Dear Empath

Dear Empath,

The more you try to ‘protect’ yourself, the more harm you’re causing yourself. Please stop and choose, instead, to pay attention to what is going on around and within you. Begin by asking ‘is it mine?’ and paying attention to how your brain and body respond.

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Lessons for the Empath from Walmart

 

Here’s why Walmart, the empath and ‘is it mine?’ matter. Because it’s  all about you. Until it’s not. Being an empath is about your connection with others and your capacities to use your own nature as a tool or superpower for good but before you can understand or build your tool box and put on the cape, you need to know you.  As you begin to know yourself, the rest will unfold like a Jacob’s ladder, leading step-by-step into the role you were made for, prayed into being for. Walmart is merely one overt example of how we recoil and project when we feel. It is also the perfect testing ground for what your lack of boundaries really means, how the body itself is our greatest support and barometer of energies around us, and how we can manage our responses to ourselves and the environment around us.

Here’s how my experience with Walmart changed and subsequently changed me. I’ve never been a fan of the place myself but in 2011, I happened to be in a Wal-Mart in central Virginia attempting to get in and out with little fuss. While I never experienced anything like panic in the store, I was easily befuddled and could never go without a list and pen to mark things off the list. Otherwise, in the haze, I’d forget half of what I needed and probably looked like a coked-out squirrel (think about it for just a sec!). This time, in the cereal aisle, while pretending to stare at my list—the perfectly acceptable way to be seen muttering to oneself—I was nearly knocked over by a energetic force outside of me making contact with my head. It wasn’t an ‘oops, upside the head’ kind of thing. It was an intentional ‘now I’ve got your attention, haven’t I’ kind of thing. I muttered a few choice foul words and finally, in a fit of pique, said, “Fuck it. Show me.”

I didn’t know then what I know now about my relationship with the invisible. Clueless, I was stumbling through my own evolutionary process in a way that was about as ungraceful as one can feel at Wal-Mart. My response was one of frustration more than curiosity but someone or something had made an impact in more ways than one and I was going to find out why, dammit.

For the lack of a better description, I turned my shopping cart into a dowsing rod. What first seemed like aimless wandering finally took me to the front of the store, past the customer service desk, and to the ladies room. I didn’t have to pee (unusual in itself) but there I was because that’s where that damn shopping cart took me. And, given the choice to ignore why I was there or go into the restroom, I chose the latter. I entered and nearly walked right into the only other person there; a woman whose boyfriend or boss, so guessed because she kept calling him “He”, had been an asshole. In that moment, all I could do was say, “Come here, honey” and wrap my arms around a distraught stranger and repeat, “I’m so sorry. I love you. We’ve got you.” When I got smacked in the head by that unknown energy, the direction was clear: go to the person who needs to be loved on.  Who knows how long I’d been receiving the message but could not ‘hear’ it through the filters of anxiety, exhaustion, and confusion.

In case I missed the point, that set-up repeated itself four more times, each time in a public shopping area. By the fifth time, at the Fairfax, Virginia, Macy’s where I was on the hunt for that perfect pair of jeans, I knew the cue. Although my response to the energetic stimulus was not as if I’d been assaulted again, that energetic ‘signature’ was identical each time and wasting time or arguing was moot. By the time it occurred at Macy’s, I dropped the two feet-high pile of jeans I was carrying in the most inappropriate place and walked directly to the nearest ladies restroom. And, sure enough, there she was, another upset woman who, when asked if she needed some help or a hug, merely said, “I just need time to myself.”

I never did go pick up the pile of jeans. That ‘aha’ and ‘oh shit’ moment was enough for one day. Like with many other experiences, I left the mall and while stuck in traffic on the return home said, “Well now, what in the hell do I do with all that?”

What I’ve learned in the ensuing five years is to turn that into a teaching tool for others, how to discern what is mine to deal with, what is not mine to not deal with, and what is mine to deal with. You’ll soon be able to do the same.

There is no denying that there is discomfort, even pain, in this exploration of yourself and the world around you. However, that cannot harm you. Unlike one of the more common myths, you are not taking on any one else’s pain or absorbing it.  You are feeling it, sometimes the depths of it. The feeling of it and it’s expression bring a freedom to you and to another.

Anthon St. Maarten has described his experience of feeling another this way:

I can even feel the anxiety some people feel in the pit of their stomach when they are telling a lie, or feel their heartbeat increase when they are feeling guilty. If the lady in front of me at the supermarket is getting angry I might feel her blood pressure rising, and possibly perceive additional information about her personal life that may cause her to be so impatient and irritable. But that does not mean that I necessarily identify with her feelings (empathy) or feel sorry for her (sympathy). I simply experience what she is feeling and I know why she is feeling that way, even if it makes no sense to me personally.

The difference for me and, quite possibly you, is that these experiences generally make complete sense to me, I can identify with her feelings and, feel sympathy and empathy, and, when necessary express them without  attachment to the feelings or any outcome. 

Unlike St. Maarten and many others, I disagree that empaths walk around absorbing or taking on the energies of others like a sponge. If that were the case, we would be experiencing joy, surprise, grief, awe, and orgasm, sharing those in the same way we bitch about being effected by ‘energy vampires’ (which, following my logic, don’t exist in the way they are commonly described).

That is not to say i don’t believe we are not affected by the energies around us. We absolutely are but being affected by our environment is not limited to those who identify as empath and the effect upon us is real. How we define it is important, mostly because it’s our responsibility, not another’s. Everyone is affected by things surrounding them. We may be special enough to feel someone’s kidney stones but they are not going to land in your own kidney. Debbie Downer’s negative mood is not a virus. You may feel her funk because she’s telegraphing it in more ways than one but she’s not sucking everything out of you. You are absolutely feeling it but your systems don’t know what to do with it. Your feeling of ‘sucked dry’ is a tiredness that comes from all of your systems trying to figure out what the fuck to do with the unknown funk it’s attempting to process.  You’re tired. Not for ‘no good reason’ but for a very good reason. You may know you haven’t run a marathon but other parts of you disagree because they actually have been working that hard.

So, homework: Post-It notes “Is it Mine?”.  Pay attention to how the brain and body respond to the question. Don’t create an answer. If one flows through you, connect to your breath and ask another question; who or why is a good one.

This is work. Simple work but it requires some focus. Ask, attend.  As you begin to consciously discern what’s yours and what’s not, you’ll also begin to learn what you’re to do with that knowledge. I touch (or mentally air-kiss) and cure shit. You might create energetic space for a new song, design, recipe, or poem to move through. You might be smacked upside the head with the next brilliant idea that makes the rest of us say, “Why didn’t I think of that?!”  You might just find space for peace within your ownfineself.

I’m available to ask questions. If you’ve got ’em, ask.

The Empath and Walmart, Part 2

Mindfulness brings to light experience in its pure immediacy. It reveals the object as it is before it has been plastered over with conceptual paint, overlaid with interpretations. ~Bhikkhu Bodhi

If you haven’t yet, read The Empath and Walmart, Part 1 before reading through this post.

The sensation of touch involves more complex processes moving information from environment, often to an area larger than our ear canal, to the brain for the interpretation of that information. There are more than twenty classes of nerve cells related to touch on or under the skin. What follows is a sampling of them.

Underneath the skin, between the dermis and epidermis under mostly hairless skin like under the hands, lips and feet, are nerves call Meissner’s corpuscles. They lie parallel to the skin and, operating both independently of each other and in unison, take messages to the brain. They are what is called rapidly adapting mechanoreceptors and, among other things, are the agents that allow the blind to read Braille. Their job is to detect and signal the brain about vibrations between 10 and 50 Hertz or light touch, like flutter or textures like the slip of silk that are making contact with the skin. Their adaptive nature makes it so that once we feel something for a time, that sensation disappears. (That wool sweater? If it was scratching in the exact same place each time, you would not feel it at all after a moment or two).

In addition to the Meissner’s corpuscles, there are Pacinian corpuscles and Merkel’s disks. Pacinian corpuscles are responsible for the detection of vibration and pressure on the skin. They are larger and there are not as many of them as there are the other three nerve ending related to touch. And, they are not just on the skin. The work directly with the pancreas, detecting particular vibrations that signal the need to release insulin. Their vibrational sensitivity is different than that of Meissner’s and are optimal at 250 Hertz. When deformed or reformed by pressure, it transmits pressure. If the table top is pressing onto your thigh or you pull up the skin on the top of your hand, you Pacinian corpuscles are what is letting you know it’s time to change position or rehydrate.

Merkel’s disk are found all over the body including in the mouth and anus but cluster in fingertips. Their job is to provide information on vibrations from 5-15 Hertz. They fire fastest when small points indent the skin and fire at a low rate on slow curves or flat surfaces. Convexities reduce their rate of firing further still.

Those Ruffini corpuscles are located in the deep layers of the skin and fascia and respond to sustained pressure, skin stretching and angle change. They’re located most densely around the fingernails and while they may help you adjust your grip, they also those things that, when in contact with an onion, remind you of the hangnail you’ve forgotten about!

However, what I find fascinating is the new science that suggests (and may support my hypothesis) is the idea that from all of those hairs that cover our body nerve cells connect to our spinal column. Scientists experimenting with mice learned that each LTMR cell branched out to nearly 30 different hairs and that these hairs had specific roles in communicating.

A summary from ScienceDaily in 2012 shared this:

Mice have three different types of hair: a thick, long guard hair that accounts for only about 1 percent of total hairs on the body; a shorter hair called the awl/auchene that constitutes about 23 percent of body hair; and a fine hair called the zigzag that makes up 76 percent of body hair. The team found that most of the C-LTMR cell endings — about 80 percent — associate with zigzag hair follicles, the rest with the awl/auchene and none with the guard hair follicles.

The researchers then similarly marked two other types of touch nerve cells and found that each hair type has a different and specific set of nerve endings associated with it. “This makes every hair a unique mechanosensory organ,” says Ginty. Moreover, with their new marking tools, they found that each hair type is evenly spaced and patterned throughout the skin.
The team then wondered how all the input from these individual hairs is collected and sent to the brain. Using a different dying technique, the researchers were able to stain the other end of the cell, in the spinal cord. They found that the nerves connecting each patch of skin containing one guard hair and other associated smaller hairs line up in columns in the spinal cord — neighboring columns correspond to neighboring patches of skin. They estimate that there are about 3,000 to 5,000 columns in the spinal cord, with each column accounting for 100 to 150 hair follicles.

So how does the brain interpret what each hair follicle experiences? “How this happens is remarkable and we’re fairly clueless about it,” says Ginty. But he suspects that the organization of the columns is key to how all the various inputs are processed before a message goes to the brain. And while people are not as hairy as mice, Ginty believes that many of the same structures are shared. This study and the new cell-marking tools they developed, he says, open a lot of doors for new research in understanding touch and other senses.

The Ginty mentioned above is Dr. David Ginty. In 2014, he and a colleague published another study, building on the one above, called The Sensor Neurons of Touch and while the focus of the paper is on complex mechanical processes on the skin, I think future studies will show a similarity between the hairs on our skin (and, perhaps, other cells) responding to mechanical stimuli as well as other energetic stimulus.

This report notes that:

Sensory modalities have been, for the sake of simplicity, described as anatomically and physiologically discrete channels, or “labeled lines” that faithfully convey particular modalities of cutaneous sensory information from the periphery to the somatosensory cortex. However, both anatomical and physiological measurements indicate that sensory integration begins at subcortical levels, providing a compelling argument against a labeled-line theory of somatosensation. Today, with the use of molecular genetics, and equipped with strategies for acute ablation and/or silencing of neuronal subtypes, we can test the idea that the exquisite combination of ion-channels, organizational properties of cutaneous LTMR endings, and central nervous system circuits are the substrate of tactile perception.

All of that is to say that how we used to think about physical senses is changing as specific technologies create ways to measure things previously immeasurable.

Five years prior to Ginty’s Sensor Neurons publication, in December 15, 2009, the medical journal Pain wrote, “researchers at Albany Medical College, the University of Liverpool and Cambridge University report that the human body has an entirely unique and separate sensory system aside from the nerves that give most of us the ability to touch and feel. Surprisingly, this sensory network is located throughout our blood vessels and sweat glands, and is for most people, largely imperceptible.”

I think for empaths, that sensory network along with those associated with skin and its hair, it is very perceptible; they just don’t know what they’re perceiving and, because the stimulus is unknown and invisible energies, fear fills in the blanks.

This paper came about after physicians and scientists noticed that two patients had what is called congenital insensitivity to pain, meaning that they were born with very little ability to feel pain. However, unlike other patients with whom they’d had contact and you may have heard about, these two, aside from dealing with incessant sweating (the reason why they went to the doctor to begin with), they led normal lives. They could distinguish hot from cold, sharp from smooth, and what might be touching them.

In one inch of skin, most of us have 65 hairs, 160-165 touch sensors, 650 sweat glands, 78 yards of nerves, 73 heat sensors, 13 cold sensors and 1300 pain sensors. While these two patients may have been missing some of the pain sensors, researchers learned that these patients were missing those Meissner’s corpuscles along with the Pacinian and Merkel cells.  They noted “Problems with these nerve endings may contribute to mysterious pain conditions such as migraine headaches and fibromyalgia, the sources of which are still unknown, making them very difficult to treat.”
What these and other researchers have called a sensory neuropathy, a dysfunction of nerve systems, I see as pointing the way for a new way of understanding for empaths.  Fascinating stuff, no?

And, more recently, in March of this year, eNeuro (the journal for the Society of Neuroscience) published an article called Transduction of the Geomagnetic Field as Evidenced from Alpha-band Activity in the Human Brain. Within that mouthful of a title, was proof that humans can detect the earth’s magnetic field. Scientists from CalTech and other universities in New Jersey and Tokyo measured human brain changes in response to magnetic field changes. Now, they (and we) don’t understand how it happens but Joseph Kirschvink, a geophysicist who worked on the project, said this to Gizmodo:

“Magnetoreception is a normal sensory system in animals, just like vision, hearing, touch, taste, smell, gravity, temperature, and many others.All of these systems have specific cells that detect the photon, sound wave, or whatever, and send signals from them to the brain, as does a microphone or video camera connected to a computer. But without the software in the computer, the microphone or video camera will not work. We are saying that human neurophysiology evolved with a magnetometer — most likely based on magnetite — and the brain has extensive software to process the signals.”

If we can detect, although not consciously according to this study, magnetic field changes around us, why not other energies? And how might we respond if we do and are not aware of it? Ponder that for a hot minute.

Take what you’ve read here and apply it to a dastardly Walmart experience. Can you understand how, if you’re energetically sensitive (using it broadly here), how you might feel anxious or overwhelmed? From external energies reaching all that skin and hair, to the skin and hair attempting to process and translate it through while sending it to the spinal column, which takes that message into the brain. All while the eyes cannot see to what or how the skin is responding. Those things we take for granted involve millions of processes, happening so quickly that they seem, to us, simultaneous events.  No wonder you feel exhausted. Go back to the idea mentioned above that the pancreas responds to what’s happening on the skin.

So what, Ingrid? How does that help me? I could give two fucks. I just want to get in and get out. No fuss, no muss.

Here’s how it helps: simple awareness of why your body and brain are responding how it does can change the experience.

And here’s homework to reinforce it. It may seem far too simple to be effective but I can assure you it works. Like creating muscle memory for typing or shooting, it doesn’t take much for all systems to get on board.  You’re going to start asking one simple question when you feel anything: “Is it mine?” If you feel anxiety, heart palpitations, nausea, headache, angry, annoyed, or simply uneasy. “Is it mine?” Ask and then simply observe how the body and brain respond. Ask out loud so you don’t confuse yourself and to bring focus. Don’t create an answer in your head or leap to ‘of course, it’s mine! It’s my head/belly/mood/heart!”  Not so fast, toots.  We may have been trained to think that everything we feel is ours but that is often not the case.

This is about retraining the brain and creating space for a deeper understanding about how they interact with the world around them. It’s about teaching your eyes, ears, nose, mouth and skin what inputs they are responding to and what to do, or not do, with the messages being received.

I ask people to break out the Post-It notes and put the question on the bathroom and rear-view mirrors, kitchen cabinets, desktop screen, home screen of their phone, on the back of the door, above the sink so that for a few days it becomes a mantra and practice in observation. Ask, observe, and notice how energetic space is created with simple awareness.

It seems that younger folks respond more quickly to the lesson than older folks. The older we get, the less open we are to new ideas. A twelve year old was complaining of an acute headache a while ago. I asked him to ask the question. He asked, looked at me and said, “NO! It’s Jason’s.Holy shit!”  And the headache vanished. No shit. It was later confirmed when the two got together after school.

In the same way he could damn-near instantaneously identify the who and the what, you can, too, with just a little bit of practice.

It will make Walmart and other experiences easy-breezy.

The next post will be why Walmart and shopping and ‘is it mine?’ matters.

The Empath and Walmart; Part 1

“Walmart is the seventh level of hell” ~ a few hundred empaths

“We live a story that originates in our autonomic state, is sent through autonomic pathways from the body to the brain, and is then translated by the brain into the beliefs that guide our daily living. The mind narrates what the nervous system knows. Story follows state.” -Deb Dana, LCSW

I’ve said before that the only trait empaths share is that they are just that. However, those I’ve worked with, with a few outstanding exceptions, share a particular loathing of Walmart that goes far beyond not wanting to be caught in the next round of ‘Walmart people’ photos.  The feelings associated with Walmart (or shopping malls or lines at airport customs or movie theaters) include every symptom of anxiety known, ‘creeping skin’, quaking limbs, the inability to complete simple shopping, panic attacks, and unfinished chores due to feeling overwhelmed and ashamed by the whole shebang.

When I used to do the Empowered Empath class, I had two standard homework assignments that were the measure of personal growth. The first was to go to Walmart before the class started and record every experience from the driveway at home to the cash register, if they could make it that far.  The last assignment, 2-3 months later, at the end of the class was to go back and notice their transformation. From the first, a few people couldn’t even get out of the car once they’d pulled into the parking lot, others broke into a sweat before making it to the freezer section, and others carried on through the half-hour assignment while exhaustion competed with a shopping list. Not a single person had anything positive to say about the experience or my method.

Following the Deb Dana quote above is this: You’re afraid of Walmart and the like because a) you set yourself into the fear long before you get there, and b) your body and brain do not understand how to process the, 1) your fear, and 2) the energies it is responding to. It’s all you, baby. Until you get to the store, that is. There’s no shame in it, no reason to argue with me or yourself. It’s just something to sit with for a bit. It’s not much different emotionally or physiologically than working yourself into a particular state when faced with, say, public speaking. However,  the primary difference is how we recognize and deal with the effects. The public speaking example is one where we can easily recognize the reason for the fear response: there is an audience in front of whom we may screw up. We view the potential results on a spectrum that may range from embarrassment to the loss of employment. There’s pressure to perform and the anxiety that accompanies it. That, to most of us, makes complete sense.

It does not make any sort of sense that we have a similar response to an otherwise normal experience of shopping. There’s no real pressure to perform unless you’re the husband who typically forgets things despite there being a complete list and it’s hard to feel embarrassed when you’re not the one wearing pajamas to the store (not that there’s anything wrong with that. Comfort is key, no?).  Because it doesn’t make sense to us, there is room for shame to set up shop, repeating the oft-heard “you’re too sensitive”, “you feel too much”, “you’re a bigot”, “can’t you do anything without falling apart”, “what the hell is wrong with you”.  All that and more internalized as if there is something wrong with you, that you are disordered.  I can assure you there is nothing wrong with you and that with a few simple tools, you can breeze through Walmart and the shopping mall with ease.

Before we go further, I want to refresh two notions:  everything is energy and if you are sensitive to one kind of energy, you are sensitive to other (maybe every) kind of energy. So, in our journey to Walmart, your internal energies that have been fueled by dread before starting the car and the body’s practiced fight, flight or freeze response does what it’s been trained to do. It doesn’t quite understand why but it’s there for you, doing it’s powerful thing.

Then, once you’ve arrived, before you even set foot in the store, you are inundated with electricity from underneath your feet that feeds the parking lot lights. It may be sheathed and under asphalt but your body can still feel it. How many times have you driven under a large power line and felt it? The same thing is happening when you drive or walk above it.

You walk through a weight, light or movement sensor-controlled door, into an electrified and electronically controlled environment. Think of the currents of energy it takes to fuel the rank of cash registers when you walk in the door, the refrigerators and freezers, think of the florescent lights, and the type and amount of energy they emit. Think of the chemical energies emitted from the petroleum based, mass produced clothing, household goods and miles of packaging. Then, think of the electronics department!  Think about how you feel in that department; do you hurry past it, dread getting the phone minutes card because you feel overwhelmed or overstimulated there? You’re experiencing the same thing, to a slightly lesser degree in the rest of the store. Your eyes, ears, nose, mouth and skin are responding to all of those inputs, those received messages and haven’t the foggiest idea of what to do with it.

All of those physical energies are designed to amplify the other energies associated with ‘buy me’ and ‘buy more of me’ and ‘do so quickly, if you don’t mind’.  Think of the marketing (size, colors, types of packaging), labeling, and televisions and bright orange clearance tags on endcaps.

Here’s how you, your feeling nature and Walmart come together to meet in either hellishness or harmony (the place you’re going to get to soon). Another friendly energy reminder: although we may be individuated expressions, there is no separating us from our environment.

We are energetic beings, long before the caffeine begins coursing through the body, our cells vibrate. We are of and constantly creating, expending, and receiving energy. There is nothing within our body that is still when it appears we are. We contain all of the above forms of energy and we feel all those forms of energy. We are a body electric. It is the foundation for our cells, our heart beats, our synapses firing or misfiring along our nervous systems.

That electrical system within the boundaries of the skin works in conjunction with chemical processes (say, sodium and potassium) that, in turn, are working with conscious and subconscious thought processes (say, training that leads to what we call muscle memory), and all of those things are working within sensory systems—both conscious and subconscious as well. In the same manner these operations are happening within the boundaries of our skin, they are also occurring between our skin and it’s external environment; both to us and from us. Think about the way we feel someone’s presence could knock us over or that we can zap the cat into oblivion with our forefinger on a dry day.

We’re all somewhat familiar with our five physical senses, those of sight, touch, taste, hearing and smell. We may not understand how they work but most of us have enough of an awareness to notice something amiss when one of them is not functioning as it normally does or, rather, how we think it should.

Human bodies are not the only beings that operate in this way. We are all energetic beings in an energetic universes. Plants, animals, and minerals create and use it in similar ways. Animals appear to telegraph danger silently or sense, say, the energy of a cyclone or earthquake. We know through the studies of plants that they can sense a change in energy around them not associated with food and water. We know that trees communicate by transmitting and receiving energies through networks of other organisms. We are not exceptions, we receive and transmit in the same manner. Here, the network of organisms we’re navigating with senses we’re not very aware of, is all things Walmart.

Diane Ackerman, in A Natural History of the Senses, says this:

The senses don’t just make sense of life in bold or subtle acts of clarity, they tear reality apart into vibrant morsels and reassemble them into a meaningful pattern. They take contingency samples. They allow an instance to stand for a mob. They negotiate and settle for a reasonable version and make small, delicate transactions. Life showers over everything, radian, gushing. The senses feed shards of information to the brain like microscopic pieces of a jigsaw puzzle. When enough “pieces” assemble, the brain says Cow. I see a cow… In the flatlands of the Southwest, a speck develops a tiny line at the top. Cowboy, the brain says, a person who has turned his head, revealing the silhouette of that brim… Reasoning we call it, as if it were a mental spice.

One of the reasons I think so many of those who identify as empath have such difficulty maneuvering through the world is that we have spent many generations—as long as we’ve been removed from our once-ingrained relationships with the natural world—separated from our bodies and the external environment, that we’ve quite literally lost our senses or our connection to them. Combine that with our fear of many of the things we cannot see (oddly enough, not of oxygen and most odors) and there’s a recipe for a disastrous shopping day.

The sense that I’m going to focus on is the one most associated with our skin, touch, and how it influences us in Walmart, without us even touching a darn thing.

 

My Own Experience as an Empath–beyond the bullshit: Part 3

Inserting ‘empath’ or ‘highly sensitive people’ into your favorite search engine and the resultant 7 million bits of information floating in the ether can lead to hyper vigilance, overwhelming irritation, and the desire to never leave the house again.

About eleven years ago, when I was searching for words that would explain my experiences, I Googled the word ‘empath’ and I knew, just knew, that nothing I was reading was true. The lot of us are repeatedly labeled as introverts, overwhelmed by everything, taking on other people’s emotions as our own; are always ill and intuitive, constantly fatigued, addicts or mentally ill, have their feelings easily hurt; are creative, love nature and animals, like adventure freedom and travel, know another’s emotions, are lucid dreamers intolerant to narcissism (except when they are drawn to them) and can’t tolerate violence, will not buy antiques and be moody. Lists and clickbait seemed gathered to further isolation and to perpetuate fear of being psychic or unique and to, without evidence, connect empath to paranormal experience to cheap horror-movie witchery. None of which are actually connected to the truth of the matter. I just didn’t understand how it was I was knowing what I was.

To help bring you to my understanding of things now, I need to be clear on how I’m defining things. For my purposes here, the definition of empathy is this:  the capacity to understand what another is feeling by feeling it. It’s basis is from the Greek empatheia, ‘feeling into’ another, not taking a perspective from another person’s shoes. I really like Theodore Lipps’ definition, too. In 1903, he was trying to find a word to express the sense an audience shares with a performer, in this case, the collective gasp as a high-wire acrobat steps out on the wire and called it an “inner participation of a foreign experience”, a sense of ‘feeling myself in him’. His notion of “projecting oneself onto the object of perception” is directly connected to my idea that most empaths don’t know that they’re actually projecting onto someone else their own feelings, not feeling what another is actually feeling. Vastly different experiences but entwined physiological and emotional responses.

Also, for clarity, the definition of an empath in these pages is an individual who has the capacity to feel–not just another person, mind you–using all sensory processes, many or all energies that others cannot see; both potential and kinetic.  An empowered and healthy empath–the goal I’m striving to get you to– also feels the emotions and physicality of others and responds to those energies appropriately. The last twelve words are key to this definition because these are the people this is for. Those who can physically and emotionally feel others and appropriately respond. This definition is based on bioelectromagnetics, nanomedicine, photosynthesis, psychology, sociology, and universal themes found in spirituality.

The energies I refer to above include magnetic, sonic, gravitational, chemical, thermal and electric—all of which are environmental and also associated with ours and another’s emotional (and physical) state. They’re included on purpose and connected to the idea that emotion is a sense (referring here to Katherine Piel Kauffman’s work) and that “empathy occurs when we suspend our single-minded focus of attain and instead adopt a double-minded focus. And it follows that ”empathy is our ability to identify what someone else is thinking or feeling and to response to their thoughts and to respond with an appropriate emotion.” (see Simon Baron-Cohen’s The Science of Evil) As we move through this exploration, you will see how and why I push the response to include appropriate action as well as emotion.

Knowing what I know now, I can identify myself as an empath far back into my early childhood. However, the language available to an adult to describe what they experience is vastly different than that of a toddler, tween and teen.

I only learned in my late thirties that the childhood episodes of violent vomiting and equally violent headaches as well as other uncomfortable contortions were my body’s way of understanding (or not) and processing as best it could energies I was being affected by. Until then, I was just feeling things as I felt them and working under the assumption that everyone else did, too, perhaps without the intermittent projectile vomiting.

The intensities of my experiences as a young person were compounded by two things; one that I was glaringly aware of and another that I hadn’t the foggiest about.

The first was an awareness that my family was not normal (not that I knew exactly what that was, mind you) and that something was not right. I grew up in an especially abusive household that I began attempting to escape via suicide when I was four years-old. No one could escape my mother’s wrath. The time in our family was spent divided into thirds; one third of the time was being in her crosshairs, one third of the time was spent waiting to see in which direction she was aiming, and one third of the time was spent trying to be something that resembled normal.

Looking back it is hard to how much of knowing when my brother or I were going to be beaten was connected to my empathic and precognitive nature or if there were patterns that I was accustomed to and could read. And, maybe, it was an all together different sense that traumatized children develop as a survival mechanism.

It is, however, now clear that those physiological responses I experienced were connected to my mother’s own energy. There were times when I would be ill and she, a physician, would identify it as ‘psychosomatic’. What I internalized then was that she was telling me I was faking it, that what I was in the midst of was not real. How could my real not be real? (Which took on a different meaning in the community.) Little did she or I understand my ‘somatic’ was connected to her ‘psycho’.

The physical, mental and emotional abuse—and the impacts on those physical, mental and emotional bodily systems—were also compounded by my empathic nature as well as synesthesia. For those who aren’t familiar with the phenomenon, synesthesia is most simply defined as ‘cross-wiring’ of the physical senses, where involuntary and automatic associations between multiple physical senses occur. Some examples of it include people seeing numbers or letters and hearing music as colors. For those who see letters as colors, it’s been reported that vowels have different tones than consonants. Youtube is filled with videos of people ‘painting’ music and the like. There are many recognized forms of the phenomenon and the types I have now are, as far as I can tell, the same I experienced as a child. I experience what is called auditory-tactile, visual-tactile, misphonia and mirror-touch synesthesia.

The first two are fairly easy to understand; sound and things seen visually are connected to touch. So, as a child verbal abuse was not just verbal and art was not just art. I was not just hearing vitriol, I was feeling it physically; words do cut, sometimes quite literally. When I looked at art, it was soothing or sharp. That’s oversimplifying it but may give you an idea of what it is like. Mirror-touch synesthesia is similar to that of the auditory-tactile. The difference is, using childhood experiences again, that when my brother was being hit, I was being hit as well. I can’t say with certainty any more that my perceived protection of my brother then wasn’t simple self-preservation. Misphonia is similar to auditory-tactile synesthesia however, rather than there being a touch-related association, it is one of negative emotion. Essentially, for those with it, sound can trigger negative emotion. It’s not entirely unlike how we respond to fingernails on a chalkboard and, blessedly, it is the one I’ve grown out of. Now, many sounds open me into tangible, tactile experience of God.

There’s not yet definitive scientific explanation as to how synesthesia develops and, looking back, we can’t know if the abuse was a trigger for my brain’s mechanisms to interpret what was happening or if it was a natural state, connected to genetic predisposition, I was born with that exacerbated responses to the abuse. Whether it’s the chicken or the egg, this way of experiencing the world has also opened my understanding to how the non-medical healing I do works and how experiencing the world as an empath can be understood.

 

Exploring All Things Empath–beyond the bullshit: Part 2

If you missed the introduction to this deep dive, you may want to read this first.  At the end of the introduction, there are links to my initial empath myth-busting.

Being an empath is the most visceral expression of the spiritual truth that we are interconnected; to each other and to all things. It is the psycho-somatic reflection of our capacity to feel more than our physical senses and limited awareness can see. Being an empath is a modern expression of a time when community wellness and safety depended on relationships with each other and nature. We have removed ourself from that way of being and are being reminded viscerally that that entwined relationship is our natural state of being. The purpose of being an empath is to bring that awareness into loving.

The perpetration of the myths of the empath continue to cause harm to individuals and communities. The idea that there is ‘something wrong’ with either us or another because of false perception damages psyches and the physical body.

We are going to redefine what it means to be an empath, moving it from the mystical, psychical and metaphysical mumbo-jumbo into a real-world, healthy expression of otherwise invisible energies around us.

In the weeks that follow, I’m going to show how the capacity of an empath isn’t about having a psychic gift, although for some people it’s directly attached to a one. It’s a reflection of our original state of being—connected to all things. We’ll connect it to anthropology, cognitive science, neurobiology, psycholinguistics, behaviors of Ancestors and, indeed, spirituality because this is intrinsically entwined with the faiths and practices of many paths to the One.

We’ll examine myths and use science to debunk them. We’ll provide skills for folks who experience difficulty in navigating this way of experiencing the world. We’ll create ways for the generations behind us to not live in the fear we do. Woven throughout will be personal story-telling, scientific review and some history of things considered psychic to explain how we came to rely upon current myths and can move them into the dynamics of the modern era.

Some of the things I will write about will show how I fumbled about navigating this unique way of being, how I stumbled upon the ‘aha’ moments to learn that we make the challenges feel more graceful and useful, and ultimately connected it all to science, our environment and what is generally considered the unknown of the invisible world.

Although what we’ll be exploring and the navigational tools are simple, there are nuanced layers that may seem disconnected—like a dizzying array of spinning plates. However, where those plates meet in a Venn diagram kind of way is where we find the space to explore the magic.

In this process of discussion, self and scientific discovery, you’ll be asked to think and process what you think and feel differently. That may be uncomfortable at first but as discovery leads to development, you’ll find gold in each challenge. Each nugget will lead to less fear, which leads to more space for curiosity, and that, that, makes this the most amazing and fulfilling way to be and explore this unique world. This effort here is to help move you into a way of being–without ‘protection’, without anxiety, with grace (ok, mostly) although Grace will be fully recognized, and curiosity and compassion.

Undoing Some Empath Bullshit

 See yourself in others.
Then whom can you hurt? What harm can you do?” ~ Buddha

One of the reasons I began the empath myth-busting task was that as I worked with people struggling how to navigate this way of being, I began to realize that their distinct experiences, fears, and the responses to the fears they’d adopted, were not unique, not occasionally similar but were damn-near identical. The latter were mostly tied to ‘I’m too literal, I can’t possibly be psychic’ and the myths one stumbles upon when googling ‘what is an empath’. Before the Fuckery became my life, I was well into writing a book demystifying all things empath-related. Since that book may not come to fruition, I’m going to bring the drafts here and expand on them as we go.

Another reason I chose to dive into it is because I’ve known since the first time I facilitated the healing work, the first day of my only class, I’ve known that it isn’t ‘just’ a ‘spiritual gift’. It, indeed, may be a gift but it is beyond spirit in that it is observable, measurable, and replicable. Similar effects on physiological and psychological systems can be reproduced by technology. If science could measure the energy that moves from my hands and the physiological response of the client I’m working with…..Actually science can, the tools and technology exist. The previous sentence should probably read ‘If science would…’  Traditional ‘energy’ medicines have been doing this same thing for a long time and have been long studied around the globe.  Does that change it’s often perceived and described spiritual or ‘Divine nature’? Nope. That’s like trying to separate daylight from the sun. It is all of that; divine and holy and inexplicable and measurable and replicable, even by objects associated with what we identify as tangible and far removed from ‘spiritual’ like electrodes or acupuncture needles. I’ll share more on that if there’s interest in it but, for now, let’s come back to the object of my attention–the empath.

For eons, the capacity for feeling the way empaths reportedly do has also been called a ‘psychic’ or ‘spiritual’ gift. It’s not. There’s magnificence to how we’re individually wired and universally interconnected but it’s not magic. Energetic, though? Absolutely!

I feel the need to state here that I’m taking us down the science-trail not to diminish the powerful, often spiritual, nature of energetic work. I’m steeped in it, led by it (or rather, it’s got me by the nose pulling me along like Toucan Sam), believe in it, and am alive because of it. I have visions of the future,  speak in ‘tongues’ in ceremony and have been prophesied. People I work with experience the Christed heart merge with theirs, out of body experiences and, as one man put it, “I just met God.” I work with Ancestors, angels, invisible animals and plants, and other beings every day. I’ve seen them, am touched by them, have great respect for and receive responsibilities from them. They are those with whom I have the most intimate relationships with. However, it is time to put to rest the fears that have led most of us away from these kinds of relationships. I want to demystify the things that frighten people into disconnection from themselves and their communities. It’s time for truths that offer new explanations and stories and room for growth of our greatest potential–our relationship with each other.

Before we explore some research together, I want to create something of a framework that begins with a story. The complaints I receive from empaths I initiate work with remind me of one traditional Buddha story. Sakyamuni was born into a royal and wealthy family who, at the time of his birth, received a prophesy that he was born to be either a great spiritual leader or a great warrior. His parents attempted to prevent the former and cultivate the latter by keeping him ‘protected’ from the larger world. He was reportedly confined within the castle walls while the lame, sick, homeless and dead were banished from within sight of those same walls. All of this to keep young Saky from being aware of and responding to those suffering around him, to be compassionate toward them. Then, like any self-respecting youngster who felt confined, he snuck out.  His initial exposure to the realities of the world from which he’d been protected, and his courage to walk away from the throne, have brought us some of the greatest teachings.

For me, the ‘feeling too much’ and ‘anxiety’ that is nearly universal to those empaths I’ve been connected to is directly connected to their deepest ownfineself, trying to sneak out. To emerge, engage, and respond. And not knowing what the fuck to do about it.

As we meander this together, through story and science, I’ll share what to do about it to make life more fluid, satisfying, sane and hearted.  One blog post at a time. Join me. Ask questions. Do the homework. Bitch about it. But be curious and invite some of the questions I offer into your own life.

If you are new to my empath myth-busting, start here:  Myths of Being an Empath, Some Empaths are just Ath-holes, Traits of an Empath and The Importance of Being an Empath.  The most recent is here: Empath Bullshit