What is empathy? What does it look like, feel like, how is it expressed? These are the questions that kept coming back again and again. If empathy were an image what would it be? One thinks at first of an offering, one hand in another, or an embrace. But empathy expressed is more than a single action. It is not static and cannot be displayed in one sentence or sole act of kindness. It is support, jumping to catch someone falling, carrying the weight they cannot carry, letting that someone collapse in your arms. It is fluid and adaptable, it is consistent.

But one cannot understand what another fully needs until she understands herself. I have come to realize that it is important to express empathy to oneself especially, to hold space for ourselves and our own raw and real experiences. Self-empathy means paying attention to the things that are deep within us, the things that make life difficult or joyous, intense emotion from one aspect or another. For us, individually, this is especially hard to do. Try to think of it as a generosity of spirit. Lean into your experience from the past and the present and resulting emotion, fully able to allow expression. Be the “loving arms you come to illogically and incoherently.”* Empathy for self allows you to laugh when you want to laugh, grieve when you need to grieve.

When we see ourselves and our experiences without prejudice we can more readily do so for others. We can call up a willingness to see the raw truth and be alongside someone in their experience. We can fully demonstrate that they are wholly loved, “rejoice with those who rejoice and weep with those who weep.”** Isn’t that what it is to be human?

*From “Writing Down the Bones” by Natalie Goldberg   **Romans 12:15


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