I often write about the importance of kindness. An essential companion to that practice is cultivating empathy. A definition of empathy found on google says: “Emotion researchers generally define empathy as the ability to sense other people’s emotions, coupled with the ability to imagine what someone else might be thinking or feeling. … “ I would add to this definition, “…and the ability to imagine what any other living being might be thinking or feeling…”
Because I have focused on cultivating a deepened awareness of heart perception in recent years, on the quality of intelligence that naturally arises when orienting to the heart brain, I find that it hurts my heart when I notice the increasing lack of expressions of empathy in public and social spheres of my American culture. And, this lack of empathy is not only focused on a wide array of our human kin. It also applies to many, if not most, of our other earth-kin. What often saddens me is how a lack of empathy leads to a lack of kindness, as well.
For this week’s practice, I invite you to pay more attention to your relationship with empathy. One way to do this is to ask your heart brain, rather than your head brain, what someone else might be feeling or experiencing. I find that heart intelligence has a different take on, or brings different qualities to, most experiences. In this week’s practice, notice what happens if you take the time to ask your heart what it has to say about someone else’s experience.
Another way to increase empathy is to gather information about people—or, about other kinds of earth-kin, if they are what you’re exploring. I’m pretty sure I’ve written about this before, but a book by Franz de Waal, called “Are We Smart Enough to Know How Smart Animals Are?”, offers example after example of what happens when humans think about animals without empathy, without noticing that animal intelligence may operate in ways that aren’t familiar to humans. So, for this week’s practice, you might take time to explore more about people you don’t understand or about other earth-kin. Gathering information and developing understanding can support cultivating increased empathy and, along with that, increased kindness.
With whatever practice you choose to engage, notice not only any increase in empathy that may arise, but also track any impulses to offer kindness to others. We are collectively in such need of acts of kindness—which are happening, thankfully, in many places—be they small and go unnoticed or large and public. Notice if your relationship with kindness is affected by your deepened exploration of empathy.
As with all these practices, there’s no right or wrong way to do this one. Instead, it’s an invitation to dig a little more deeply into how you think about others and about the quality of your responses when you hear about circumstances that generate suffering. It’s also an opportunity to cultivate increased awareness of your heart brain, of the intelligence and perception that is always available and that adds important information and awareness to what your head brain may offer.
Please remember to bring along curiosity as your constant companion and to pat gently on the head any judgments that may arise, allowing them to move on through without your having to do anything with or about them.