Sufi trickster, Mullah Nasruddin, joyfully comes home and tells his wife,
“I just took a fabulous class on empathy!” She asks him to tell her more.
With glee, he almost shouts “First, you give ME compassion! THEN, I give you empathy!”
We all have our challenges with empathy. There are a variety of emotional states we inhabit that inhibit our capacity to empathize with someone. Anything on the mad, sad, glad or scared continuum can stop us from pausing and reflecting on what it’s like to be that PERSON at that TIME going through that SITUATION. Or as I shared, disgust. Granted, none of us can FULLY understand the experience of another. However, there is value in holding an INTENTION to understand, as best we can.
There are two sides to empathy, giving and receiving. When they are integrated AND there are no inner obstacles to empathy, there is no distinction. We then may have a glimpse of sweet human oneness, connected on the bridge of the heart. Investigating what’s between us and empathy can guide us back to that bridge.
You can explore this yourself. Healing arts professionals also meet with empathetic challenges in our personal lives. Recall the most recent time you felt disconnected from your person. Become aware of any thoughts, images, emotions or sensations that come up when you think about UNDERSTANDING as fully as you can what your person is going through. Think about it for a moment, your person is going through something that is contributing to them to feel less than satisfactory, something that’s hard for them.
What comes up for you when you think about giving your attention to understanding what it’s like to be them in this situation now? When I think about what my person is going through,
I think …
I imagine …
I feel (emotion) …
I feel or sense (body) …
What is the natural automatic response to these sentences?
These responses, reveal the content forming an energized knot of the conditioned self. This energized content is both your personal obstacle to empathy and your doorway to the bridge of the heart. Once you discover those obstacles, you can use what you know about acceptance and integration to address and neutralize this charged content.
What do you think the value is of holding an INTENTION to meet our person on the bridge of the heart in any given moment is? How might that intention CHANGE the dynamic in your most precious relationships?
Here’s how this might look. First, get to know when your person wants and needs empathy. What are their signals? How can you tell when there is an empathy deficit? One of the biggest clues for me is I feel disconnected from them. What are your clues that your person needs your empathy?
Conversely, become more direct and assertive about letting your person know when YOU need empathy, especially if there is a disconnect between you and your person.
When you realize that you are NOT in a place of being willing or able to empathize, consider requesting a timeout - a time to restore your state of being where you CAN be present for your person with empathy. Begin by completing this sentence, “To reconnect with my person RIGHT NOW, I need to sacrifice . . .“ Take note of the first three ideas that come to mind. They will be in the form of thoughts, images, emotions and/or body sensations.
Whatever comes up, that’s where your practice is.
We all need empathy, some more than others. More at some times than others. Our need varies as we journey through life. It can be hidden under layers of other needs. When our need for empathy is not met, there is an added ache to the original pain. This ache can reveal a knotted tension that limits our ability to feel any bits of empathy streaming from your person.
Integrating the polarities of the need for empathy being met / the need for empathy not being met can mitigate this ache. Often this ache is knotted up with the absence of empathy in our youth. The work here is through the doorway of accepting and integrating that unique ache - addressing the triggered pain of what it feels like when our need for empathy is met, embodying this pain and integrating it with embodying what it feels like when the need for empathy is not met.
Uncovering and dismantling any limiting beliefs about receiving empathy and others’ ability and willingness to give empathy may reveal other obstacles limiting your capacity to feel the warmth emanating from the bridge of the heart.
How do you support your clients in increasing their capacity for empathy?
What questions do you have about AAIT and empathy?