How to Be Skillfully Empathetic

Feb 24, 2011

New here? This is a year long experiment where I explore the sweet spot between savoring and serving, and in the process, help change the world. My first post launching the experiment is here.

I’m not great at boundaries. I take in the world’s pain and want to fix it all – oh how dear of me – and frankly, I need to get over that habit right about… now.


Don’t see a video in which I once again amuse you with funny faces and noises? Click here.

Tina, over at my Savor & Serve Cafe has been feeling deeply saddened by the loss of life in Christchurch and Libya and around the world. She said:

“I am wondering what is my part in all this? I can’t stick my head in the sand and pretend not to notice whats happening around me, but it’s not happening TO me so I am not sure what to do with the information. My brain is having a hard time wrapping around it.”

Isn’t this exactly what those of who care and want to make a difference have to deal with – how to  handle how connected and informed we are without burning out or sticking our heads in the sand or eating a pound of butter on crackers? (I like butter with crackers, weird but true.)

Here is what I know so far:

  • It is not only imperative you have boundaries, you can’t actually – serve or savor – without a strong powerful self. Serving is not about turning yourself into a doormat.
  • Discernment is big part of how you serve.You cannot do everything you want – either in savoring or serving. You have to choose. Even more to the point, you get to choose.
  • Get curious about your serving and savoring patterns. Do you give away your last dollar and then eat rice cakes until your next payday? Do you say yes to everyone who wants your time to volunteer or have fun and then collapse and get sick? Do you say no to everything – even fun – because you are afraid of being overrun and used up or not being able to enjoy it enough?
  • Take responsibility for your energy system. With help from the amazing Hiro Boga (Hiro with be my guest next month at Savor & Serve Cafe teaching us more on how to do this) I’m practicing taking care of my energy system by being aware I have one (doh) and grounding, centering, and feeling my energetic boundaries. Turns out energy work is like flossing your teeth — something you need to do everyday – especially if you are extra empathetic.

Here’s an exercise from Hiro if you want to try out creating energetic boundaries. Take about 2 minutes.

Excerpted from How to Rule Your Own World by Hiro Boga

Ground, center, and be aware of your breath as it flows into your nostrils, flows down into your belly, and flows out of your body again.

Notice how your whole body, including your skin, expands a little when you breathe in, and contracts a little when you breathe out.

Make this a conscious movement now. Expand slightly on the in-breath. Contract slightly on the out-breath.

Now feel your own energy body all around you. Sense into it and notice its quality, its texture, its temperature, weight, density. Is it denser or more diffuse than the air around you?

Feel the boundary of your energy body, like a second skin, all around you—about three to four feet beyond your physical skin.

Scan it, to see if there are areas that feel more or less tangible to you. Are there areas that are so diffuse you can’t feel them at all? Others that are more dense or solid?

As you breathe in and out, let your whole energy field, including the skin of your boundary, expand and contract. Expand with the in-breath. Contract with the out-breath.

Make this a conscious, pumping movement. Flex and extend your energy body the same way that you expand and contract your physical body when you breathe in and out.

Notice if you can now sense the boundary of your energy body more clearly.

Now expand your energy body out further, until it fills the whole room that you’re in. Take your boundary right out to the four walls, the ceiling and the floor of your room.

Stay grounded and centered. If you moved out of center bring yourself back. Center your awareness first in your spine, then in the center of your head, and extend out from there throughout your whole body and into your energy field all around you.

Notice how you feel when your energy field is as big as the whole room.

Release any discomfort or tension down your grounding, and ask the earth to please transform it.

Now bring your energy field in, drawing it gradually closer to you until it is just an inch or two beyond your skin. Continue to breathe naturally, and let your boundary expand slightly with each in-breath and contract slightly with each out-breath.

Even though your field is so close to your body, it is still fluid and flexible.

Notice how this feels.

Then let your energy field expand again until it’s at a distance that feels comfortable and natural for you. Notice what that is for you right now.

Experimental learning for today: boundaries make savoring and serving possible.

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