Understanding and Practicing Empathy

We all know how good it feels when we feel that we are understood..  I want to go a bit deeper into the reasons why that is, what role does this play in our relationships and most importantly of all, how can we bring more of this into our lives for ourselves and our loved ones.

One of the most common ways I have heard empathy described is as a process where one puts themselves into someone else's shoes and imagines for a brief period what it must be like to be that person and what kind of struggles they could be dealing with.  This can help open up communication in relationships by simply removing the judgment factor or weather the person is right or wrong in their doing and open up curiosity to their experience. It allows for more openness and thus more opportunities for growth or healing.  Remember that great feeling of being understood and how helpful it can be to our well being?

By now hopefully we all have a grasp on what empathy is and how important it is in our I lives.  I would like to get into some more of the subtle but important lessons I have learned and continued to practice to help grow my awareness and be a better person for myself and my community.  For this we need to go a bit deeper into the how of practicing empathy and by doing so more establish even further what it is so when you go back and forth in your life from, what empathy is it and how it is best practice, they will both continue to reinforce the message that empathy is here to help you to connect yourself and others.  

Step number one, check in with yourself.

I get a sense there is not a ton of people that are doing this in their day to day practice and it is an ESSENTIAL step for effectively connecting with others.  Like, how on Earth do we think we will be able to be there for someone else if we have no clue what is going on for us. In any given moment our nervous system is dealing with so much constant exterior stimulation let alone all of our internal battles with the day to day grind of being human.  So step number 1 is connect with yourself first. This can be a regular daily meditation practice, or maybe it’s part of your self care mixed in with exercise where you are carving out time for yourself to tap into your body and feel what is going on for you so you can be present to what is going on for someone else with less reactivity.

Step number two, self empathy

I could write a whole article on this step and I will so look for it coming up, but to keep it short and simple for the purpose of this blog I will touch on this step and move forward.  If you have started with step one you will be in a good place to take a look at what is going on in your life, how your feeling in this very moment and how well equipped you are for being there for someone else.  This is extremely useful information when trying to connect with someone else because it is a good chance even if you are feeling great in this moment if you are talking to someone and they are in pain it is quite possible for you to have a reaction to their expression of it. This is where having done your check in and holding you intention in mind of being effective, that reacting to this feeling of shared pain or person pain you are experiencing may not actually be helpful.  Just be aware of it, make a mental note to come back to it if need be and just realize in this moment you are not here to address you feeling you have already done that in step one. You are here to listen and be non reactive so this other person can feel safe to express themselve and feel heard. Again, if you allow yourself to get triggered or rather act out on what triggered you, it will not be considered empathy and most likely will cause the person that is opening up to shut down as they will see that they are not being met with understanding rather reactionary behavior and lack of curiosity with their own experience.

Step number 3, ask question, offer guesses.

Feelings, feelings feelings feelings.  This is where we get to the good stuff.  Everyone has them but no one wants to look at them.  Or rather, it is one of the hardest most courageous acts we can take.  And of course this can be hard. Often cases people hold strong conditioning not to look at or reveal their feelings due to fear of being judged or shamed.  This is where if you can stay far far away from these ways of thing yourself while being present for the person, you can create the space that they can share and maybe even experience their own feelings with not associating right and wrong to how they feel.  Or even feel guilty about taking up space to experience and externalize their emotions. In my years I have noticed for myself personally, when I have been with someone I have trusted and they have helped me open up and share how I am feeling it has been incredibly helpful.  I dont always feel better right away, but there's some kind of emotional release and that's always the start to getting back on track. Re engaging with that self awareness and road to personal freedom and self empowerment.

If someone is having trouble sharing their feelings often time it can be incredibly helpful for them to receive the prompting question of, “how are you feeling?” or another version could look like “and what sensation are you experiencing when you think about that?”.  These are to help people feel safe and let them know that you are listening and you do care about how they feel. Even if it is still uncomfortable for the other person to share you can show that you are ready to receive them when they are ready to share. One last point on this step is if you are feeling like sharing a guess with them of how they are feeling if you sense they are struggling for the words because obviously it can be difficult that is 100% ok.  Just be super conscious about what you are asking and how you are asking it. The best way to ask to offer assistance is to frame it as a guess. And more over on that to show you are ok with them being just where they are at, even ask first if they are ok with you offering a guess of what they are feeling. Honestly 90% of the time I have tried this method of helping connect with peoples feelings they do say yes to allowing me to guess and when I do guess sometimes it is spot on, or sometimes it maybe way off, but most of the time it helps the individual look at their situation from a different angle or gives them some more time and space to think about how they are actually feeling and then will continue to share more about how they are really feeling.

Step number 4, further understanding

If everything has gone well up until this point it is really important to understand WHY this person feels this way.  Not actually for you to understand why, lets just make that clear right now. Your role in this moment is to help them understand why.  Feelings in our gut or anywhere else are signals telling us something and often time directing us to something important in our life. These important things can be called values or needs.  Whenever we are not in alignment with our values or we have needs that are not being met or body gives us a feeling so we can notice and then do something about it. Or at least honor it and do our best to keep moving forward.  Think about a stomach pain when you haven't eaten for a few hours. This is your body clearly telling you that you are hungry and need to eat soon. It doesn't do your body any good to ignore this feeling because it will just get worse until you eventually can not go without eating any longer and at that point your brain is hardly functioning from lack of glucose and other vital nutrition to make good decisions.  So it is best to acknowledge the feeling and understand the “problem” so then you can make and informed decisions. This is the same thing with emotions in my opinion. You might not be able to fix the problem by just talking about it and having someone listen emphatically but you can build a much better awareness about what is bothering you thus better equipping you to move through you day and make better choices to ultimately help you feel better in the long run.

Step 5, Acceptance

Like any spiritual practice will teach you acceptance is the name of the game.  If you are resistant to whatever is you will just perpetuate it. What you resist, will persist.  So now you have a good idea of what this person is going through. You might not be able to relate but at some level you are able to feel much more compassionate knowing that they are dealing with a struggle and they will probably continue dealing with it for a while.  You are not here to fix anyone. The main thing is just listening and being there for them while they go through it. Just trusting that they will figure it out is the only way to go. The more you “try to help” the more distance you create in the sense you are judging them for needing help.  Trust they have this, be there for them when they seem like they could use someone to talk to and you have the space within yourself to lend and ear. And just remember to love yourself and this person through the process. We are all dealing with a lot all the time and if we are coping well, well then we may have the space in our life to offer some assistance to another and that's a beautiful thing.  Just remember, this process start with yourself being in a stable grounded place that is rooted deep in trust and presence. We can only offer to others what we have for ourselves.

So wrapping up everything I want to offer or remind you about is this.  We have a short time on this planet together as far as we know. We are better able to deal with the stresses of life when we have good people around us we can lean on and it feels really good when we can do that for others as well.  To be really good at that process we need to understand what empathy is and how best we can really use it in an effective way with care for ourselves and others. And that is process start with knowing where we are are and how patient we can be with ourselves and others because the main piece is to be able to listen without being reactive, offer good questions that lead to more curiosity of the individuals experience and continue to help connect the feelings experience with that is important to that person in their life.  Good luck everyone and I love you all.

Breath Work

Breathe work is the beginning of becoming aware of your own person and inner experience.  Noticing how we are breathing can tell us a lot about how we are doing. Beyond just finding out how we are/ becoming aware of our state, we can then use techniques to shift our state.  Why would we want to shift our state you ask? Well, simply put, to feel better! When we are feeling better we can have more clarity, make better decision, enjoy life and even be more productive.  If your into that kinda thing.

As I have mentioned in my article of “why is it so hard to give to ourselves”, my 1st suggestion to try is to breathe.  More specifically take a few conscious breathes. Beginning to notice how your breathing is. Does it feel easy and relax? Or maybe it feels constricted, possibly shallow.  In my experience, if I haven’t been focusing on my breathe for a while or done some kind of activity involving exercise, I am usually completely unaware of how I am breathing.  And when I do tune into it, I usually notice it is not as relaxed or deep as I feel would be the most beneficial for providing my body with that rich nourishing oxygen. Most times when I start to bring awareness to my breathe I feel some tightness or blocks in my body that are preventing deeper or relaxed breathing with ease.  As uncomfortable as this part of the process may be, it is the start of helping your body get back on track and feeling better. Trust me!

There has been a lot of research done in the power of conscious breathing and the healing that it has on our bodies and minds.  Here are a few proven techniques that have been shown to have dramatic results in short periods of practice. By using this methods you will be able to shift your state into a calmer more aware and present state where you will feel more clarity and ease with your day no matter what you are currently going through in your life.  So with all that being said let’s get into some of these methods you can use to start feeling better now! Also, these work great in the moment, but if you want to have long lasting life changing results, I highly recommend using a few of these techniques, or all of them as often as you can, every day, or even better at intervals throughout your day.

  1. Watch your breathe.  If you are to do one thing to help yourself get connected with your current state and get a sense of how your feeling/doing, this is really all you need and you really don't need to go any further in this article. Just practice this step regularly and you won't believe how far it will take you.  That being said, I still encourage you to read the rest of this article because in combination with this step you will be able to access more ability to shape your experience and how you want to be while mastering other methods of breathing meditations.

    So for this method, as is stated, just watch your breathe.  There is no tricks here, nothing to “work at”. It is really easy and it just takes you to a place where no you are not trying to multitask or worry about getting anything else done.  It is usually helpful to close your eyes while practicing this step and that is to just limit the distractions coming in while you just simply watch you breathe come in and go out, without you trying to make it anyway.  It is also helpful to be in a quieter environment if at all possible and this also helps limit distractions and you may actually find yourself listening to the air flow as well, which I have found to be helpful but not necessary.  You may find it comfortable to just breathe through your nose to do this, but if you are finding it hard to stay focus with this you can also practice breathing in through your nose, allowing you breathe to come from as low as it want to and exhale through your mouth, letting go of any tension you may notice in your body from your inhaling breathe.  My last tip for this is to set a goal of how much time you are going to practice this activity for. I feel like setting aside 10 minutes a day can be a great way to get started making this a routine and you can break the 10 minutes up into lots of little breaks throughout the day with a minute here or there. The great thing about doing it this way is that even if you don’t feel like you have a full minute, you will always have moment or two in between activities and this is a great practice to check in with yourself and to keep centered and grounded throughout the day.  Like I mention this is a simple technique and the power comes from constantly reminding yourself to check in throughout the day, or specified times where you allow yourself to do this activity and over the course of a few weeks you will find yourself doing it without even thinking about it because it is so helpful for everything else you are doing in the day.

  2. Cleansing Breathe

    So by now after having practiced watching your breath for even just a short while I am sure you are noticing a few new things pop up like, how your breathing is, how your body feel.  Maybe you are noticing some parts of your body feel warm or cold, or maybe they are parts that are comfortable and pleasant or you could be noticing some pain and places that are experiencing some discomfort.  This next technique address how to better move through what you are feeling allowing you to go through a transformation process that will leave you feeling reset and refresh. This is achieved through focus, intention and letting go of judgement and anything else that isn’t serving you. Make sure you have set aside some time, I would recommend at least 10 minutes or more when you are starting practicing this technique so you can really ingrain the steps and get a good sense of the feeling of moving through the steps.  If you give yourself this time at the start you will be able to master this technique quickly and then use it anytime you need and it will take you much less time then when you first started learning it.

    So to start this I would strongly recommend finding somewhere private that you know you will not be disturbed.  You really want to be able to allow yourself to be vulnerable about this one because it’s all about visualization and feeling and your mind will do almost anything to pull you out of this state if you do not feel 100% during the process.  Once you have your environment sorted and you are in a comfortable position with your eyes close you can beginning breathing. Start with a couple deep breaths to relax yourself, maybe you were having a stressful day and you can start letting that go now because it’s time for you to become still and present with yourself.  Once you have taken a few breathe on your own now with your eye close visualize a white light coming in to your body with your next inhale through your nose. Feel the breathe entering slowly and steadily and really focus your mind on imagining what this while light looks like as it enters your body and brings light in. Now on the exhale open your mouth and let the air “fall out” of your mouth.  If you are doing this correctly, from the inhale being long and slow you should be able to just let go of this breath with virtually no effort. With this exhale you will be letting go of any tension you feel in your body or any thing else you are feeling as you go through this process. That is why the name of this exercise is cleansing breathe, because with each breathe in you are drawing in the white light cleansing energy and with the exhale you are letting go of any disharmony that is stuck in your body.  With the time you a lot of yourself you can practice this by visualizing with each breath you take going to different body parts starting at your toes working you way up to your legs through your torso arms neck and head. If you have more time you can do this process a couple times over and see if you missed any parts as you go through. One last point to make is this is a cumulative process. What ever you feel in your body most likely did not come up overnight, so don't expect to change it with just doing this method one time.  This is best made into a daily practice an even though you may feel a great difference from just doing this for 10 minutes one day, you will notice even more profound benefits and feel better when you stay consistent and practice this over many weeks.

  3. Full body breathing
    What do I mean by full body breathing? Well I mean just that, using your whole body to breath.  Mainly training your extra-respiratory muscles to start working, or working more effectively again as well as train the ones that have been overcompensating to turn off, take a break and let go.

    It is so common that most people are shallow breathers.  They use their chest muscles to expand and contract their lungs.  And actually not even all of their chest muscles but their upper chest and neck muscles.  This is often the place that a lot of people feel tension when they first start bringing awareness to their breath.  This is not natural, it might be normal and common but it is not how the body is designed to work and is a result of many years of constricted posture.  For examples of what the body is supposed to look like when its breathing just look at a baby, especially when they laugh. They use their whole being because its is all connected and nothing has been shut down by years of repetition from work or guarded traumas ect.  For more about storing trauma and holding unhealthy postures see article (......). So a few easy tricks to get back on track with full body breathing go as such.

    Grab yourself some heavy flat things flat weights or text books whatever you got. Lay down and start with placing them on your chest area.  Now with these on your body just practice breathing a slow controlled pace. You will notice where you are holding tension and if you feel a lot in your chest the weight on top will exaggerate this feeling.  The purpose here is to allow yourself to see how much tension there is in this spot and to start to let go of it with each breath. You can do this by doing a number of breaths into your chest and feel the tension letting go on each exhale.  Once you have spent some time and you feel that this part has now relaxed and you have effectively turned off this muscle group from its constant duty of soling bringing air into your lung you can now start training the muscles in your belly that are designed to more effectively and efficiently drawn air in.  To do this place this books or weights you have on top of your belly and focus on drawing air into your belly area. You will know this is working if you can get the books moving up and down. Practice this as much as you need, maybe start small and keep working your way up to longer times and more weight. You will notice after you do this for a few weeks your posture will change and when you tuned into your breath more often you will find yourself breathing deeps and more relaxed!

In conclusion our breath is the single most important thing we can tune into to help use not only understand how we are feeling but then shift how we feel by simply giving ourselves the space to breathe with a little more ease.  These techniques are powerful and will help your body re-calibrate itself by allowing the mind and body to reset itself. There are things our body does that are beyond our understanding but we do know that most of the time when we get out of our way we allow the body to do its job much easier and will help us thrive in the short term and the long run.  Give yourself this gift of connecting with your breath, and if it to yourself often. And if you feel this article has moved you in any way or you feel like you have gotten some use out of it why not share it with someone you care about that could also benefit from giving themselves that opportunity to disconnect from all the stress in their life for a few moments, breath and feel more centered and better to take on the tasks of the world.

Where in Life do Values Show Up?

If you have read my previous article on “what are values” I feel like, if you weren't already able to answer this you would surely/ by now be able to think of dozens of examples pretty easily.  The idea that values drive everything we as humans do just goes to show that anything can be distilled into understanding what values lay behind the actions. Let's take a closer look at 3 areas in where values show up to continue the conversation and building the awareness of values by looking at self care, personal and work relationships.

I’d like to look at how we interact with the world as a relationship.  We have relationships with everyone and everything in this world. It is how we treat those relationships and view them that determines how we feel.  Now which comes first, doesn't really matter, but both are a choice and how best to make that choice would be hopefully connected to your values!

So firstly before we move onto looking at building relationships out in the world we need to look at how we relate to ourselves.  This will be the main focus to start with and will always resolve back to this place as new elements arise throughout the journey of growing and relating in the world.  I’d like to call this first process, self care. I am tittling this because any healthy relationship needs care. And if there’s any point to building any relationship at all it needs to have the intention of being a healthy one to sustain and better yet grow and even thrive going forward.  What we do matters and most of all how we treat ourselves is how we relate to the world. It is the energy we show up with and offer others and in tune will resonate back with us. I invite you to take a moment and pause to maybe close your eyes for a minute and ask yourself what is happening in your life right now.  What conflicts do you perceive to be limiting your potential for growth and where in your personal practice do you feel like you might be coming up short in supporting yourself to overcome these hurdles in life.

Now that you’ve given yourself some space to think about this, maybe you have felt some emotions stir and even had some ideas to what is bothering you about where you are at, or maybe you don't feel like you have any blocks and that's great too!  The main purpose of doing these check ins regularly with yourself is to give the time and space to yourself to just so how things are, and how you are dealing with them. This is a very important form of self care and self relating because it is honest and practical.  If you noticed you were feeling a bit tired, maybe that's a sign you need some more sleep, or maybe you need some more activity. I don’t know what it is for you, but my guess is that if you give yourself even just 10 minutes a day to do this practice that you will start to see that places where you are doing well and the places you could improve on helping yourself feel better and come up with some little solutions to make your life flow better.

Another useful tool in this process is to write down your findings.  Even if you only have a few minutes to go into this silence with the intention to check in with how you are feeling or what values are a priority in your life right now.  What might you be honoring or what could use some more intention. Have a pen and paper or your phone at the ready when you come out of this small mediation so you can write down how you are feeling.  If you don't have enough time to start distilling those feelings in that moment to get to the root of what the value behind the feeling is then you can always come back to it next time. Sometimes you might actually have the value and you can write it down as a reminder that this is what is important to you and you can post it up somewhere as a reminder to keep looking at and not forget that this is one of your main driving forces right now.  Another opportunity i find is sometimes I will actually come up with actionable steps that can go right in my calendar or i can call someone to set something up right away and then automatically feel more aligned with my values. The whole point of this process is to get in touch with your values and be able to continue to live in integrity with what is important to you. Practice this daily and you will see how it feeds into itself and things start to change around you and reflecting that awesomeness that you are.

Now once you have a base in understanding your values you can start to interpret other people's.  Just like anything this works best if you really have a good understanding of your own values because you will have more literacy with values language and skills to understand and interpret values.  A very useful tool to understanding others values is to use empathy. I wrote and article on this and i highly recommend checking it out before going any further in this one if you haven't read it already.  Any ways, being able to listen emphatically will help you understand the motivation behind other peoples actions. You will start to understand their values. Conflict usually arises when 2 or more individuals are trying to honor their personal values and somehow the way they are doing this interferes with each other.  The way to be able to work around this is building the understanding of what each individual's values are so then even if the values are different the two parties can at least relate to each other when sometimes that may not have been possible before. And now that understanding has been reach of what the values are a mutually beneficial solution can arise from communicating with one another of what could and will work or not until something can be agreed upon.  I firmly believe without the understanding of each other values a solution that would be agreed upon will not work because it needs to be built from a strong understanding a care for each others values.

What are Values?

Who are you? What do you do? What do you like? What don’t you like?
I feel like these are a few important questions that will follow us our whole life and the answers will change depending where we are at and how we are feeling in any given moment.  The one thing that I believe will not change (weather we know it or not) is that the answers will always be connected to our values. In this article intend to look at; what are values and why are they important.  So that at the end of this hopefully you will have a better idea of your own value. How they shape your life as well as whether or not you are in harmony with them and how this will affect your overall happiness and well being.  Oh and of course the peoples around you as well.

So what are values?  Well, as I mentioned in the intro, I see the word values being used to describe certain things that are important to the core of who were are as humans.  Another term that could be used is needs. The more we know about a person's values/needs in any given moment will help us better understand their experience.  For example, if I have gone half a day without eating and my stomach is rumbling like crazy my the likelihood is pretty high that physical sustenance, or put simply, food, would be a very high value or need in that moment for me.  Another example could be you’ve been working hard all week and your boss comes over on a Friday afternoon and asks if you could work late that night and come in on Saturday which you had plans to go camping with your friends. In that moment there is a good chance you might not want to come in and work and that you want to honor your value of freedom, or need to have some personal/fun time!

At this point I am sure you can imagine that there are a ton of different examples that one could easily come up with and then start guessing what kind of values are associated with them.  My goal is to help bring awareness that underneath any circumstance and situation whatever we value will affect our experience and the better we can understand what values are in resonance or conflict the better we can live authentically.

My general understanding so far of values/needs is they can be simply broken down into to large categories; Safety and Freedom.  Within these two categories it will break down into many more but for simplicity's sake I will discuss a few examples of each and give a basic idea of what will be found in each and why it would be useful to understand that these are the values that are driving yours or others emotions, motivations.

Safety is a pretty obvious one that everyone can relate too.  If you have ever felt scared for any reason you know what I am talking about and it doesn't need much explaining to be able to think of how you felt when this value was a high priority.  If you have ever been on a roller coaster or had a health scare with yourself or a family member there is a felt sense in your body that things are not alright. This is how our values show up in our lives, they are signaled to us by feeling.  Once you get off that roller coaster in one piece, or you overcome a bad flu you feel relieved and at peace again. Your back in harmony with your value. The roller coaster might just be as simple as riding it out, but if you can do the conscious work of tellinging yourself that you are safe and this will end soon, this can help you honor your value of safety and then maybe let go of the fact you can't do anything but ride it out and then you may actually feel less resistance and potential even enjoy the roller coaster.  A similar example with being sick. If you feel like you are unwell and all you think about is how terrible the experience this is not going to help you get over whatever is ailing you. Sure overtime your body will probably overcome since the human body is amazingly resilient and even though often we don't do much to help it, it just keeps on trucking. But what if you listened to your body and honor what it was telling you. This is a message letting you know that maybe you haven't been eating the best foods to keep you well.  Maybe going out partying 4 times a week is actually 1 or 2 times to many for you in your life right now. Not only what is it telling you about why you are at where you are at but just simply acknowledging that you are not feeling well can help by understanding what might help you feel better. Are you dehydrated? Do you need to call someone to bring some good food over or maybe just someone to talk to and feel accompanied in this hard time. The main point here is that without acknowledging we have needs for subsistence and security will disallow us to really experience what we are feeling and have a deeper understanding of why we are feeling that way.  And then by rational now be able to honor our values, our authentic experience.

Freedom is a large category because it contains creativity.  Creativity is an essential part of all humans lives because it is at the core of almost everything we do.  To feel good in this world to know that we have choice will always play a massive part in that. The places we work, the food we eat and the relationships we build all come down to us being able to choose what we want and how we want it.  Often times the values of safety and freedom are going to be competing for priority and that's just a part of life. Ultimately it comes down to the choice of the individual which they value more to be able to live a more authentic life. So if you or are loved one is struggling with doing things maybe a little differently then society has been set up, give yourself and or them some compassion and empathy know that this is one of the hardest but most essential things to do, is honor the value of being creative in a very factory oriented world.

Wrapping up, I hope some of the things you take from this article is that willingness to look past the surface of what you see initially and dive a bit deeper to see the motivating or driving forces of yourself and others.  To build and unshakeable understanding that everything we do comes from one or more of our values and that we all share basic values of safety and freedom at the core of it all. If we can do this, I believe that we will have a much more compassionate better functioning society and once understanding is build between individuals and in communities new ways of being will emerge that will help all of us honor our values in a safer, kinder and more creative way.