We are all sentient beings somewhere on an empathic spectrum, feeling our way toward deeper knowing and seeking, toward compassionate understanding and intuitive awareness. Some are born with an innate sensitivity to their surroundings and those in it—a proclivity that allows them to feel the presence of life energy in the atmosphere around both people and objects. Empaths sense the unseen, the energy that lies between and within the physical and material. Some develop empathic sensing through life experiences, perhaps by witnessing the suffering of a loved one or possibly through challenges like early childhood traumas that may spark ultra-sensitivity derived from emotional or physical danger. These experiences may cause some to be more compassionate because they have felt so much themselves and are able to see their own experiences reflected in the conditions of others.
This ability to feel what others feel—whether that be silent sorrows or overt expressions of pain derived from extraordinary circumstances—opens the door to a world of potential, of healing. A desire to cultivate a heightened sense of empathy and empathic awareness is a very spiritual and worthy undertaking, one that encourages the imaginal aspects of our creative natures to guide us to a balanced and meaningful life.
The duality of our existence means that we cannot avoid highs and lows in our lives. We all struggle as individuals to thrive despite the challenges we encounter. But we can learn to go through these experiences with a desire to feel them and an aspiration to understand them. With this understanding comes the potential for transformation and a sense of wonderment about the beauty in humanity. When we enhance our relationship with our higher selves by expanding our consciousness, rather than living lives in which we move from one reactionary episode to the next, we make room for deeper empathic connections with others. And we begin to create the life we’d most like to live. As empaths, our heart-centered intelligence helps us sense and understand what others feel as they grapple with their own life experiences, and this has a positive impact on all aspects of life.
Natural empaths are “sensitives” who have a genuine intuitive intelligence that allows them to feel the emotions of others as if those emotions were their own. Because they can easily sense the emotional “atmosphere” of a person or place, they are susceptible to the emotional, psychological, mental, and physical energy in the people and objects around them, and they must learn to cope with that. Some choose mystical paths and methods to help them cope, because they are generally open to sensing what is not visible—that is, energy. In fact, all natural empaths have an innate ability to sense spiritual energy, and to be accepting of it and oriented to it.
Empaths don’t need practical proof of everything. They don’t rely only on material or physical “reality” for knowledge and meaning. Thus empaths—whether their sensitivity is innate or acquired—live their lives as a quest for the spiritual and a desire for the transcendental. They seek to become mystically attuned, inspired, and healed. Moreover, they work to be a part of the healing of others, often pursuing professions in the healing arts. Because they are sensitive to the emotions of others, they often feel drawn to the unseen mysteries of life-force energy, and ardently seek to transform hardship through their quiet knowing. Empaths feel spiritual, they don’t just think it; they are, literally, awe-inspired. Within their own physical being, from head to toe, they welcome spiritual allure. And that, in fact, is how empathy works, for the most part. Empaths feel their way through circumstances and relationships, and then mentally process what those feelings signify.
Life for empaths may seem less practical than for others, because, for them, the ordinary often gives way to elements of wonder, surprise encounters, emotional and spiritual connections, and a sense of mystery. The unseen forces of emotional and mental energy tend to dominate empaths’ lives, because they are always on the lookout for moments of gentle appreciation, for spontaneous spiritual connections, and for compassionate exchanges with others. They are always open to elucidations of what, to others, seems ordinary.
Because empaths carry within them an inclination to love unconditionally, it is important to understand that there is no love without self-love. Those who lack self-compassion or patience or self-forgiveness cannot reflect authentic strength in fellow feeling.
Encompassing another’s soul essence is a beautiful feeling. But empaths must also learn to be direct and honest with themselves when blending with others in relationships. Ultimately, developing discernment without self-punishment is crucial, as is practicing self-love and self-forgiveness.
Adapted, and reprinted with permission from Hampton Roads Publishing, The Way of the Empath by Elaine Clayton is available wherever books and ebooks are sold or at www.redwheelweiser.com or 800-423-7087.
Elaine Clayton is an artist and author/ illustrator of several books for children and adults on intuitive intelligence. She is an intuitive reader, Reiki Master, and teacher of intuitive empathic development. She has taught in premier independent schools in Atlanta, Boston, and New York City and as visiting author/artist in cities around the U.S. Elaine has also worked in community aid organizing and at a Cesar Chavez migrant camp. Elaine studied at School of Visual Arts in New York where she earned a Master of Fine Arts in Visual Essay. Her editorial art includes work for the New York Times, New York Times Book Review, and books by Pulitzer Prize-winning author Jane Smiley and author of the popular Broadway play Wicked, Gregory Maguire.