751st Week: Cultivating Empathy
As I sit to write this week’s practice, I find myself orienting to some recent research that was brought to my attention. At a time when we need increased empathy for all life forms, for all our kin and for the earth itself, it seems that there is a new trend. The report shows that people in the United States, where the research was conducted, have shifted in their relationship to empathy. Whereas people used to feel empathy in general, it now seems that it is becoming normalized not to care about what happens to people who are outside a person’s immediate sphere of relations. It seems that anyone outside the “tribe” doesn’t deserve empathy. Instead, people tend to blame the victim instead of opening their hearts to the suffering of people who are different—be they different because of ethnicity or different because of their beliefs or lifestyle.
We can see reflected in the state of our planet’s environmental destruction, with the extinction of species caused by human activity, and with the escalating levels of conflict between so many groups of people all around the planet that we need a collective awakening to the cost of being empathically disconnected from one another.
Because of this new trend toward less empathy, it feels more important than ever to engage practices that cultivate empathy and compassion not only for the people we know, but for all life—to make empathy a true practice of the heart.
For this week’s practice in conscious living, I invite you to orient to your heart’s perception and intelligence as you engage others, be they other people, other life forms, the environment. By first focusing in your heart, ask yourself, what can I sense of the experience of this other person, life form, environmental situation? How do I sense they feel? What do I sense is their experience right now?
The goal here isn’t to get exact answers or responses. Instead, it’s an opportunity to develop a habit of orienting to your heart perception when you engage another person, life form, or environment. Learning to orient to your heart will help to more readily access this aspect of your intelligence as you move through daily life and will also support cultivating empathy. The heart is naturally empathic, naturally in relationship with whatever you encounter.
If you’d like to look at an article on the empathy research, here’s a link to it: https://www.npr.org/2019/04/15/712249664/the-end-of-empathy?utm_source=facebook.com&utm_medium=social&utm_campaign=npr&utm_term=nprnews&utm_content=20190415&fbclid=IwAR3nPrUZOkgouX0nAuKhp7I80vQ_ZI3YkpwE9crnXUe2lVWQv7CX3qsm6GY&t=1555763947987
As with all these practices, there’s no right or wrong way to do this one. Instead, this is an invitation to connect more deeply with the wisdom and intelligence of your heart brain, as it has a different perspective on things than the head brain does. Remember to bring along curiosity as your constant companion so that you have the freedom to not know things ahead of time, to be open to encountering unanticipated discoveries along the way. And, please be sure to pat gently on the head any judgments that may arise, allowing them to move on through. They aren’t really information—instead, they are symptoms of activation.