How to Be Skillfully Empathetic

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.

Click Here to Leave a Comment Below

MichaelBungayStanier - February 24, 2011

What do you mean one can’t save the world single-handedly? That’s crazy talk.

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    jenniferlouden - February 24, 2011

    well, if it’s you…. then yes!

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Anonymous - February 24, 2011

this is deep, Jen. Where is my genius? And what is none of my business? I get caught up in reputation–even when it’s of my own making then projected on to others or what I think others must think. So, if I get into a sticky service moment (helping everyone who comes across my path), I have a script: “that sounds like a wonderful idea/project/invitation, give me a day to think about it” (replacing the old script, “of course, I’ll give you everything I’ve got just because you asked ME.” I wrote about it a bit in http://dyanavalentine.com/2010/no-gotiation/

It’s a continuous process–my urge to be of service 24/7 isn’t cured, but it’s definitely moving into purpose and discernment. I can’t wait to hear other folks’ stories.

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    Rbchsweeney - February 24, 2011

    The idea of boundaries gets lost often in this body as I’m a mom of two teenagers, a not very good wife, a student, and close friend to others. Why is it that I let others in so easily and allow them to dent my ‘energy body’ and disrupt my boundaries? And then I don’t complain or state my real feelings when it happens. How important it is for me and for those I support to maintain those boundaries for when I’m truly needed.

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      jenniferlouden - February 24, 2011

      my issue too – something about the message – for me – that love is about being all merged and letting every one up in my grill? I’m going to ask Hiro about this for the Cafe call but I am finding it a daily practice – both energetically and through action. I’m with you!

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    jenniferlouden - February 24, 2011

    good one D! I use that too and backing it up with grounding my energy and just thinking I GET TO CHOOSE is so juicy and scary for me.

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    Andrea - February 25, 2011

    Dyana, you said something that really stood out to me: “So, if I get into a sticky service moment (helping everyone who comes across my path)…..”

    That statement sent me along a stretch of thinking… Is my path too large, too long, too broad? Is that why I feel overwhelmed sometimes, with serving? In this age of cyberspace, we can travel to Egypt & back in seconds, figuratively speaking. I wonder if that’s a good thing or a bad thing? I heard it once said: “You’re not doing very well in serving others if you’re gone while, at the same time, your stew is burning at home.”

    My mother (God rest her soul) never had the internet & for much of her life never had tv either. There was certainly no 24 hr news channels during her “service years” & there were no correspondents reporting every sneeze & hiccup happening half a world away. But what she did have was local news. She knew when her neighbor had a baby & needed a meal… she knew when her sister just had a hysterectomy & needed her floors scrubbed because she hadn’t healed enough to scrub them for herself yet… she knew when the Girl Scouts needed empty coffee cans for a craft project…. she knew when Aunt Lizzie was in a nursing home & needed some company…. etc. Her “path” of life was small, short, narrow but oh, what a difference she made in the world around her. You should have seen the people at the funeral home for her wake!! Her funeral procession was a couple miles long, with cars… and I’m convinced would have been much longer had not so many people she encountered on her path already passed on before her (mom was 90 when she died).

    You’ve made me wonder if my problem is that I have too many people asking me for help…. or if my problem is that I have too big, long & wide of a path.

    Savoring…. whole other topic. I do not “do savoring” well. 🙁

    But with Jen & this group’s help I’m going to learn to. :-DD

    Peace~ Andrea

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      jenniferlouden - February 25, 2011

      oh chills chills chills – such a good topic isn’t it? How wide, how big, how long? Gal you are asking a deep rich question – and you know, i don’t savor so well either hence the experiment! Love that you are here with me – thank you!

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Jujudoane - February 24, 2011

how do you know if your gifts are wanted? you said to find out if there is a need for them – i’m a first-hand art coach because i believe the answers we need reside in our most imaginative responses and artistic endeavors. i can’t check others in my niche because there aren’t any. i’m the only first-hand art coach on the planet, as far as i know – i want to help people start making art, whatever kind: picking up an instrument, building sculptures of meaning, paints, poetry, and so on.

i started the OneWorld art project to do this on a larger scale and to build a gallery of art and a storybook of poetry, tales and creative responses to address all that ails us. i love what you’re doing and i’m so thrilled to see how much support you get! how do those of us just starting, who pore our hearts and souls into creating meaningful things – but who don’t hear from anyone about whether what we’re doing matters – keep moving forward when the silence sometimes feels deafening?

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    jenniferlouden - February 24, 2011

    Juju – first I SEE you and what you are doing and I believe too – hugely! – in the healing power of the imagination esp in the face of numbing technology 24/7. How do you know your gifts are wanted and whether what you are doing matters… lots of thoughts on this, and I will explore learning some solutions for a future post – for now – are you asking people to tell you if it matters? Are you setting up any way to get feedback? I know I sometimes hide from feedback, both because I’m scared what I ‘m doing doesn’t matter and because I’m scared it does. Another question: how and to whom are you reaching out to get OneWorld into the world? what impact do you want to have? I think it’s easy in the warm and fuzzy world we live in (us creative art writer types) to shy away from goals that are measurable. I hope to share that process for me here as the weeks go by and I decided how I want to be of service! Does that help?

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Jill - February 24, 2011

So needed this….it is a swamp I get stuck in…I find it a practice and a process, and a process to practice…

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    jenniferlouden - February 24, 2011

    me too!! ME TOO!!

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Bridget Pilloud - February 24, 2011

I find it so interesting when people first consciously feel their energy body. How do folks go so long without recognizing it?
Hiro’s exercise is such a great way to get quiet, tune in and resolve the energetic junk that can be floating around in the energetic body.

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    jenniferlouden - February 24, 2011

    that’s bec it’s a natural thing for you amazing one!

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Sophie - February 24, 2011

Jen, thank you *so much* from the bottom of my heart for these new posts. I’ve been loving your new project and how you’re so willing to get into all the hazy, fuzzy stuff, the stuff that isn’t well-defined, the stuff that we find hard to talk about because it makes us feel so vulnerable.

For me, my work as a therapist gives me really clear, strong boundaries for working with clients and I feel very supported in that framework. But deciding and discerning what exactly is the most effective way for me to be of best service *in the world,* what it is I’m here to do, (and, ahem, excuse me, who do I think I am for even asking that question?!!), well, that is all much less clear. 🙂

Thank you for sharing.

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    jenniferlouden - February 24, 2011

    Sophie, your comment gives me chills. Who I to even be asking that question! Exactly what i am trying to face into, thank you for commenting and being here!

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Helga - February 24, 2011

I’m with Michael here, along the lines of “Think globally, act locally.” Since I believe we’re all connected, I see individual action as having a very real pebble-in-the-pond effect. Example: In response to the Tucson, AZ, shootings earlier this year, local yogis (and non-yogis) are participating in a non-violence movement called ‘Ahimsa for America’ [http://ahimsaforamerica.blogspot.com/2011_02_01_archive.html] – That’s the local level. Down a tier: Discussions with also practicing family (that’s the household level), and learning more about the concept of Ahimsa, have led me to think about where/how I am not always peaceful on a personal level. That’s the individual tier. However humanly flawed my personal Ahimsa crusade may be, every time I am peaceful and loving with myself and others around me, that non-violence ripples outward projecting across my boundary. Ahimsa has come back at me many times already. With so many of us doing this right now, the ultimate effect will make a serious ripple.

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    jenniferlouden - February 24, 2011

    as always you are brilliant!

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Andrea - February 24, 2011

Gawd… I’m a member of the cafe & first I couldn’t find the cafe period. Then I found it and now don’t know what the hell my username is… and probably not my password either. I emailed Debbie so we’ll see.

Annnywaaaaayyyyyy…..

I love you, Jennifer Louden. 🙂

Secondly…..

Boy, this topic… hits deep with me. It’s so hard to discern… pick… decide… where the day’s allottment of empathy & service go. For me it’s like going to the dog pound, walking in front of all the caged dogs needing a home, and then picking JUST ONE. I can’t do it. I simply can’t. I can’t look at one dog & say “Today’s your lucky day, big boy” and glance at all the others & say “Sorry, pooches, but today you get to stay in hell.”

But when I made that “I simply can’t” discovery, that was a new beginning for me. I was nearly broken in half… mentally, emotionally, psychologically… before the new beginning arrived tho. Gawd, I remember those days.

Now I wait for “the stray dog” to land in my lap & then I help. In other words, my day’s allottment of empathy & service are assigned to whatever comes to me… rather than what I choose.

That doesn’t mean the main “cause” drops in our laps. That, for me, is what I have to choose. But after that, I wait for the needs of that cause to come to me.

My cause is animal rescue. Now, if I wanted to go searching for animals to rescue, I would be busy 24/7/365 & on the verge of a nervous breakdown every moment of everyday… cos there’s NEVER a lack of animals to have empathy for & serve. So… I pray to the Creator to simply put into my path those animals the Creator wants me to rescue on any given day. That amts to basically the ones the come onto my two acres I call home… or those I encounter on my brief travels from here to there, around town.

I ***MUST**** be content with that or I will become sick (physically, mentally, psychologically, emotionally) and then not able to serve any stray animals. I learned this the hard way. I can’t rescue the world’s stray animals or even my county’s stray animals. My body & soul (= emotions) won’t allow me to serve in a shelter or be a foster home for strays or anything other than what I’m doing.

So, they come to me or cross my path in some other way… our spirits connect… we speak silent words between each other… and I rescue, if that’s what I’m hearing from them, to do.

That’s what I would say, if I were asked: If you are feeling overwhelmed, let everything you are to savor & service come into your path & your conscientiousness, without seeking it out. Invite those things you are to savor & serve to enter your reality, without you doing anything to cause it. That way you don’t have to choose…. they do.

Peace~ Andrea

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    jenniferlouden - February 24, 2011

    Andrea, I hear you and I love your way of praying/discerning – fantastic! and if you don’t hear back from Deb, email me! so glad you are here!

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Anonymous - February 24, 2011

Jen, as always your honesty, passion and playfulness shine a light in the dark.

One way I discern what is mine to do, at this time, is to ask: Does this align with my soul’s purpose?

And then: Does this also align with my incarnational purpose? Does it fit into the context of my life? Does it support and enhance the central values of my life? And is it in right timing?

If I get a “yes” to both sets of questions, then I have alignment between my soul’s purpose and the purposes that emerge from my personhood. And for me, that alignment is the “sweet spot” you talk about, in your video.

When the power of my personhood is linked to the power of my soul, there’s congruence, and the power of wholeness behind whatever I choose to do. Because it emerges from wholeness, and is also in harmony with my life. Both are necessary.

I love that Savor and Serve are linked together in your Great Experiment. Together, they marry the powers of soul and spirit to the creative power of your Jen-ness, and that’s what it takes to truly serve.

Love, Hiro

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    jenniferlouden - February 24, 2011

    you are brilliant. again.

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Jenn Givler - February 24, 2011

As luck would have it… I’m pondering this VERY thing today. Right now, I’m at an evolution point in my journey.

I started a brand new gig about a year and a half ago (after the retreat at Kripalu), and at that point, my new gig started as something more general – I was helping people with “fitness.” Since then, my gig has been evolving and I’ve been called to step into a more refined role (helping busy people get outta their heads and back into their bodies through yoga and meditation).

As a result, I have some folks in my realm who were with me when I started the whole “fitness” thing. They are lovely people, they truly are.

But, this morning it became very clear to me that I want to move toward… no – stand in my sovereignty – and help busy people get outta their head’s and back into their bodies through yoga and meditation… this is going to mean that some changes are coming to my business.

And this means that there is going to be a letting go process for me here shortly… and that feels a little scary, and a little sad.

But, in order to step up and do what I really feel I’m being called to do, I can’t serve EVERYONE.

Thank you for posting this and helping me with my processing… and thank you Hiro for this beautiful exercise. Delicious.

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    jenniferlouden - February 24, 2011

    LOVE this “I can’t serve everybody.” Jenn, this is a sacred mission and so important in the scheme of saving the world – and I so get the sadness and fear, I just left the Comfort Queen – could this be one reason I have a cold and a giant cold sore? Reframing it as a badge of change honor.

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Nanwackgaunt - February 24, 2011

Not quite sure about allthis…but, here goes…
I notice that if I’m in a class, I am very conscious of being affirming to the instructor…like nodding my head and smiling. I feel a responsibility to give something back to them for what they are giving. I don’t know if this is good. Because some times, I don’t really understand.
Also, I just had an interesting experience when I got into my car today in a parking lot…it was windy and my car door got out of my hand and touched the car parked next to mine. I didn’t think it had hardly touched, really. But, there was a guy in the driver’s sit, who waved at me and started chewing me out. All with a smile on his face. I was totally stunned. And, felt my energy leaving my body. He kept going on and I kept looking at him puzzled by his smile. I finally muttered, ‘I’m sorry, I had no idea’. And, that seemed to be what he wanted. He said, ‘Have a nice day’ and rolled his windows up.
So, I think it is happening to us in our lives. Disruption, chaos. I think we are being effected by these goings on in the world. It does filter down.
Every once in a while, I get a jolt like this to remind me that I’m living in the world. As I get so absorbed in my own cocoon.
To get back to your thought…I couldn’t afford to be too empathetic to this guy I was confronted with, because I wasn’t too sure what I was getting in to. I felt him grabbing for something from me. And, I wasn’t going to give too much.
Sorry, for the ramble…it’s just what is happening to me now.

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    jenniferlouden - February 24, 2011

    not a ramble – really get this! this is how we lose our energy that we can then use for other far more important things. Our shame gets triggered – same exact thing happens to me – we’ve been talking a lot about this at the Cafe – so what I am learning to do in moments like this is stay with myself, stay in my own body, and offer the other person what feels right to ME. Not what they appear to be demanding… thanks for helping me think about this!

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Virginia Ellenson - February 24, 2011

Listening to you on these videos and reading what you write feels as if you’re reading my journal entries as I write them. It’s positively uncanny Jen … until I recall your immediate response to the pages I sent with my 2007 Taos Writers Spa Retreat application, and then I laugh aloud with recognition, relief, and remembrance of the serendipitous manner we came together back then. I’m increasingly aware that what doesn’t bring me joy seldom serves anyone … and slowing myself down really helps me discern my small piece of this work realizing many hands do, in fact, make light work. (My mind is often and running with the multiple meanings in what I just typed, but I’m going to stop here and post this … just because. I’ve saved & printed the excerpts from Hiro so I can practice this grounding. I’m grateful to you both.
Hugs and blessings,

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Lisa Roberts - February 24, 2011

Mmmmm, thank you, this was so yummy. I really appreciate and respond to your honesty and candor. I’m getting ready to attend a class tonight with my long-time teacher/healer (http://www.heartofcourage.com)…the topic? Boundaries! One of the things I learned from her is “my boundaries are the energetic limits within which I feel free, safe and whole.” What a wonderful mantra!! 😀

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    jenniferlouden - February 24, 2011

    good to see you and love that mantra! shall adopt!

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Tricia Karp - February 25, 2011

Jen, I can’t tell you how many times this comes up for me in my life.

As an empathic, intuitive, sensitive type – which makes me great at the work I do – I’ve struggled with taking on other people’s stuff. I’ve been drained countless times, to the point where I haven’t wanted to go near anyone for a few days.

It’s really simple. I’ve had to understand and learn how my energy works, and then be very clear about what’s mine and what isn’t. What I’m here for and what I’m not. I accept that I do my best for others when I’m taking good care of myself.

Plus all the stuff the wonderful Hiro said (LOVE her).

Love your passion and truth x

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    jenniferlouden - February 25, 2011

    well said!

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jenniferlouden - February 25, 2011

thanks Mary~!

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Kelly Salasin - February 25, 2011

Here’s my favorite part:

“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.”

Thanks for leading the way. Thanks for letting us know when you fall. It makes it hurt less when we do.

ps. tech note: it’s not as simple as it could be to share this post on FB; you can easily FB “like” it up top, but i like to share things i really want others to read with a personal touch; when I chose “like” right here above the comment box, it then gave me the option to share on FB; i think it would serve the expansion of the message to make it one step… you know… eventually… when you or someone else has the time… and energy… and isn’t paralyzed…

thanks again for your transparency and leadership jen!

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    jenniferlouden - February 25, 2011

    Thanks Kelly for showing up here and giving me support, and also for the tech note. Shall pass that on right now!

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Marianne Elliott - February 25, 2011

Amen. x 10
x

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Catherine - February 26, 2011

I live in Christchurch and the amount of help pouring in from all over New Zealand and elsewhere in the world is amazing. We are 350,000 people, not all of whom are badly affected (the north and west of the city is in basically good shape), and if it is not in your personal capacity to help, that’s absolutely OK, because there are enough people who can help and are doing so. We are very grateful for all the help being offered, but please don’t feel distressed if you feel there’s nothing you can do – there will be somebody somewhere who you can help.

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    jenniferlouden - February 27, 2011

    Catherine, such kindness for you to take the time to write this! Thank you!

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Susan Gallacher-Turner - February 26, 2011

“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?”

Oh girl, did you open my can of worms or what??

You see, I used to do or felt I had to do all that was in my path, all the time or feel endless guilt and shame. Then came breakdown, stomach problems, constant allergies….HMMM.

So, when I finally got up the courage to say no…and felt the freedom, the new energy, I got excited and then, scared…what would happen if I got caught up again?

So, then, I flipped from no to everything…to yes to one thing, then another and another until, you guessed it…no to everything again.

Now…how do you say yes to the good, and no to the bad when you’re not sure really which is which? I want to help, (I’ve done doggy rescue, school volunteering, free teaching, writing, marketing a lot but I do need to make some money, too.) how do I do that and be able to live in more balance?

Thanks for opening up to all of us and shining the light…

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    jenniferlouden - February 27, 2011

    Susan, my answer today (could be different tomorrow or in five minutes 🙂 is that you and I need to listen to our bodies and our hearts in the moment of being asked or called, we need to connect with our truth that way, not our minds – and see whether we feel a yes or a no. All of those things are great and important but you cannot do them all. Period. So where does guidance comes from for you? Do you make time to listen? And if that doesn’t work, look at your calendar – and see how tight those choices will make your day and ask yourself, “How has that kind of schedule worked for me in the past?” LOVE!

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Anonymous - February 27, 2011

Jen, I’m very interested in hearing more about this idea of “does the world need my gift?” I write, but often think … does the world really need one more book, one more piece of fiction when there is already so much out there? Does the world need to give up trees to publish my work which I’m not so sure is all that great anyway? Shouldn’t we be reading and promoting the writers out there who are already imparting so much wisdom?

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    jenniferlouden - February 27, 2011

    I’m interested too… stay tuned and thanks for being here!

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Mary Montanye - February 27, 2011

Jen, I so understand how frightening and paralyzing it can be to think about “saving” the world. As a social worker in what felt like a war zone for many years, I burned out big time, even to the point of developing a life-threatening illness. We do need to discover our boundaries, what we can and cannot do, knowing that for some these will be more flexible and more vast than they will be for others. It so depends on where we are in life, our current commitments (i.e., small children at home) etc. Our other commitments and where we are in life doesn’t mean we can’t do our part to save the world, we just need to discover what that part is and how it fits into our life as it is.

I’m very interested in your statement of discovering if our gifts are actually needed by the world. I think this is a very important point. Sometimes I think where I can be of most service is in doing less: buying less, accumulating less, driving and traveling less, doing less. This isn’t for everyone, nor does it fit with everyone’s way of saving the world, but it might just be mine, at least for now. I even wonder about my attempt to publish fiction. Do we really need to cut down more trees in order to publish another book when there are so many good ones already out there? Lots to think about as we move along on this journey together.

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    jenniferlouden - February 27, 2011

    Mary thank you for your wise and thoughtful remarks. Balm for my heart and mind today.

    Reply
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