Do you ever wonder why there is so little empathy in the world? You are an empath and wish others were the same, but what comes naturally to you seems foreign to others. This is the same question I asked myself when I studied Counselling Skills in Vancouver fifteen years ago. During the program, my classmates and I learned how to proactively listen and paraphrase what we had just heard. We tried to be as concise as possible and endeavored to avoid adding our own “stuff” onto theirs. Remaining non-judgmental was a top priority.
However, this turned out to be a major difficulty. How could you ignore the impact your client had on you? How could you see things only through their lens? And how could you connect with them while also maintaining a good distance so you could help them more effectively? Not judging was not as easy as it seemed. After all, we really wanted to help others, but we also realized that our own thoughts and feelings came into play as we listened to our classmates in our practice sessions.
Fast forwarding several years, I moved to Christchurch, New Zealand, where we experienced big earthquakes which destroyed 70% of the city. In February 2011, 185 people perished, and everyone was in shock. What I knew about empathizing proved insufficient at a time when I was also struggling. Having recently arrived with my husband and baby boy to a new land and not having a social network around me, I experienced emotional hardship as I tried to cope as a new mother alone and feeling vulnerable in the face of my first ever natural disaster.
In between earthquakes, I started working at the local university and soon joined a new “meditation club.” It was a blessing because mindfulness meditation helped me reduce my anxiety and calm others around me. It turned out to be one of the best decisions of my life because it gave me the tools to take care of my own emotional wellbeing and then help others to accomplish this, too. Just as you need to put on your mask before helping a child on an airplane, you need to make sure you fill your soul with love before you can spill it over to others.
Now, ten years after the great earthquake, I wrote together with Dr. Wayne Duncan, expert in empathy, a book called Mindful Empathy which aims to develop the combined skills of mindfulness and empathy. As time progressed, we learned together how important it is to be fully present to our feelings and emotions. It became evident that as we, empathizers, seek to understand how others are feeling, we might forget to look after ourselves and becomeoverempathizers.
When over-empathizing becomes a habit, we need to find a way to connect with ourselves to keep a balanced mind, especially when working in an emotionally intense job or if going through a difficult transition phase. Mindfulness meditation has been a simple and effective way for me, as well as for many people I have met, to re-connect and restore that balance. For instance, by single-pointedly focusing on a kind heart, the brain generates friendly waves or connections that produce a peaceful state of mind. This protects us from empathizing in an unsustainable manner.
We are fortunate that neuroscientists are now filling in gaps, providing evidence of how our brain works in relation to our thoughts and emotions, so that we can emulate what the great Masters of meditation do naturally, even when presented with heart-wrenching situations in the lab. When scanning their brain, researchers identified that parts of the brain that light up when in a relaxed state also occurred when these monks maintained a compassionate empathic mind with mindfulness. One monk said in an interview after participating in a lab that he could not empathize without compassion because empathizing alone was exhausting.
By understanding how powerful the human mind is when connecting to its inner source of peace, as these monks do at will, we believe more people will be motivated to learn this ability to remain unscathed even in the most emotionally challenging circumstances. The inability to tap into that inner source seems to explain why so many people in this world have not (yet) been able to empathize the way we wish.
But it is promising if more people develop the capacity to access their tranquil, non-judgmental mind by learning to become more present to their states of mind while empathizing with others. With Mindful Empathy you can more accurately interpret other people’s situation/emotions and more carefully relate, meeting eye to eye, so that deep healing can also occur.
Dani Rius is author of “Mindful Empathy —the mindset of success for leaders” together with Dr. Wayne Duncan. She is a mindset coach who works with highly conscious people who wish to step up and make a positive difference in the world. She uses mindful empathic tools and her signature strength visualizations, which empower her clients to profoundly transform their mindset and overcome their fears, easing the way through their life/career transition. Feeling her deep care and affection, they feel empowered to change with confidence.
More information about the book and authors here.
The book is available on Kindle here.
Dr. Wayne Duncan, co-author of “Mindful Empathy —the mindset of success for leaders”, will appear as the featured guest on next week’s episode of Purposeful Empathy, posted to YouTube on March 4, 2021. Don’t want to miss it? Subscribe here and it will land in your inbox!
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