Am I an empath? What my community has taught me…

Am I an empath? What my community has taught me…

I’m heartbroken (nauseous actually) about all the lives lost in Gaza again this week and our role in it. Thank you to my Jewish American and Palestinian friends for keeping this sorrow and pain in my line of site. Thanks to you, I’m doubling down on reminding/re-teaching myself and my¬†culture about the deep power of empaths. I’ve been relying on my new book this spring to do that for me. Over-relying on it, actually. I forgot for a moment that I have a non-book voice too. ūüôā So here are a brief (for Lori) few words about empaths…

There are human beings and groups all over the world who are sensitive enough to feel and help release the trapped pain within ourselves and others long before that pain becomes physical violence. I’ve seen it, lived it, done it. Some of us call ourselves empaths.
The power of tapping into our collective imagination. What if our cultures actually really believed in empaths? What would it be like if we deeply believed in the power of life, of voice (the voice of a whole place, not just human voices), connection, and the fully human ability to feel each other’s feelings and ease each other’s pain–over our belief in machines and weapons, numbness, silencing, looking the other way, or feeling powerless or helpless? I noticed recently that the friends I draw to me now have several things in common despite their vast differences in ages, regions/countries, cultures, skin tones, income levels, religions, gender identities, or species, for example. Members of my community have experienced the world-changing powers of leaning on the voice of a whole place and changing our own beliefs. They have lived–so they tend to believe in–as my friend Mary Ellen calls it, the “sacred imagination.” When you believe in the power of our collective imagination, because you live that power most days, then most days you can step toward painful feelings, not away from them. And most days you can help ease the pain of others/yourself (often with simple silence and presence, which is damn hard to do online and remarkably simple to do in person). And most members of my community now are empaths. Some know it. Others suspect it or at least don’t dismiss it outright. It’s so cool. When I was young, my culture didn’t think to teach me what an empath is–or even that they exist–let alone that I was one. And somehow I found my people anyway. I find us every day now. Actually, usually now, you find me. Huh. Wow.
My culture at large appears to think that we empaths are just imaginary characters found in science fiction books and movies. Appears to believe that humans are only powerful when augmented by weapons, walls, and superior tech, data, or numbers. What have those beliefs gotten us? It’s not progress. Not when we yet again sent numb, vacant-eyed, automaton-type humans to smile and clap and celebrate while nearby neighbors were mourning and children and young adults (8 months old to 22 years old, as near as I can tell) were dying in the streets. Science fiction writers were seeing and describing this same BS a century ago.
What is progress? How about human beings who can feel the presence of dis-ease and feel the presence of health across a community? People who can take action to increase the presence of health outside, within, and around failing healthcare systems? People who silently or quietly encounter and greet the violence within themselves and others and who¬†can temper it without raising their voices most days? I want my leaders, my humans actually, healthy, which to me means people who are inclined to weep, not smile and clap, when nearby humans are dying. Healthy humans are deeply connected to other humans and to all of life. They don’t have vacant, distant eyes that refuse to even acknowledge other’s pain. I’m not saying that Gaza–or any violent human situation, long term or not–is easy. But we humans are so much better than what most of us witnessed on our screens this week, so it feels like it’s time again to more fully and visibly name HOW we are better. So we can remember together and not lose hope.
Question. How are you better than what you witnessed in your leaders and on your screens this week? Something to think about–no need to answer out loud unless you want to. I’ll start…
I’m an empath. I cry other people’s tears, get other people’s goosebumps, and regularly receive other people’s joy. I have been doubled over in pain by the bubbling-over caged pain within a stranger’s chest–without them noticing or speaking a word to me about it. I can help hold, understand, and vent/ease/lessen the pain of those close to me (physically close or emotionally close). And with the help of just one close-to-me other (just someone to listen), I can even help vent/ease/lessen the caged pain of total strangers. Also, as an empath I deeply need my community, because I’m sensitive enough that I can become quickly overwhelmed on my own. With my whole community’s help, I no longer have to hide to recover to the same extent. I can recover as I move in the world now, most days. Be healed by the world and be healing. Spreading empathy has become a breeze here, at least for me, because I can see my ever-widening community spreading empathy like a field of dandelions spreads her seeds.
As an empath, I am unable to celebrate while nearby others are awash in grief and I am unable to continue on with my own well-laid plans when others are calling/crying/lashing out in overwhelming frustration, loss, or sorrow. I may be a pain in the ass sometimes (ok, often), but I am better than a gun, better than a bomb, better than a tank, and better than a wall between us at dissipating violence, because I can do so without increasing violence somewhere else in the world. They can’t.¬†And as an empath I am a better representative of the true power of humanity than those center stage who claimed to represent the U.S. this week in Jerusalem. My eyes may often be full of tears, but they are never vacant or cold. I don’t overlook entire swaths of neighbors–I can’t. Not¬†anymore. And thanks to my community, I’m now wholly unable to look away during moments I could actually make a difference. Thanks to my community, I know I’m not alone in my pain and that none of us are. I know where I and my loved ones are most needed, I more often know how I’m needed, I can usually feel whose voice in a space needs to be heard next (and when mine doesn’t need to be), and within my own community, my strengths are often recognized and celebrated. With empaths in all directions around us, this isn’t science fiction. This is reality. This is my reality.
So, nice try fears, but I’m not an optimist, a wearer of rose colored glasses,¬†or a snowflake. I’m a sensitive, powerful being who feels remarkably grateful¬†and lucky every day of her life now, even during horrible, heart-shattering¬†days. I can see more because of who I really am, not less (as I’ve been told). I’m always aware now of our deep connections, shared emotions, caged pain, and hidden powers. I can even feel the pain and joy of ancestors some days now, including younger versions of myself. My community and I can find and expand tiny grains of health into entire gardens where others see only or mostly dis-ease.¬†That’s what it is to be an empath within a global community of awakening empaths. It is a strange experience to feel fully at home and needed on earth—and almost never powerless anymore—by simply paying closer attention and tapping into the voice of a whole place.
On befriending wonder and unleashing playfulness: a story, a trailer, and two new books

On befriending wonder and unleashing playfulness: a story, a trailer, and two new books

We’ve had one hell of a fall and winter here.

We helped Mom move into a memory care home where she’ll have the round-the-clock, large¬†community support she now needs. We’ve been moving with our own grief and helping each other, and Mom and¬†Dad, with theirs and with creating different, slightly more independent from each other lives than Mom and Dad have lived for the past 50 years.

And then we lost Daniel’s younger brother Jim unexpectedly, and the whole world shattered around us. The day we learned of his death, I remembered something that I once learned as a kid: when someone¬†we love dearly–someone who we think we can’t possibly live without–dies, the sky herself shatters to make space for all our grief. So we’ve also been sitting with our own grief at the loss of Jim and helping each other, and Daniel and Jim’s parents too, with all of us wandering about like alien toddlers with uncertain feet on this newly shattered world and creating different, more conscious-of-our-own-fragility-and-connectedness¬†lives for ourselves again. And then our oldest cat got sick and we were so sad and exhausted that for a moment it felt like this one little thing might almost break us. And then I got sick, and landed in the hospital, actually physically broken for a bit,¬†and we had to change ourselves and our lives and our habits yet again. And then, my writing, creating, and playfulness guru and friend, Bernie, passed away after waging the world’s most beautiful, generous,¬†and playful final battle with cancer.

So, for many months this fall and winter, we went dark. By that I mean that we moved within, like an apple tree does during the years in the larger¬†cycle that she finds herself covered with tent caterpillars. In what felt like an instant when we learned that Jim had passed away, we just didn’t give a rat’s ass about most of our former responsibilities. Or our projects. Or our online presence. Or our former thoughts and worries. And¬†for a long while,¬†even our former selves. Instead, we were all in on the present moment together and with those closest to us. For 5 months.

And it was horrible, what we were going through. Truly horrible.¬†It totally fucking sucked. And yet, somehow, suddenly, in the moments between our sad moments, we also feel glorious. Truly glorious. Because when you’re that low and broken, you can see so much of what you’ve been missing from other perspectives. For example, kindness can come to us from literally anywhere–if we can let it in. I’d forgotten that. We can imagine any person, any action, any words, any thing–into a kindness, given our community, our playful elders, and time. So we don’t have to worry about our monsters anymore. Not this year anyway. This year, we’re noticing and creating and finding kindness everywhere we go.

We’re being reborn right now, together, and we can see it. We can name it and know it and own it as who we are. We are becoming more of our true selves right now. Does that sound odd? I don’t quite have the words for it. We’re more us now. After all the unexpected pain and even the expected pain–right here–both within and¬†after all the darkness, we are SO bad¬†ass all of a sudden. Because we are receiving one the most amazing gifts that loss and grief offer from our perspective: rebirth. We’re offered a chance to start over as beings who literally–in the blink of an eye–dropped almost everything that we used to be. That makes us (and by us, I mean residents of earth) more remarkable than our old stories allowed us to believe. And as we remake ourselves now, together we’re hanging on to what matters most and we’re letting all the old bullshit go. We’re just letting it all go.

We are remarkably lucky. We now find ourselves surrounded by a vast, fierce, and kind community that stretches around the world and includes ancestors and rivers and trees and sky and stars. We’re grateful to everything at the moment. Everything. We’re grateful to friends who forgive us for disappearing for long stretches of time. To those who cover classes that we can’t teach because we can’t stop sobbing. To those who bring us food and hug us and clean up when we just can’t–regardless of our politics or theirs. To those who share their ideas and stories and who send us love and prayers from afar. And to those remarkable beings–like¬†sisters–who somehow manage to make us laugh out loud at literally the worst moments of our lives. What unbelievable and remarkable magic is that?! It boggles the mind. And now we’re even grateful to those filled with so much of their own pain that they cannot bear ours at the moment. People who can’t, at the moment, stand our presence, our voices, and our lived experience. Even they hold a fierce kind of kindness and lessons for us to learn now that we have the space within our selves to see them. And now we know that residents of earth, in a single instant, can drop almost everything they once were in a moment of pure love or extreme tragedy. We are magic.

So here we are. We still look like us and live these lives. I still have 20 pounds to lose and Daniel is still trying to get to the gym more. But those who know us best, and anyone willing to listen, also know that we are standing here with different, more prone-to-tears¬†eyes. Different, more prone-to-empathy hearts. Different, more prone-to-listen-a-long-time ears. We listen, now,¬†until we¬†feel empathy, and then we speak. So we’re a little less quick to judge. More prone to forgive. More prone to be deeply curious and ask questions from simple curiosity. More prone to speak up, too, and say what we believe needs to be said. We’re far better at saying “Fuck it. You be you, think what you think, say what you say, and we’ll just love you anyway.” Because together we can love almost anyone now. We don’t need you to be loveable to love you anymore. We can love–period–so we love. That’s magic. Or grace. Call it what you will. Experiencing it feels like the important part.

What a glorious place this is. The universe. The planet. Her inhabitants. The beauty. The laughter. The unfairness. The struggle. The pain. The loss and grief. All of it. Wow.

So, FYI, this is how I get to the point as a person, an essayist, an author, and a poet. Find the wow, visibly, together, then look for the point. And the point here, I think, is to find a global community of people who deeply want to experience and talk about befriending wonder and unleashing playfulness. We’re almost to the point, can you feel it yet?

The one other thing I did last year is this: I wrote a new book. I wrote a book¬† that I love and that many others now love too. It’s about the unshaken wonder that lives at our core and how we get back to it across our lives, at any age. And about what it takes to remember and become our¬†playful elder selves, at any age: a playful elder being the people (and trees and dogs and places and other things) in whose presence unshaken wonder often arrives and playfulness is usually unleashed in all directions around them.

As great as the book feels to us here, the reality is that I suck at book promotion. I totally suck at it. That’s not self-denigration. I don’t mind sucking at it. That’s just fact. Brief sound bites and short book blurbs and little trailers and tweeting tiny things and creating brief “hooks” to entice people’s interest and juggling 12,000 book promoters and groups? And doing all of that in the “I just want to relax” time after spending 18 months creating a book? Bleh.

Ah! But this new me is different. New me decided to get help this time: a ton of help. My book promotions guru/helpmate/friend, Sarah, for one. She’s the one who told me to share my book trailer with you via a blog post, so that’s what I’m doing at the moment, not that you can really tell yet. I do 96% of everything she suggests I do, because she’s really good at this. And she has me doing what feels like about 8,000 other things too, almost all of which are new to me and hard and scary, and tight deadline driven, and as the tasks piled up in March, I started to get stressed out. I actually got sick again. So much for letting go of old bullshit. And. Then I did something that I’ve never thought to¬†do about stress before. I laughed. I got up from the computer, I walked outside to hang out with some of my closest tree friends, I put my feet up, and I laughed out loud. I laughed at the utter silliness of me. What was I thinking?! This? Just this?¬†All this book promotion stuff is not a problem. This is just learning. All that I’m doing right now is learning. I can do that.¬†I’m actually really good at that now.

My laughter feeds the trees here. And my family. And my friends. And my community. Have you noticed who and what your laughter feeds? Probably you have, I’m a slow learner. This was news to me.

Now that I’m laughing again, it’s so NOT stressful around here right now that we just created a second mini-book, as a free gift, for those who buy the new book. Sarah’s suggestion + my content + Daniel’s formatting and tech skills + an ability to feel the love of so many = a gorgeous new 32-page mini book conceived, created, and finished in under a week. Holy shit wow. So I’m here to tell you that this month two new books, not one, are about to be born. I’d like to introduce you to the first one now. This 60-second trailer captures the feeling of our new book, Unshaken Wonder: Becoming Playful Elders Together.¬†She’ll show up in eBook form April 17 and in paperback form by May 1st.

When you go get¬†her in digital eBook form or print form this spring, then you’ll receive a link to¬†sign up to our Silly Dog Studios newsletter and to receive¬†a gorgeous (thank you Daniel), useful (thank you Researcher me), fun (thank you poet me)¬†32-page mini-book¬†for free (thank you Sarah). The link to it lives on the Dedication page of Unshaken Wonder. The mini-book, called On Befriending Wonder and Unleashing Playfulness: Twelve Choices to Consider, offers, not surprisingly,¬†twelve choices that we’ve learned to make by spending almost all of our time with playful elders (not taking ourselves too seriously), and within community (keeping our own fears in proper perspective), and by noticing, listening to, and participating in¬†self-organizing groups we’re drawn to (groups whose members are surprised and delighted by what they become and do together). The eBook is already available for presale–11 days early! (Thank you BookBaby.)

Thank you for showing up, listening, and caring about all of that. I’m now off to go learn how to say all of that and more in a frickin’ 100-character tweet. ūüėČ