I've been reading a lot about empathy recently, something I am ashamed to say I only really gained about 7 years ago. Growing up in a male dominated environment, being taught that work is a "game" that you have to "play" and being selfish so that I could be more successful than, well... anyone else, there wasn't much time to feel for other people, never mind myself.
I believe it's important to feel empathy, not just for others but for yourself, to be a whole human being. By feeling empathy, it will help you get over the accomplishment gap holding you back from getting what you want. (Which I discuss in the book.)
Empathy in The Want Gap
I had a breakthrough with empathy back in 2010 during a group therapy setting. Not only did I feel and understand my new baby but I learned how to feel empathy for myself. That one session taught me empathy for my my experiences, my accomplishments and my being which overflows into empathy for others.
Here's an excerpt from the book of how meditation, which was run by a psychologist, allowed me to embrace empathy.
“Look in front of you and tell yourself what you see.” All I could see was a blank wall, which was the point.
“Let your arms dangle by your side. Close your eyes. Take a deep breath in and out. Listen to your breathing.” I knew what we were doing. We were going to meditate. “Great. I got this. I know how to do this, just relax and keep still.” I said to myself. Which is exactly what I did.
We must’ve sat there for 20 minutes with nothing said, except for the psychologist repeating, “breathe in…. Breathe out.” And if I’m honest, I was on the verge of sleep - sleep is a precious commodity when you have a young baby, but out of the blue she changed her voice.
“Take your arms and wrap them around yourself. Give yourself a hug.” Two minutes went by. “Hold yourself.” I was completely in the zone. My mind was everywhere but it was as if thoughts were just coming and going. “Let them come” I heard the psychologist say, as if she were in my brain. And then something amazing happened.
Using Meditation to Feel Empathy
By taking the time to just sit and listen to my breathing, allowing my thoughts to come and go without having to address them, I was able to "feel" my emotions differently. Here's what happened:
I had forgotten my arms but felt a warmth in my chest as if I were holding my son in his ergo carrier. I knew I wasn’t but I was transported into his little world. So, this is what it must’ve been like to be a baby, having no understanding of the world around me, having fear and uneasiness. The tears rolled down my cheek as I started to slump forward down in my chair almost mimicking the fetal position.
“It’s ok” said the psychologist. “Drop your arms and come back.” I did as she said and turned around to see that I wasn’t the only one crying.
It took an exercise like this to teach me how to let go of thoughts. To be above those thoughts and allow myself to let them go. To allow my inner self to forgive myself and to feel empathy for the little 3 month old human being I created. I found my empathy through meditation and visualization.
Using Daily Mindfulness to be Empathetic
During that meditation, I knew, deep down, that I would need more empathy to be a good Mum.
I use the practice of mindfulness, daily, to bring back the awareness of empathy. When my daughter drives me mad and is in a state of hysterics, the act of getting down to her level, taking a breath and looking directly in her eyes brings me back to that moment of empathy. I arrive in the moment with her. Let her cry and be there with her - I'm mindful of what is happening in the moment. I see, hear, and feel everything she is feeling. And when things calm down, while I'm watching and being WITH her, then we talk.
Mindfulness is not easy especially when you're in the heat of anger, fear and annoyance, but try it. Try taking a minute to feel everything that is happening in that moment. How do you feel? Are you tense? Are you running around crazy? Can you listen? Then stop, take a breath and try to be there with your little one.