Empathy means that we sense and feel what the other person is experiencing; we empathise with them. Empathy can be a great asset as it can help us to feel and see what someone is going through, which in turn will help us to understand the person better. However, it also can have its drawbacks. We can be too empathic, and if we start to experience the suffering of the person directly, this can lead to empathy distress.
If we feel we are entering the state of mind of empathy distress, there are great techniques and insights to help us. By practicing these techniques and contemplating these insights, we can learn how to cope as an empathic person.
Tip 1 – Weeble Wobble
The first and foremost important practice is to start to feel more grounded and centred. This centred feeling helps us not to get too overwhelmed with empathy distress. Try to breathe deeply into your hara/tanden, which is an energetic center just below your navel; it is our foundation. Remember the weeble wobble? Weebles wobble but don’t fall. Why? Because they are solid at the bottom yet they are flexible. We have to be like a weeble wobble. Often we may get pushed over and simply lie down, feeling too overwhelmed to retain our footing or regain our balance. But if our energy and focus is strong at the hara/tanden, we become like a weeble wobble; we come back up straight away after we experience a deep sense of empathy.
Tip 2 – More grounding
We need even more grounding. In our current world we are so in our heads that this can amplify the empathic distress state of mind. Computers, phones, TV, intellectualizing everything – we are busy in our head constantly while the focus on our center, our grounding, the earth, is not being promoted. The below grounding method is – besides Tip 1, breathing and focusing on the hara/tanden – one of the fastest and easiest ways of grounding that I have practiced.
Lie with your back flat on the floor, with your feet against the wall. This means that your legs are not on the floor, your knees are slightly bent, and your feet are against the wall at a height that is comfortable for you. Place your hands above your head and now very consciously slowly push the energy all the way down with your hands to your hara/tanden just below your navel. As soon as your hands reach the hara/tanden place them physically on this area and apply a slight pressure with your feet. You do not push yourself away from the wall, just a slight pressure. This pressure will help the mind go to the feet, which in turn helps the energy go to the feet. Energy follows the mind. Release the slight pressure on the feet and bring your hands back to above your head again. Repeat the whole procedure again. Do this for about 10 times.
Tip 3 – Compassion in action
Try to mix in compassion with your empathy. Empathy is suffering with the person, while compassion is the state of mind in which we want to help the other person to overcome their suffering. When we start to look at ways of helping others, this takes the focus away from ourselves; hence compassion in action slowly starts to soften our empathic distress. However, to be more compassionate we need to let go of our own anger, fear, worries, and attachments. This means that we need to apply the above tips 1 and 2: grounding and more grounding.
Tip 4 – Be open like space
This is one of the hardest elements to understand if we are extremely empathic. The ultimate aim is to have a state of mind which is open and expanded like space. A spacious mind doesn’t hold onto anything, is not disturbed by anything, and is not hurt by anything. As our mind and energy are interlinked, a spacious mind therefore also means a spacious energy. Our mind and energy have a huge effect on our physical well being; thus a spacious mind/energy also means a spacious sense in our physical body. All of this spaciousness means that our empathic feelings do not stick in our mind, energy, and body. This is the spaciousness of our True Self, our essence in which we have let go of the “I”. When there is no “I”, then there is also no “I” who experiences any empathic distress. At this stage we can stop saying: “But I am an empath; I pick up things.”
As you can see, this is why being open like space is not that easy. It takes dedication and practice, but in the end it is well worth it. What a freedom and sense of relief it brings.
Tip 5 – Practice Daily
Because we are so used to being empathic that it has become a habit, the previous tips really can only start to work when we practice these breathing and meditation practices on a daily basis. In the beginning spend at least 10 to 20 minutes doing these daily practices; in doing this, we slowly start to change our mindset and our energetic behaviour patterns. After a while, start to increase your daily practice to at least 45 minutes every day.
All of this might take weeks, months, or years, depending on our current state of mind. Therefore, mix in a bit of patience with the practice; that way we do not get angry or worried when we feel these breathing and meditation practices are not working as quickly as we might like or expect them to. If we remind ourselves to let go of expectations and just be where we are at any given moment, we will create more room within ourselves to focus on consistent practice. In doing this – releasing expectations and attachments and practicing daily our grounding, breathing, compassion, spaciousness, patience – we will find it easier to cope with life as an empath.
Based in Holland, Frans Stiene teaches in North America, Europe, UK, Australia and Asia.
Frans is also the author of Reiki Insights, it is the continuation of his previous book The Inner Heart of Reiki, taking your personal practice and understanding of the system of Reiki yet another step deeper.