously. Scientists from many different paradigms are exploring how this can be true.

Is the neurobiological basis of resonance the electromagnetic field of the heart, hundreds if not thousands of times stronger than the electromagnetic field of the brain?, as suggested by the Institute of HeartMath Research in Santa Cruz, CA.

Is it the vagus nerve from the brain stem that regulates heart rate, breath rate and gut reactions, but also connects those autonomic functions to our conscious higher brain in a complex system of social engagement? as Steve Porges at the University of Illinois at Chicago suggests.

Is it mirror neurons that fire in our brain in milliseconds when we perceive the intentions and emotional experiences of another?, as neurologist Marco Iacoboni suggests in Mirroring People: The Science of Empathy and How We Connect With Others.

Is it the energetic body field that reaches beyond the individual body-brain to oneness with everything in existence, as quantum physicists and cell biologists suggest in The Living Matrix?

I’m now part of a study group that is learning the integrated medial networks of the brain allows us to focus awareness on the separate self, and integrated lateral networks allow us to focus awareness in a more spacious, non-self, panoramic way.

I think all of that may be operating in the 2 minute piano stairs video. In watching it, may you enjoy your own experience of the resonance of separateness and oneness.


Once it is accepted that even between the closest human beings, infinite distances continue to exist, a wonderful living side-by-side can grow up if they succeed in loving the distance between them which enables each to see the other whole against the sky.
– Rainer Marie Rilke

* * * * *

Empathy means entering in to the private perceptual world of the other, and becoming thoroughly at home in it. It means temporarily living in her life and moving about it delicately without judgments. It includes communicating your sensing of her world as you look with fresh and unfrightened eyes. It means frequently checking with her as to the accuracy of your sensing and being guided by the responses you receive.

To be with another in this way means that you have to lay aside the views and values that you hold of yourself in order to enter the world of another without prejudice. In some sense, this means that you lay aside yourself. And this can only be done by a person secure enough in himself that he knows he will not get lost in what may turn out to be the strange and bizarre world of the other. Because he knows that he can comfortably return to his own world when he wants.
– Carl Rogers, psychologist and founder of Client-Centered Therapy

* * * * *

Listening… is all about giving. It heals through the power of generosity. It’s an open handed gift that asks nothing in return. Listening asks that we become empty. Willing to receive without agendas or judgment. To be surprised. Good listening requires both attention directed toward the other person, and also toward our own inner life. We need to pay careful attention to our own sensations, feelings, and intuitions. This is what allows us to resonate with another person.
– Frank Osteseski, Founding Director of the San Francisco Zen Hospice Project

* * * * *

Listening is a magnetic and strange thing, a creative force. When we listen to people there is an alternating current, and this recharges us so that we never get tired of each other. It is this little creative fountain inside us that begins to spring up and cast up new thoughts and unexpected laughter and wisdom. When we are listened to, it creates us, makes us unfold and expand. Ideas actually begin to grow within us and come to life.
– Brenda Ueland

* * * * *

Since true listening involves a setting aside of the self, it also temporarily involves a total acceptance of the others. Sensing this acceptance, the speaker will feel less and less vulnerable, and more and more inclined to open up the inner recesses of his or her mind to the listener. As this happens, speaker and listener begin to appreciate each other more and more, and the dance of love is begun again.
– M. Scott Peck

* * * * *

A human being is a part of the whole called by us universe, a part limited in time and space. He experiences himself, his thoughts and feelings as something separated from the rest, a kind of optical delusion of his consciousness. This delusion is a kind of prison for us, restricting us to our personal desires and to affection for a few persons nearest to us. Our task must be to free ourselves from this prison by widening our circle of compassion to embrace all living creatures and the whole of nature in its beauty.
– Albert Einstein

* * * * *

I honor the place within you where
The entire universe resides.

I honor the place within you of love and light,
Of peace and truth.

I honor the place within you where,
when you are in that place in you
and I am in that place in me,
there is only one of us.
– Anonymous


There have been great societies that did not use the wheel, but there have been no societies that did not tell stories.
– Ursula K. LeGuin

Imagine a restaurant where there are no prices on the menu and the check totals $0.00, accompanied by a simple note: “Your meal was a gift from someone who came before you. We hope you’ll pay-it-forward however you wish.”

Here’s a taste of Karma Kitchen generosity, as exemplified by Seva Cafe in Ahmedabad, India. Operated on the principle of a “gift economy,” this restaurant serves food at no charge. Diners enjoy meals that have been paid for by those who came before them. And what patrons contribute is a matter entirely up to them. “You pay from your heart,” explains one of the many volunteers who cook, clean and serve at the restaurant. “The idea is to promote the idea of giving.”

Click here to see a 4-minute video of Seva Café.

* * * * *

Resonance happens between humans and animals, too. See a review of The Horse boy – a fabulous film on autism, attachment and resonance in Books, Websites and Films below.


How to Set Boundaries and Re-Open to Oneness

1. Interoception – the “felt sense” of what’s happening in our bodies at any given moment – is the key to “knowing” who we are from the inside out, even as we remain connected energetically to other people. Mindfulness practice strengthens our capacities of interoception. (fMRI scans show a growth in the neural structures we use for interoception in the brains of adept meditators.)

Whether you already have an ongoing mindfulness practice or not, taking three minutes now to slow down and tune in to your inner landscape can bring you to a sense of resonance, a sense of alignment, within yourself.

Try standing upright, feet planted squarely on the earth. Feel the weight of your legs, your hips, relaxing into the support of the earth. Lift your torso, spine and head toward the sky. Begin breathing deeply into your belly and lower back. Then notice the breath coming up through your chest and throat while inhaling, and back down with a long exhale. Place your hand on your heart if your wish. Notice any body sensations without yet giving them a label (attuning) or a story (empathy). Just notice the sensations and relax into a sense of OK-ness, wholeness, oneness.

You can do a similar mindfulness-interoception practice lying down. Feel the weight of your whole body relax into the support of the earth or floor. Place one hand on your heart, the other hand on your belly; allow the tip of your tongue to rest gently on the roof of your mouth, where the palate meets the teeth. (This allows you to sense a powerful energy meridian running through the midline of your body.) Begin breathing deeply into your belly and lower back. Notice any body sensations without yet giving them a label or a story. Just notice the sensations and relax into a sense of OK-ness, wholeness, oneness.

When you practice mindfulness with a community of people in an atmosphere of safety and trust, as in a class or on retreat, you will likely be entrained into the group consciousness through resonance, either simply being aware of the presence of other people, or being aware of the shared breathing among you and other people (sharing molecules of oxygen, if you can imagine the intimacy, sharing the flow of life energy through each and all of you), being aware of shared consciousness inter-connecting all of you in this shared place and time, inter-connecting all beings through all places and all time.

2. How to use resonance to set boundaries.

I learned this non-verbal, experiential partner exercise from Stan Tatkin, co-author with Marion Solomon of the forthcoming Love and War in Intimate Relationships: A Psychobiological Approach to Couple Therapy.

Decide with your partner which of you is the initiator first, and which one is the receiver first. Begin by standing facing each other 15-20 feet apart. Notice any body sensations, feelings, thoughts coming up at that distance. Then the initiator slowly begins to move toward the receiver. Both of you, the initiator and the receiver, notice any changes in body sensations, feelings, thoughts that come up as the initiator moves closer.

The initiator stops about five feet away from the receiver; both of you notice any shifts in body sensations, feelings, thoughts, at that distance. The initiator again moves toward the receiver until they (the initiator) feels at a comfortable distance (the partner may not). Both notice body sensations, etc. at the initiator’s comfort zone.

The initiator continues to move toward the receiver all the way to full body contact, both of you noticing if/when the closeness becomes uncomfortable. Notice what impulses come up if/when you experience discomfort; what does your body-mind want to do when you experience discomfort?

Then the initiator steps back to a distance where both of you feel comfortable (this could take some non-verbal negotiation!) Then de-brief your experiences, paying attention to your body telling you where in the sequence you would have needed to set a boundary to feel safe. The place may be different for each of you.

Then reverse roles and do the entire sequence again. De-brief again, noticing any differences you experienced as initiator and receiver. The information gathered from the body in this exercise helps you resonate with yourself but also attune and empathize with the other as you navigate separation and oneness in a relationship.

3. The Power of Place to Resonate with Oneness

When people create and inhabit a sense of oneness at the same physical location, over and over again, over time the physical location itself becomes infused with the sacred energy people have brought to it. This is why people make pilgrimages to sacred stone circles in Celtic Ireland or ancient temples in India or Chartres Cathedral in France, where people have sought solace and sanctuary for 800 years, and people walked a sacred labyrinth on the site for millennia before that.

At any of these sacred sites, you can feel your body absorb and settle into a sacred energy of oneness as it resonates with the timeless serenity of these places. We don’t have the same length of years of sacred places in America. (Though our Native American forebears certainly do.) Even so, I experienced this resonance of oneness the first time I walked onto the campus of Omega Institute in New York for a yoga weekend. Nobody even had to tell me the Institute had hosted thousands of people in wellness programs for 30 years. I simply felt the energy as soon as I stepped onto the land.

I experience this now every time I go to Spirit Rock Meditation Center. The resonance is more than memories of personal experiences there. I’m picking up the energy of thousands of other people who have meditated there over the last 20 years, and feel that energy in my own body, my spirit settling into calm.

As wisteria was growing up an arbor in my back yard, every time I tied a tendril with a string to shape its growing, I said a prayer of loving kindness for a friend. When I sit in the arbor now, that loving energy is palpable; it’s not a memory, it’s a resonance.

Find a corner in your home – even a magnet on your refrigerator, an orchid on the coffee table, a treasured photograph on your wall, that can become a locus of resonance with a sense of oneness, with all of life. Focus some attention on it everyday day, allow your heart to become cued to opening to the sacred.

4. Re-Opening to Oneness

This is a guided meditation created by Patricia Ellsberg, facilitator of Deepening Joy groups adjunctive to James Baraz’ course Awakening Joy.

Find a comfortable way to sit and relax. Close your eyes if you wish,

Become aware of your breath, breathing deeply and slowly. Resting in the breath.
Imagine you are breathing through your heart…breathing a sense of contentment and well-being in and out of your heart. If you wish, for a moment, place one hand on your heart and one on your belly….sensing the warmth of your hands on your body. Feeling free to release them whenever you like.

Let the warmth of this calming energy come into your body through your hands, through your breath. Imagine it relaxing the places where there is tension, and bringing light to the places of darkness within you

With each breath, become more and more relaxed….. Relaxing the muscles of your face, your eyes, your jaw. Letting your tongue float in your mouth, becoming heavy and relaxed. Let the relaxation flow down through your neck and shoulders, down through your arms to your fingertips. Allow the muscles of your back to relax and let go, and sense the warmth of relaxation flow down your torso, and hips to your legs and feet.

Find your own way to the still quiet center of your being, your whole body relaxed and your mind calm, spacious, vast.

Now imagine a column of golden light shining down upon you. Imagine the light is entering you through the top of your head, filling your brain, and illuminating your consciousness with light. With each breath, let the light increase and intensify. Sense the radiance flowing down, illuminating your heart. Feel your heart expanding and filling with love, compassion and wellbeing. Let this warm healing energy flow into your body, bringing a sense of comfort and ease. Let it permeate and harmonize every cell. With the in-breath, breathe in a sense of contentment, and deep peace. And with the out breath send it throughout your whole body… your whole being.

Allow yourself to feel that you are abiding in a vast field of radiant love, breathing and being breathed by it, boundless, and whole. Sense that your awareness is expanding to be as vast as space…, open, clear, filled with the light of the sun and the moon  and the galaxies. Sense the boundaries dissolve: There is no inside or outside, only spaciousness and light.

If thoughts or sensations arise, let them come and go, appearing and disappearing like distant clouds in the vast space of consciousness.

Begin to experience yourself as pure, loving awareness…….complete, empty of need or aversion, full of radiant love and the joy of Beingness. Dwell for a moment, relaxed and aware, in the deep peace of well-Beingness.

As you rest in the deep peace of well-beingness, let your daily life come to mind. Notice any awareness of ways in which you dissipate energy and fill your life with unnecessary stress and busyness. How can the deep peace of well-Beingness hold that stress and busyness, help you relax and let it go? How can you be more centered and balanced? How can being and doing become one?

As you close this meditation, let a symbol arise that represents this experience of Beingness. It can be an image or a word or a gesture. Let this symbol become vivid and real in your imagination, so that it can help you anchor this feeling of pure being and re-experience it whenever you take a moment to breathe deeply and recall it.

When you are ready, gently come back here, to this room. Move your hands and feet; open your eyes, coming back slowly to the present moment, feeling deep peace and well-being.

5. Watch the www.karmatube.org videos listed in Books, Websites and Films, below. I offer links to many more short video clips that evoke healing and awakening into aliveness and wholeness. I’ll try to convey enough of the flavor there in print in case you don’t have the time, inclination or capability to follow the links. If you can follow only one, treat yourself to fun theory: piano stairs.


James Baraz offered links to three very short www.karmatube.org videos in his Awakening Joy course October mid-month letter on compassion practice. I watched all three in less than 10 minutes. One thing led to another, including an enthusiastic exploration of many other inspiring videos on www.karmatube.org. That led to offering this resource to you.

Karma Tube is a free collection of short “do something” videos coupled with simple actions people can take to “spread the good”. Its mission is to bring stories of partnership in service to light, multiplying acts of compassion, generosity and selflessness. “Be the change you seek.” – Gandhi

I discovered many of the inspiring YouTube videos friends have sent me over the years were originally sourced by KarmaTube, including Playing for Change featured in the April 2009 e-newsletter: Community Offers True Security.

KarmaTube offers various video channels that promote the resonance of oneness:

Pay It Forward

Besides the Seva Café video, here’s another good one on Doing the Right Thing. Even though this is a one-minute commercial for an insurance company, it’s an inspiring message of doing the right thing and watching goodness and compassion spread. A man picks up a child’s doll that has fallen to the sidewalk, and the child’s mother passes along the kindness by moving a man’s coffee cup from the edge of the table. Someone else views that act of care and later helps a fallen pedestrian find his feet. Generosity and kindness are contagious.

Everyday Heroes

A Real Life Angel in Queens, New York. Jorge Munoz drives a school bus by day and generously feeds the hungry at night. Jorge and his family have prepared more than 70,000 meals over the last four years and delivered them to a street corner near the Roosevelt Avenue-Jackson Heights subway station in Queens, New York. 120 people are fed nourishing meals every night of the year. Jorge pays for the ingredients out of his school bus driver’s salary. “I have my whole family here. These people are alone. This way, they feel they have a small family taking care of them.”

Free Hugs of Juan Mann

Juan Mann started spreading smiles one person at a time, by offering hugs. A music video posted on You Tube shows Juan on the streets of Sydney wearing a sign that says “Free Hugs.” Watch the smiles grow, followed by a ban, followed by a successful petition campaign to restore his simple gesture of caring. One short video later, Juan has shot to fame and is spreading smiles to thousands now. He was recently featured on Good Morning America TV show, all proof that One Man (in this case Juan Mann) can change the world!

Global Oneness

Narrated by Former South African Deputy Minister of Health Nozizwe Madlala-Routledge, this video is best summed up in the translation of its title, Ubuntu: “I am because you are.” Ubuntu is a way of seeing the world, recognizing the interconnectedness of all things, and honoring those relationships. It is also a way of being in the world, and living our lives with the understanding that, in fact, we are our brothers and sisters keeper. Ubuntu takes the idea that “It takes a village to raise a child” and expands it to the truth that it takes all of us helping each other to make the world a better place.

Horse Boy

Please give your heart and soul a treat and see the documentary film The Horse Boy, now opening in theaters nationwide. (See http://www.horseboymovie.com for a list of upcoming screenings.) I recently saw the film at the Mill Valley Film Festival and can’t recommend it highly enough.

The film documents a family’s journey to Mongolia in search of a way to heal their son, Rowan, who has been diagnosed with autism. They travel to Mongolia to ride horses–because even sitting on a horse calms Rowan’s neurological tantrums, which can last up to four hours–and to visit remote shamans, whose healing rituals actually do open up Rowan’s capacities to connect with other human beings again. The film mostly chronicles the family’s journey, but it also includes interviews with leading scientists studying autism, and these interviews help transform our view of autism from a disease to a gateway to a different way of perceiving and participating in the world.

What impressed me most about the film was the deep love the parents have for their son, and their unwavering commitment to his healing. Rowan’s father, Rupert Isaacson, is a lifelong lover of horses and a journalist who had researched shamanic healing among the Bushmen in the Kalahari Desert in Botswana. Rowan’s mother, Kristin Neff, is a professor of psychology at the University of Texas who has done pioneering work on the concept of “self-compassion.”

Rowan’s father was present for a Q&A at the screening of the film that I saw, and he added many details about their journey. He also discussed how scientists are now thinking that the warmth, touch, and movement of riding a horse releases the bonding hormone oxytocin, and that the rocking motion of riding on a horse helps re-balance the brain and open the way for quantum leaps in healing.

The Horse Boy is transformative for viewers as well as for its subjects. It opens our hearts to the healing powers of love and compassion; it opens our minds to the importance of different ways of being in the world.

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