Success for me is understanding myself and how I interpret the world.
On my journey to become successful, I have spent a lot of time self-reflecting. Some days maybe even over-reflecting.
I have spent many hours in Western counseling, where I have been to prescribing psychiatrists and psychologists who offer diagnoses and tools to heal. I have shared time with healers, participated in yoga certifications, and done several self-discovery workshops. I have read many books and done my fair share of research.
What I have come to see in all of these are the similarities. There is a specific term that has become popular and continues to show up for me—empathy.
I have always resonated with terms like emotional intelligence, empathy, sensitivity, and intuition. Over the years, my studies gave me the power to reign in my emotions, focusing on productive, positive directions.
Empathy is my gift and only emerged as I began to manage its benevolence. In fact, I’m what you’d call an empath. I feel the world around me. However, being an empath comes at a cost, as I’ve been diagnosed with a spectrum of disorders: bipolar, manic-depressive, hyperactive, over-stimulated, and high anxiety. All of these amplified by post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) from my two tours overseas.
Feeling deeply leads to my friends and family seeing me as emotional, overly expressive, and too sensitive.
Empaths like me are so much more than that. We are artists and healers. We become addicted to anything that perks our interest—good or bad. We are praised for our creativity, yet considered by some to be crazy. We’re highly misplaced, misunderstood, and sensitive. In other words, we’re passionate about every aspect of our lives and everyone we connect with.
With all of that said, and with the confidence of turning this gift into a superpower, I am here to tell you that sensitivity is strength. Sensitivities are messages filled with information from our souls.
I didn’t know empathy was my gift when I was seven, but I can remember feeling deeply at that young age. I remember my dreams being vivid. I worried about people being hungry and felt worldly pain before I understood what that could mean. I cared a lot about all living things. I exhibited the energy of being an “old soul.”
When others hurt, I hurt too. I remember wanting others to feel better. I tried to fix or help to heal them, not only so that they didn’t hurt, but so that I could feel more comfortable in their presence. Shifting from one environment to the next has always been an energetic and emotional adventure for me.
I have always found meaning in everything, from a minor conversation with a homeless person at a bus stop, to my two deployments with the army to Iraq and Afghanistan.
If this sounds familiar to you, you may be an empath too.
As an empath, I believe that cultivating more empathy across the board right now, is what we need to thrive in this diverse and ever-evolving universe.
What is Empathy?
Empathy is the ability to recognize that we are not separate from one another. In doing so, we feel the world around us through our five senses profoundly, and we interpret the world through a subtle layer of energy that exists everywhere. From there, the information that we are given feeds an ever-growing understanding of our environment, feelings, people, and the world at large. These messages integrate on a physical and mental level as information processing takes place.
Empathy is registered by all our senses as a whole, all at once. It is our natural state of oneness. It is where we begin, remain, and end. It is essential to be on this plane of existence.
Some of us have already been doing the work to feel, whether in this lifetime or others. That’s why some of us are born empaths—we started more receptive than others.
I have come to understand it to be an adaptive trait to the world at large. Empathy is about our return home, to one another, to nature, and ourselves. It is the definition of connection, and it is why we all crave it. Connecting, relating, and communing is essentially our nature in this vast plane of existence. To be able to feel and act that out innately is empathy.
Empathy puts us into a more profound space of connection, almost like the one of nature, where we can recognize that we are more of an ecosystem than an individual. As we communicate with society as a whole, it tends to show us how to feel, in order to take a much-needed interest in figuring out a way to live harmoniously. However, if we do not lean into that connected space of shared experiences, the discord creates desperation within us, and if we aren’t clear on what this all is, we tend to pull away from this world in a rebellious or unhealthy way.
Before we understand how empathy works, we may feel like we do not have a place in this world—gifted with the ability to feel, burdened with a heavy emptiness that is difficult to understand.
When Empathy is Lacking
When we are not actively engaged with our empathy, we are not in alignment. This can show up in an onslaught of conditions that take us deeper away from ourselves. Numbing out our feelings or our interpretations of the outer world can be symptoms of maladjusted empathy, or signs that we are lacking connection. They include addictions, cognitive dissonance, mental disorders, lack of confidence, depression, anxiety, trouble sleeping, and many fears. They can show up in our bodies as immune disorders, phantom pains, migraines, heart problems, allergies, digestive issues, arthritis, temporomandibular joint disorders, vertigo, rashes, and more.
Johann Hari discusses how the opposite of addiction is connection in his TED Talk.
If empathy fuels connection as Brown teaches, what does it look like when people lack empathy in the world at large? On a societal level, a lack of empathy may look like epidemics, world hunger, high drug use, illness, and an overall discord among the human race.
Awareness is the greatest healer. Empathy is intuitive. I know that we are granted our gifts with information, and if you have ever felt that you are feeling people deeply, interpreting through your senses a deep layer of understanding beyond your mental comprehension, or connecting to the world at large, you are probably an empath.
Empath or not, we are innately connected to everything. When we find the space to listen to our inner voice, it always gives us our soul’s information.
Let’s change the language of being over-thinkers and over-analyzers, and instead, honor those thinking about this world on a deep level. Empathy is a service to humanity. Empathy makes people seek out helping professions because there is a need for service where people are experiencing discomfort. Full-on empaths are the shamans and psychics of the world.
Feeling the weight of the world can be heavy and that might be why people aren’t more empathetic.
Empathic people don’t always understand the values that fuel competition and consumerism. We tend to feel misplaced in a highly fast-paced world. Deep down we may feel a greater pull to ease others’ pain in order to lighten the weight that we feel in the world around us.
Empaths are a small percentage of people and discovered empaths are probably even smaller, which is a huge reason why I feel called to reach out to people who haven’t been empowered by their gift yet.
Moreover, cultivating empathy is transformational because empathy brings awareness to the vibrations that will heal us by allowing us to feel deeper. We almost need to feel the pain and suffering of the world to want to do something about it.
Doing the work to reveal our empathic qualities takes letting go of anything that is not serving us. It is about noticing what influences us and how to manage energy in supportive ways. That can be a journey in itself, but as we grow in our awareness, the path is more and more paved with hands to guide us.
The biggest obstacle to leveraging our empathy is something I learned in my yoga training with the fierce Anna Forrest. She would say, “Turn your sh*t into fertilizer.”
If you are an empath who is not on the path to wholeness yet, you have sh*t. And if you are anyone else, you have sh*t. That ancient science of alchemy is our most outstanding teacher. And the ways to get there are endless. The result is transforming a life that was once happening to you and influencing you, to becoming the manager and artist of your life.
Cultivating empathy can be done by all of us, whether we are empaths, highly sensitive, empathetic, or anyone else. This is the work of transformation that I am talking about here. Practicing principles of empathy will empower you to become more empathetic. Compassion, understanding, and discovering our purpose on this earth will employ and fuel empathy.
Empaths need to know that all the energy that they feel is not their own. They need to learn to set boundaries. Energy managing practices like yoga, martial arts, mediation, and more can teach how to read your environment and how your gift contributes to your truth.
For anyone out there who knows an empath, be kind and please stop calling people “too sensitive.” People who are tuned in can heal this world, and pushing them further away from their insights because you are not ready to manage your feelings, is counterproductive. To practice being empathetic in these circumstances, remember that with consideration for others comes regard for ourselves too—practice connecting with nature, especially if you spend a lot of time indoors.
The most natural things of our world have the most significant capacity to heal us, and they do so in a way that I cannot describe. Practice. Remember, if it doesn’t feel good to be experiencing it, you can change the energy and even choose not to engage with it. That simple practice goes a long way.
A more Empathetic World
To some, that may seem like a heavy burden to bear and a lot of responsibility. To care so deeply and then transcend all of that to become a beacon of light in this world. I am not saying that we all need to quit our jobs and become healers, or even that you need to subscribe to all that I am saying, but I am confronting our way of thinking.
I am offering the idea that more empathy, foundationally, has the ability to awaken healing in our world naturally. I am asking, if we all witnessed life through empathy, what would the world look like?
And to empaths out there, if we hone in on our gifts, what power and healing can we contribute to the world?
Imagine how easy life could become if everyone cared a little more from the space that we are all one and affect those around us. I am talking about Albert Einstein‘s theory—”Energy cannot be created or destroyed, it can only be changed from one form to another”—as a way of living, not just a physics lesson.
I realized that I was an empath at age 20, which doesn’t mean I wasn’t feeling it all along, it was just at this moment in time that my intuition, resulting from my empathy, presented information that rang so profoundly that I had no choice but to lean into it. It was a gong going off from within me, a complete alteration of my beliefs all at once. I changed from it.
As we honor this wise gift, we permit others to embrace their powers. And as a whole, more feeling means more understanding, and more shared experience equates to more solutions—ultimately giving us access to a healthier world, right now and for the generations to come.