A quantum leap in the spiritual journey is the ability to be empathetic in your relationships. Empathy is loosely defined as “the ability to share and understand the feelings of another.” I personally describe the act of being empathetic as the ability to climb into the driver’s seat of someone else’s car and steer it for that person for a while—mentally and physically being him or her. I call this total alignment.

It sounds simple enough. We watch movies and read books, and we love being other people in fantasy situations. We all know how to do this at some level.  However, when we are witness to the life and pain of real people, it is very different.

In reality, empathy feels like “I’m driving someone else’s car armless and mapless with a paper bag on my head.”

This is the spiritual stretch and vulnerability that empathy requires. It is awkward, challenging, and terrifying at times because to glean understanding (knowing) about another person’s life, we will be confronted with our own judgments about his or her situation.

Yes, it is quite ugly indeed. We are confronted by our own personal responses to others as they reveal themselves while we are “driving them around.” Our judgment about others whom we are trying to align may not be noticed at first. At some point, we may notice hostile utterings in our minds regarding our friend or loved one. It will usually look like:

“OMG, how did he not see this coming?”

“Wow, and they did it again?”

“I can’t believe she married this guy. I would leave him in a heartbeat.”

“How are they going to take care of all those kids on that income?”

AND ON, AND ON, AND ON. We witness a harsh, ugly self emerge as a response to walking in the shoes of others. Ouch. This is hard and this is not empathy either. This is us being aware of our angry self trying to support another human. Yes, we are back to sympathy.

However, now you’re aware of your issues. The gift of practicing empathy reveals the sneaky sub-surface agenda (judgment, anger). We witness a self who can’t really be there for anyone freely, kindly, or lovingly sometimes.

Empathy is a critical step in our evolution, and in our relationships with others, because the number one reason we stay angry is that somewhere along the road we decide we have it harder than anyone else and we erect a wall of judgments to make sure we stay the masters of misery. If we’ve had it worse than anyone else, there’s no reason to climb out and try anymore, right?

As we practice empathy, it teaches us “that just ain’t so.” Maybe others have suffered too. Maybe we can help one another.

To master empathy, we will to let go of anger (judgment, rage, aggression) to be with another person.  It is true act of courage and selflessness to require ourselves to be there for someone without the anger armor. Of course this is the big spiritual gift to ourselves as well. For a moment, true awareness can be witnessed. We glimpse consciousness and peace again. We begin seeing solutions that have always been there, but were blocked by anger.

We crack open the heart for another person and feel the world again. It’s truly beautiful and the practice of an ascended being. Empathy teaches us to feel our aliveness through others, which is a wonderful thing.

However, perhaps the biggest gift and secret of the helping another human through empathy is that the wisdom we discover for our friend, is actually the wisdom we needed as well, but could not acknowledge in ourselves. As we learn to help someone else, we are teaching ourselves how to help ourselves. 

This is the spiritual purpose and gift of empathy. We leave ourselves for a moment to support someone in pain, only to discover it was to teach us how to heal our own pain. It is a universal win/win.

As we master empathy, we will learn that, above all, the universe is benevolent. It is always teaching us, and we will always have the skills mastered for our own lessons when our own spiritual test is at hand. We are to know, before we are asked to do.

Next week we will discuss the limitations of empathy in our relationships and how it leads us to the highest posture in all relationships, compassion.  Have a nice weekend!