More and more I see the potential of empathy to soothe and heal the human heart.
In the Mindful Parenting Group, we spend time practising giving and receiving empathy. We practice dropping down from our head-space, into connecting through our heart with what is going on, either in our self or in the other. When we are in a place of empathic listening, we let go of agreeing/disagreeing, we let go of concern with right/wrong/good/bad, we let go of our desire to fix/solve/educate/placate, and we practice ‘devout listening’.
Can you remember being heard in this way? When we are heard in this way, we feel seen, understood, like we matter, like someone really ‘gets us’. It is a beautiful human experience to give and to receive empathy; it allows us to open to what is there in the heart in a full way. From this opening, acceptance can come. From this acceptance, a letting be, which can feel like a letting go, is possible.
Sometimes one of my daughters comes to me with a huge sadness in her heart, seeking empathy. I listen from my heart. I might notice my attention rising back up to my head, to ideas around fixing things, I notice that and choose to drop down into listening from my heart again, to connecting with her heart. I might offer silent empathy. I might tell her what I hear is alive in her heart (her feelings and needs). We sit, in our humanity, together, and hold whatever is there. And I see the healing power of this as her sadness lifts and she moves on. This is not the objective though, to have the sadness go away; the intention is to be with whatever is there in each moment, to open to it all with kindness and curiosity and to allow it all.
We may find aversion as we open to what is there – we don’t like what is there, we don’t want it to be there. We try to meet that aversion with empathy, seeing it, holding it, with devout listening. For what we resist, persists.
Devout listening takes mindful attention. Regular attention has been described as being like a cork bobbing on the surface of the water, while mindful attention is like a stone sinking through the water to the bottom of the bowl. This is the kind of attention that facilitates an empathic connection through devout listening.
Jon Kabat-Zinn, in his book on mindful parenting, identified empathy as one of the three foundations of mindful parenting.