Three years ago, after initially moving to Boston from western NY state, I discovered a very cute venue on Newbury Street that doubled as a cafe and bookstore. One day when I was there, I was browsing their selection of books. For no particular conscious reason, but for 100% subconscious purpose, I was looking at titles in their spiritual section. The one that jumped out at me was called Altruism: The Power of Compassion to Change Yourself and the World by Matthieu Ricard (Buddhist monk, international best-selling author, and proclaimed speaker).
This book has taught me that if we utilize empathy over compassion, we will experience an empathy-burnout or empathy-fatigue. If we utilize true compassion, we will not become fatigued or empty our vessel; our compassion will overflow.
The following are some quotes that have stood out to me over the last few years while I’ve had this book:
Authentic altruism does not require that you suffer from helping others and does not lose its authenticity if it is accompanied by a feeling of profound satisfaction.
Loving-kindness and compassion are the two faces of altruism. It is their object that distinguishes them: Loving-kindness wants all beings to experience happiness, while compassion focuses on eradicating their suffering. Both should last as long as there are beings and as long as they are suffering.
True compassion is centered on the other and not on oneself. Real compassion should not know any boundaries. If we lack compassion for certain sufferings and certain beings, we risk lacking compassion for all sufferings and all beings.
When altruistic love encounters suffering, it manifests as compassion. This transformation is triggered by empathy, which alerts us to the fact that the other is suffering. One may say when altruistic love passes through the prism of empathy, it becomes compassion.
Researchers carried out a week-long training program with novice subjects who practiced meditations on altruistic love and on empathy. This preliminary study has already shown that, among most people, empathy felt when faced with another’s suffering is correlated with entirely negative feelings – pain, distress, anxiety, discouragement. The neural signature of empathy is similar to that of negative emotions.
This is the most important point: emotions and mental states undeniably have a contagious effect. If someone who is in the presence of a suffering person feels an overwhelming distress, that can only aggravate the mental discomfort of the person suffering. On the other hand, if the person who comes to help is radiating kindness and gives off a peaceful calm, and can be attentive to the other, there is no doubt that the patient will be comforted by this attitude. Finally, the person who feels compassion and kindness can develop the strength of mind and desire to come to the aid of the other. Compassion and altruistic love have a warm, loving, and positive aspect that “stand alone” empathy for the suffering of the other does not have.
On the esoteric side…
After my spiritual awakening, I have found it a bit odd that other spiritual people choose to identify as “empaths.” The first reason I think it’s odd is because I believe all humans have the ability to empathize within us; it is just more suppressed and programmed out of more apathetic individuals. To say, “I’m an empath,” is similar to saying, “I am made up of stardust” – yes, we all are! You are an exceptional, miraculous being for other reasons besides empathy.
Surely, the ability to understand and connect to another person as if you were them in their position is a useful tool to gain insight into another person’s perspective. However, it is not our right or in our highest good as spiritual beings to take on the energy of another being. If you identify as an empath, I encourage you to consider why you choose to identify as such and how you are using this ability. If you’re an empath who chooses to take on the energy of others, I strongly urge you to consider why that is not in your highest good. Remember to meditate with compassion, not empathy. Do not mess around with other people’s energy – especially if it’s negative!
Do you identify as an empath? Comment below – tell me why!
Thank you for reading today. We are here to celebrate the experience of being alive, and you deserve to awaken the power of genuine, unconditional self-love to embrace this experience. Have a great day, and create something miraculous!
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