From Feeling and Thinking to Understanding and Building


Julio César Arboleda



There is scientific evidence that compassion can be trained through meditation. The brain is a malleable organ. And if we go to a gym to train our body, why wouldn’t we also train our spirit?

Bregman, Rutger.


We are all within the pluriverse, understood as a world of worlds, a series of ever-changing interweavings of humans and non-humans, which result from the incessant movement of Earth’s vital forces and processes. (…) No living being exists independently on earth. (…) The point is that one of these worlds has claimed the right to be “the world” and attempts to eliminate or reduce to its own terms the richness of the different worlds that make up socio-natural life.

Arturo Escobar


Sentipensar, a popular, ancestral expression, reveals our deep connection with nature, a way of appreciating and embracing existence and life as a complex intermingled of humans and non-humans; a life aesthetic whereby humans grow as we think with both mind and heart, feeling-thinking existence, the earth, life, what unites us and makes us part of this. The sentipensante (feeling-thinking) consciousness represents an urgent task for social institutions, therein education, especially if it promotes such potential to mature as a constructive comprehending consciousness by which understandings are used with a sense of life, connect us with our being, and allow “the profound inclination of man towards good” to emerge within us[1]. Sentipensar is a necessary step towards constructive understanding, as empathy is to compassion: this latter feeling not only connects us with the other (human) or the other (non-human), but also moves us to welcome, to attend to, and care for it.

Strengthening the union of thought and feeling as interconnected and interdependent functions is a constructive process, substantive for enhancing life, a trigger for presence, that is, for an active consciousness of life, making it possible to feel oneself and know oneself inhabiting the here and now. The more the value and individual and relational development of those are ignored, the formation of multiple thoughts (logical, creative, innovative, design, comprehensive, among others), as well as the promotion of feelings, values and attitudes that enhance existence , education decenters itself from life, from its being, from its primary functions, from its sacred meaning. The function of educating is assumed by promoting the development of full consciousness, cognitive, comprehensive, meditative, contemplative, bodily, and other, and of processes that articulate rational and non-rational, cognitive and affective equipment.

Hence the importance of the development and connection between thought and feeling, of experiencing the event of feeling-thinking and thinking-feeling. For there are situations in life where thinking alone is not enough, and where we cannot give ourselves over to the impulse of feelings and emotions; events in which sentipensar must operate. Likewise, there are others in which it is more enriching to just contemplate, meditate, and observe.

In any case, surrendering to self-absorbed thought will have coexistent consequences, as will the predominance of emotions and feelings. Leading oneself involves the disposition and capacity to connect thought and feeling, and to gain experience in controlling or allowing these psychic functions. Such an attitude broadens understandings and enables evolution from simpler understandings such as cognition to more complex ones like critical, intersubjective, and constructive understanding, and from sovereignty or self-domination, to a binding, other-focused, empathetic, and compassionate sovereignty with the other and the non-human, with integrated life.

As we have expressed in other spaces, thought represents a mental potential through which we elaborate representations, operations, and strategies to proceed in a better way in the activities and situations posed by existence and life. It is necessary to develop plural thinking: creative, lateral, logical, investigative, linguistic, mathematical, among others. Likewise, intelligence, a potential that, depending on how we harness it, allows us to tackle an event with greater speed, skill, and precision; it is desirable, in the same way, to develop multiple intelligences. On this topic, someone can be very intelligent but possess low thought potential, and viceversa.

Braided together, such mental functions constitute a powerful complex for personal, social and planetary life; For example, mathematics can be more useful or powerful when mathematical intelligence is developed with plural, not just logical, thinking. Likewise, when thought constitutes the driving force of linguistic or other intelligence. In any case, sentipensancia is always wealth, at least personal, even if a process assumed in everyday life is insufficient or abortive; there should be no defeat, failure or frustration, since the experience of feeling, which includes living step by step in this way, is already a manifestation of presence.

On the other hand, feeling represents a state (of sadness, joy, pain, anguish, etc.) or affection that can be produced when experiencing an emotion. As is known, emotions are physical or psychological reactions to a stimulus that can mark us, for example, experiencing feelings of sadness or defeat due to a loss: These can be partially moderated by the intervention of thought and intelligence[2]. To sense or perceive something through the senses constitutes an elevated experience if it is processed cognitively, better yet using thought, particularly comprehensive thought; likewise, if social sensitivity is developed, accompanying feeling with thought, understanding, and action to confront the pain caused by aggression to life, exclusion, selfishness, mistreatment, inequalities, and injustices. Interrelating rational and non-rational psychic functions could translate into better opportunities to live and cultivate life.

The consciousness and attitude of sentipensar are evolutionary potentials that move us to weave life. Without these, we remain at the mercy of multidimensional exclusion, that is, of the dominion of the ego, and we make of the affective, attitudinal, and intellectual endowments (therein understanding, innovation, creativity, among others), a further tribute for particular interests that are common or of intertwined life. Such forces would awaken the good wolf that human beings could carry within, the best instead of the worst or the life-unweaving of each one. They can translate into social and planetary sensitivity: a sentient intellectuality does not seem to be forged outside the marriage of sentipensar, outside the interrelated use of thought – including analytical, critical, design, and creative --, and dispositions and feelings. Sentipensar innovation is not the same as that based on thought or the mere desire to innovate; innovation for consumption conflicts with innovation for life, as the latter requires planetary sensitivity, sentipensamiento, presence, strengths where thought involves feeling and emotion, and viceversa.

Sentithinking enhances relevant processes in existence such as comprehensive consciousness, particularly cognitive, intersubjective, critical and edifying understandings. The comprehensive phenomenon requires intellectual processes around the event or issue being addressed, as well as prior understandings and intrinsic motivation, feeling the desire to know and process the knowledge or event to be clarified, as well as scenarios for the use of these acquisitions.  The comprehensive force, in any form or mode of understanding, is associated with the sentipensante synapse. It could be said that the degree of understanding is directly proportional to the degree of sentipensancia: the enacting understanding of edifying styles of life requires a sentipensancia that provokes actions that weave shared existence. Let's see.

Cognitive understanding, seen as the nexus of rational and non-rational strengths to elucidate a statement, concept, or phenomenon, presupposes the intervention of mental operations such as reasoning, analysis, synthesis, among others, and intelligence skills to accompany these, as well as others of an affective order, including emotions, feelings, and dispositions. To feel, deconstruct, and contextualize, to live experiences of appropriation, generation, application, and use, are processes inherent to understanding. No one understands something if they do not process it cognitively, affectively, and operationalize it in experience, if it does not involve, better yet, it combines rational and non-rational functions such as thinking, feeling and acting. Thus, understanding a text involves the use of cognitive and discursive operations and strategies, coherence and cohesion that summon thought, intelligence, affectivity, the action or experience of use, application, and refinement of understandings reached. Because every understanding enacts, as will be shown later.

Intersubjective understanding is more than an intellectual phenomenon, it is not possible without thought and feeling or visceral impulse that moves us to build, to care for the other, for the human world. To cultivate the other and cultivate life, it is not enough to think and want to do well; one must feel the other as part of life, and be driven by edifying feelings, by the desire to welcome, to assume the other as a dignified coexistent, in need of me; this is the law of integrated existence, for in evolution we all need each other, so focusing on personal benefit is a way of gnawing at and unraveling life.

The critical comprehender is equally a sentipensante (feeling-thinker). They think feelingly, feel thoughtfully, care for the other as a valid, indeed worthy, adversary; they respect the (multi)ontology (particular ways of being and doing), interests, reasons, values, and singularities of the other, of the opponent; It makes criticism an evolutionary, edifying device, where logical thinking operations are as important as feelings, attitudes and values, both knowledge and its contextualization and edifying use, projector of lights, generator of new paths, of good lives. It is desirable for the critic to evolve in understanding, to gain the category of a constructive comprehender. The comprehender who builds (the critical subject who evolves) connects thoughts and feelings, intelligence and emotion, putting their potentials at the service of the other and the non-human world. The sentipensante that builds regularly expresses themselves through critique, understanding, and in the different ways in which it relates to society and nature. Feeling and thinking can become edifying, comprehensive strengths. Herein lies a significant challenge for education.

As can be seen, feeling-thinking is an gift that sheds greater light on our presence in existence, making our participation in and throughout life more dynamic. In educational matters, it favors not only dispositions and learning of knowledge but also the development of full consciousness, therein comprehensive consciousness, above all the performances of understanding through which it enacts, embodies, puts into act, in situation the comprehensive acquisitions, whether these are of cognitive, critical, intersubjective, or constructive order.

Understanding is an enactive phenomenon, deepening as the cognitive, affective, attitudinal, and operational performances it requires become more complex. These latter affirm the immediate relationship between understanding and enaction. Understanding enacts, contextualizes, and activates the subject of understanding; it requires the activity and experience of the comprehender, the activation of their cognitive appropriations, and it is in this situated use of what is clarified that the act of understanding gains clear lucidity, where the meanings and senses conferred by understanding are expanded.

If it is a concept like educating, this is understood by educating, assuming such a function, or knowing oneself educated. Friendship is understood by being a friend of oneself, of the other and of the other. Something is not understood outside of operation, encapsulated in cognition or thought, isolated in decontextualized knowledge, knowledge or phenomena. Understanding is a cognitive and experiential, sentient and experiential process. It is an unfinished process, a tension between cognition and experience, of contextualization and experiencing of conscious gains. The understanding of the other is the muscle of the understander's actions in favor of the other: his willingness and generosity to recognize, open up, and attend to the other, the different, the similar. Intersubjective understanding is not only a cognitive process but above all a social one, eminently operational: it is not only about understanding the other, recognizing their difference and uniqueness: it is above all being willing to live with the other, respecting them, taking their hand to walk together.

Life is not understood stuck in cognitive and even intersubjective understanding: understanding is an event, and it can represent an edifying event. To do this, it is not enough to understand a concept or issue by expanding its clarification through reflection, operations and cognitive and thinking strategies, and through actions of contextualization and use of these; Nor is it enough to understand the other, participate in their inclusion, welcome them, care for them and for themselves; The evolution of intertwined life also requires the understanding (read, recognition, care and cultivation) of the other, both the human (the other) and the non-human (the other), of that which together with the human being constitutes life, configures the inseparable bond, the interconnection and interdependence (of coexistence) in life, in the vital complex[3]. For understanding to bring life, to be edifying, to enact worlds for better living with the other, the previous understandings that history gives us, cognitive-conceptual appropriation or cognitive understanding, self-understanding and the disposition to act in coherence with these understandings.

The understanding of life as a whole must be the meaning of all understanding, both cognitive and intersubjective. For this,, cognitive understanding must advance towards human understanding and an interconnected world, that is, it must evolve as edifying understanding. In this direction, the role of the school today represents a failed act as long as it immerses itself in teaching and learning while neglecting the function of educating, of intervening in the formation of integrated or biophysical life consciousness, of personal, social, planetary life, of a pluriverse or world where many worlds fit. It is necessary for it to assume its being, to generate scenarios for weaving life, for example through “pedagogical birthing” by which teachers and students (re)emerge as educators and learners.

Developing processes to grow in understanding, compassionate, ethical consciousness is an edifying way of birth, it involves going beyond intellectual and affective appropriation, as well as intersubjective understanding. It is necessary to promote in schools the development of comprehensive consciousness that enacts in a constructive key, making the comprehender a citizen of life, who feels-thinks and acts life with their understandings; who puts at the service of human and non-human life their endowments, who constructively uses in their existence their comprehensive achievements associated with cultural knowledge, be it biology, technology, mathematics, language, among others, and in general their acquisitions in life experience. Through this path, teachers and students would be evolutionary protagonists, weavers of personal, social, and cosmic life, transitioning as beings for life, genuine educators and learners.

To enact understanding in any of its forms or degrees, it must signify (be) openness, self-transcendence, going beyond knowing, cognition, or intellectual appropriation of a matter; it must contextualize the appropriations. Intersubjective understanding is a human endeavor, not just an intellectual acknowledgment; it is also factual, involving actions for human life, caring for the other; likewise, understanding the non-human requires actions of cultivation through which human stature is achieved by actions of joining, for humanity and life. Constructive understanding would be one of the greatest achievements to reach in any comprehensive endeavor, better yet, in the task of educating: that the comprehensive process enacts worlds of life, involves the comprehender as a feeling-thinking being, with sentient and active consciousness, for and for sacred life, a leading actor in the civilizational transition that walks with, and not at the expense of the other, the non-human, the intertwined life. A commitment to make existence an art, the art of living and coexisting in the interrelated complex of humans and non-humans.

To fulfill its substantive function, education must be feeling-thinking, it must cultivate tools for meditating and feeling-thinking; and if possible, constructive-comprehensive, it must enhance strengths to elucidate and project enlightenment onto existence and integrated life. Feeling-thinking the knowledge and wisdom distilled in the universes, territories, worldviews, philosophies, and multicultures that populate the pluriversal life, education will reorient its direction to contribute to human and cosmic evolution. Hence Arturo Escobar’s call for the reader to feel-think with the territories, cultures, and knowledge of their peoples —with their ontologies—, rather than with the decontextualized knowledge underlying notions of “development,” “growth,” and even “economy”.

A different education, feeling-thinking, or if you prefer, constructive-comprehensive, becomes more urgent today as the interrelated crises of climate, food, energy, and poverty sharpen, unleashed by human misunderstanding, by the dominance of a single, civilizational model of the world that ignores and seeks to assimilate other worlds, other universes, other ways of being, existing, and living — the extractivist and consumerist model, of folly, ambition, of individual interest over the common good. An education where the formation of full consciousness is paramount, allowing us to feel-think, understand, feel, and care for intertwined life, to transition towards another civilizational model, to be artisans and leading actors of a pluriversal ontological design aimed at “creating the technological, social, and ecological conditions in which multiple worlds and knowledges, including humans and non-humans, can flourish in mutually enriching ways”.

An education for edifying, comprehensive thought becomes imperative in times when human intelligence employs design thinking, among others, to produce artificial intelligence, artifacts that, if not produced, used, and received with a feeling-thinking mentality, attitude, and sentiment, will contribute to the deterioration of personal, social, and cosmic life. Generating, applying, and using artificial intelligence without feeling-thinking, without the guidance of a thought that acts life as could the potential of constructive-comprehensive thought, is characteristic of a society with a cosmic minority, which does not take care of the planetary home. It is about projecting scenarios for reorientation and transition that allow us to move from an education for the Self, the ego, for the market and individual interests, to a heartful education, which promotes the connected use of reason and heart, of thought and feeling, an education for the Other and the non-human, for the care of human and non-human life. To feel-think, understand, and care for integrated life. To inhabit, with constructive presence, our common home.


Julio César Arboleda[4]


[1] Bregman, R. (2021). Dignos de ser humanos: una nueva perspectiva histórica de la humanidad. Anagrama, Barcelona, pag 445.

[2] A type of emotions, different from those recognized as natural reactions, are the so-called “moral emotions”, contemplated in the cognitive-evaluative theory of Nussbaum, M. (2008). Landscapes of thought. The intelligence of emotions. Paidós. These would derive from cognitive acts or evaluative judgments issued by someone regarding certain behaviors, their own or those of other subjects, susceptible to approval or disapproval depending on whether they notice, from their own world, their impact on moral normativity.

[3] Regarding the acting nature of understanding, Arendt (2002, Understanding and politics: the difficulties of understanding. Philosophy Magazine, No. 26, pages 17-30) seems to be more radical in that she states that to understand totalitarianism it is necessary to confront it: “We cannot postpone our fight against totalitarianism until we have “understood” it, because we will not, and we cannot hope to understand it definitively, until it has been defeated.” Antagonizing totalitarianism would involve embodying such understandings in experience, accompanying its conceptual appropriation with concrete actions, which includes recognizing its origins and structures, as well as the scenarios through which it transits, such as education and the media, technologies for example. which assumes indoctrination as a strategy to fight against understanding.

[4] Julio César Arboleda, Director Red Iberoamericana de Pedagogía, Profesor investigador de la Universidad de San Buenaventura. Grupos de Investigación: 1) “Pedagogía, formación y conciencia” (PFC), Universidad Autónoma de Madrid; 2) Redipe: Epistemología, pedagogía y filosofía; 3)  Educación y desarrollo humano, USB.


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