I frequently hear the word “empathy” used generally to describe a casual stance synonymous with “being nice.” It’s a word that risks being relegated to the realm of psycho-babble. But empathy is more important, more radical than sometimes held. When engaged deeply, it takes a lot of sustained awareness to maintain an empathic perspective. Empathy, for me, has been a kind of whole-body attention to the immediate experience of another, sensitive and open to the validity of their feelings and beliefs, to their ways of making sense of their experience.
I find empathy to be deeply rooted in a psychic instinct to perceive and stay with the experiences of others, to attune to their unfolding feelings and beliefs, to their ways of making sense of their experience, while simultaneously being aware of my own contribution to the relational field. Awareness of and responsibility for my own biases, transference, and projections, in the moment . . . understanding how to hold or share my personal material for the benefit of the relationship is key.
When others are clear about their feelings, I find the empathic state is relatively easily accessible. But often friends, family and clients aren’t so aware or definitive about what they are going through. Over time, I have been remembering and returning to my capacity to connect with others energetically, regardless of what they can or can’t articulate verbally. Empathy is like an energetic bridge that links my psychic body to the psychic body of the other person; there is a knowing; a recognition of myself, of Divine, in the energetic, non-verbal experience of the other.
This psychic ability, I believe, is organic and innate in all humans. We may have dissociated from it or disowned it; we may have lost our experiential authority to an external source so this ability may exist in an unformulated state. Should this be the case, then tendering this loss can be accomplished by attuning to the state of separation and providing a psychic invitation, from my heart to the heart of the other, to return to the relational field. Significantly, empathy is not only for others. I can practice empathic attunement toward my own experience as it is emerging right now. What am I experiencing in this moment? Setting aside all interpretation and even all agendas to shift, transform, or heal, right now, what is my actual, lived experience? What is happening in my body? What emotional tone or mood is there? What is the overall felt sense of being me, right now? How am I perceiving myself, others, and the world, and how might I shift that perspective?
Empathy is perhaps just another way of describing the art of love. Self-empathy, other-empathy, self-attunement, other-attunement . . . Empathy, the psychic bridge that connects us all in the vulnerable unknown of this human odyssey.