Active Empathy

Active Empathy

There’s something within our humanity that longs for our stories and experiences to be heard, seen, and felt by others (especially the gritty ones that often leave us feeling shame and guilt).

We fill this longing in different ways.

Sometimes it’s a conversation between two friends, perhaps it’s through therapy or coaching, or even within intentional sharing containers.

What we are really seeking is something I call Active Empathy.

This flavor of empathy is proactive and comes with a desire to meet us halfway in our experience, regardless if it’s what we think, how we feel, or what our body has to say about it.

For some, Active Empathy is second nature. But for most of us, it’s a muscle that could use some work.

The ability and capacity to sit with uncomfortable emotions (both another person’s and our own) and the willingness to support the process or processing of hard stuff isn’t easy.

The reason many of us are hesitant to step into Active Empathy (as opposed to Active Reaction), is because a part of us is afraid that by letting another person’s experience impact us, it will somehow leave us less than or that we’ll lose part of ourselves.

This is wise. Without clear intention and a sound Inner Relationship, it would be easy to lose ourselves in the stories and swirl of another.

So what to do?

The answer lies in having a clear distinction between what is mine, what’s me, or my emotions vs that of the other person.

The tricky part is, for most of us our sense of Inner vs Outer has never been intentionally distinguished.

This often leaves us unsure how much to step in, how much to support to give, and to know when too much is too much.

What we find is how our ability & capacity to support others in stable, grounded ways is proportionate to how sound those experiences are within our Inner Relationship.

Trees that stretch wide and bear fruit do so because their roots are deep & sound.

What I’ve found is the more familiar with my essence, energy, or being’ness, the more empathy and presence I am able to offer to another’s emotions and expressions.

So how do we become more connected and familiar with our essence?

The simplest invitation is to begin a practice (yes this requires doing more than once!) of sitting with ourselves, with the intention of becoming familiar with our felt sensations.

I like calling this, “Soaking In Our Essence.”

Practically, this looks like sitting in silence with hands on the body and allowing ourselves to sense or feel whatever appears to be our essence.

Often this shows up as a felt sense, a warmth, or something that feels like home.

And sometimes, there may be nothing simply because it’s been a while since we’ve turned our inner light towards ourselves.

Over time, we develop an Inner Trust that allows us to enhance, expand, and (this is key) contain our essence.

We begin to notice how someone else’s emotions really do feel different from our own.

We begin to be able to stand fully with someone’s experience and not collapse into their expression or the situation.

Through this, we engage our Active Empathy. We find we can truly Be with someone, without having to fix or judge the depths of another’s Darkness nor to shrink or deny their Light.

As we do the work of solidifying our energies and grounding our essence, we become more of service & benefit to others, without losing ourselves along the way.

Opening The Heart

Opening The Heart

Ancient text, and many modern ones, speak to the idea of having our hearts open.

But what does that even mean?

I believe opening our hearts to ourselves, others, and to Life itself is a continuous and courageous process.

Sometimes our hearts close, sometimes our hearts open. The practice of awareness and gentle aspiration towards a heart that is open more often than closed is a worthy and meaningful endeavor.

I believe opening our hearts is an ever unfolding, and natural, process that, like a recipe, is best when it has some essential ingredients.

It begins with a willingness and desire to practice awareness. Even something as simple as our inhale and exhale can be a sufficient pathway to the heart, when done with intention.

As with any repeated action or awareness, returning again and again to our heart creates a familiar path that continually leads us to more presence and love in how we engage and interact with ourselves and others.

It is towards this subtle wisdom of our hearts that we re-attune ourselves. I believe the soft language of the heart is somehow fundamental to understanding our human puzzle and as such, has an important role that we are only now beginning to rediscover. This requires presence, stillness, a desire to listen, and a willingness to be surprised.

On a very practical level, it can be simply asking ourselves the question, What does my heart feel like in this moment? Often when we ask this, the heart may be silent. This is ok.

By creating a graceful habit of being in the inquiry of how our hearts feel, we begin to learn its gentle language. When we can understand the heart’s different flavors of yes, no, and stillness, we can begin to truly follow our hearts.

The language of the heart can be said to be sensation. It doesn’t speak in words, or even a voice. Instead, it speaks in colors, images, and sensations. When we begin to listen to the language of the heart, we will notice that its sensations can be both subtle and pronounced.

Sudden rushes of passion, the way a song can move us to tears, the gentle kiss of breeze across our skin, and the heartbreak that often comes with goodbye are all included in our expanding experience of the heart’s mystery.

From conscious awareness, we move into the body. When we practice yoga, chi-gong, and other practices that holistically engage the body, we rediscover a heightened awareness. As our physicality and energetic bodies are tied together, a supple, strong, and open chest allows us to become efficient and effective beacons and antenna of love.

The final and crucial aspect of opening our hearts is what some would call faith, imagination, belief, or even magic.

The road to becoming good stewards to our heart and the wisdom it contains often leads us straight through the unknown. We don’t have to believe in a higher power or even that ‘we are all one’ to be well, connected, and open in our hearts, it only requires we believe in the goodness of ourselves and humanity (tough as nails as that can be sometimes).

It is from this courageous belief that we draw from when there’s too much debris between our heart, and each other. The belief that leads us to our daily practice with devotion and intention, even when we don’t feel like it, feel anything, or feel everything.

As we begin to feed this seed of belief with nutrients of care, attention, deep breaths, and silly smiles, what blossoms is an inner fire that begins to burn away what is in the way of an open heart, and each other.