“The test of a first-rate intelligence,” said writer F. Scott Fitzgerald, “is the ability to hold two opposing ideas in mind at the same time and still retain the ability to function.”
Those on the path of self-inquiry often grapple with reconciling concepts of nonduality(‘not-two’/advaita) with the experience of individuality. Study of various religious and philosophical texts, personal inquiry and the rare experience point to the former. But mostly, for the majority, there can be no denying our sense of individuality: Identified with our mind-body, we see ourselves as unique and different – separate from Source/God (if we believe in one), as well as from others.
Balanced, harmonious living is experienced when we remain aware of both: that while in essence there is the same, One Source – in manifestation, there are distinct forms.
For highly sensitive empaths, achieving this balance poses peculiar challenges.
However, before expanding on those, I would like to clarify the intended audience for this post:
I hold labels lightly, and not as rigid definitions. To clarify, this post is not for those who tend to empathize with others in the more common ways of say, feeling sad on hearing a friend’s troubles, or resonating with the outrage of a protesting crowd. Reflecting others’ feelings is natural to most.
This article is only for those who almost seem to be ‘wired’ differently.
Research has already shown that brains of HSPs are markedly different from others. There is a different sensitivity associated with activation of brain regions involved in awareness, integration of sensory information, empathy, and action planning.
The mind-body type I refer to has an unusually high sensitivity to surroundings and picks up far more information and emotion than most intuitives or Highly Sensitive Persons (HSP). They experience an additional influx that is not limited to those physically present before them. Often, they sense, ‘see’, or ‘hear’ what is happening with other people, animals, trees, or even geographical spaces(see earth sensitives) across distances. Unlike other empathetic responses, these cannot be explained by the theory of mirror neurons, nor by a placebo-like consequence of belief systems.
(A request: If this reminds you of someone you know, please share this article with them.)
In all probability, the intended audience of this piece would have undergone conflicting spells of loving this gift and hating its consequences; Shifted between feeling blessed, special and powerful, to feeling marked, flawed and helpless. While it is advantageous in accessing deep spiritual experiences, it also leads to some complex, tiring and confused personal equations.
Instead of seeing this extraordinary degree of empathy either as a sought-after occult power, or a desperately fought with curse, the sensible place one can arrive at is to treat it matter-of-factly:
We are simply built differently.
Like various physical, emotional and intelligence attributes, this is just another configuration in manifestation. It makes us neither superior nor inferior.
What it does seem to do, however, is by default, have us lean towards ‘oneness’ without respecting ‘individuation’ appropriately enough.
To say this creates boundary issues would be an understatement.
Most memes (being targetted at those who’s default perception tends to come from the strongly individual perspective) encourage a movement towards dissolving barriers, expansion, and inclusivism. Cognizant of the difference in our make-up, we need to remember that such sage advice addressed to the majority may possibly be detrimental if not counter-productive for us.
We too, need to find our middle path. But ours will be found by honoring the uniqueness and boundaries that come with individuality. Hence, what we need to learn is appropriate distancing, containing/contracting our awareness to our own personal space and focusing on our ‘self’.
Tools For Empaths offered specific tips on dealing with information and energy overload. Here, I share notes around the challenges that result from having the unique make-up of a highly sensitive empath(details below):
Stop Blaming Yourself:
The oversensitivity, awareness, and information that you have available to you can often make things uncomfortable, inconvenient and sometimes downright annoying for yourself as well as others. It can make you feel like an alien, a misfit and sometimes the target of unwanted attention, bullying or blame. It is not your fault. This is just the way you were built.
Stop Blaming Others:
While you may feel you are at the ‘receiving end’ of things, remember that the one you may be holding responsible is unaware of their impact on you. They are not deliberately sending stuff your way. It’s not their fault either.
If you feel they should be more aware, or doing more clearing work – so that you also feel better – understand that their tolerance for pain and pace of inner work will be different from yours.
Let Go Of Fear and Defiance:
When you walk around feeling guilty for the very way that you are – one tends to become either wary and submissive, or a polarized defiant. Use tools like EFT to help clear such emotions. Fighting innate qualities of this mind-body form are not going to help. Extend the same allowance and acceptance to yourself that you would extend to anyone else having a different ability/challenge from yours and find a neutral footing.
Be Discerning In What You Reveal:
Because you see something so clearly, you may forget that others may be totally oblivious to it. So calling out the underlying dynamics, energies or patterns that seem real, tangible and obvious to you can often lead to trouble and argument. The other may not even want to know more than what is apparent to them at the moment. Your inputs may be invited and appreciated at times, and intrusive and disturbing at others. Be alert to that variability.
Remember, You Aren’t Always Right :
An extraordinary track record of finding yourself to be proven right can make us neglect the occasions we got it wrong. Like everyone else, our beliefs and state of being can cloud our seeing and judgment.
You Cannot See It All:
We can all look at the same diamond and see different facets.
Others have a different sensing, experience and knowledge informing them and we need to respect that. Besides, there are plenty of mysteries out there which not even the most knowledgeable or intuitive can explain.
We need to remember that we can’t know what we don’t know.
You tend to feel the undercurrents more deeply than others. This creates its own intensity and urgency, especially when you see scope for preventing something adverse. All this can lead to unintended aggression and argument.
Be careful that you are not imposing upon others.
Sharing our sensing/intuition/insights about a person/situation with a third party can be as careless as unwarranted gossip.
“Before you speak ask yourself if what you are going to say is true, is kind, is necessary, is helpful. If the answer is no, maybe what you are about to say should be left unsaid.” ~ Bernard Meltzer.
Share Merits Of Your Inner Work And Healing Knowledge:
Because of the acuteness with which they feel, empaths gravitate towards inner work. Emotional clearing and clarity in thinking are their necessity more than an option.
So apply that learning to any energetic stuff coming your way as well. This is the time to acknowledge the Oneness and to consider whatever ‘it’ is to be an aspect of your own self and transform it as one would for self.
This way, you won’t blame them(it’s not their deliberate choice that you are picking up their unresolved stuff!). Neither will you expect their co-operation, nor thanks, while yet contributing in the way you know to have worked best for yourself.
Byron Katie’s wisdom is critically important to us: “I can find only three kinds of business in the universe: mine, yours and God’s. Much of our stress comes from mentally living out of our business.”
Despite our porous boundaries, we need to stay in our own business – as much as one possibly can.
To that end, one also has to be mindful of our own limits. We have to learn to be able to say no, be unavailable, and be willing to disappoint others – recognizing that we need our own boundaries as well. (Empaths and narcissists often find each other because of the empath’s poor ability to maintain boundaries and the inadvertent importance given to the narcissist’s business.)
Respect Your Body:
Because inputs seem to be received from beyond the five senses, the body itself may not be given its due importance. Also, an over-emphasis on concepts of non-duality rather than its actual experience can lead to disregarding the health of the body.
Give the body its due care and attention.
Include Yourself In The Equation:
Self-neglect is more likely in empaths than self-centeredness.
The healthy relationships are those which take all concerned into consideration. Remember to start with yourself. Otherwise, you will end up feeling exhausted and resentful.
Do Not Expect Others To Treat You The Way You Treat Them:
Half the time, we don’t even realize we have any such expectations. They are usually discovered in hindsight through feelings of disappointment. Till then, we just assume that everyone functions in the same way.
But the inputs that they receive, their perceptions and priorities are significantly different from yours. When they don’t respond with the same involvement as you, it is not personal. They are made differently.
Spend Time Alone:
They say we are an average of the five people we spend the most time with. To add to this, when you are easily influenced by other energies it is easy to become disoriented, uncertain and confused as one can forget one’s own restful state.
Know your personal space well.
Proximity and intimacy, whether emotional or physical, can create entanglements that are exponentially difficult to extract yourself from.
This does not mean that you become a recluse: Simply interact with awareness and discernment.
Do Not Cling To A ‘self’ Definition:
In trying to discern our comfort zone and place others outside our field, we can end up habitually proving a fixed idea of our self. No-one is one thing all the time.
In the attempt to find a sensible way to navigate the world of duality, do not get so entangled with individual forms that you forget who you are in essence.
The above learnings came the slow, hard way, through years of struggle, introspection, and observation. Now, aware of all this, I feel that this way of being leads to a well-lived, intensely-felt life that can help keep one on the conscious path.
If any of this helps your journey, I would be glad.
Do let me know if it does!