RYS 200, RYS 300 - Yoga Alliance, USA
For some reason, empathy has been heavy on my mind lately. You know, the type of human emotional connection that doesn’t allow us to walk past the same homeless man on the corner asking for that one dollar every day; to the woman on the subway with two babies attached to her hip with bags under her eyes as heavy as the laundry she’s also hauling; to you feeling the pain of your close friend mourning a loss in their life as if it were your own loss. Thank goodness we have evolved as species with cognitive and emotional empathy, giving us an innate function to connect with other humans, and even other forms of life.
Did you see Louis C.K. on The Conan Show sharing his distaste toward cell phones? In a very comedic and clever way, he identifies the crisis we are currently facing as a species. We are becoming less aware of human emotion (both our own and that of others), more detached from self, and therefore less empathic toward others. One culprit he points out is the smart phone. This can be affirmed if, for example, you live in a city and you notice less eye contact with people you pass on the street as their heads are down, lost in their electronic world. There is nothing wrong with technology, but the misuse, or in this context, the over-use of it can be “dehumanizing”.
Feelings of fear, loneliness, and sadness are often evaded through the quick use of our cell phones, internet or the television. We have learned, over time, that it is so much easier to replace time spent sitting in these natural human emotions with temporary pleasures met through our electronic devices. On the contrary, a recent experience journaling evoked common emotions associated with hurt from the actions of a close friend of mine; it opened up a door I was not expecting. It was hard to allow these feelings to pass through what felt like my veins into my heart and pumped back out to the rest of my body. No, I did not want to cry over this person anymore, but apparently more crying needed to happen. After allowing the wave of emotions to pass, I suddenly started laughing as I realized these heavy emotions surrounding me had absolutely no control over me. I still had money in my bank account, a place to live, a career I’m still building up, connections with close friends and life ahead of me.
Something triggered these emotions and instead of pushing them out, I sat with them. I allowed them to take their course – being mindful not to obsess over them - and then gently let them pass as I breathed out a positive prayer for this person and situation. Then, all of sudden I felt better. My mind felt de-cluttered, my body felt lighter and I felt I had more space for something else. I interpreted this as me allowing myself to heal and give myself permission to move forward, past the hurt feelings. Just think - if you quickly run to the internet or your phone to avoid unwanted feelings you may be robbing yourself of true healing, a deeper understanding and appreciation for yourself and others in the passing of emotion.
So, naturally, when I see another person expressing similar feelings either on their face, through their body language or in their speech - I feel connected to them. Or, in literal terms, I feel connected to their emotion. I feel I have walked with them in their pain and I then have compassion. Similarly, when I experience the joy and happiness from another, I mirror these positive emotions and I too feel elated. I am then more likely to exchange a friendly smile or give that dollar when reason says otherwise.
Emotions are a window into a person’s soul, into their life; whether they intend to invite you or not, they are signaling a need to be connected. What we do with someone’s unintended or intentional delivery of emotion is where we can make a difference in that person’s and our own life. This is no easy task by any stretch of the imagination and it takes consistent practice and awareness. It starts with us leaving our cell phones at home when going out with friends or even a quick run to the grocery store. It takes us sincerely asking our roommate, “How are you?” and allowing time for a meaningful response and dialogue. It takes us being aware of our own emotions, not being afraid of them and being open to connecting with similar emotions in the people nearest to us and the emotion met through the eye contact with a stranger.
I love the expression of “Namaste”, as we place our hands of prayer at the heart our soul recognizes the soul of another, and having respect for our own self and for our neighbor, we are more connected.
~ Namaste, my friends ~