Like a Bridge Over Troubled Water

People tell me things. Important things. Personal things. Things I did not ask to know. They tell me stories from their lives. Stories that matter. Stories of struggles and stories of heartaches. Often they tell me half finished stories with unknown endings. Often they are people who I barely know. It just spills out.

Empathic and highly sensitive people embody kindness. We respond with empathy. Which is the response someone will always be looking for. No one wants to be judged; they want to be listened to. It’s not the same thing. So when we engage with others, and they sense our warmth and compassion, we are often confided in.

When someone tells you their story, they are giving you a gift (although it may not feel like it initially). They are trusting us with their feelings, their experiences, their memories. It’s a way of saying – look what happened to me, look what I did, look how it is effecting me, look what may come next ….and I want to tell you. I trust you. We take it in and we mirror it back with compassion. That is an empath and sensitive’s gift. I heard you, I see you, I feel with you – and hopefully, you’re gonna be okay.

It’s a “Bridge Over Troubled Water” moment – when someone needs to unburden themselves, and you offer to be their bridge over troubled water to help them get through this. It’s bittersweet, and it comes quite naturally to empaths and sensitives. So why not acknowledge and embrace it as the gift it is? To be a bridge is a powerful thing.

Bridge over Troubled Water by Simon & Garfunkel
When you’re weary, feeling small
When tears are in your eyes, I’ll dry them all (all)
I’m on your side, oh, when times get rough
And friends just can’t be found
Like a bridge over troubled water
I will lay me down
Like a bridge over troubled water
I will lay me down
When you’re down and out
When you’re on the street
When evening falls so hard
I will comfort you (ooo)
I’ll take your part, oh, when darkness comes
And pain is all around
Like a bridge over troubled water
I will lay me down
Like a bridge over troubled water
I will lay me down
Sail on silver girl
Sail on by
Your time has come to shine
All your dreams are on their way
See how they shine
Oh, if you need a friend
I’m sailing right behind
Like a bridge over troubled water
I will ease your mind
Like a bridge over troubled water
I will ease your mind

 

Shelter From the Storm

“Come in she said, I’ll give ya shelter from the storm.” (Bob Dylan) Shelter from the storm embraces those in need. Those hurting. Those battered by life or by circumstance. The broken hearted. The broken spirited. Shelter from the storm is a warm embrace, a kind word, a holding hand, a nod of understanding. It is providing empathy for the breaking and the broken.

Giving shelter from the storm comes naturally to highly sensitive people and empaths. We will pull you in as you crawl toward us. We will feel your hurt, listen to it, validate it. We will hold you as you push through the ugliness and back toward the light. We will be your companion and meet your needs and help with healing.  It is our natural gift, and oh, we will give it….until we are spent.

And that is the challenge of being empathic. We tend to give it all away. No limits. Shelter from the storm implies temporary safe haven. It is not  a harbor in every storm or a host to every hunger. This took me a long time to learn. There is a difference between helping someone who is going through a bad time and hosting someone who thrives in a hurricane. Don’t get sucked under again and again. If s/he doesn’t want to get on the life raft, sail away to shore anyway. Disengage. (I know easier said than done.)

And sometimes when the storm passes, it is you who is left behind. You provided what was needed – TLC – but you may have fell in love or at least in deep like. With the storm/crisis now over, those moments of heart-bearing soul are often scary for others, so they move away from those who witnessed it – yep, you.

We can embrace and use our gift of providing shelter from the storm, but know that it is a moment in time. It will bring us closer with some, and it will be a momentary passing with others. With each encounter,  our compassion and light will continue to expand.

Shelter From the Storm by Bob Dylan Vimeo link:

https://vimeo.com/149992621

 

What an Old Dog Can Teach Us

People say that you learn a lot from your old dog. Now I am one of those people. My dog is entering the twilight of his life with grace, and I’m trying to enter it with grace too. He still greets each day happy just to be here, and I am reminded (because of him) that each day is a gift. So make the most of it.

My dog is 10 1/2, which is old, but not ancient, in dog years. He has survived cancer (had a tumor removed from his leg a few years back) and lyme disease (8 years ago). Only now I have learned that lyme disease never really goes away. It has caused him nerve deterioration, and the ligaments in his back legs have slowly frayed. But I am taking my cues from him – instead of railing at fate, I am accepting that it is what it is. And we will manage it together. With grace.

Mobility and pain management are our new concerns, and my dog trusts me with his care. Every day he looks to me with his big brown eyes, and every day I rise to the occasion. I earn his trust by making his life more manageable and adjusting his living space and medication. We now have a maze of throw rugs downstairs, so he doesn’t slip and fall on the wood floors. We’ve moved his dog bed into the living room. We carry him into the car for vet trips, and he feels safe in our arms and doesn’t struggle. He takes his medicine happily because it’s wrapped in treats. And walks. We can’t take long walks any more, but he is still happy to go outside on very short ones. He reminds me that it is a joy just to breathe fresh air, and every day we can do that is a good day.

So what will be our parting gift to each other? That we will just be us together for as long as we can. Dear companions who have shared a family, a home, some adventures, and love. Lots of love.

 

 

Acknowledge the Darkness to Return to the Light

I survived this. The unimaginable. I will show you. I will tell you. If I could bear it, can you bear the telling of it? It was bad. And people need to know. Someone needs to know. What happened to me. How helpless we were. What happened to us. I will tell you. ~

Refugees and immigrants are presented on the nightly news in group pictures. They are presented as a collective. But have you ever met one? Have you talked to someone who had to flee their home? Have you looked in their eyes as they looked back at you with the hope that you will understand? With the hope that you will acknowledge what they have been through because the telling is a part of the healing? And they need to heal. Telling stories of darkness help return us to the light. So given the chance, listen.

I have been told ~ We were hiding in the forest, and we had to be very quiet. My children. I had a baby. I had to give the baby opium. She had to be quiet. We were hiding. She died.

I have been told ~ My grandmother was run over by a motorcycle. A soldier on a motorcycle. She died. There was nothing we could do.

And this ~ We had to work in the rice paddies. All day. I was pregnant. I had the baby in the toilet. I was yelling and yelling for help.

And this ~ Here is a video they sent me. I want you to watch it so you see what happened. You can see my country and the dead people. I saw some soldiers put a head in a sack and play soccer with it. (As told to me by a 10 year old boy.)

This too ~ It was worse than this! (Watching “The Killing Fields” with a group of Cambodians.) It was so much worse than this. 

All of these people survived tragedy. And their telling of it is part of the survival. This is what happened to me and to mine. Can I still be okay? Will you understand? When we listen, we take a very small piece of the burden from survivor’s shoulders, and we help them begin to heal….to begin to come out of the darkness and to see the light. Seeing a human face on suffering extends our humanity, extends our compassion. I see you. You matter. Your story matters.

It Mattered to That One

A child teaches us that we can always make a difference:

“One day an old man was walking along the beach. It was low tide, and the sand was littered with thousands of stranded starfish that the water had carried in and then left behind.

The man began walking very carefully so as not to step on any of the beautiful creatures. Since the animals still seemed to be alive, he considered picking some of them up and putting them back in the water, where they could resume their lives.

The man knew the starfish would die if left on the beach’s dry sand but he reasoned that he could not possibly help them all, so he chose to do nothing and continued walking.

Soon afterward, the man came upon a small child on the beach who was frantically throwing one starfish after another back into the sea. The old man stopped and asked the child, “What are you doing?”

“I’m saving the starfish,” the child replied.

“Why waste your time?… There are so many you can’t save them all so what does is matter?” argued the man.

Without hesitation, the child picked up another starfish and tossed the starfish back into the water… “It matters to this one,” the child explained.”   (as told by Loren Eiseley on All-Creatures.Org)

This story is timeless for we see ourselves in the man, the child, and the starfish (both the forgotten and the rescued). The man is old and cynical. He knows that he can’t change the world for all, so he gives up. The child is hopeful and determined. The child will help all that s/he can and know that the help matters. The starfish have been washed up on shore by the waves of life. They will die without help from another or without the luck of high tide. Either way, they are currently unable to control their fates.

We are all of them. Yet, we can clearly see the truth of the story. If you were one starfish, wouldn’t you want to be helped and put back in the ocean? And wouldn’t you want to be the child helping all of the starfish that he could? The child shows the old man that hope is eternal. Never give up; never give in. Hope with action is our refuge, our duty, and I would argue it’s our natural humanity.

 

How Many Lives You Touch

Have you ever seen the old B & W movie, It’s a Wonderful Life? Although it is 50+ years old, the message still rings true today. You never know how many lives you touch. Your words and actions can have a profound effect on others’ lives in a way that you have never imagined. You are changing the world every day just by being here and just by being you.

So we need to be thoughtful. Be present. In every situation. We need to listen before we respond. To think before we respond. Especially in times of struggle. People will seek us out because of our innate wiring for emotional understanding. Sensitive people will know what someone else is feeling and know that people in pain are in a state of high alert tuned into judgment or empathy. They will hear what we are saying deeply, so say it with compassion and care. They will feel our touch or our actions deeply, so respond in a caring but non-intrusive manner. We are there to bear witness and help, but it is not our wound to heal. As much as we would like to, we can’t take the pain of another away. So what can we do? Listen – a lot. Offer compassion. Give advice when asked. What you say and do will matter greatly in these moments.

One’s presence and words will have a ripple effect that is never fully known by the speaker (just like George in the movie). Example – I was at a school event having a side conversation with another mother. She asked me if I was okay. I said no that my recent miscarriage was really tough. She asked me if we would try again. I said I didn’t know. She looked directly into my eyes to get my full attention. “You don’t want to be 86 and wonder what would have happened if you tried again….” These words stuck with me, and I repeated them in my head many times. They influenced me in a way that she never knew. I chose courage and hope, and we did try again, and I did have another child.

What you do and say in everyday encounters matters.  “To find the best in others; to leave the world a bit better, whether by a healthy child, a garden patch or a redeemed social condition; to know even one life has breathed easier because you have lived. That is to have succeeded.” ~ Ralph Waldo Emerson

 

Empaths See Inside

An empath can look into your eyes and see your heart. If “The eyes are the windows to the soul,” (Shakespeare), then I would add that the heart is the soul’s keeper. To us, the soul is the seat of our deepest and truest part and where our emotional self lives. Empaths have this second sight of seeing in through this window. We are let in without even trying. We just know. It is a trait and a blessing that we must handle with care and compassion.

It is an unusual gift to be able to see the feelings of another, and for a long time, I didn’t understand it. To see the walking wounded and not be swallowed up by their feelings was, and still is, difficult. To be compassionate and caring without losing yourself was, and still is, difficult. To realize that you have this great gift of empathy to extend to others has to be balanced with realizing that you have to extend it to yourself too. You have to VALUE and TRUST your own emotions.

Emotions are evident in someone’s face, and empaths often have an uncanny memory for faces (not names). It’s in the eyes, the windows to the soul. Empaths will intuitively think – What are you feeling? And what do you need from me? And are you honest? Empaths will sense this in any encounter with another. We are good seers and good listeners.

So how do you use your power for the greater good of others and be kind to yourself?  You can’t help but get down in the trenches of emotion, but here is some advice.

  1. 1. Be a helper and listener to others, but reflect back rather than absorb ALL their emotions. This will help others learn how to become stronger as they deal with their own issues.
  2. 2. Know your limits to helping. You are not there to be your friend’s psychologist or receptacle.
  3. 3. Acknowledge your bullshit detector. You know when someone is lying; don’t give them an audience.
  4. 4. Acknowledge the drama kings and queens. Yes, the emotional highs will be awesome, but it’s not worth the lows. Emotional yo-yo is not a game for you.
  5. 5. Help those who are open to your gifts. Listen well. Share your empathy with someone who is struggling with an issue or decision.
  6. 6. Be yourself. You accept others, expect the same in return.

Namaste.

 

Sympathy vs. Empathy – Which For You?

Sympathy and Empathy. Not the same thing. Not even two sides of the same coin. Sympathy is kindness at a distance often with a little bit of judgment thrown in. Empathy is kindness up close and personal with a lot of acceptance thrown in. You send a card with sympathy. You sit next to someone with empathy.

With empathy, you lean in. You recognize that you can’t fix it, but you can be present. And you can bear witness to a difficult part of someone else’s journey.

Empaths do this naturally – it is a big part of who we are. Not everyone will feel with the same intensity as empaths. Not everyone will just “know” how someone is feeling by being near them without a word being uttered. But everyone can foster their empathy by simply observing and listening and STAYING PRESENT to another person.

Why would someone want to learn to give or receive empathy? Why not just stay more comfortable in sympathy? Below is a short video by Brene Brown on Sympathy vs. Empathy – and if a picture is worth a thousand words, video is worth at least 10,000. This short video illustrates beautifully (and with humor) why empathy is the way to go.

“Feelings of pity and sorrow for someone else’s misfortune” is the Google definition of sympathy. Whereas, “The ability to understand and share the feelings of another” is the Google definition of empathy. Which would you rather give and/or receive?

Just Say “I Do.”

It’s a teachable moment with a child. When they say, “I don’t care.” And you respond, ” I do.”  “I do care.” I can tell you that it takes them aback. And it catches them off guard. They look at you wide eyed. You see, you have shifted the conversation with the fewest of words. And they didn’t expect it. Your reply makes them stop and wonder. And wonder is good.

Caring is my super power – and maybe yours too. So don’t hide your light under a bushel. Be open about it. Let it shine light. Let it shine wonder. Step into the fray. You have the power to turn around a conversation, a thought, an action of another just by staking your claim – “I care.” It means “You matter to me,” and “What you think and feel matters to me,” and “What happens next matters to me.”

“I don’t care” is often a universal response to feeling hopeless. That is true for children and for adults. (Of course, sometimes “I don’t care” does mean “It is not important to me, so I let it go.” And we need to acknowledge that as a just sentiment.) When you tell someone “I do care,” you extend your hand – and your heart and your mind. You are saying, “You are not alone,” and “We will figure this out,” and “It will be okay.” You are puncturing the balloon of exasperation.

“I do care” is a game changer. It says “I see you.” It says “I acknowledge that you are at a loss for other words….” Often this exchange of words is followed by silence. Sit with it. If you are close to this person, you may offer a hand or a hug. Otherwise, just sit together or stand together. Time is on you side in this one. Let the words and your caring sink in.

By being present in this way, you are bringing hope to another. Conversation or action will eventually follow (maybe soon or maybe down the road), but you have opened the door, even if it’s just a crack. You have gently let your light in. You have engaged another soul and made them feel a little less alone in the world. And that is what caring and hope is all about.

“I am a Camera with its Shutter Open.”

I am learning the hard way. When my emotions run so high that I can literally hear my own heart beating in my ear, I need to take a step back. Like the wide angle fade back in an old movie, I literally need to become a camera. An observer in the drama surrounding me. It’s the only way I can regain my composure. And hopefully, my compassion.

My transition is to imagine a black and white line drawing with the scene playing out before me, and the wide angle point is leading to me behind the protective lens of my camera. I remove myself from the situation but also remain there ever watchful. I am consciously doing this to remove myself emotionally but still stay present. (In the past, like many empaths, I would have been long gone, but this tactic is helping me to stay.)

What is the point of this endeavor? Of becoming the observer? It gives you perspective. In fact, it gives you multiple perspectives simultaneously. With a cameraman’s eye, you can look at a person as a character in the current drama. And most characters are flawed. It is the human condition. By disengaging and staying present, it helps you to more clearly see what is motivating each person in the room and perhaps why.

Truth be told, I often have to replay a situation as a cameraman after the fact because I have been too emotionally wrought during the real event. This post reflection behind a lens has been very helpful in gaining understanding and compassion for all in the room. Because truly, a character often does not know what s/he does not know. And this can be infuriating in real life. But in a movie, the viewer can garner understanding for said character. And understanding leads to compassion – even for the ignorant or misguided.

I’ll leave you with one of my favorite opening book lines from Christopher Isherwood’s memoir Good-bye to Berlin which the movie Cabaret was based on. He captures this idea of recording and watching for later reflection. “I am a camera with its shutter open, quite passive, recording, not thinking….Some day, all this will have to be developed, carefully printed, fixed.” I will add, on your timetable. And with compassion.