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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694th Week: Practicing Mutual Empowerment

694th Week: Practicing Mutual Empowerment

Over the course of the past year, it has disheartened me to see how many people on Facebook and in other social media contexts have become comfortable using language that is attacking rather than curious, inviting, clarifying, or compassionate.  Not only are the words being used distressing through their intention to diminish or humiliate other people, but the anger inherent in these posts—anger that doesn’t suggest solutions or options—is decidedly jarring.

In my years of teaching about trauma resolution, I’ve drawn on something one of my dear friends and teachers taught me many years ago… Read More “694th Week: Practicing Mutual Empowerment”

680th Week:  What We Radiate Into the World

680th Week: What We Radiate Into the World

Walking through Central Park one morning, my usual, meditative state of mind—which emerges naturally when I walk through areas of trees—focused on a small act of kindness that someone had recently done for me. I touched back into the quality of friendliness the person seemed to radiate and I realized that the actual act of kindness offered was only part of what made the interaction meaningful. The other part was the quality of who this person is in the world, and that felt like the most important aspect of the experience.

It reminded me of a conversation I had with an acquaintance one afternoon in Starbuck’s, where she began to speak apologetically about how she didn’t feel like she ever did anything really important or meaningful in her life… Read More “680th Week: What We Radiate Into the World”

670th Week:  Generating Empathy

670th Week: Generating Empathy

One of the things that has been very much on my mind these days is an awareness of the stunning lack of empathy expressed by public figures, particularly in the political realm. What feels so impacting is that this apparent lack of empathy resonates with so many people around the world, as reflected in news reports about the many ways in which we harm one another. Read More “670th Week: Generating Empathy”