The Relevance of Resonance

The Relevance of Resonance

Throughout the year, we are subject to the power of shared experiences to “entrain” us in shared feelings and behaviors – we’re in a crowd of 20,000 fans yelling our heads off at a miraculous touchdown that saves the day for the home team; we jump to our feet in enthusiastic applause at a moving performance at the theatre or symphony. We can notice our moods and actions shift when we are around people who are very discouraged or very belligerent, too; feeling feelings that weren’t ours ten minutes ago, or now acting in ways that aren’t “us.”

Other people’s emotions in shared experiences entrain us, positively or negatively, because of our biological capacities for resonance – the innate (and unconscious) capacities to “pick up the vibe” of people around us, sometimes without our conscious intention to be so influenced, even in spite of our conscious intentions to be not so influenced. As human beings, we share an experience, we share a common energy with our fellow human beings, and our moods and behaviors shift in response to the reverberations continually passing between ourselves and others.

Entrainment through our natural capacities – vulnerabilities? – for resonance can be especially powerful during this holiday season. We rejoice and gladden our hearts through the shared celebrations of many traditions, religious and secular, that honor the promise of new life, new hope, new beginnings for the coming year, and are grateful to do so. We are happy to be entrained in the spirit of giving, of caring, of connecting with those we love and cherish. Resonance at its best – filling the heart and nourishing the soul.

Through resonance, we may also get caught up in the frenzy of shopping and shipping, become entrained in entertaining and generally going nuts because so many folks around us are, too. We can also resonate empathically with the loneliness and fear many are vulnerable to at this time of year, where loss and lack of connection or personal resources tug at the heart.

In this season of re-connecting with many, many folks in our lives, friends and family, some of whom resonate with our deepest longings for love and happiness, some of whom are a challenge, may these reflections and practices be useful to you and yours

REFLECTIONS on the Relevance of Resonance

The gift of resonance is:

We can always choose to hang out with people with whom we know we will get entrained into a wholesome state of mind. At this time of year, we can resonate with the general merriment of neighbors dropping in for eggnog or the wide-eyed exuberance of children building a gingerbread house. We can walk into someone’s home and be entrained in the serenity of candlelight, music, and good humor from all corners to all comers. Our own hearts are lifted, our horizons expand, our spirits soar. It behooves us to seek the resonance of simple joys and delights in the midst of so much hub-bub and hectic-ness.

Resonance is also the gateway to empathy.

When we are receptive to it, resonance is how we feel in our bodies the innate inter-connectedness we share with all of life. Through resonance, we can choose to open our hearts to the plight of the planet and the folks who inhabit it.

[The resonance of] suffering and joy teach us, if we allow them, how to make the leap of empathy, which transports us into the soul and heart of another person. In those transparent moments we know other people’s joys and sorrows, and we care about their concerns as if they were our own.
– Fritz Williams

This capacity of resonance –our feeling the state of another in our own being – is the basis of all authentic charitable giving at this time of year. Our minds may be cognizant of tax-deductions, but our hearts are moved to act on behalf of our common humanity. It behooves us to seek opportunities to practice generosity, feeling the good will arising in our own hearts as we touch the lives of others.

The hazard of resonance is: we can get entrained in a common swirl of energetic reverberation that is less than wholesome. The frenzy of shopping, the worrying about what will people think and how come I wasn’t invited, the age old dynamics in families that we have outgrown and can get sucked back into in a heartbeat. It behooves us to protect our own sense of centeredness and equanimity as we move through the holi-daze, to “be affected but not infected”, as Phillip Moffitt says.

The deeper relevance of resonance is: reverberating with the visions and aspirations at the heart of all the traditions celebrating the turn of the dark toward the light at this holy-day season. To love our fellow man and ourselves, with understanding, compassion, and forgiveness, to seek the good and true in all our thoughts, words and deeds, to cherish the goodness inherent in every embodied soul. Resonance with the sacred, however we experience and celebrate that, reminds us who we truly are, and helps us abide with a peaceful heart in these times, in all times.


Notice what happens when you’re at a party with friends. If you approach a group that is laughing, you’ll probably find yourself smiling or chuckling even before you’ve heard the joke. Or perhaps you’ve gone to dinner with people who’ve suffered a recent loss. Without their saying anything, you may begin to sense a feeling of heaviness in your chest, a welling up in your throat, tears in your eyes. Scientists call this emotional contagion. The internal states of others – from joy and play to sadness and fear – directly affect our own state of mind.
– Daniel J. Siegel, Mindsight

* * * * *

If we are to love our neighbors, before doing anything else we must see our neighbors. With our imagination as well as our eyes, that is to say like artists, we much see not just their faces but the life behind and within their faces. Here it is love that is the frame we see them in.
– Frederick Buechner

* * * * *

You know, there’s a lot of talk in this country about the federal deficit. But I think we should talk more about our empathy deficit – the ability to put ourselves in someone else’s shoes; to see the world through the eyes of those who are different from us – the child who’s hungry, the steelworker who’s been laid-off, the family who lost the entire life they built together when the storm came to town. When you think like this – when you choose to broaden your ambit of concern and empathize with the plight of others, whether they are close friends or distant strangers – it becomes hard not to act; hard not to help.
– Barack Obama

* * * * *

A Fondness for Each Other

I maintain that we are born and grow up
With a fondness for each other,
And that we have genes for that.
We can be talked out of that fondness,
For the genetic message is like a distant music,
And some of us are hard of hearing.
Societies are noisy affairs,
Drowning out the sound of ourselves and our connection.
Hard of hearing, we go to war.
Stone-deaf, we make thermonuclear missiles.
Nonetheless, the music is there,
Waiting for more listeners.
– Lewis Thomas

* * * * *

To know of someone here and there with whom we accord, who is living on with us even in silence, this makes our earthly ball a peopled garden.
– Johann Wolfgang von Goethe


[Yes, I’m writing a book on resilience, and am immersed these days in stories of how resonance helps us “come home” when other people and events can so easily rock our world.]

This past October, my brother Barry phoned from Michigan just as a friend walked though my house into my garden for tea. My sister-in-law had been admitted to the hospital for emergency surgery; my brother collapsed into a deep terror of losing his “rock” and at least had the presence of mind to call me. I could hear the agitation and desperateness in my brother’s voice. I could feel his discombobulated energy right through the phone. My friend overheard the talk of hospital and surgery and ‘of course you’re worried’, and simply came to stand by me; she didn’t walk off into another part of the garden to look at the impatiens and give me my space; she stood right by my side and listened with her head bowed quietly. The resonance of her unspoken compassion steadied me, supporting my words of comfort and coping to my brother.

A few years ago, I had the privilege of hearing Jack Kornfield and Pema Chodron interviewed together by Michael Krasny about living in this world with wisdom, compassion and equanimity. One of the women in the fairly large audience asked about how to cope with the recent suicide of her best friend, how to cope in the face of such sudden and devastating loss. With only a moment’s pause, Jack asked any folks in the audience, who had also experienced the suicide of someone close to them, to stand up. 300 people stood up. Jack asked the woman to look around and see the huge number of people who could directly resonate with her struggle. It was a palpable resonance for all of us. We all have to deal with the loss of people close to us for reasons we cannot explain or make sense of. We all need to be entrained in the felt sense of our common humanity, our common vulnerability, our common hope in eventual resilience and recovery.


1. We can notice what state of mind we’re in at any given moment; simply noticing. Then discerning whether that state of mind serves our deeper desires for peace of mind, gladness of heart, genuine well-being.

2. We can choose to seek more wholesome environments, more like-minded, like-hearted people to resonate with. Knowing we can be entrained so easily by the state of mind and heart of anyone else around us, we intentionally seek proximity to folks, individually, in small gatherings, in community celebrations, most likely to help us keep our hearts open in authenticity and joy.

3. We can stay centered, set boundaries, entrain others. We can create our own energy field strong enough to stay centered ourselves, then entrain others in our intentions for kindness, generosity, and good will rather than losing ourselves in something less than. (As I was able to do with my brother, my centeredness calming him down. As you are able to do anytime your own calm abiding re-rights others.)

4. We can anchor in deeper meaning. We all have values and virtues we seek to live by. Many of the religious and secular traditions of these holy-days remind us of the deepest truths that help us steer our course. We share the reminders of these truths through gatherings with friend, in communities, in services of worship, in poetry. Taking the time to find the deeper anchoring makes everything else more workable.

5. We can act in empathic resonance.

How wonderful it is that nobody need wait a single moment before starting to improve the world.
– Anne Frank

Taking action out of care and compassion is relevant any time of year. As we let ourselves be reminded now of the deep joy and meaning that is ours anytime we are moved in our hearts to act on behalf of others, we can set new intentions to act more directly, more compassionately, more effectively in the coming year. Every intention is relevant when it is resonant with needs of our larger human family.


[links to videos that will simply knock your socks off:]

Resonance in action.

At age 6, Ryan Hreljac learned that people around the world were dying because they had no access to clean water. With the help of his family, Ryan raised his first $2,000 to build a well in Africa. Ryan went on to create the Ryan’s Well Foundation, a charity committed to building clean water wells in Africa. He then took his message on the road lecturing in schools and forums across North America to raise awareness for his cause. Today, at 17, his fund-raising efforts are responsible for a total of 432 water and sanitation projects in 15 countries, providing clean water to over 577,640 people.

This You-Tube video links you to 83 more 3-4 minute videos of people who acted on their resonance with the need of people around the world. Truly inspirational, at any time of year.

Doing the right thing.

Even though this is a one-minute commercial for an insurance company, it’s an inspiring message of resonating with 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. We resonate, we empathize; without thinking, we act in care and compassion.

Dance The World Awake

Regardless of your politics, this flash-mob dance in support of the Occupy Movement is radiant with resonance and a clarion call for resonance among all of us as our collective humanity and our planet faces economic injustice and environmental devastation. Wholesome, exuberant, and high energy.