Empathic apes

Orangutan mother and kids. By Patrick Bouquet, Chantilly

Orangutan mother and kids. By Patrick Bouquet, Chantilly

The year is 1955, and far from the nearest village, somewhere within the Northwestern jungle region of Thailand, a 48 year-old Englishman and ordainee to the Buddhist monkhood sits quietly in studious attention. A few feet away, a female ape sits, arms carefully wrapped around some precious possession. The monk first chanced upon her the previous day, and due to the curiosity roused in observing her melancholic countenance, has remained respectfully nearby to her. A trust has developed, the ape sensing the monk’s gentle disposition and harmlessness. He really ought to be making his way to the village for alms, yet somehow senses that he should stay. A silent, palpable communication has developed between the two, and slowly, carefully and deliberately, the ape, her sadness still etched upon her face, finally unfolds her arms and offers a first sight of what she has been protecting. The monk slowly approaches to within a pace or two, sensing the invitation, only to catch sight of her lifeless and terribly deformed baby.

Two empathic apes, ancestrally and psychologically speaking, separated by little more in this moment than a distant, lineage-splitting, speciation event. Opposable thumbs, one hers and one his, in turn chase away a monk’s tear and a delicately mottled butterfly as it alights from the baby’s forehead, though cannot do the same for their conjoined feelings. Eyes meet, evincing as they do a deepening rush of sadness. Nothing can be done – is this what she is thinking in her way? In his unknowing, the saffron-robed wanderer radiates compassion, yet knows he has nothing to do with it; an offering from wisdom, not from the self. All that need be known arrives in the fullest of measures. What use now the venerable elder’s sagacity, his knowledge of emptiness, renunciation, equanimity, the void? She inhabits the void, is the void, her bleak knowing piercing its veils. Without turning, the monk slowly retreats, still reverently holding her gaze alongside a shared understanding. A slight suggestion of a bowing head betokens what passes between them.

It is the ability to empathise which in part distinguishes the psychopathic mind from its otherwise healthy state, and the primary orbit of empathy is that of feeling, not the mere gyrations of intellect. This is why many species of sentience can empathise, and we human animals are but one of them. We may erroneously presume that an ability to reflect upon others’ situations facilitates human empathic capacity; yet the state of those others and their situations need not be known as verbally abstracted objects in the mind – little stories packaged in words. We may just as well occupy others’ frames of reference by intuited means; and vitality, morbidity, distress and joy may all be recognised across species in differing ways; one need not indulge any anthropomorphisation, for clear evidence abounds. What is intuited here, or instinctively known, is the nature of the other’s felt emotional condition; and in this way, 60 years ago, the grieving mother ape and mendicant monk shared that intense experience – a wordless world of deep, primate feeling.

Engraving of Orangutan. By Willem Piso (1611-1678). Courtesy Wellcome Trust

Engraving of Orangutan. By Willem Piso (1611-1678). Courtesy Wellcome Trust

Was the mother ape empathic? Well, she came to appreciate the monk’s amity; she felt able to extend trust; she intuited the monk’s concern for her as well as his desire for understanding as to the reasons for, and significance of, her sadness; and finally, she recognised that the monk would feel something of that sadness in revealing its causes to him. This is all to say that she significantly placed herself within the monk’s frame of reference and innately understood that emotions can be matched in shared experience – the personal does not expire at the boundary of the body. Her empathic appreciation was sophisticated, certainly moreso than any psychopathic human ape. Now, one way to cheat the system is to mimic expressions and gestures, which results in a like proprioceptive sense. This means our feelings echo the other’s, so affecting an emotional contagion of sorts, whether volitionally induced or not. Yet neither jungle dweller did so, their empathic link being forged in mind purely intuitively, and silently.

Empathy subsists in knowledge; it is in part to know the mind of the other, and whilst its currency is both cognitive (knowing) and emotional (feeling) in nature, it is the latter that strengthens the connective link to altruistic and prosocial leanings, as well as ameliorating aggressive traits. Primates’ mirror-neuron systems help forge innate empathic leanings, with research suggesting that empathy evolved in part as a survival mechanism. Right now, tens of thousands of refugees are fleeing war-torn regions of Africa and the Middle East so as to seek sanctuary, and survival, in Europe. A few hours ago, a three year-old Syrian boy, Aylan Kurdi, drowned and was washed up on the shores of the Greek island of Kos. Equally tragically, his five year-old brother met a similar fate. Whilst Europe’s politicians exhibit an ongoing empathy gap, innocent children are dying. We live, not literally, though metaphorically, in a jungle, sharing the empathic faculties of the monk and bereaved mother ape. Are we wise enough to nurture the same?

187 thoughts on “Empathic apes

    • The Star Trek episode with the Horta is one of my favorites. It had a profound impact on me in the seventies. Thank you for this post. Empathy can be painful. But we must hope it spreads. If we can share our pain and our joy, there is hope for us.

      • Thank you JoAnna, I had no idea what the screen shot for the above video was referring to in all truth, other than gathering it was some reference to Star Trek, which I never watched. And thank you for your further thoughts, which of course I share. Europe’s citizens are currently being tested in the matter with the exodus from Africa and the Middle East in particular, and so far have risen admirably to the challenge, unlike, it must be said, our political leaders – the German Chancellor Mrs. Merkel aside. Thank you once again JoAnna, for your interest and presence.

    • Dear Ka,

      I am touched by your kind and generous reflection, yet moreso by its deeply heartfelt tone. I was not sure whether to include the hyperlink on the name of the young Syrian boy, as the article linked to brings home the full tragedy of what is currently happening, and in graphic detail. Also, this is not a political blog, yet issues such as this necessarily draw politics into its remit. On balance, I felt I must, as not to do so would be to act in the manner of our political leaders, who largely would rather pretend the problem does not exist.

      With gratitude and respect,


  1. Touching reflection on this biological gift, Hariod
    Of empathy & compassion arising from
    Understanding that we are both
    Not the same, nor different
    From ancestors.
    May we someday
    As a species
    Deserve recognition
    As noble apes. 🙂

    • Thank you Karuna, and yes, I would be delighted and honoured if you would republish this piece. I am unsure as to what extent the refugee crisis affecting Europe has impacted in the States, and the wider the knowledge is spread, the more we may each feel moved to exercise our empathy, and of course, compassion too. And how apt that one with your name should make such a request: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Karu%E1%B9%87%C4%81

      With gratitude and respect,


  2. Hi Hariod,

    The story is indeed very powerful as it brings out the natural emotional reactions, without a single [further] word. I have always felt that emotions can be felt and conveyed more through body language than with words, which are never enough, especially for emotional connections.

    The video is terrific, exuding so much realism, and information, which can prove to be extremely useful in today’s world of pretended empathy! There is no doubt we need outrospection (I like the coining of this word) as has been illustrated so well in this video. Just within 10:28 minutes, the speaker has condensed historical facts and consequences with outstanding graphics, convincing us how empathy’s new face can benefit the world.

    Thank you so much for sharing an excellent and thought provoking post.

    With reverence, Balroop.

    • Hi Balroop,

      Thank you so much for considering my words, and also for your kind and generous reflection; I appreciate both greatly. And yes, the qualities of empathy, compassion, loving kindness, altruistic joy, and so forth, transmit themselves, both to our own consciousness and to that of others, by means of (shared) feeling. Sometimes, it seems to me, loquacity and verbosity can get in the way of what we are offering to another, when what is needed is the silently shared language of the heart. Thank you also for taking the time to watch the RSA video, which I thought was a helpful and educative graphic addition to my simple offering in words.

      With gratitude and respect,


  3. Gorgeous, beautiful, wonderful piece, Hariod. Stunning. Please, submit this to the NYT’s OpEd. It deserves the widest possible dissemination.

    And just another example of empathy in action.

    • Thank you so much for your kindness and most elevating words of encouragement John. Coming from you particularly, and on the perhaps misguided assumption that you are not mischievously being a tad ironic, then the effect is humbling. I see that a reader of yours, none other than Stephen Law, is himself being a tad ironic in respect to your new book:

      The image of the rhino and zebra is quite tremendous John; I can scarcely believe what I am looking at. Thank you!

            • Unfortunately, the poachers have no mercy with the rhinos; several species are already extinct and some are near to extinction. It looks like not empathy, but the lack of it, or the ability to suppress it and to devalue others, which is typical of us.

              Your post reminded me of one of the letters of my grandfather. I am currently working on transcribing them, but the one I mean is not yet transcribed and I can’t find it at the moment, so cannot give an exact translation but can only describe what he wrote the way I remember it:

              My grandfather went to a zoo and was watching monkeys (he writes “Äffchen” as far as I remember, and that would be little monkeys, so these where not apes). Suddenly, one of the monkeys shouted, threw something on the ground and quickly climbed a tree. It had obviously been stung on the hand by a wasp, and was licking its hand. Another monkey came, put its arm around it and also licked the other monkey’s hand. I think this is an example of empathy as well.

      • No mischievousness here, Hariod. I’m a card-holding, flag-waving Humanist and Naturalist before irksome lambaster of theism, and this piece was simply marvellous. You have a stunning capacity with words, and your vision is crystal.

        Has Law spoken about the book again? He put out a series of tweets a while ago, and we’ve been chatting over email, but he’s out promoting his own book at the moment. Now, there is a mischievous soul. 🙂

        • Phew! It was simply that I doubted the suggestion of seeking wider publication, let alone anything remotely like that which you suggested. Anyway, I am gratified to learn that the story of the young Syrian boy’s tragic demise has today ignited something of a debate in the MSM, at least in this corner of the globe, if not elsewhere. If you have the stomach for it, then do please consider reading The Guardian article which I hyperlinked with the boy’s name in the closing paragraph of the article. Many thanks once again for your interest and engagement John.

          • I’ll never regret that! The numbers of abandoned animals here is atrocious, and there is absolutely no government support. We help finance three rescue/shelters, but I want to get a mobile neutering van going so we can actually start to tackle this problem in a meaningful way. Brazilian’s don’t lack heart, just foresight. It’s infuriating.

            • John, I’ve been following your conversation here with Hariod with great interest, for it resonates with much of what Jean and I believe in. Without wishing to come over as too egoistical, I have my first book coming out in November and 50% of the net proceeds will be going to our nearest animal shelter, the Rogue Valley Humane Society. This was all inspired by Jean who, when I first met her in Mexico, was rescuing the many abandoned dogs (and cats) found on the streets of San Carlos. When we moved from San Carlos to Arizona, we came with 14 dogs and 5 cats. Regrettably, we are now only with 9 dogs and 4 cats (plus 2 rescue horses) here in Southern Oregon.

              • Excellent stuff! I’m keen to read your book. What’s it on? We have 5 cats and three dogs, but I’ve literally lost count of how many we’ve rescued, neutered, nursed back to health, and had adopted out. The tragedy is, it just never stops, and no one is truly working to get the problem under control. We’re in a smaller city now, and, unlike Sao Paulo where we lived for 6 years, it is possible to see a way to fix things here. Geographically, it’s not so overwhelming, and with a coordinated education program (and mobile neutering vans) it can be tackled – which would then provide a blueprint for other cities to replicate.

                • Thanks John. The book picks up and expands upon what I write on the home page of my blog, namely: “As man’s companion, protector and helper, history suggests that dogs were critically important in man achieving success as a hunter-gatherer. Dogs ‘teaching’ man to be so successful a hunter enabled evolution, some 20,000 years later, to farming, thence the long journey to modern man. But in the last, say, 100 years, that farming spirit has become corrupted to the point where we see the planet’s plant and mineral resources as infinite. Mankind is close to the edge of extinction, literally and spiritually. Dogs know better, much better! Time again for man to learn from dogs!”

                  Really appreciate your interest, Paul.

  4. More and more of this type of action is being caught on camera – animals showing empathy and real gratitude when someone is able to help them. In turn, animals helping humans and developing true friendships that span time is recorded as well. Funny, after being taught from my youth that I had ‘dominion over the earth’, and that man was the only creature with a ‘soul’, we are actually finding that many other animals have feelings, and empathy, and gratitude, and awareness. We just had to stop and take a look. Excellent read. Enjoy your day!

    • Thank you Jim the jungle dweller! I am delighted to have caught your attention with something of interest, and grateful for your kind words and insightful reflections. And yes, the myths we are taught as children regarding the primacy and uniqueness of the human animal are as much absurd as they are pernicious. I could never buy into the soul-myth as a child, and so the indoctrinators were rather flogging a dead horse with me. A while later I stumbled into Orthodox Buddhism and the philosophical concept of ‘anatta’ – meaning ‘no soul’ – which instantly struck a chord deep within. I hope to hear from you before too long Jim, and in the meantime, hope that you stay well and contented.

      Thank you once again, and regards to your fellow jungle dwellers,


  5. That is a touching story. Thanks for sharing, Hariod. Humans and animals are both capable of empathy, and it is a much needed trait in today’s world. I like the video about outrospection.

    Thanks for this thought-provoking post,


    • Many thanks for reading this month’s offering Karin, and also for your kind comments. And thank you also for taking the time to watch the RSA video, which seemed to me a complementary visual counterpart to my simple words. You mention matters being ‘thought-provoking’, and here in Europe we have much to provoke thinking currently – I of course mean the escalating refugee crisis. I only hope that our politicians will rise to the challenge before more innocent victims of oppression meet their fate in the tragic manner of the little Syrian boy I referred to in the piece.

      With gratitude and respect,


  6. Well done, Hariod. Indeed. I hate to over play the word ‘beautiful’, but damn if it isn’t.

    Although, as you know, I’m not of the evolutionary bent (as it pertains to us humans), there are pieces of us in them [apes] and them in us, of this I feel confident. And what connects us goes well beyond the accepted physical scientific explanations, as I think you might hint at here, if only in your own scientifically well-spoken manner.

    Now, if you’ll pardon me for injecting my personal view as it relates in some, I feel, rather significant way to empathy, which I believe [itself is] a byproduct of compassion. But first, know that it is not my intent to diminish your post, not in the least, and of which I’m thoroughly behind; yet I feel I may come across as contentious, which I may be, such is my passion, or perhaps it is my arrogance.

    Be that what it may, tales and images such as these stir high emotions, as well they should, but only in a select few people. Never think empathy, or its parent, compassion (for anything other than of a self-concern), a universal trait among our species. It is not, sadly.

    And even among many of those exhibiting empathy, it is proportioned and selectively dispensed, born of a shallow and fleeting sense of moral obligation, and or a sense of foreboding. It is our moral duty to feel empathy, lest the same or similar fate befall us or those we love.

    However, every day millions are raped. Everyday babies are stolen from their mothers, who mourn. Everyday millions are beaten, caged, tortured, and murdered. Brutally. Cold heartedly. Needlessly for food. And yet they in their incomparable suffering, the degree of which the world has never before witnessed, draw only a slight degree of empathy, compassion, or concern, as the ape in the tale and picture above. And why? Because people don’t eat apes. As a rule they don’t, though in actuality some will eat any damn thing. I once saw Maxwell Klinger try to eat a Jeep in a Mash episode. But that’s probably not a valid example.

    Thank you, Hariod; lovely post. I’ll tend to the video later.

    • Dear Peter,

      Firstly, you must please never feel uncomfortable in disagreeing with any or all of that which I write. As I make clear elsewhere on this site, this is an open forum for discussion and respectful exchange, not a place reserved for mutual back-slapping and hollow disingenuousness. Having said that, I feel that you may be distancing yourself rather more from my perspective than is altogether warranted my noble friend. Do please allow me to explain:

      In the article, I make reference to what distinguishes the psychopathic mind from its otherwise healthy state. This is to acknowledge that the world has many inhabitants, whether clinically diagnosed or not, who ought be considered psychopaths. As well you know, many of these types hold powerful positions in public office, private corporations, or would present themselves as pillars of local communities, or upstanding family members. Let me go on.

      You make mention of rapists, child kidnappers, and violent sadists. All such types are unequivocally psychopaths in my view, and would, I suspect, qualify as such on clinical grounds too. Yet these are very far from being the norm Peter, and am sure you would concede that this is so, would you not? Neither do they constitute anything like a numerically significant minority in my opinion, although on this you may well, I suspect, disagree.

      Following the publication of the photograph of the three year-old Syrian boy lying face down, drowned, at the water’s edge on a Greek island, the airwaves today have been humming with protests that our governments must act. I have heard many say they would be willing to take refugees into their own homes. Voices to the contrary have been notably thin in number, and which I hope is a reflection of how the empathic scales are balanced in the matter.

      Empathy and compassion I too see as interrelated. The former is largely about perspective taking, or as I say above, inhabiting the other’s frame of reference. This can be ‘Affective Empathy’, which is intuited emotive feeling, or ‘Cognitive Empathy’, which is a perspective taking more akin to a theory of (the other’s) mind. Compassion, we may agree, is the desire to alleviate the other’s suffering, or action borne of empathic understanding.

      Please feel entirely free to push back at anything I have said here Peter, some of which, it is fair to say, is merely inference borne of my own life experience. On the whole, and whilst acknowledging that I live under privileged circumstances relative to most, then I have found people to contain shades of both good and ugly, yet the good is almost invariably there, albeit often masked by self-centredness, fearfulness and cupidity.

      Thank you my friend, your integrity shines forth as ever with a seldom matched lucency.


  7. This is a great meditation on empathy. I have read of people dying in trucks, of boats sinking as they try to cross to what most of them see as hope. It is a real humanitarian crisis.

    • Thank you for your kind words and interest OM; I appreciate both greatly. The current crisis has the potential to escalate into something of biblical proportions I fear, only this time, it will not be a fiction. The governments of Europe, ineffectual as they are on global issues, must act; it was they, after all, who were the genesis of the problem.

  8. I hope empathy can find its way in Hariod, and we can connect at the level of the heart as ‘we’ debate ‘our’ fate. For at the level of life, it really is ‘our’ fate. A heart filled with compassion will be able to see that. The story you shared was beautiful; the silent language of the heart doesn’t need telling to be understood; a well cultivated heart will sense and feel it nonetheless. Aylan’s mention breaks my heart.

    • Thank you for your presence and heartfelt reflections Precious Rhymes; they both mean much to me, as they will to others too in what very much appears to be a shared perspective. I agree, one senses that things are in the balance as regards our fate currently, and the potential for this crisis to become biblical in scale must surely awaken within us at least the seeds of compassionate action. The airwaves are humming today here in England at news of Aylan’s tragic demise, his brother’s and his mother’s too I have now sadly learned. Now is the time for the EU to act decisively in the matter, for if they do not, it will be to their eternal shame. Thank you once more for your contribution; I greatly appreciate it.

  9. Dear Hariod,

    Your words here painted a vivid picture in my mind as my own empathic thoughts reached out to the orangutan. And I hope sincerely that our own empathy will also reach out to help facilitate the changes that we as human beings need so as to help bring about the peace which we all yearn for, and yet find so hard to attain.

    I also thank you for a most enlightening ten minutes of excellent viewing and explanation of empathy. It shows, dear Hariod, that even though we posted separately upon differing subjects, how closely they linked together, and this is always a wonderful sign of our empathic thoughts in unity. 🙂

    Sue ❤

    • Thank you dear Sue for coming along and casting your wise eyes across this month’s offering; it is always a true delight to see you here, and further to hear your sagacious reflections. I am pleased and also grateful for you having taken the time to view the RSA video, which seems to me a complementary and erudite addition to my simple offering. I rather disagree with the narrator’s claim that introspection has failed in its capacity to inform meaningfully, though other than that, thought the video included some powerful ideas in a stimulating and concise manner.

      With lots of love and all my very best wishes dear Sue.

      Hariod ❤

      • Your choice complemented your post perfectly Hariod, and I often call by about once a week to see if there are any new updates. 🙂 I love delving within your thoughts. 🙂 Lots of love back my friend. 🙂

  10. This is incredibly moving Hariod, and a powerful message for us all to listen from our heart, to understand from our being. Empathy can only come about in the direct sharing of mutual emotional pain and anguish that we apes can relate to.

    The video is informative and helpful. Yet there is a part of me that is horrified at the idea of inflicting pain directly so that others understand and empathize. Let us be like the monk who took time to be curious and patient, to be present, to be vulnerable and to communicate from a deep sense of knowing and love.

    As a coach I remind myself often with this quote from Marshall Rosenberg, the founder of Non Violent Communication. “Intellectual understanding blocks empathy”. Food for thinking less and being more ape-like. I, of course, love this because it transcends belief and [leads] into our way of being in the world.

    Thank you for sharing such a profound and moving piece Hariod. ❤️

    • Thank you so much for connecting so resonantly and fulsomely here Val; I can truly sense that you appreciate both the message I have tried to convey, as well as the greater depths of understanding that may issue in correspondence to it. I am a little mystified at your comments about the video, and am sure I have missed something – were you referring to the idea of an Empathy Museum? The part of it that I questioned was the opening in which the speaker was somewhat dismissive of introspection. Looking inwards at the mind does have its limitations; it is an unreliable witness to itself, so to speak. And yet off-setting that, and given that thoughts generally are not examined for their detailed content in meditation/contemplation, then the many boons of gaining an intimate understanding of one’s own mind are immeasurable, profound, and certainly life-changing. I know that much of your work is based on a similar belief Val, so please forgive me for ‘taking coals to Newcastle’.

      With much gratitude, love and respect.

      Hariod ❤

      • Thank you Hariod for your kind and empathetic words. ❤️

        Yes, it was the idea of the empathy museum that triggered my imagined horrific response. I have that with zoos too. It sets us apart and creates more distance and labels. The parents circle is an example of an approach that is aligned with, and reflects, the essential message of empathy.

        He did dismiss introspection, didn’t he, but then again he had a short amount of time to deliver his message on outrospection. My thought/judgment is that a he does not practice meditation.

        Such a good conversation. Thank you!

  11. Loved the pared back wording in this article Hariod. It created a softness which perfectly reflected the empathic tone of the piece – vulnerable and half way between an inner and outer breath. What a beautiful story.

    It is interesting you should bring up the mime of expressions – something that I have been pondering over the last couple of weeks. Growing up, I always did just copy; to fit in mostly, but also to add things that I enjoyed about others onto myself. An accumulation of ‘others’ and no sense of self. In this aspect, for me personally, introspection and total world block-out for a period was totally necessary. I truly believe it is inevitable – by means of true introspection (not that there is any false introspection?) – to then cultivate empathy for others, a natural by-product of both compassion and understanding for one another.

    I also find interesting the labels we seem to attach to beings. ‘Monk’, ‘artist’, are just beings who have taken the time to better understand their condition & take full responsibility for their time here on earth.

    Was the ape sensing the monk(ey)?

    • Thank you so much for your lovely words of encouragement Jessie; I do so appreciate getting feedback on my writing style, as I know I have much to learn. Quite often, people remark – not unkindly – that I use obscure words, and yet I think this is primarily a reflection of my advanced age and love of the English language, which is so rich and should not be reduced to mere grunts and gestural emoticons, as the same would diminish our power of expression I feel. For myself and many others, it is a question of stepping up to the challenge rather than down to it, although I know I fail in each attempt. Thank you for bearing with me in my occasional stumbling.

      I am with you entirely on the power of introspection, and in fact disagree with the claim made at the start of the RSA video at the top of the comments, even though I put it there myself. Ah well, if I am not a walking contradiction than I probably am not altogether human. And to be altogether human one needs to access our innate capacity to empathise, as you say, to cultivate active compassion and heartfelt understanding too. This really was the gist of my previous two articles – the ‘synecdoche’ pairing – in which I put forward the idea that in coming to understand ourselves, we glean insight into the other’s condition too. Again, as you say, a ‘natural by-product’.

      Thank you for telling me about your early life, in which I think I can sense the nascent artist feeling her way into the world. I suppose one might say that creativity is about absorbing the world and then reflecting it back in some unique fashion – do tell me if you would disagree. I did something similar as a child myself, although readily confess to not being able to reflect anything back with a creative slant. I am a cracked old mirror reflecting the images of other mirrors alone. Some of those images seem to have an unusual clarity and so strike a note within me, yet I can never see the same as some sort of internalised and enduring quintessence. It is all just reflections, empty light.

      Was the ape sensing the monk(ey)? Yes indeed, through the aperture of empathy.

      Hariod ❤

      • My intent wasn’t to give feedback on your writing style, I have learned a lot from your eloquent wordsmithing abilities, and it has deepened/enriched my own; it was just easier for me to digest, I guess. I am a terrible speller and reader.

        I’m not sure if I agree about the creativity part. And started writing why, but then deleted it all because I’m unsure how to articulate it properly. Life’s so much easier in person.

        ‘Empty light’. I like that.

        ‘Aperture of empathy’. I like that, too. 🙂

        • I would have liked to have heard your thoughts on creativity Jessie, and am sorry you abandoned your efforts to detail them – perhaps some other time on your own blog? People’s ideas vary of course, and I have lived and worked with creative people all my life – a partner of a great many years was a highly respected painter. Some talk about creativity as an internalised quality, not necessarily a conscious or volitionally accessible one, but something that is innate, indwelling, that springs forth under certain circumstances. Others still would speak of creative inspiration being drawn as if from without, as though they were some accessible appendage being utilised by a mysterious higher power. I was once in conversation with a musician called Ginger Baker, who long before you were born had become a respected artist, with some success to match. He insisted that his creative source was god, and when I challenged him to define in further detail what he meant, he simply was unable to do. I understand that god is, supposedly, ineffable, and yet really what it amounted to was that he had no idea as to his creative source, and rather assumed it was something bestowed upon him, as if by the hands or mind of another. I daresay my own take above on creativity was rather more prosaic, and of course, is merely inference on a subject I have no expertise in. I am drawn to artists and creative people, and always have been, perhaps as some vicarious means of accessing something I lack – all of which takes us neatly back to your childhood I suppose. H ❤

          • Thank you for sharing Hariod.

            My thoughts on the subject change all of the time, along with my experience with so called ‘creativity’; although your thoughts sparked a lengthy pondering that kept me awake.

            ‘You can think about this tomorrow, Jessie, there is another day’, she said.

            It just showed that I haven’t an exact, clear view on the subject – another reason I left art school without the piece of paper.

            In this case, I have picked up the abandoned efforts and you will see my efforts shortly. Or longly – depending on the weather. 🙂

  12. Charles Darwin must be turning in his grave, and pleasurably and contemptuously at that, at the irony in an entire auditorium of sophisticated simians listening to a lecture on empathy and shared emotions, illustratively playing out in their apparently crude, ancestral speciation of apes, chimps, orangs and pachyderms, electronically extended to millions of viewers across cyberspace. Besides offering lessons in morality, it strikes at the roots of theism of all persuasions, and other indoctrinations that contributed more to destroy than edify, if ongoing atrocities in various parts of the world are any indication.

    I share the outrage and the concern expressed in your post hinting at the callousness of European nations, reflected in the utter disregard of the current refugee crisis. Thanks for your, as always, scholarly expatiation on empathy and compassion, supported by really interesting video footage. The ape-athy of 1955 vintage, between the mendicant monk and ape touched me at many levels, Hariod, because the period also marks the year of my birth. I only hope the collective outrage at the plight of fleeing people carries over to the UN and European governments for expeditious action, now overdue.

    Best wishes, Raj.

    • Thank you for your exquisitely crafted response Raj; your words are penetrating and most gratefully received, by myself, and others here too I feel certain. As far as I know, the creationists amongst my readership are low in number, and even that is likely an over-estimation. Then again, several may use terms like ‘god’ and allude to the divine, which causes no baulking within me, and the very fact that they continue to participate here, knowing my own rather more humanistic and secular views on such matters, indicates a receptiveness and level of tolerance that pleases me. And I must thank you also for taking time to view the RSA video Raj, which, whilst I disagree somewhat with the speaker’s initial dismissal of introspection – not withstanding it being an unreliable witness unto itself – is a practice I have cultivated throughout my life, and I hope, to beneficial effect. May I ask, have you also?

      As regards the ape-athy of the ’55 vintage – a very fine year for clarets by the way! – then the monk in question went on to become widely revered in Thailand, and was charged finally by his abbot with setting up a sangha and monastery in London within the Theravadin tradition, which he duly did. He too was once a scholar, of Buddhism, and in the middle of delivering a lecture at Oxford University, folded his papers together and simply announced to his audience: ‘ladies and gentlemen, I am a fraud’. With that, he retired to seclusion, and not a little existential desperation, to contemplate the fact that whilst he lectured on Buddhist philosophy and ethics, he practiced them only a little and had no experientially deep appreciation of such matters. In short time, he found a preceptor and travelled to Thailand with the intention of ordaining into the order, which he did in May 1954.

      With gratitude and respect to you Raj,


  13. “Empathic apes” is a beautiful essay. That said, I feel the need to add the following:

    Clearly, any good human being must be horrified and saddened when looking at the picture of that little refugee boy lying drowned on the shores of Greece, and for our own mental and societal sanity, we dare not and cannot spend too long time thinking of his father’s despair.

    But, returning to our daily realities, we must equally empathize with the feelings of discomfort many Europeans have with respect to the number of immigrants arriving lately to their countries, because to order them in the name of political correctness to shut up, could easily become that material on which extremism is made of.

    True empathy is individual and sincere. If you try to impose your empathy on others you could make it harder for true empathy to develop. We must not allow political correctness to become a holier than thou Neo-Inquisition that defines what being human must mean. We should always try our utmost to conquer our human weaknesses, not just ignore or amputate these, since that could turn us into something truly inhuman. Runaway political correctness that forbids the venting of feelings of misgivings is breeding many extreme global public bads and serving many dubious political causes.

    • Firstly, may I thank you for casting an eye over this piece, and also for offering such a cogent and perceptive reflection; your presence is warmly welcomed Per, and appreciated greatly. If I am not mistaken, then I do believe we have exchanged thoughts on Paul’s dog-blog previously.

      Now, I largely agree with you Per, although there is perhaps a certain irony in your referring to the outpouring of empathic concern as ‘political correctness’, as of course, the genesis of the problem is very much one of political incorrectness. Are we standing on the same ground here?

      That said, I have always been somewhat contrarian in my disposition, and if I may say so, detect something of the same within you. This is by no means to be critical, as I have found it a useful means of learning, and that is something I have had to do a lot of given what passed, very slowly, for my education.

      The free movement of populations within EC member states is something of genuine and quite reasonable concern for many British people. It has rightly become the focus of much political debate, driven as so often is the case, by public opinion. The co-opting of the debate by the political right is unfortunate, but not yet disastrous.

      What I currently sense Per, is a tendency for those on the right to wilfully conflate genuine migration concerns with the issue of refugees, which deserves separate legislative treatment. In this country at least, then what I detect amongst the public at large is broadly a clear understanding of the distinction between the two.

      Your argument is logical, yet what are we to do, not voice heartfelt concerns for fear of accusations that we are being disingenuous, and merely pandering to polarised political perspectives? I am as alarmed as you appear to be by the self-righteous tones of those both on the left and right of the political scale – yet silence is not an option now.

      It seems natural that in our inter-connected world, positions are taken vicariously – mere hand-me-downs grasped in the absence of any willingness to think. All the while, it seems to me, the escalating refugee crisis has brought forth a recognition that on occasion the heart is the forerunner of the intellect. Should it not too be allowed to speak?

      With gratitude and respect, and in welcoming any further response,


      • In this case the most egregious political incorrectness takes place in the countries of origin of these suffering migrants.

        You write: “on occasion the heart is the forerunner of the intellect. Should it not too be allowed to speak?” Absolutely! But never by thereby implying others to be totally heartless – fractional hearts at the most.

        All because, at the end of the day, it is still the intellect that needs to control all of our bleeding societal hearts against so many possibilities of unexpected consequences; especially since good worthy causes are infinitely available.

        • “In this case the most egregious political incorrectness takes place in the countries of origin of these suffering migrants.” – forgive me Per, but do you mean the two hundred thousand Iraqi’s the Western powers recently killed on those Iraqi’s own soil? Even the fascistic and psychopathically deranged ISIS members have yet to come even close to slaughtering in those numbers. And who created the vacuum into which they stepped? There is a wonderful documentary film called Bitter Lake, made by Adam Curtis, which goes into the largely unknown history of all this. I daresay you are very well-informed Per, yet thought I might make the recommendation in any case.

          • The origin of this egregious political incorrectness does not lie in Europe. And what I mean with that is that you cannot in any credible form attribute to the average European, the moral responsibility for what is happening in these countries; with which of course I do not imply they do not have any moral responsibility for helping out.

            • There is of course no excuse for ISIS’ fascistic ideology – assuming we are pointing to the same thing Per. Notwithstanding that, neither is there any excuse for starting wars in the Middle East based merely on groundless lies – the fabricated WMD – and the need to sustain old alliances and military self-interests. Both are ‘politically incorrect’, to use the most charitable of terms. No one is attacking ‘the average European’, other than for perhaps being so crass as to elect the leaders they do.

              • You might not be attacking them directly, but indirectly you are directing yourself to the average European citizen, or at least you should, not just to the average bureaucrat, technocrat or politician. And please, what I say here does not take away anything from what is so beautiful with your ‘Empathic apes’ essay. But give the average European the same chance of developing empathy as your female ape and 48-year old Englishman had, and do not request instantaneous made-to-order empathy from them; you might get something quite different.

                • Thank you Per. As you will know, I have no control over who I address in truth; it is merely thoughts floating out into the ether, to be picked up by whomsoever. You appear to be admonishing me for demanding certain responses from readers here, which if true, I think must be a failing of mine to convey my thoughts clearly and correctly, though is certainly not my intent. It appears to me that I relayed an anecdote, provided some generalised and uncontroversial facts about empathy within primates, and then asked a simple question at the end: “Are we wise enough to nurture the same?” Where is my insistence on any particular mode of response from readers?

                • I’m breaking a promise to myself here Hariod, but in reponse to who is fleeing where, and why, here is a good breakdown: http://www.cfr.org/migration/europes-migration-crisis/p32874

                  And specifically Libya: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Libyan_Civil_War_(2014%E2%80%93present)

                  Like most issues, there’s a lot of complexity to the situation. Many of the refugees and migrants are from outside of the Middle East. I would not defend war mongering, regardless of the source, which clearly exacerbates the troubles of famine and political unrest, but would only add that there’s plenty of war mongering and violence going around these days. Very sad.

                  Sometimes I think we know too much about stuff we can’t do a thing about. It makes me weary (which I suppose is the least I can do, right?), and which is why I have stopped reading the daily news. It’s ridiculous for me to think that knowing the details of every human atrocity somehow makes me a responsible citizen doing my duty. Technology overwhelms with weapons and information. Perhaps both are in tandem feeding the problems.

                  That so many are willing to risk their own lives, along with their families lives, speaks volumes though. In comparison, I have blessings undeserved and problems that are completely trivial.

  14. Oh, Hariod. I had no idea where you were going, even though I was completely transfixed by your ‘Empathic Apes.’ The whole story plucked at my own empathic nature and I felt so connected, so moved, as if I had witnessed the whole communication first hand. That is until you brought the post to the fleeing migrants and in particular the little boy, Aylan. I felt the punch in my gut at the memory of that photo, just as I had the first time I saw it. And then the tears started to flow – tears for humanity as a whole.

    I am reminded of Fre’de’ric’s poem of this week about this tragedy, and I just finished reading Michael’s post on ‘Peace’ and how the tide is rising. I so want to help in whatever way I can to raise the energy in this world, and that is perhaps best done by having empathy for all that we see and hear about, but also by having faith. Faith that ideas, like Michael’s, are true and they are gaining in momentum; and more and more people will hitch their horse to that wagon. This is my wish, and I will work ever so hard to keep this idea strong in the vibration of the universe.

    I read a bible quote on another blog today that speaks so perfectly and would like to share it here: “Rejoice with those who rejoice, and weep with those who weep.” ~ Romans 12:15

    Thank you for your post, and which offered me the ability to do both! ❤

    • Thank you so much dear Lorrie for taking in this month’s offering, which I think has rather set itself anachronistically in its stance with my closing references to that specific refugee tragedy. The images of little Aylan laying face down at the water’s edge and then being carried away seem to have galvanized public opinion here on this side of The Atlantic – is it the same over there in the States may I ask? I think they will stay burned into my memory for life. The whole political mood is shifting here, and yet again it took a public outcry to stir the politicians from their complacency.

      Presumptuous as it may sound, I felt that the blogging community had a tiny but nonetheless important role to play in garnering support for those currently in desperate need, and even seeking to raise the consciousness of one person on the issue is a worthwhile endeavor. I am sure Fre’de’ric and Michael will have achieved much more than myself in this humble offering; but drop by drop, the rainclouds fill oceans, and so my drop was offered. And thank you for your inspiring bible quote dear Lorrie; what a perfectly apt phrase as regards the matter of empathy. H ❤

      • Hariod, I can’t honestly say whether that little boy had a great impact here in the States or not, especially when there is so much political talk going on here about immigrants, and constructing giant walls to keep them out. In this day and age the whole idea of walls feels like a betrayal of the idea of oneness and love.

        I agree with you, Hariod, I will not soon forget that photograph or the tragic circumstances that precipitated such a senseless event. I love your offering and pray for this kind of empathy because I believe that is the energy that will turn this world around.

        And as far as the drop that you added, it is a very important ‘drop’, no more than or less than any other drop that is added, and if I may say so, I believe you dipped your toes into the poetry pond! And quite successfully too. ♡ 😉

  15. This is a great post. Empathy is a subject I am very interested in. You have already covered psychopaths in another discussion. You will appreciate I am limited by confidentiality in what I can say, though I have worked with those I believe to be psychopaths, but also young people with autism. It is hard for me to explain, but there is a large difference. Psychopaths do not care; [whereas] people with autism often strive to develop empathy. That does not really explain it very well, but I hope you get the gist.

    • Thank you for your kind words Eric; I am pleased that the subject matter interested you. I know several people who work with those advanced in the autism spectrum, and have some grasp of what the condition entails. I have also had the misfortune to encounter a few psychopaths in my lifetime, which is seldom a pleasant experience, despite their ability to turn on the charm when necessary. Regrettably, many positions of high office are occupied by psychopaths, both in the public and private spheres, as doubtless you will be aware. They tend to be highly manipulative, and yet incredibly skilled at conveying messages which they know others will respond to, only making the effort when it is to their advantage. Thank you once again for reading Eric. All best wishes, Hariod.

  16. Excellent post Hariod. Cross-species empathy between individuals separated by 12 million years of evolution.

    Unfortunately, while we seem naturally predisposed to be empathetic toward people in our immediate sphere of interaction, empathy for those outside of that sphere seems to be difficult to inspire.

    • Thank you Mike; I do appreciate that the subject matters under discussion on my site here are perhaps not entirely your cup of tea, but I nonetheless greatly appreciate your presence and learned input. Your observation reminds me somewhat of words generally (mis?)attributed to Albert Einstein:

      “A human being is part of a whole, called by us the ‘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 us. Our task must be to free ourselves from this prison by widening our circles of compassion to embrace all living creatures and the whole of nature in its beauty.”

      Hoping you are well my friend.

  17. Indeed (to your last question); I don’t know if it’s a matter of lack of wisdom, or of overwhelm. With all the good technology brings in uniting us in global awareness like never before – we can even pick our news sources, thanks to the internet, and not be shackled to network sensationalism bought by corporate advertisers – it brings into play a constant need to filter and prioritize. No longer are we faced with simple choices (should I go to work? call in sick? head for the beach? buy apples or peaches?), but are deluged with choices from every corner, complicated by the infernal expectation that we are always and immediately available to anyone wishing to track us down. Now. While reading. Shopping. Hiking. On the toilet. Anywhere. Everywhere.

    My point in this little diatribe is to point out, as I attempted to do in a recent post, the theme of ‘distraction’. We have become highly distractible. We see that little body, face-down, waves lapping at an inanimate face. Little shoes, little man. Big issues. Bigger issues. What to do. How to act? Even when we want to, there are so many crises screaming for our attention. Does the average person allow time, space, energy for feelings, to explore sadness, to intuit the incredible network connecting us to our fellow sentient beings?

    Sometimes the best a person seems to be capable of is to anthropomorphize – attribute human feelings and characteristics to other species. I used to find this repugnant, feeling it insulted the intelligence of other creatures. Yet if thinking your chickens feel sad when you leave them alone at home stretches your ability to include, who am I to correct you? Frankly, I would much prefer affiliation with this type of person than those with colder hearts.

    All this being said, I loved your retelling of the monk and ape story. So very touching, and of course, the first thing I wondered was why was the baby ape deformed? Was it due to human degradation of its environs? Your ability to perceive their connection with great sensitivity and empathy for differences leaves the door open for one’s own interpretive calling card. As one who has long communicated with animals and plants, for that matter, I can only imagine what possesses them to allow we humans that furtive peek into the privacy of their animal (or plant) world.

    Blessings, dear one, on sharing yet another sterling bit of wisdom. ❤

    • Thank you dear Bela, for your interest, and more than that, for your wonderfully perceptive contribution. Yes, the consumption of news media can tend to be treated just as we would the foods we eat: choose, digest, evacuate, forget. And yet this time, the story will not desert our consciousness so readily; or it may do so only over the winter whilst the weather does not permit would-be refugees to undertake their dangerous journey, but it will return again to our news screens in the Spring, I feel sure. With four million already displaced within their home country of Syria, the flood may yet scarcely have begun, and could reach biblical proportions within two or three years. And then there are those in Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Eritrea, Nigeria, Libya, and other sub-Saharan territories. Europe is their destination, yet Europe’s leaders are very largely inward-looking, unable to see that when they do venture abroad with their armed forces, as allies of the U.S., there will be consequences. They bring their troops home, dead or alive, then continue tinkering with petty internal initiatives, absorbed in their self-important bureaucracy and feeding off the gravy train that is their own private club, the EU commission.

      If there is anything to be sanguine about, then it is the warmth of welcome given by the German people as refugees arrive in their country. Crowds of locals have gathered at railway stations to welcome the wretched travellers with warm applause, toys for the children, and of course, food. This is in stark contrast to what greeted the disenfranchised in Hungary though, which was a universal hostility, both from the state and its citizens. Germany is leading the way, taking by far the greater share of incomers, and doing so with good grace and, very largely too, the support of its people. The public mood here in Britain is similarly empathetic, yet our right-wing government is behind the curve and begrudging in what little action it is taking. Our prime minister wants to bomb Syria, and the Russians have yesterday stated that they intend escalating their military support for Assad; so, we shall have to see where all that leads. Syria (Assad) also has Iran’s support too of course. In the meantime, the fascistic and psychopathically deranged ISIS continue their filthy work there and elsewhere. I can see no solution to that, and I fear no one else can either.

      With the warmest regards and in gratitude for your presence dear Bela,

      Hariod. ❤

      P.S. The Anglo-Siamese monk: He was an exceptional man, with whom I have a deep, though temporally distanced, connection; and rather than duplicate what further I have said about him, please see my comment above to Raj on Sept. 4th. @ 12.11 p.m.

      • Hariod, thank you for the personal insights vis-à-vis what is going on in the EU governing body. Yes, following the lead of a corporate-greedy U.S.A. is never a good look for Europe, or elsewhere. It’s like choosing an adolescent (as Mao did with his Red Guard) to mete out the fate of nations. Horrible.

        Years ago in the late eighties I had my own restaurant, and one of our cooks, Reem, was a university student in the States from Syria. Back then she was saying she feared for her family, and how demonic Assad was. Prescient.

        I heard yesterday on NPR that the President of Finland (where my husband’s family is from) offered his home to refugees, as he’s moving into his government-provided residence and won’t need it for a while anyway. Let us hope there are other leaders who follow, though I hold no illusions about this upswelling of the darkest archetypal forces lurking in the human psyche.

        Aloha, dear Hariod. May there be peace on earth.

        • Most of the current British government’s leading figures are multi-millionaires with multiple properties in their personal asset portfolios. I can guarantee that not one of them would emulate such a gesture and offer succour to a refugee family.

          Aloha dear Bela!

  18. My drop-down comment window did not reveal your aside about the monk. I read it, and am deeply touched by one who truly seemed to master what he sought. Too many spiritual leaders fall too easily to corruption, especially in today’s world. It’s a wonder the Dalai Lama is able to maintain his dignity and composure in light of his world-wide popularity. So many teachers fall prey to egoic fantasies which they have easy access to playing out with eager students. In my own life, every time I have sought guidance within about finding The Teacher, I am always directed, er, back within. Be well. ❤

      • Great example with Moliere’s Tartuffe; and yes, for time immemorial, spiritual leaders have suppressed their baser qualities in favor of some pseudo god-like image of perfection. What spills over in the most inopportune interstices is that very suppressed archetypal force termed by Jung as the ‘shadow’; integration being the only way to resolve the dichotomy. Instead, division builds further momentum. I believe what we are seeing today is that theme writ large, mostly because there have never been so many humans on earth before, and crowding has its own consequences. Interesting time to be alive, no? xoxo

        • ‘Interesting times’ in the Chinese sense of the phrase, yes indeed Bela. Your professional work deals in Jungian psychology to some extent does it? I never quite agreed with his assertion that Buddhist practices were unsuited to the Western mindset, although remain deeply impressed by the little of his writings I have investigated in the distant past – the stuff about getting lost in a conceptual world, without ever quite realising it; that’s right up my street.

          Aloha Bela. H ❤

  19. There seems to be a lot of ‘empathic’ action around which, when really looked at, is essentially empty, I think. No doubt, even in its superficiality, it is a force for good. However, it lacks presence and the depth of that encounter you describe displays, Hariod. I was deeply moved by that description of the encounter between the ape and monk. The level of that connection is profound and there is something so deeply natural about it.

  20. Sorry, I didn’t finish the comment. That image of the little boy Aylan is absolutely heart-wrenching and terribly disturbing. Thank you for an extremely moving and thought-provoking post.

    • Thank you Don, for your kind, perceptive words and interest. I wrote this piece upon seeing the two images you speak of, having no sense of how much they would in short time precipitate change in the political landscape. The post already appears somewhat anachronistic, although I am touched by the supportive tone of commenters here.

      The citizens of Europe have been ahead of their political leaders in demonstrating the urgent need for action, and the kindness and empathy shown by so many to the refugees shows that all is not lost in humankind. Yes, some of that will be the inevitable hitching onto the zeitgeist bandwagon – itself a kind of emotional contagion – and yet, as you say, has value nonetheless.

      As regards the Anglo-Siamese monk, then he was an exceptional man, with whom I have a deep, though temporally distanced, connection; and rather than duplicate what further I have said about him, then should you wish to know a little more please see my comment above to Raj on Sept. 4th. @ 12.11 p.m.

      With gratitude and best wishes to you Don,


  21. Dear Hariod,

    First, I want to say how much I enjoyed your post, and how well-written and touching I found the anecdote. I also very much enjoyed the video, and share with you and other readers here the feeling that we might be losing something important were we to throw out the concepts of introspection altogether. I have to say that the presenter’s version of introspection – a self-obsessed pat on the back – differs greatly from my own. Introspection I find to be quite difficult, often resulting in more questions and confusion than immediate answers, and yet what grows from tilling this soil is the compassion and empathy so-discussed. For myself, there seems to be a necessary resonance between the discovery of distrust, fear and otherness within, that lays the groundwork for the recognition of unity or sameness without.

    I do feel very strongly that were we to shift too far into the presenter’s concept of outrospection – which I interpreted in part as the notion that by placing ourselves in the shoes of the suffering we might realize viscerally that something is wrong – we lose the introspective understanding of ‘how things are’ that cannot be forsaken if we are truly to end suffering. I believe most people are genuine and desiring to be good at some level, and are easily stirred by image and media to focus on the issue du jour. Were we to expand our empathy for suffering we would face the debilitating challenge of attempting to develop policies and solutions for countless problems, which I don’t think can ever be solved in this way. Immediate suffering can surely be reduced or alleviated, but the very structure of the world that produces such tragedies must ultimately be understood and healed, and a ‘surface-level’ outrospection will fare, I fear, no better than a withdrawn introspection.

    I am drawn to the image of the monk sharing that moment with the ape, and to your beautiful writing of this moment, “In his unknowing, the saffron-robed wanderer radiates compassion, yet knows he has nothing to do with it; an offering from wisdom, not from the self. All that need be known arrives in the fullest of measures. What use now the venerable elder’s sagacity, his knowledge of emptiness, renunciation, equanimity, the void? She inhabits the void, is the void, her bleak knowing piercing its veils. Without turning, the monk slowly retreats, still reverently holding her gaze alongside a shared understanding. A slight suggestion of a bowing head betokens what passes between them.”

    In some way, whose mechanics I dare not attempt to explain, I think the empathy and compassion we seek to cultivate promote a shift in the substrate of the world, and that this is where a true or full solution lies. But I say this not as a means of renouncing the doing of what one is inspired to do immediately, as what “need[s to] be known arrives in the fullest of measures.” We simply cannot greet these events through the eyes of intellectual principle alone. The mind recognizes that absorbing whole populations comes with challenging downstream economic and political consequences, and that no nation could do so indefinitely, but the question here is not whether a principle is being applied that should always be applied and in indefinite measure. We lose sight of this. Our minds cannot handle the dis-logic of doing something now, that one wouldn’t do in indefinite measure. And as I write, I daresay that the sensation of joy and abundance that a nation – and an individual – might summon through the courageous act of going all-in and giving without limits would change far more than resistance in the form of studies and reports and policy muddling.

    I am ashamed to think how much we (collectively) spend on stockpiling mechanized forms of violence, only to turn and suggest that giving food and shelter to the suffering – to those fleeing violence – is altogether beyond us. Many issues to consider here, Hariod, and I think in the end you are correct, when you write either in your piece or in your commentary about the importance of responding from the heart. This could change everything.

    I thank you for a courageous and timely piece, which has given me pause for some difficult introspective activities.



    • Thank you very much once again Michael, for your interest and your wonderfully generous reflections, they being such a worthy addition both to the subject under discussion and to my understanding of it.

      Yes, I think we can safely disregard the otherwise learned speaker’s somewhat dismissive thoughts on introspection. I have always felt that if we truly want to put the world to rights, best get our own house in order first.

      That said, then the pressing needs of others demands a balancing of our approach – a willingness to step forward in offering succour whilst retaining a humility as regards our own ignorance, cupidity, and aversions.

      And it is those qualities that I feel constitute your ‘structure of the world’ – the inherent causes of much, and arguably all, suffering. When we think what caused the current exodus, we see the genesis lies within them.

      Yes, ‘the substrate of the world’. Can we think of this as intention Michael, of a collective intentional stance? ‘Mind is the forerunner of all things’ as the Buddha said. Purify the mind, and action too purifies in response.

      With much gratitude and respect as always dear friend,


  22. Hi Hariod,

    Your post without doubt underlines [the concept of] empathy. But I remain unsure how, what we term as this empathy, shows up in the brain structure of an ape. Could it be that the behaviour of the mother ape which you have so sensitively portrayed, might just be a function of some other pressing need that might have arisen in that moment? Why I say this is that I remain unconvinced whether an ape is really capable of holding the kind of past memories and socialisation that remains intrinsic to something like empathy.

    Very well conceived and written Hariod.


    • Hi Shakti,

      Thank you very much for taking time to read this month’s offering, and also for your very kind words and considered reflection. Unfortunately, I cannot answer how empathy “shows up in the brain structure of an ape”, as this is not within my limited sphere of knowledge. I do believe that neuroscience has studied empathy in primate brains, yet would suspect not in lower order primates, perhaps there at best having inferential analyses alone, if at all. Behavioural studies are plentiful though, and I might suggest the video which I display in the comments thread here and which features Frans De Vaal, the Professor of Primate Behavior at the Emory University psychology department in Atlanta, as an interesting and informative initial exploration should you be interested.

      It is critical to recognise that empathy subsists broadly in two modes, the so-called ‘affective’ and ‘cognitive’ manifestations. Affective empathy is not dependent upon what you refer to as ‘past memories’ Shakti, at least not in the sense of conceptual imagery called forth in memory, though we could perhaps think in terms of cellular and evolutionary memory. Here, the frame of reference of the other is entered by way of an intuited, or instinctive, feeling, and whilst the same can be reached in simple mimicry – yawn contagion being a common example – it can and does occur by virtue of a resonant knowledge, if you will. This is not arrived at inferentially or deductively through cognitive conceptual processes, and is perhaps more of a response of the nervous system as a whole.

      As to whether the mother ape’s showing the monk her deceased baby was or was not “a function of some other pressing need”, I cannot in truth be certain. At the same time, I am unable to think quite what such a need might be. Her mate would not have lived together with her and their mutual offspring, and so she would have been alone in her sadness, but for the monk’s presence. What I can say with certainty, is that the monk was a man of unimpeachable integrity, with whom I have a certain connection. He certainly was not one to embellish anything, and indeed, was pressed by his biographers to provide more in the way of detailing what they deemed his exotic and esoteric meditative experiences, which he bluntly refused to do. We certainly can trust his judgement.

      Thank you once again for reading my words and for you presence Shakti.

      With much gratitude and respect,


                • I agree with your second sentence, although my question was whether compassion involved willed action, not whether it was willed action. Are you saying it is a purely passive and insular phenomenon?

                  • There is no will. I, and you, we see suffering, and compassion arises. It is not an emotion, it is not from mind, it is not will. It is one of the four greek forms of love.

                    Compassion gets ‘activated’ by a situation, and you feel that, touching, even hurting, the heart, literally. If anything can be done, then that will be done, although mind can interfere with 2nd. thoughts, instilling fear trying to bring you back to your mind and its own conformity.

                    • Thank you Bert; that is lovely indeed. In Pali, the language of the orthodox Buddhist scriptures, compassion – or ‘karuna’ – is known as one of four categories of ‘Brahmavihara’. This latter Pali term may be rendered by: ‘excellent, lofty or sublime states of mind’.

                      “The world suffers. But most (wo)men have their eyes and ears closed. They do not see the unbroken stream of tears flowing through life; they do not hear the cry of distress continually pervading the world. Their own little grief or joy bars their sight, deafens their ears. Bound by selfishness, their hearts turn stiff and narrow. Being stiff and narrow, how should they be able to strive for any higher goal, to realize that only release from selfish craving will effect their own freedom from suffering? It is compassion that removes the heavy bar, opens the door to freedom, makes the narrow heart as wide as the world. Compassion takes away from the heart the inert weight, the paralyzing heaviness; it gives wings to those who cling to the lowlands of self. Through compassion the fact of suffering remains vividly present to our mind, even at times when we personally are free from it. It gives us the rich experience of suffering, thus strengthening us to meet it prepared, when it does befall us. Compassion reconciles us to our own destiny by showing us the life of others, often much harder than ours.”

                      – Nyanaponika Thera, a German-born Sri-Lanka-ordained Theravada monk. [July 21, 1901 – 19 October 1994]

                    • Thank you Nyanaponika 🙂 but you could summarize everything as: “!FEEL!”

                      If you process everything you perceive through your mind, you will not feel, see or hear. But sometimes, you are, for just one second, brought out of your mind, ‘speechless’. That moment can be a life-changer.

                    • Yes, but a summary only makes sense if something precedes it – look at how this conversation stated. Q.E.D. I will start a new thread so as to give us some elbow room on the screen Bert.

  23. To Bert: On your second point, I personally feel it is not always helpful to persist in talking about ‘mind’, as if it were a given in the same way that some first hear the word ‘soul’ and then take it to have some objective referent, some actuality. The same is true with ‘ego’, in which we come to think we are inhabited almost as if by some entity, some mischievous self which must be got rid of. Seeing the empty nature of these constructs is quite sufficient.

    I would say this: Your ‘speechless’ silence is totally unaffected by things we call ‘mind’, ‘soul’, ‘ego’, ‘compassion’, nor by any amount of long-winded talk, nor by the feelings, sights and sounds you mention, nor by any phenomena at all. Silent awareness – the light which illuminates conscious knowing – does not disappear as phenomena appear. Many meditators think the silent mind is the end game, pursuing it relentlessly, though I am sure you do not Bert.

    • All those ‘things’ might not exist, and we already had a conversation about the ‘soul’ that also came to an end when we were meandering away from the centre. In the end, we only ‘have’ phenomena to ‘work’ with. There is nothing else.

      It is easier to define the mind – you should have told me that 5 years ago – and the ego than it is to define a metaphysical soul. You’ll have to use soul-language to go there, if there is a ‘there’. Why not add awareness to those phenomena. I feel it is more difficult to define awareness than it is to define ‘soul’.

      The ‘silence’ I talk about is very simple: ‘conscious absence of mind chatter’; it doesn’t imply anything metaphysical. But I still have no clue what many people mean when they talk about awareness. There seem to be many definitions.

      Now, compassion is still easier to talk about, since anyone knows what it is, even my dog, in fact probably all mammals and birds. But you cannot easily define it. It is not a concept, its definition is. Perhaps the very short formula of ‘feel’, or something easier: ‘we are connected in suffering’ brings more clarity, but it is nothing tangible.

      Shocking images, or situations, will render you speechless – art is also supposed to do that. That speechless shock brings the suffering and your connection to the forefront. Then, most often, compassion ends, and mind takes over, in most people including myself. Mind will get compassion organised, and in doing so it will destroy it. 🙂 [sarcastic smiley]

      The silent mind is a useless mind. We have to use our minds. But ‘silence’ will short-cut mind-loops, and get rid of the useless chatter. We still need logic and language. I think that it is important to ‘see’ what mind really is, and next do something with that ‘presumption’. It’s like a hack that will transform your Windows 10 slug into a linux racehorse, by getting rid of everything that you don’t need.

      • Sometimes it can be good to meander. We often reveal more in what we do not say than in what we do. Meandering with a little ‘useless chatter’ can help fill the gaps I find:

        As to awareness, and as with so many terms of the mind, then differing interpretations abound, as you say Bert. You assert that there is nothing other than phenomena, which is certainly true for consciousness. The word ‘consciousness’ means ‘with knowledge’, and without phenomena there can be no knowledge, and hence no consciousness. And yet our lives are not a constant stream of knowledge-phenomena. We may assume them to be, because we only recognise (re-cognise) phenomena. First, there is the sense impression cognised by the body, then the re-cognition produced by the brain. So, consciousness is essentially representationalist. Accepting this, as I suspect you might, we can then go on to discuss what I call ‘awareness’.

        Awareness, by my lights, is not a phenomenon. It has no characteristic attributes, and cannot be known by consciousness in re-cognition or re-presentation. It knows itself, as itself, but is not known by the conscious mind, which is always a put-up job, a fabrication, a schema, an abstraction, a cortical screen, an endogram, a temporal singularity, a means of mediation between awareness itself and the world, yet which is indirect. Awareness is what illuminates all those qualities, yet is none of them. To invoke the mind again, if we must, then it is a pellucid state of pure potential – that is, prior to the appearance of consciousness and apparent time. And it is just that which timelessly constitutes the gaps in the meandering consciousness. It is always there, unrecognised.

        Dammit, I just upgraded to Windows 10. 😉

        • So, you make a distiction between consciousness and awareness. As I read between the lines you call awareness the canvas of consciousness? Or is my summarizing one-liner deviating too much from what you mean?

          • Only for the purposes of understanding, not as ontological (objective) distinctions. How can we rightly describe an objectless awareness as being ‘con science’ i.e. ‘with knowledge’? There is no knowledge of anything, and so it seems reasonable to consider that a different category, but only for the purposes of furthering our understanding.

            This takes us back to whether ‘silence’ can appear along with sensory phenomena, including physically audible sounds. I have interpreted your silence slightly differently I think, instead taking it to mean the silent awareness that pervades all knowing, or which stands on its own. Then again, our words may only be suitable for ourselves.

            • We also seem to have a different definition of consciousness. 🙂 In my opinion consciousness is not related to knowledge. It is a state of being awake. Perhaps in my native dutch the root of ‘to know’ in ‘bewustzijn’ is evolved beyond recognition, although now I recognize the german ‘wissen’ in it, but ‘to be’ is also there.

              • That is perfectly fair enough of course Bert. I think that for many people, the Latinised English term ‘consciousness’ is synonymous with ‘awareness’, with having knowledge of either phenomena, or simply of pure knowing itself. The Latin prefix ‘con’ means ‘with’, and so there is a necessary dualistic interpretation, such as ‘to be with knowledge’. In objectless ‘awareness’ (if I can call it that), then there is no ‘with’, other than as an unverifiable inference after the event i.e. ‘I was aware’, in which the subject is added as a post hoc assumption.

                What I am suggesting is that we cannot reduce the whole to phenomenology, and so I make the (arguably artificial) distinction between consciousness and awareness. Please remember that I am not suggesting these are two ontologically distinct categories. Like yourself, I feel it is critical to appreciate something like such a distinction, and which in so doing leads to the understanding you point to: “But sometimes, you are, for just one second, brought out of your mind, ‘speechless’. That moment can be a life-changer.”

                • It is of course impossible to ‘know’ whether the mystical silence I experience is the same thing as anybody else’s awareness, but it might well be. We are/feel caught in the web of conceptualizing our experiences which are much less concrete than ‘a chair’ – although it might not be that easy to explain ‘the chair’ to someone who’s never seen and used one. One needs common ground to talk about consciousness and awareness, and this seems to be less ubiquitous than chairs in our world.

                  Then there is of course another problem, the one touched in epistemology: what can we know? Are there things that surpass description, categorisation and knowledge? Are there things where logic cannot be applied. I think there are things like that. They can be experienced as phenomenon, but no two experiencers might sense the same thing. Knowledge about such is futile.

                  Last, a personal something that I noticed a very long time ago. We come from two entirely different worlds. You come from the world of academia and papers, where everything has to be described correctly. It is perfectly possible to describe ‘a chair’ only by using words, and keep it within 50 pages Times New Roman 10. I am a simple teacher in IT, and I let students form their own concepts, bringing everything down to its bare core. I would hire a bus, and bring them to IKEA to let them experience ‘the chair’ by themselves. For me, skills and experience are far more important than knowledge. But of course, without knowledge, we wouldn’t be cluster administrators, since there would be no server-clusters to begin with.

                  • I agree with you that in discussing consciousness and the like, we are forever caught up in the gearbox of our own comprehension; we cannot step outside of consciousness to study it, no matter how rigorous our analytic procedures. There is no common ground in this respect, and we are all islands in a sea of unknowing. This is the challenge facing the Science of Consciousness, and perhaps the reason why Chalmers’ Hard Question has yet to be answered. Worse than that, the Eliminative Materialists are even doing away with consciousness altogether, and we are not even able to refute their position successfully. Do we have something to study and discuss? No one actually knows!

                    Again I agree with you Bert, in that we wander this earth with our little ape brains imagining that we can in time understand the origins of the universe, or confirm whether or not the gods exist, or pick apart one such ape brain to understand how it created sublime music or solved some previously intractable mathematical problem. A certain amount of humility would seem the order of the day, and yet the research grants must be fought for, professional reputations exercised, and tantalising yet empty promises made in order to sell news media.

                    Where we disagree is in the content of your closing paragraph, and here is why: I make it clear both in the introductory pages and elsewhere on this site, as well as in comments I widely make elsewhere, that I am not formally trained and that I have no academic background as such. I do not come from any ‘different world’, as you put it Bert, although in point of fact my friend, it is you who come from the world of academe, not me. At best, I am an opsimath, a very minor polymath yet one who made their way by their own means. I have studied, but under no one’s tutelage, and with setting my own curriculum. Yes, I do try to describe things correctly, or at least clearly, and do my best, whilst falling short on most occasions.

                    But coming back to where we agree, which is the place I think we have been for the greater part of this conversation, I too believe in the power of direct experience and the accumulation of skills. That is why I abandoned my business interests to pursue a very intensive meditative career which lasted most of my adult life. I did not go so far as the monk in my article, who renounced being a teacher of Buddhism so as to put it into practice as a monk, but I gave it my all nonetheless – nun the less? 🙂

                    Thank you very much for a most engaging discussion Bert; I really appreciate your forthright approach.

                    With very best wishes,


                    • Good to know some background after a year of communicating. Sorry for my judgemental assumptions.
                      I don’t come from the world of academe either. I have a high-school diploma, and a computer. Playing with computers for the past 35 years has been a source of income. My father was the son of a carpenter. He was employed in an insurance shop for as long as I can remember till he retired, 30 years ago.
                      Yes, me too, I enjoy our conversations, especially yesterday when I had the freedom of time.

                    • Thank you Bert. My father too was the son of a carpenter, or ‘cabinet-maker’ as they were then known, and he too worked in insurance once he finished as a pilot in the Royal Air Force. And again, just like your own father, he retired exactly thirty years ago. He died about five years ago I think it was.

  24. Dear Hariod,

    Powerful with compassion, humanity whispering with the Divine, a brilliantly wise, thought-provoking post that touches and creates within me a deeper contemplation. Thankyou so much, for I so often find a sweet balance within myself after reading your work, and many more questions too! I love you dear friend, you are a wonder.

    With deep admiration, Meg. xxx

    • Dear Meg,

      Thank you for taking the time to consider this month’s offering, and also for your most generous and encouraging words of support. I am not entirely convinced that my efforts deserve such praise, and feel I had better keep my feet on the ground lest I begin to take myself too seriously – a fatal mistake, always! Still, your kindness is deeply appreciated, and warrants in return an equal measure of my gratitude, which it has.

      With love and admiration for you too, and blessings on the day.

      Hariod ❤

  25. Hariod, I must say, you have the patience of a saint, to be so gracious here by not only taking the time to write thought-provoking posts, but as well, to answer each comment – some of the threads going on to form a long discourse. Wow, I think my mind would fall to pieces, keeping up with so many conversations that have a lot of deep content in them too. I think that I’m simple-minded (even though I’m an intellectual!), because my mind thinks in poetry; maybe it’s due to having read myself to death. I kid you not, I’ve read dozens of libraries worth of books, until the excess verbiage in most of them caused me to find refuge in poetry: poetry is condensed philosophy.

    • Thank you very much Genie, for your interest and consequent reflections. I am far from being saintly in any respect, although I can be patient, it is true. I have always regarded myself as boredom-proof, which helps somewhat. That said, I of course love to write, and it is so gratifying to receive feedback upon my efforts that it is the least I can do to engage with those kind others who comment thereupon, such as your good self.

      On books, then I once knew someone who studied Buddhism for decades, who taught it in universities, and who finally applied themselves to practising it. When I asked them which they learnt the most from, the books or the practice, they said one year of the latter equated to twenty year’s worth of book-learning. In fact, the monk in this article taught Buddhism, and mid-way through delivering a lecture at Oxford University he folded his papers together, looked at his audience, and declared ‘ladies and gentlemen, I am a fraud’. And with that, walked away. He realised that intellectual knowledge was only ever partial, and that he had to apply himself earnestly in practise if he were to come to the essence of the teachings, and to discourse on them authentically. And so it was that he soon came to travel out to Siam, and became ordained as a monk, during which time he met the other ape of my story.

      All best wishes,


  26. As usual, my responses have a science spin, and I was just reading about brain structure and empathy. Bonobos, in particular, have extra gray matter in the area connecting the amygdala and anterior cingulate cortex – just as do humans who have strong empathetic responses. It might be possible to strengthen this capacity with practice, if that is desired. Unknown: whether brain structure creates experience, or vice versa, of course. Enjoyed your comments on meditation above, as well as this thought-provoking essay. Cheers.

    • That is very interesting, and Bonobos are of course our closest relative along with the common chimp, so perhaps we should not be surprised about correlations in brain structures? And yes, I think it certainly is possible to strengthen our capacity to empathise; it really seems to be about lessening self-centric attitudes and the rest takes care of itself it would appear – the process not being susceptible to volitional influence, yet advancing as a natural outflow.

      Your question as to whether brain structure creates experience, or vice versa, is a fascinating one. Our development as infants, and in particular as regards the acquisition of language, is dependent upon a degree of neotenous regression wherein the neural wiring only falls into place subject to post-natal experience (of language etc.). At least, that is my understanding, though you may be able to correct me or elaborate upon this simplified analysis.

      Thank you so much for reading this offering, and for your kind and most interesting reflections.


    • That is really sweet of you Sue; thank you my dear. 🙂 I am only posting once a month now – actually, ten times a year as I skip December and a summer month too. That is a good balance for me, as I like to devote much of my blogging time to reading other’s thoughts rather than fleshing out my own endlessly. I think my articles are challenging enough in their obliqueness, and it would be bordering on sadistic to impose them upon my faithful readers more frequently than I already do! Much love and thanks to you dear Sue. ❤

  27. What a beautiful post Hariod. My son used to have night terrors and whenever he would wake up practically wailing, our dog would always jump up on his bed and start licking his face. It was very obvious to my wife and I that he felt bad and was trying to comfort our son.

    • Thankyou so much Howie for your kind and generous words of encouragement. I am a dog lover myself, and quite recently lost my beloved Border Collie Nellie. She was an incredibly sensitive creature, far more so than me, and I can completely relate to the sort of experience you describe. You may have lost your dear dog now I suppose; it feels such a tremendous loss when they go, I know. Your son will carry your dog’s legacy in a way though, and who knows what value that comfort brought to him? Thankyou once again Howie; I greatly appreciate your presence. All the very best, Hariod.

      • I’m really sorry to hear about the loss of your dog. It’s amazing how they can become as close as family to us. Not sure what I wrote that gave the wrong impression, but our dog is still with us. He is a Cavalier and his name is Beauchamp. Unfortunately though, my wife and I each lost a parent within the last 3 months and we will both carry their legacies throughout our lives.

        • Thankyou Howie, for your remarks concerning my loss of Nellie. And may I offer my condolences to you and your wife on your own losses? Both of my parents have long since gone, and I remember feeling a strong sense of their departure being a right of passage in my own life, as if I were suddenly occupying new ground yet without having moved on in any way within myself. May I ask if Beauchamp – do you pronounce that ‘Beecham’? – is picking up on you and your wife’s emotional shifts at all?

          • Thank you Hariod, your description of how you felt when losing parents is exactly how I feel – “as if I were suddenly occupying new ground yet without having moved on in any way within myself” – you always have a way with words.

            And yes, we do pronounce his name as ‘Beecham’, because my wife picked the name from the last name of her favorite character in the book series “Outlander” which used that pronunciation. Besides, the British pronounce everything the correct way. 😉

            While we definitely noticed Beauchamp’s reactions when our son would have night terrors, the only thing we’ve noticed in the past weeks of grieving was when he moved close to us on a morning that was filled with tears.

            • Beauchamp’s reaction is interesting, and sometimes the air can feel thick with emotion, palpably so, even when visible signs are absent it seems. When I lost another dog many years ago, I was living on the West Coast of Wales and went for a walk on the shoreline immediately after burying him in the garden under a tree. A seal surfaced and stared at me – they do that anyway of course – and then proceeded to track me for a good 30-40 minutes as I walked slowly around the shoreline. When I stopped, the seal too stopped; and all the while it maintained a fixed gaze upon me. My experience normally is that seals will stare for a few minutes before carrying on with their search for food, but this one seemed fixated upon me, and I in turn with it. Anyway Howie, please once again accept my condolences for your and your wife’s great losses; it is a monumental event, and I know can at times seem almost incomprehensible – the idea of never seeing a loved one again.

  28. I have no idea why I miss your posts. I’m probably in Spain I guess. But in reverse order, there are hundreds, if not thousands, of attempts to swim across the med on flimsy pateras every year, that involve deaths of children, women, men.

    As you know, we live with macaques in Gib. I find them incredibly intelligent and responsive. And very human in behaviour: protective of their young, potentially aggressive, but responsive to assertive – not aggressive – speech and behaviour. I am very fond of them, I will confess.

    • Thank you for casting your eyes over this offering Kate; I appreciate it, although much of the subject matter under discussion here will not be within your sphere of interest, I suspect. The good news is that I only post every four of five weeks – about ten a year in total – and so inflict my thoughts sparingly upon subscribers. This, my last post, already looks anachronistic given the news references, and I do quite understand that the exodus has been occurring for years now. The issue has largely dropped out of the news with the onset of winter and hence poor weather, though I suspect you may agree, that come the spring, we shall see yet more tragic instances in greater number. I have almost no faith in the ability of European politicians to find a solution, and sad to say, feel that the goodwill shown by many EU citizens may rapidly evaporate. Next year could be interesting in all sorts of ways – Middle Eastern geopolitics, financial collapse, an idiot in The White House? Monkey business of one kind or another anyway.

      • Oh Hariod. What a sweet comment. Exactly like our dear friend John Z said regarding his book. It seems you both truly do think I am a simple being, as I said. I appreciate that. All this lofty philosophising does indeed go above my little feather-brained airhead. 🙂

        My serious point, which I think I mentioned a while back on Sirius’s, was that attempted immigration by sea from North Africa is such a part of life here that it’s virtually a non-story. Some survive the crossing, others die.

        The solution is to fix lives there, not to pile everyone into Europe. Or to use a simplistic analogy, teach people how to fish, not to give them hand outs. Natch, I don’t agree with the fishing, so it would be better to teach them how to grow veg. etc.; but I was feeling lazy. World problems? Solve them instantaneously. Just that a lot of people wouldn’t like my solutions.

        • You are a one you are Kate. Alright, I give in; have it your way; yes, I think you are a “little feather-brained airhead” – happy now princess? And that’s the first time I’ve ever insulted anyone on this site, so you can at least console yourself in that I think you more than smart enough to take it, and understand irony when it clobbers you over your sweet little vacuous head. 😉

          Seriously though, that is rather shocking that the exodus is “virtually a non-story” – the banality of evil eh? And I think it is just that, because it was we who drove them to their desperation, by virtue of proxy anyway. You have a solution for this you say? What may that be – stop voting psychopaths in as our leaders? I suspect you have something more inventive in mind though.

          Here’s an ironic little ditty that an old friend of mine wrote especially for you back when princesses wore shoulder pads – the punchline comes around four minutes in:

          H ❤

          • Oh god, not a flipping video! I’ll look when I am awake – i.e. tomorrow. I loved shoulder pads, though I didn’t actually need them – I’ve got broad shoulders. 😉

            On the exodus issue, I think the problem is the portrayal of the ‘dream’. It’s no longer the American Dream, it’s the greedy capitalist Western World dream. And if others have that life, why shouldn’t I? That’s the essence of it. Well, money is the absolute essence. 😦

            • Oh yes, I forgot that videos are a pet hate of yours on blogs, and I kind of agree – though in comments anything goes for me. Not a fan of Neoliberalism myself either, the quasi-religious adherence to so-called ‘free markets’ that are nearly always rigged, and the provision of ‘consumer choice’ that amounts to no more than selecting whether to be kicked in the crotch or the face. I think Chris Hedges’ rather bleak vision of the way things are going is probably not too far off the mark.

  29. Wonderful – so many thoughts, but words seem to have left me for a while. I love that the mom trusted the monk enough to show him her pain. I rescue – no I think they rescue me – so many abandoned creatures. I have abandonment and trust issues, so I empathize with those that seem to find me. I was just outside in a somewhat impatient state attempting to befriend a beautiful black kitten. Callie watched as she has finally decided I am an okay human, and she seemed to whisper he will come around. 🙂

    Your words have such an eloquent rhythm to them; I must come by more. Time is a struggle these days, with taking care of my mom; so the blogs take a backseat – when I click on I go where I feel the energy of hope.

    Thank you for the wonderful read. I hope all is well in your world . Take Care. You Matter. )0(


    • Thankyou so much Maryrose for your interest, your candour, your presence, and your very generous words; I appreciate them all in equal measure. You are the first person ever to have commented on the ‘rhythm’ of my writing, which is something that I particularly work at to achieve, and I can think of no higher compliment. I only post once a month – in fact just ten times a year – and try to ensure that the pieces will run along smoothly in the reader’s mind, even if the content may sometimes be unfamiliar territory to many. Once again, thankyou for your kind and heartfelt words Maryrose; you give me great encouragement in my efforts here.

      With very best wishes,


  30. Dear Hariod,

    I called in today, maybe for solace after the news from Paris. That frequent thought/feeling when hearing of unimaginable terror and tragedy: ‘but what can I do?’ Thank you for this post.

    I found myself reminded of Tonglen – the practice of breathing in the darkness of the horror and breathing out lightness and love – by my understanding [of empathy] as a form of compassion. It is so easily and quickly forgotten if not part of a daily practice.

    Today I can return to painting with joy, although before reading your post I was tempted to believe that maybe joyful painting could be considered to be facile and uncaring. Prompted by your thoughtful, beautifully written post, I can personally find some solace, renew my practice and continue with my life. Somehow I believe that that continuance has to be an undermining of the goals and actions of the ‘psychopaths’. Whilst I also believe that the sending out of love through Tonglen must also include them.

    • Dear Liz,

      Thankyou so much for this rich addition to the discussion, and for introducing me to a new form of practise – which I have taken the liberty of hyperlinking in your comment. I must apologise for the tardiness of my response – some technical issues – and of course, in the interim the full scale of the Paris attacks has become ever more apparent.

      I understand your initial response, and shared in it in my own way too – almost everything can seem ‘facile and uncaring’ in the light of such news, even making a mug of tea can appear so; and as you say, there is that feeling of helpless inefficacy or impotence, despite one’s feelings and altruistic desires.

      I saw hundreds queuing to give blood in Paris, which must have helped in more ways than one. At a distance, we hear our leaders talk about ‘not giving in’ and ‘carrying on our way of life’, and perhaps for some that feels like an act of defiance or positive response to events, yet it feels very hollow as such to me – particularly when Cameron blathers on about the ‘way of life we love’.

      And so, as you say, we turn to our personal consciousness, and to cultivating the good within, in the hope that in some tiny way we lend positive force to our species’ evolution; and if not that, then avoid succumbing to seeing only reflections of the darkness and horror you speak of.

      Yet the whole must not be personal in any selfish way, as you so wisely state in closing, and no one is more deserving of our empathy and altruism than another. We are all living out the experience of our conditioned sentience, and what is the point in directing hatred at anything at all, let alone at the unfathomable abstractions of what caused us to be whatever we have become – psychopath or not?

      Once again, thankyou for your powerful thoughts and presence Liz, and also for your interest and the kindness of your words – they are a great encouragement to me.

      With metta,


      • Thanks Paul. I know very little of Buddhism, and still less of politics. I find the onslaught of news reports of world tragedies – Paris, Syria, Lebanon, the degradation of our beautiful planet – difficult to deal with. And beyond small acts of charity I often feel so useless.

        Hariod’s post here was a perfect timely reminder. We must continue to breathe and be aware and maybe the more of us who do so, the less the fear and anxiety will snowball. ‘May all beings be well. May all beings be happy. May all beings be filled with loving kindness.’


        • Liz, I too know little about Buddhism, and wish I knew more. However, I do know this – Buddhism is not a religion! It is a way of living that millions of us around the world would be wise to emulate. [You should be aware that I am not a follower of any religion and I label myself as a humanist.]

  31. Such a beautiful post, Hariod. I was right there with the monk and the grieving mother, feeling the sadness and the wisdom. I have always known animals, other than humans, are capable of empathy, and never could understand how many others don’t see this. I have seen examples time and time again. The world needs empathy, and sadly, well, I needn’t say more. It just does. Empathy is truly from the heart.

    Thank you, Hariod.



    • Thankyou very much Mary, for giving of your time to both read and compose a reflection upon this offering; I greatly appreciate such kind generosity, as well as your esteemed presence. You have made me feel as though I have done my job satisfactorily in saying that you were ‘right there’ in the scenario I describe, and I could not ask for a greater expression of encouragement as I continue here in my efforts with short-form writing.

      With gratitude and respect,


  32. If empathy were a species it would seem to face extinction. The monk’s story brings emotional tears to the surface. The rest of our stories could use some ink from the monk’s well. Thank you for the beautiful piece, Hariod.

    • Thankyou so much for your kind and generous reflection, and also for casting your sagacious eyes across this offering. The monk’s story is indeed very touching, and it is a shame not to be able to recount it in more detail. He was a quite exceptional man, with who I had a tangential, though not directly personal, connection. Your words are a great encouragement to me in my writing here, and I treasure them, truly – thankyou. _/\_

  33. I found the story of the Buddhist monk and the heartbroken orangutan mother a very moving one. Over the years, I’ve heard similar reports about other creatures, and I think it is very likely that a number of other species are capable of feeling empathy. I know this notion is sometimes pooh-poohed as hopelessly unscientific and nothing but sentimentalizing anthropomorphism of the worst kind, but I really don’t think so. We have no doubt that aggression and territorialism are traits carried over from our animal ancestors, so why not compassion?

    • Thankyou for your interest, Bun; I appreciate your presence as always. Rather worryingly, I found your comment in the spam file. I never bother to look at the contents of that file as I get so much of it, and trust Akismet in sorting out the genuine from spam comments. I noticed yours just as I was about to hit ‘delete’, and only because yours was at the top of the list at the time. I’m now beginning to wonder how many genuine comments I may have deleted over the past two years since I began blogging. It seems very odd that yours was sent to spam, especially as you included no links or hyperlinks.

      Yes, we’re very much in agreement on the empathic capacities of certain other species, most notably primates, it would appear. Somewhere up in the comments above I posted a video of the primatologist Frans de Waal who has dedicated much of his work to the study of this same phenomenon. It can hardly be a surprise that his findings confirm our intuitions, and that most dog owners seem to share those same instincts too. Human Exceptionalism seems very largely unfounded when we open our eyes to the evidence.

      • I completely agree with your feelings on human exceptionalism, Hariod. I think it’s about as spurious a notion as American exceptionalism.

        Incidentally, I’m sorry about ending up in your Spam Folder. I think it’s probably something to do with a loose screw somewhere down in the engine room of my blog rather than because of any problem with your site. It does seem to happen to me from time to time. Ho hum.

        • Thanks Bun. I’m so glad I caught sight of your comment in the spam file, as I always like to read reactions and acknowledge the same, quite naturally. I could have understood yours being there had it contained the links I mentioned, but perhaps you will get on to Akismet and ask them to look into it on your behalf? I comment a lot around the blogosphere, and yet have never had this problem, to my knowledge. How frustrating for you to have this issue surface at times.

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