Notes For The Highly Sensitive Empath

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):

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  1. 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.

  2. 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.

  3. 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.

  4. 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.

  5. 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.

  6. 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.

  7. Don’t Dominate:

    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.

  8. Be Discrete:

    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.

  9. 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.

  10. Respect Boundaries:

    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.)

  11. 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.

  12. 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.

  13. 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.  

  14. 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.

  15. Engage Mindfully:

    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.

  16. 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!

 

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Related Articles:

Tools For Empaths

Are You An Earth Sensitive And Why You Need To Know

Material Wealth, Abundance, And Spirituality

 

Poems: Break Out

Bronze Sculpture by M.C. Escher

A long, long time ago
There arrived the thought
That love was something dangerous
Mysterious and unreliable:
It led to all kinds of grief, tears,and loss

That there was no way to tame it
Contain what it brought:
The confusion, foolishness
Futility of unending fears
Inconvenient changes
It sometimes wrought

And that day it was decided
By the previously innocent mind
Be careful! Guard yourself.
Impose restrictions
Safety measures, gates and limits,
Not everyone or everything is kind.

There came into place a cage
Of all these imagined fears and plots
Counter-strategies to play safe
Keep out what the heart sought

Confined by these boundaries
Fluid nature became ice
Hard and cold as stone
Brittle and fragile…
That was the heavy price.

So an identity took form
Gradually fleshing out stories
Fixating upon other characters
Making them out to be solid and real too
This is how the idea
Of a separate, vulnerable self grew.

Here, the idea of safety and territory took root.
Before this, in a seamless, flowing world
There was no question of a me or you….
Simply different possible locations
From which to experience life
As a temporary point of view.

But now we have forgotten all that
Forgotten what was felt and known true
That nothing real can be threatened
And all the angels and demons
We run obsessively from or to
They are all but a dream,
An illusion we have bought into.

All because a prison was imposed,
Love was titrated fine:
“Just enough to keep one alive
Too much and one goes blind”.

What would change
If that were not the case?
If love and foolishness
Were no longer confused?
If the pointlessness of damming flow,
Of defending and attacking
Was realized and understood?

What kind of a paradigm
Would this one transform into?

 
 

(Bronze Sculpture by M.C.Escher)

Poems: Ocean Waves

deep ocean

Life has no neat finales
Though people may die or fall away
No situation or relationship magically
In a pleasant, or troubled place stagnates

Where there is only One
We see individual jigsaw pieces
That can lock together, fall apart,
Be lost, or broken too

Whereas what we are
Are varying wave forms
That may run together, rise
Crash, or dissolve from view

Never completely separate,
Rarely fully united…
Simply flowing, fluid states
Bearing witness
To a singular, fathomless ocean’s truth.

 

Without Apology

Giving and receiving

Someone dear to me is accustomed to saying ‘Haq banta hai’ (I have the right), whenever he requests anything that could be considered an imposition. Even though I often suffered from the story of ‘I am often and easily taken advantage of’ in the past, his saying this never triggered any resistance in me. However, I understood why this was so only recently.

The shoe was on the other foot.  I said something similar to another friend, confessing how I had done something on the assumption that he would back me on it.  I felt neither guilt nor apology, and there was no complaint from him either.  He smilingly said that us taking each other for granted is a given.

So what is the difference between my old ‘story’ and these situations? Having given my old habits due attention, I see that the old story was just one more way for the personality to solidify and make separation real. When I succumb to this particular story, I am operating from the space of being an individual, dealing with another person. This necessitates a constant check and balance system to ensure that both parties feel respected and looked out for. In the latter case, one is resting in oneness and flow is taking care of things effortlessly.

To think of ‘yourself’ alone, or to ‘only look out for others’, are both rooted in an error in perception. What results is a polarised manipulation of resources(including intangibles such as care, attention and so forth), imbalanced by the strenuous attempt to serve a particular individual or group. Consequently, someone is left with suffering, resentment, guilt and or pain, as self-centredness is at the cost of others and sacrifice is at the cost of our self.

Correct perception is in seeing how we all are an interwoven One. Hence, in the larger context, when being and acting from oneness, any improvement in well-being (or alleviation of suffering) is unfailingly beneficial to all concerned: There may be different manifestations in form, but in essence there is only One.

In Oneness is a remembrance of universal, omnipresent divinity. As this eliminates all feelings of lack and inadequacy, what emerges is a natural flow of goodness that brings balance and harmony in its wake.  For now, ‘the cup’ truly ‘runneth over’.   Even if the ‘other’ behaves in a disturbing way, our own response comes from a deeper wisdom and compassion. Our choices and behaviour are no longer ruled by fear based negotiations, but become an expression of love and wholeness.

Just as we use Newtonian Laws at one level of perception and experience in physics, and understand that concurrently, the Laws of Quantum Physics are also at play at a different level, there are different guidelines for our behaviour, depending upon whether we are operating from ego or oneness. Politeness, thoughtfulness, negotiation and protocol all have their appropriate place and bypassing these has its own consequences when we are located in separation.  So it is inadvisable to pretend to oneness and use that as an excuse for disrespectful choices.

However, when we are genuinely centred in oneness, our interactions take on an unremarkable ordinariness.  Wouldn’t it be wonderful to experience this kind of love, ease and simplicity in our lives more consistently?

May this thought provoking piece from Chuang Tzu serve as a reminder to such grace.

Apologies
by Chuang Tzu

If a man steps on a stranger’s foot
In the marketplace,
He makes a polite apology
And offers an explanation:
“This place is so crowded.”

If an elder brother
Steps on his younger brother’s foot
He says, “Sorry.”
And that is that.

If a parent steps on his child’s foot
Nothing is said at all.

The greatest politeness
Is free from all formality.
Perfect conduct is free of concern.
Perfect wisdom is unplanned.
Perfect love is without demonstrations.
Perfect sincerity offers no guarantee.

(Photo Source: Facebook Gratitude)

Poems: 108 Words

image

Welcoming all there is

The turbulence, the churning
The turning upside down
Inside out
Of what ‘I’ thought as ‘you’

Drawing it all
Into the One embrace
That finally dissolves
All ideas of two

That restful place
Where the highest crests
And the lowest troughs
Return

The steady, quiet, potent space
F
rom which once again
A ‘you’ and ‘I’ emerge

These natural tides
They continue
To push and pull

The waves fall
To rise again

But once the continuum
Of formless grace
Is remembered

Nothing feels the same

Form, transience and movement
All but short lived shapes

Beyond the veil
Of all appearances

The unchangeable ocean
Simply Is.

Perhaps We Never Really Understand One Another…

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I may be an intuitive, but I cannot claim to know exactly how you perceive the world. I may be an empath feeling the waves of emotions that you do, often with the same intensity and overwhelm as you, but I cannot know what those emotions lead to in your world.  At best, this degree of sensitivity, heart coherence, firing of mirror neurons, deep listening and similar factors can provide me with a meaningful start to empathising with you.  But I often remind myself to be careful about the extent of understanding and empathy I can claim with another.

Even when an experience seems to have been shared, it will always be different for each one. That is the beauty of individuation.  I remember when my mother suddenly passed away, someone came over and  broke down. It had triggered memories of the loss of her own father and she said, ‘I know exactly what you are going through.’  I was tempted to tell her to stop, but in my numbed state, I didn’t speak up. I remember thinking, how can she know what it is like?  How can the one crying over her father know what it meant to lose my mother? How can anyone know what my mother meant to me? Our mothers were different, our relationships were different and even the aspects others saw of my mother were different. Even my own siblings would see my mother differently from me.  For anyone to come and say to me, ‘I know exactly what you are going through.’ seemed puzzling.  Consequently, I consciously avoid using the word ‘exactly’ as much as possible. Since I don’t expect anyone else to exactly understand me, my challenges or how it feels when you emerge from those stories, it is hardly appropriate for me to do the same.

Nevertheless, empathy can be a bridge builder.  It does give enough of a taste of universality and connect to remind us of the oneness underlying it all.  How far and how consistently we rise above the individual perceptions to the unified experience of it will be something that is decided by the ripeness of the moment.

When I began to describe myself as an Inner Landscape Artist, this clarity was there, but not explained so clearly. The only work I refer to is on myself. What I do is share what worked for me with you. If you feel interested or called in some way, you are welcome to use some of that in mapping your own inner worlds.

And whenever grace permits this – we will meet seamlessly.  Bridged by the remembrance of our true nature.

Until then, let us simply be present to one another.

Poem first shared on FB on November 11th, 2013

Perhaps we never really understand one another,
Get the other’s point of view…

Why do we even expect to?
Our experiences are different,
The perceptions, the circumstance,
Each designed to create 
Our own unique song and dance 
 
Instead of attempting to empathise completely
Pretend we know, see or feel
What the other has gone through, or does
Let us be honest and real:
The truth is that I can care enough
To attempt to relate,
To listen, respect and at best, imagine,
What another attempts to narrate.
 
But I can not truly live it, know it –
As you do,
We live our lives in our own skin,
And the miracle lies in our sincere willingness
To know, be present, accept
Another’s journey, their point of view.
Even if we can be fully present and open,
To respecting their desire to share –
That in itself is a miracle:
To be available, receptive and aware.