Every since my first vipassana retreat in 2009, tools from the mindfulness family have been my preferred clearing tool for dealing with my own (often intense) experiences and emotions.
While my meditation practice has not been formal or technical, I credit it with being the main tool that allowed me to gradually move out of the seesaw between dissociation (in the form of disconnecting from emotion and bodily feeling) and emotional flooding / triggering that I had largely been on ever since my teen years.
I gradually learnt to be with my physical, emotional and energetic (although I didn’t know that’s what it’s called) experience – to let it exist and exist along it, next to it, neither fleeing nor denying nor suppressing nor being swept away.
Without going into philosophy or technicalities, my variety of mindfulness meditation consisted in shifting my focus from thoughts (images or verbalisations) towards the body on a physical level as well as on an energetic level (which I didn’t know I was doing – but for me as an empath I instinctively shifted my attention into the energy body and actually started doing energy work, as I only realised many years later). Then I would simply try to keep my attention there for as long as possible, and bring it back if it wanders.
This approach wasn’t mild and easygoing for me. I can’t even count how many times I employed it in moments in which I was sure staying with my physical, emotional, energetic, existential experience would somehow annihilate me or torture me out of my senses. It never quite happened. Rather, over time (years and years) I gradually got better at “riding the waves”, so to speak.
Or maybe at “riding the bull” – what would throw me off into panic and chaos when I was 25 (the age I started my practice) is banal or even fun (in a tickling, savoury way to use weird expressions) at 33. Weltschmerz, poignant feelings of isolation, suicidal thoughts, a vague bottomless-infinite sense of loss, or just completely cognitively disorganising chaotic pain again? I bow to you as the energy (fragment of the World’s soul) you represent. Welcome. I will stay with you until you have said what you have to say this time. Not in a cynical way.
Maybe life would have brought some of that about on its own, but I’m not sure. Without this practice, the chaos might as well have grown. However, what happened – I believe and have been told by people who’ve known me for years – is a creeping underhand form of integration.
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Not long after I understanding I’m an empath (although it’s taken me very long to actually take that concept seriously, as in – someone who is literally physically, not figuratively feeling other people’s feels in a kind of psi-like way), it became obvious to me that one of my major empath triggers – a situation that makes me suck up the (usually difficult) vibes of everyone who crosses my path (or even everyone I focus on mentally) – is physical exhaustion.
It thins down my skin even further, let’s say. This is common not just for empaths, but for sensitives (HSPs) in general, as well as people on the autism spectrum, the ayurvedic Vata types, etc.
I’ve just had another textbook example of that – walking back through a rather noisy and polluted city (in Eastern Europe) after a long day on foot, with a heavy backpack, after having had an overload of (in part forced) social encounters with people I find difficult, several underslept nights (actually last night had been sleep-free due to physiological stress levels and noise factors) and erratic nutrition on the road. Compounded by family holiday stress. I cannot imagine a better soil for sucking up the pain of everyone whose face I see in the streets, walking back.
And feeling like it’s stuck to me for good. Yuck.
(Incidentally, before I understood I’m an empath, I interpreted some of the behaviours that arise from these sensations as a form of OCD. E.g. after walking through a particularly “polluted” patch or past a particularly jarring person, I’d feel the need to change the sidewalk or even turn around and walk back in a circle. That must look slightly kuku to bystanders and it worried me. Now I’ve realised that I feel compelled to take these actions whenever I get the “some sleazy energy stuck to my skin” sensation, and understanding a bit better what’s happening, I can sometimes just perform a mental clearing instead – e.g. sensing my aura and feeling how I just dump all that city junk into the ground for Mother Earth to process.)
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Why am I mentioning both of these stories together? Because tonight trying not to drown in everything the city threw at me, I was testing whether my mindfulness-based clearing method works on all these vibes picked up from others as well.
And I realised one thing, I think.
It works – but it works when I am conscious of the full experience, including the fact that I am picking up a sensation, rather than generating it.
What I mean is, let’s say I get a vibe of suspiciousness, old-dark emotional buildup and superficial coldness from a woman in a fur hood walking by. Ouch, it stings my heart. I sense it in my body.
Before I understood I’m an empath, I would feel this in my body, and try to sit with it and feel it, and feel it some more, until it dissipates. Problem is, it wouldn’t. Many of them wouldn’t. Which would make me seek out the weirdest psychological explanations on why they wouldn’t. They’d just be obstinate and impervious.
Why? I understand now that the reason is that I wasn’t being mindful of the whole experience, the true experience as it is. I was missing the framing holding the gem, so to speak. Where the gem was the feeling-sensation (felt in my body) itself; but feeling the gem here wasn’t enough. I have to also pay attention to the ring holding it – which is the fact that this is an emotion or feeling-state or physical feeling I am “empathing” (picking up from the ethers because someone nearby feels it).
Now heck, with this new – fine, subtle but crucial – correction, it works.
It seems to work wonderfully – of course mindfulness and facing difficult sensations remains a challenge, but this method seems to have bite (for me). Being mindful of, staying in a bodily sense with, the sense that “I am now picking up this and that (often difficult) sensation”. Feeling the sensation, but framed in the feeling-sense that – it’s not mine; while still feeling it in my own body, energy body and emotions; just in a subtly re-framed way.
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Why am I sharing this? Out of a sense of personal discovery; but also, if you are an empath and have a meditation practice, maybe you have had similar insights and experiences?
And if you are a mindfulness practitioner or teacher or work with such, there is always the off chance that you are a secret empath stuck on this point.
Please feel free to share with people who might be interested, and share your thoughts below.