Empathy is described as the ability to understand and share the feelings of another. I guess you could say I’m an “empath.” Dr. Judith Orloff explains that “Empaths are highly sensitive, finely tuned instruments when it comes to emotions. They feel everything, sometimes to an extreme… Intuition is the filter through which they experience the world. The trademark of empaths is that they know where you’re coming from.”
Once I started on a serious spiritual journey, my feelings of empathy grew naturally based on the wisdom I was gaining from spirituality and upon my experiences in life. Being so sensitive has its good and bad points. The good side is that I can really sense what someone is going through. I can see the bigger picture and it’s taught me to have so much more compassion for others. The bad side is that I tend to take on other people’s energies, as well as the weight of the world, and sometimes it can be very draining.
Looking back, I’ve learned from so many of my life experiences. Living on an Indian Reservation in British Columbia helped me understand what it’s like to live on the rez and what American Indians experience. Pursuing an acting career in Hollywood and Nashville, as well as meeting and getting to know so many celebrities and others in the industry, helped me to understand what it’s like to be a celebrity and being in the entertainment business.
In my early 20’s, I had friends who were alcoholics. I tried drinking to keep up with my peers, but one hangover cured me of ever doing that again and it helped me understand why people drink. Being bullied helped me to understand what it’s like to be bullied, as well as understand why people bully.
Having weight issues has allowed me to understand others who struggle with their weight. My food addiction (sugarholic) helped me understand what it’s like for those with addictions. Struggling with low self-esteem, self-worth, and confidence much of my life has allowed me to understand those who also struggle with these issues. My breakdown in 1997 and the subsequent depression for a year or two after helped me understand those who suffer from being in that dreadful, dark abyss.
Being financially challenged has helped me understand others who are having financial difficulties. Trying to pay for my own insurance has helped me understand what it’s like for those who don’t have insurance or the money to pay for medical care. Being an extremist in my religious beliefs in my younger years helped me understand why people want to hang on to what they believe without any wiggle room to learn anything new. I’d like to add that having friends from all spectrums of life including those who are gay, transgender, and every color, race, religion, and walk of life has helped me understand what it’s like for them in today’s day and age.
Surprisingly, all of these experiences have been great blessings. I’m one to find the good in everything anyway, and even though some things were no fun at all while going through them, looking back in hindsight, I can say I’m thankful for those experiences. If nothing else I learned to understand on a deeper level and to have more love, compassion, and understanding, not only for others, but for myself. As I healed and overcame, I can now help others do the same. Does it make me better than anyone? Far from it. But I learned from my experiences and I learned to be empathetic.
To really learn to love people, you have to look beyond the obvious. Everyone has a story. And even though everyone’s story is different, we all have the commonality of sharing in love and joy, pain and suffering, and just wanting to be happy.
There are those who avoid empathy because it’s easier to demonize individuals or groups of people, which only keeps us separate. When you have empathy, you realize we’re all really one, and God loves us all just the same.
I believe that Jesus, Buddha, Gandhi, the Dalai Lama, Mohammed, and all the other great spiritual masters throughout time were the greatest teachers of empathy. Empathy is the key to unconditional love. Henry David Thoreau said, “Could a greater miracle take place than for us to look through each other’s eyes for an instant?” To do so is to touch their soul. And when you develop your powers of empathy, you’d be surprised at how much the world opens up to you. You realize our souls are here playing a role in this great stage play called life and we’re all connected. When people can be empathic, humanity prevails.
Published in the Cookeville Herald Citizen September 6, 2013.