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):


  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! 2016-08-28 14-35-30

Related Articles:

Tools For Empaths

Are You An Earth Sensitive And Why You Need To Know

Material Wealth, Abundance, And Spirituality


Innocent Connections

I was in Mumbai over the weekend.  The trip was planned for the primary purpose of facilitating a workshop at the Life Positive Expo 2013.  But since I was there, I made it  a point to meet up with some dear friends (from a time that now seems like another lifetime).  As it happens, we now all lead very different lives. It sometimes feels like these meetings are peeks into another world, a visit to another planet.  And yet, we are able to connect. Take up exactly where we left it. Though even two and three decades back, we did come from dissimilar backgrounds.  But perhaps it is because these relationships were founded in more innocent years.  When the hearts were open and individual experiences had not cemented any walls of separation.  

Whether it be religion, finances, education or so many other factors – there are never any shortage of ways to divide.  For us, the variances were never a barrier.  They were either totally unimportant, or celebrated.  So we enjoyed the opportunity to soak in another culture, another way of living.   We marveled at the wide variety of experience that we shared.  We lived through each others’ learnings and falls, through each others’ emotions and discoveries.  Under all the surface variations, values, ethics and inclinations seemed naturally common. 

We are all the same at heart.  And this was mutually acknowledged.

In contrast, as we grow older, our opinions get more rigid, our tolerance almost absent.  We seek the old and familiar, the known and the safe.  Anything different is most often treated as alien and unwelcome, if not severely judged.  We blame communities and countries for the wars we bring about.  Not only the physical wars that wreck ruin on the body and land, but the attacks that leave scars of fear, cynicism and deepening divides at all levels of humanity.

It is the individual that contributes to the collective.  What would it be like if you were to return to being the curious, open minded youngster who can only marvel at the world?  The one who is willing and able to celebrate differences without feeling pressurized to change the other, or conform to some other norm?

What would it take for you to naturally be yourself and be in allowance of whoever the other is being?

For all the anger, frustration, and logical argument that we raise to support our habitual judgement, I wonder which heart would not want to feel the melting warmth that comes from being connected to another – in pure innocence.

Google has created a marvelous depiction of such a moment.  Do watch this four minute video.  And call the first friend that comes to mind after viewing it.

Reach out.  Return to being the person you know you are at heart.  You will make the world a better place.

Home is Where The Heart Is

Where have you parked your source of happiness?

Who or what have you made your singular object of affection?

These were the questions that arose in three different conversations within a few days of each other.  That is always a sign that I should write about it 🙂

A friend was describing her sacred connection with an ancestral temple in a remote village on the coast.  She remains perplexed at her deep attachment to a place she has no rational connection with.  The culture is unfamiliar, she does not like the sea, that entire life is alien to what she is accustomed to.  But her pull there was so strong that she actually considered buying a house there.  She says she could spend endless hours in that space.  So every year, when she visits India, she makes it a point to visit this sacred site.

The same yearning and attachment showed up in a session with a depressed client. As a youngster, she was inordinately fond of singing, convinced that only when she was singing could she experience a state of bliss. Subsequent life changes of career and marriage put an end to her singing.  It was only during our session that she came to realize that she held a lot of anger and bitterness over this, blaming her father and then her husband, for the lack of music in her life. She felt disconnected from Source and felt there was no sweetness left in life.  Without her singing, she was lost.

Another client came struggling with a romantic-spiritual relationship.  I find these are even more entangled and confusing than the more common infatuations or popular, (fictional) ‘picture-perfect-romance’ yearnings.  The reason becomes apparent as you hear one of the ways in which it is described: “I feel like I have returned Home.  I feel safe and loved and there is some magical connection that  I cannot explain.  My sense of self dissolves and there is overwhelming love. The moment we met, we knew there was a soul connection.”  After such a peak experience, there arises a desire and yearning to remain in that space and recreate that feeling. It is now uniquely associated with the said person.

Call it love, bliss, oneness or anything else.  It essentially describes that same state – of feeling Home.  In all the three instances, knowingly or unknowingly, the entire onus of experiencing this state is now parked at a single doorstep.  This leads to neediness, attachment and dependency.  Any separation becomes deeply painful, perhaps because it re-stimulates the original wound – of individuation or separation from Source.  A part of us also knows that this is turning into a form of addiction and unhealthy entanglements prevent the free, spontaneous connection that was originally experienced.

Why do we associate a single object of affection with re-connection to Source?  These moments of being at Home are continually available to us.  The glimpses of feeling whole and complete, seeing the perfection in the moment, the overwhelming awe, love and gratitude for everyone and everything – these moments grace us all the time. However, we fail to recognize them.  I feel that the first time that we cognitively notice this shift is an incomparable experience for us and it comes to be associated with the person, space or activity that we happened to be around in that moment.

We thus place the Source outside of us – in one of these externals and then fall into the abyss of longing and belief of being incomplete.  They are perceived as exclusively responsible and capable of our return to our Being.

How do we return Home?  By realizing that the external simply triggered what was always within you.  The experience does not happen outside, but is what you reconnect with – within yourself.  There are no external factors that you must have for this state to happen.  Start noticing how, by focusing your attention inside of you, you can shift your experience of what is going on outside.  When you are centered in your own heart, no matter where you roam – you are truly home.

Then there is nothing to demand of any space, person or activity.
But a lot to celebrate, as the sacredness becomes apparent everywhere.


“I have lived on the lips of insanity,  wanting to know reasons, knocking on a door. It opens. I've been knocking from the inside.” ~ Rumi

Related Post:  Poems:  Home Free