Empathy and Connections

Sid

In my last blog on Connections and relationships, I mentioned how life exists only in connections. Connections are also about being in the moment. In this blog, I am exploring these connections further and how do they come alive?

Empathy is the technical term given to these connections. When I am able to empathize fully with myself or others, I am in connection.

One boundary condition I draw is that it is not possible to be in empathy all the time. There is no pressure for me to be in empathy constantly. It is ok to sulk and bitch and curse sometimes (not out of habit). Accepting this is humane. Enjoying ‘jackal dance’ (NVC term) is a good way to dissipate the energy that reduces my connection with others. This acceptance brings me back to empathy quickly.

Empathy is also an energy. The energy in a moment. The energy that aids connection with self and others. It will also pass! For me, the idea is to keep growing in that energy state. Prolong it. Once I accept this, there is a practical consideration to be made.

What do I do when I am not in empathy? To ensure I make good choices when not in empathy! What can I do when I am consumed by jackals? Following are my reflections. Of course, very easily said than done. However only what is said is done! So it is important for me to say it.

  1. Accept my current state. Fully. “At this moment, I am consumed by Jackal”, “At this moment, I am feeling…..” “A part of me is feeling….”
  2. Connect with my sensations. Observe them.
  3. If I am angry, isolate myself. Keeping mum. Not speaking. If I am sad, surrounding myself with others and talking aloud.
  4. If my energy levels are high — I slow down, shout. Observe my body boundaries (feet, back, head, etc.)
  5. If my energy levels are down — I move, yawn, massage my temples and body.
  6. There is no rush to analyze and find out. ‘How to’ is the biggest contamination for me at this moment! I know, once the tornado will settle down, clarity will emerge. When consumed by the thought storm just staying in the moment is the key. No action. Absolutely no action both physical and mental. No conclusions need to be drawn. Just staying in the moment! I am often surprised to see how quickly it all passes. Time is truly an illusion!
  7. The practice of Vipassana definitely helps me in this. It helps me on daily basis. Moment to moment basis. So I strive to keep growing in Vipassana. There is no rush. It is a marathon. Feeling safe and then growing is my endeavor. Hopefully, that will take me far!

So, once the hygiene is taken care of what does being in empathy look like for me? How do I know that I am in empathy or connected to myself and open to others?

Well, again the annoying answer is that it’s difficult to describe. Yet, let me try.

When I am open to others I am open to their experience. When I don’t have any judgments, reactions while listening, I am in empathy. When I am aware of my needs and alive to my feelings and sensations, I am in empathy. When I see both the positive and hindering side of self and others, I am in empathy. There is no enemy image in my head. I am not having limited internal dialogues with others. Even if I am having any internal dialogues they are win-win. They are not to belittle or ridicule anyone. There is no anxiety in me about the future and opportunity cost. There is no regret from the past. When I am living in this moment. This is empathy for me.

Once I experience this, how do I also bring this to my relationships? What are the ways in which I can give empathy to others or be emphatically present to others’ experiences? Following are some ways.

  1. Silent listening — This one comes naturally to me. Nodding and matching body language are important. Allowing the other person to completely ‘empty their cup’. This truly requires patience. There is no hurry. Let them come out completely. This is truly healing for both sides! I have experienced it both ways.
  2. Reflecting and summarizing — Do it at the pace of another person. When they need it. Being aware of doing it when I feel discomfort is important. Just saying “What I am hearing you say….” “Correct me if I heard you/ understand you correctly…” Even this is amazingly effective. Again healing for both sides
  3. Trying to identify needs and feelings — I am not too much of a big fan of this. This can be done only after silently listening and summarizing another person. Doing this is a way to validate their feelings and experience. Again, I have to be aware of putting words in their mouth. Being aware of not giving suggestions and advice. “Are you feeling…..?” “Do you need…..?”
  4. Sensing what is important — Identifying values and trying to find what is really important to the other person without any judgments. Telling that aloud. “It seems you really value ……”

When I am truly present in the moment, I am living in empathy, my energy increases. This is because I relate to the experience of the other person. It validates my existence. This is a true connection. I am neither consumed by their struggles or joys nor apathetic to their experience.

Reduction in physical and emotional energy is the easiest sign to become aware that I am losing my empathy. When that happens, it is time to hit pause and go back to the initial steps on hygiene!

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