The Power of Empathy

Enjoy this re-post about the power of empathy, especially in difficult relationships.


One of our fundamental needs as human beings is to be heard and to be accepted as we are. Take a moment to recall where you were going through a hard time and someone empathized with you. How did it feel? Pretty good I expect.

When someone empathizes with us we don’t feel judged; we no longer feel alone; we feel understood; we become calmer; we usually feel better and are more able to handle a difficult  situation.

empathy babies

Empathy is a powerful tool for connecting to another person in an open loving way.  It feels good to us, yet how often do we intentionally or mindfully empathize with someone else … especially when someone is angry or frustrated?
Marshall Rosenberg writes in his book “Non Violent Communication; a Language of Life“ how it can be especially difficult to empathize with those who appear to possess more power, status or resources and those who are closest to us.
One of my favorite take aways is:

“Empathize, rather than put your “but” in the face of an angry person.”

When we want to help we tend to jump in with a “but” and a “fix” for the other person. Yet empathy is more powerful and empowering.

He writes: “I continue to be amazed by the healing power of empathy. Time and again I have witnessed people transcending psychological pain when they have contact with someone who hears them with empathy.”

Why not increase your ability to empathize with this exercise:

frustrated man at work

Over the next few days see if you can empathize more with those people who are closest to you, your children, a colleague, or even your boss.

Really tune in to what they might be feeling and reflect back what you are sensing they are going through. Here are some examples of reflecting feelings statements:

It sounds like you are really frustrated about this

I can see that this is tough for you

I can’t imagine all that you are going through. It must be so hard

I’m sensing that this is scary for you

I hear that you are concerned

It sounds like this is a real challenge for you

but in your face

 It sounds so simple, yet can be hard to do in that moment. So instead of putting your “but” and point of view in the other person’s face, empathize with their situation and reflect what they might be feeling.

Give the gift of feeling heard and understood.

The Power of Empathy

Enjoy this re-post about the power of empathy, especially in difficult relationships.

oooOooo

One of our fundamental needs as human beings is to be heard and to be accepted as we are. Take a moment to recall a time where you were going through a hard time and someone empathized with you. How did it feel? Pretty good I expect…

When someone empathizes with us we don’t feel judged; we no longer feel alone; we feel understood; we become calmer; we usually feel better and are more able to handle a difficult  situation.

empathy babies

Empathy is a powerful tool for connecting to another person in an open loving way.  It feels good to us, yet how often do we intentionally empathize with someone else … especially when someone is angry or frustrated?
Marshall Rosenberg writes in his book “Non Violent Communication; a Language of Life“ how it can be especially difficult to empathize with those who appear to possess more power, status or resources and those who are closest to us.
One of my favorite take aways is:

“Empathize, rather than put your “but” in the face of an angry person.”

When we want to help we tend to jump in with a “but” and a “fix” for the other person. Yet empathy is more powerful and empowering.

He writes: “I continue to be amazed by the healing power of empathy. Time and again I have witnessed people transcending psychological pain when they have contact with someone who hears them with empathy.”

Why not increase your ability to empathize with this exercise:

Over the next few days see if you can empathize more with those people who are closest to you, colleagues at work and even your boss.frustrated man at work

Really tune in to what they might be feeling and reflect back what you are sensing they are going through.

Here are some examples of reflecting feelings statements:

It sounds like you are really frustrated about this

I can see that this is tough for you

I can’t imagine all that you are going through. It must be so hard

I’m sensing that this is scary for you

I hear that you are concerned

It sounds like this is a real challenge for you

 but in your faceIt sounds so simple, yet can be hard to do in that moment. So instead of putting your “but” and point of view in the other person’s face, empathize with their situation and reflect what they might be feeling.

Give the gift of feeling heard and understood.

 

* Self Absorption and Empathy

self absorbed

“Self-absorption in all its forms kills empathy, let alone compassion. When we focus on ourselves, our world contracts as our problems and preoccupations loom large.
But when we focus on others, our world expands.
Our own problems drift to the periphery of the mind and so seem smaller, and we increase our capacity for connection – or compassionate action.”

~ Daniel Goleman from Social Intelligence: The New Science of Human Relationships

This is big.
For our society and the world.
For every adolescent about to reach adulthood.
For every man and woman asking “What’s in it for me?”

There cannot be peace in the world as long as we remain self absorbed and competing against one another.

The answer lies within each and every one of us.
Now is the time to feed into the greater good of humanity and connect with empathy to our fellow human beings.

You can start now by focusing on understanding others and expanding your world. Be curious rather than judge those who don’t fit in to your way of thinking. Embrace a new perspective.

We are all imperfect.
We all have beliefs, values and feelings. We all have needs and want to be loved, belong and be happy.

We cannot focus on our own happiness, without being concerned about the happiness of others.

After all, everything is connected.

 interconnected

* Pivotal Moment in my Teacher’s Journey

Val's yoga class

One of the most pivotal moments for me was when I was taking an advanced yoga teaching module at Kripalu. One morning I was in class and it became clear that the teacher’s intention was to energize. She chose standing sequences then back bends. She was working to a pinnacle pose of Camel.

This dreaded realization began  like a lead weight in the pit of my stomach. This would be everything I knew I had difficulty with because of misplaced vertebrae.

I got really upset with her for “putting me through this torture”, and then myself for not being able to do it. I couldn’t do what she was asking of me because I knew I would hurt myself.

It was a real struggle for me. To calm myself, I began a BRWFA practice and went into child’s pose for the rest of the class.

On reflection, what was missing was that the teacher did not take into account that someone would not be able to do the postures.

She didn’t give me permission to modify and adapt. Or find my own practice. I felt left out, not good enough, and a failure.

At that point I was ready to give up on teaching yoga. However, with support from a wonderful yogi, I realized that what was an obstacle, was my way forward.

I vowed to do all I could, so that my students would never feel this way.

We take so much for granted based on our own experience. As yoga teachers we must reach beyond our own experience and connect to our students with empathy and understanding.

We must hold that safe and nurturing space for each and everyone of them.

In the next Yoga Teachers Mentoring group we will be diving into this.

Namaste

* Its Never too Late for Self Acceptance

Young Val and twin bro
I came across this old photograph (of me and my twin brother) and not longer after, found an exercise on self acceptance.

Turns out they both went well together. To find out why, please read the exercise below…. and take some time in doing it for yourself.

Step One
Imagine someone you love and admire sitting opposite you. He or she is smiling at you. How do you feel about them? If this person was to make a mistake, could you and would you forgive them?

Step Two
Using your imagination, put yourself in the chair opposite you. Imagine you are sitting there smiling back at yourself. How do you feel about her or him? Do you feel the same way about her or him as you did towards the first person, the one you love and admire, or is the feeling different? If this person made a mistake could you, or would you forgive her? Are you more forgiving of the other person?

This exercise often highlights a discrepancy between how we love and accept others, compared to ourselves.

Step Three
Find a photograph of yourself as a child, and place it where you see it everyday. Let this remind you to be loving and accepting of yourself.
This child is precious, as are you.

Namaste

p.s. When I did this exercise myself, even after all the inner work I have done, there was a difference in how I perceived myself making a mistake compared to my response towards someone I love. With the person I loved, there was an surge of love and empathy and urge to understand. With myself, there was an initial  slight withdrawal and contraction in the body and some judgment before I was able to feel empathy and compassion.

Notice what you notice without any more self judgment.

Its so helpful to keep coming back to where we are on our journey…. and to remind us of our infinite capacity to grow our love. ❤️

Namaste

Love, Relationships and Triggers

I’m exploring more about what gets in the way of finding our Middle Ground. In the highs and lows of life there will always be more challenging days. This can happen when a colleague lets us down at work; when our partner disappoints us or when our mother criticizes what we are wearing….

Today, I dipped into John Welwood’s book Perfect Love, Imperfect Relationships.  He has such interesting and compassionate insights from a fusion of Buddhism and psychotherapy.

teddy all aloneJohn Welwood talks about the wounding of our heart that takes place when we are very young. This is when we realize that our parent cannot love us unconditionally and cannot meet all our needs.
The time comes when we cry and noone comes, or when we want comfort and there’s noone there.
We suddenly become insecure and very fearful about not being fully loved. We feel wounded and vulnerable.

This leads to what he calls a mood of unlove, when we don’t feel fully loved and believe that there is something wrong with us.
When we don’t feel worthy, appreciated, accepted, respected, acknowledged, valued or good enough, the mood of unlove shows up. He calls this the wounding of our heart.

“The mood of unlove often shows up in the form of sudden emotional flare ups in reaction to any hint of being slighted or badly treated. It’s as if a reservoir of distrust and resentment were ready and waiting to be released, which the tiniest incident can trigger. Even caring and compassionate people often carry within them a fair share of unlove and righteous grievance, which can suddenly erupt under certain circumstances.”

wounded heartTo bring it into everyday life. When your boss asks you to re-write that presentation you have spent hours working on, or your spouse criticizes you for not doing it right … you may get triggered!

What John Welwood is saying is that at these moments the wound of our heart opens up along with the mood of unlove. We react and try to protect ourselves from this feeling of being unloved and that there is something wrong with us..

When we become defensive and lash out or withdraw or try to escape,  we may feel better, but the original hurt will be there until we acknowledge and embrace it. We will continue to be triggered until we fully accept ourselves and let love blossom inside.

Could it be that simple … that all we long for is to feel fully loved? And that the answer lies within each of us.

By taking the time to see this in the heart of the moment, we can learn to give ourselves empathy and love and begin to heal this old wound.

Namaste

* Rumi Inspiration for Life’s Lows

This poem from Rumi is for everyone experiencing a challenging time. May it inspire you to be graceful in this low of life and help you find your Middle Ground.

the Guest House

THE GUEST HOUSE

This being human is a guest house.
Every morning a new arrival.

A joy, a depression, a meanness,
some momentary awareness comes
as an unexpected visitor.

Welcome and entertain them all!
Even if they are a crowd of sorrows,
who violently sweep your house
empty of its furniture,
still, treat each guest honorably.
He may be clearing you out
for some new delight.

The dark thought, the shame, the malice.
meet them at the door laughing and invite them in.

Be grateful for whatever comes.
because each has been sent
as a guide from beyond.

Rumi writings

— Jelaluddin Rumi,
translation by Coleman Barks

* Want to Feel More Connected? Listen to this…

Thank you Amy for sharing this inspiring quote today from Rachel Naomi Remen. “The most basic and powerful way to connect to another person is to listen. Just listen. Perhaps the most important thing we ever give each other is our attention …. A loving silence often has far more power to heal and to connect than the most well-intentioned words.”listen with your heart Awesome!

While “active listening” is a skill that many of us have been trained on at work,  this quote reminded me of a different kind of listening I learned at Kripalu that is passive yet powerful.

In active listening, we engage the other person in conversation so they feel heard.  With our posture, prompts, nods and “uhuhs”, we support and encourage. We learn to reflect back what the other is saying in order to understand. We ask open questions to explore more. Its a great leadership skill that taps into our own intuition as well as empathy.

At Kripalu I experienced “Co-Listening”. It is simple yet profound.  Here, there are no words of encouragement or questions,  the listener is simply being with the other person in loving silence  as the speaker shares what they are aware of. It is a mindful listening practice.

Co-listeningIn co-listening one person listens while the other person speaks. They may be touching each other, but not directly looking at each other. Rather than the speaker telling their interpretation of events or their story, we were asked when being the speaker to begin each sentence with “I am aware of….”

During this process the listener practices listening without reply or response and being present with their attention fully on the speaker. The listener practices non-judgmental awareness, witness consciousness, for the speaker and self. There is no processing, interpreting, problem solving, analyzing, helping, or discussing during or after the co-listening process by either partner. The speaker notices what it is like to be listened to from someone listening from witness consciousness. When the designated time is up for the speaker, the partners reverse roles.

Its remarkably simple, yet profound. Being in empathy with an other person in that present moment touched me deeply, as the listener and the speaker.

It opened up a deeper connection with the other person …without any conversation at all. It is a real gift.

Please try it and see how heart opening  it can be.

Namaste.