713th Week:  Cultivating Empathy

As I write this, I’m sitting in the Admiral’s Club of American Airlines, waiting for a flight to California.  I’m flying business class today, on miles, and I’m struck by the difference between the experience I’m having right now—complimentary coffee and food and a comfortable place to sit—compared to what it’s like when I fly economy.  What this brings into my awareness is how easy it could be to overlook the quality of life being lived by people who don’t have the economic privilege I do. I find myself wondering how I would cultivate a deepened empathic awareness of people in need if my everyday life were regularly as generous and comfortable as the situation I’m in at the moment.

I remember reading some recent research that suggested that the more money people have the lower their scores on tests of empathy. Sitting here this morning, I can understand how that could happen.  So, the question I have deals with any and all areas of privilege, be that economic privilege, racial privilege, gender privilege, ethnic privilege, religious privilege, or any other kind of privilege that comes automatically to certain classes of people.  How do we expand our awareness to include those who don’t have access to whatever kinds of privilege we may take for granted and not even recognize as privilege?

One practice that comes to mind is Lovingkindness, where the focus is to wish oneself and all beings happiness and freedom from suffering. It is a heart-centered practice that orients on offering lovingkindness to the following:  self, everyone we know and love, everyone we consider friends and acquaintances, everyone we don’t know, all beings of whatever species. Here’s a link to a version of lovingkindness practice from my website: https://www.nancynapier.com/1999/01/09/loving-kindness-meditation/

Another useful practice is to orient to heart perception and intelligence, as the “brain in the heart” automatically emphasizes connection and a sense of oneness.  HeartMath is a helpful way to cultivate heart awareness: https://www.heartmath.org

For this week’s practice, I invite you to explore what best supports a deepening of your empathy for people who are in very different circumstances from yours.  No one practice is right for everyone, so allow yourself to explore various approaches to find what resonates the most for you.  The gift of this work is to enhance your sense of connection with and concern for others, whether those “others” are people, different species, or the life of the planet and all its inhabitants.

As with all these practices, there is no right way to do this one.  Rather, it’s one more opportunity to explore your internal quality of life and what supports a nourishing and inspiring sense of well-being.  As always, remember to bring along curiosity as your constant companion and to pat on the head any judgments that may arise, allowing them to move on through and move on.

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