855th Week: Cultivating Empathy

855th Week: Cultivating Empathy

As I thought about what to write for this week’s practice in conscious living, I found myself pondering the painful lack of empathy, kindness, and care that seem to characterize our human family’s interactions in my country. It has been quite disheartening to watch people focus so fervently on their own well-being and self-interest. For just one example, to know that countless people are currently losing their homes because they can’t afford rent due to the pandemic is heart-breaking. It’s as though we forget that we’re all in this together and that nothing happens in isolation or outside our collective social life.

This week’s practice may feel heavy if you choose to do it, but it also is a heart-opening and heart-expanding practice. Empathy requires our heart perception, even when it’s painful to go there, as it opens us to an awareness of the experience of others. Deepening empathy also deepens our sense of connection and belonging to a larger community of being. It expands our sense of identity beyond our personal self.

So, for this week, I invite all of us to deepen our experience of empathy. This means being able to imagine how something feels to someone else, to imagine how we would feel were we in their situation. For example, notice how you feel when you imagine that you don’t have enough food to eat today. Or that you are saying goodbye to your home and have nowhere else to go but out on the street.

Empathy can expand to include our other-than-human family, as well, and our earth environment as a whole system. For example, empathy might extend to polar bears who find that their environment is changing so drastically that starvation is a constant possibility, an ever-emerging reality.

Here’s a brief practice focused on empathy and it draws from the Buddhist practice of metta or lovingkindness.

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