Empathy is the foundation of unconditional love, capable of deepening our every relationship, connecting us to the whole universe, and erasing our sense of “otherness” from people we can’t immediately relate to. In a time of so much political turmoil and progressive thought, learning to empathize with people from all walks of life will be a skill that transcends just living a spiritual life. It’s essential that we practice this, so we can be respectful towards all fellow human beings.
This mindfulness exercise intuitively arose from the guidance of the Akashic Records, when I was working with a client during an Akashic Record reading. Although the meditation was directed as a specific healing modality the Records wished the client to try, it was filled with such valuable information that we can all glean much from the exercise. Through this, we can relate to those who’s opinions we struggle to agree with. There is nothing here that forces us to negate our own opinions—instead, this exercise allows us to honor the individual as a fellow sacred being, while likewise honoring our ability to think differently. This balance can be struck in a way that resonates with a holistic spiritual lifestyle.
First, what is empathy? Empathy is an emotional connection with another person (or for some, any other living thing) that extends beyond mentally relating to their emotions. Sympathy is when we recognize what someone is feeling, but we don’t feel it ourselves. We don’t necessarily feel loss when we comfort a friend who’s loved one has passed—we feel sympathy, a desire to comfort them. Empathy goes beyond sympathy—it allows us to feel what the other person is experiencing, through the lens of our own perceptions. Sympathy is an act of the mind, empathy is an act of the heart.
Although each person has diverse and unique experiences in life, we all are capable of feeling the same emotions. We know what anger is, we know what pain is, we know what love is. Each of us hopes, dreams, hurts, succeeds, fails…the list can go on. Because of these shared core emotions, we are able to empathize with others if we compassionately open ourselves up to each other. This involves lowering our own walls and welcoming their experience into our lives. We have to be intimate with our own emotions and not run from them as well; learning to face our own pains and joys will deepen our ability to experience empathy.
Empathy is the hardest to muster when we disagree with someone, or we have a hard time mentally comprehending what they are going through. It is an incredibly mindful ability to relate in kindness to any and all others, so fostering this empathy even across great distances will serve us all and help us become brighter and more loving individuals. It will also prevent us from reactively attacking someone else’s beliefs, without first respecting them as a person and mindfully discussing our differences. This exercise will help us practice this.
Empathetic Journaling Exercise
This exercise is most powerful when written. The journal is a safe space to record our thoughts, feelings, and judgements without fear of harming another or being ashamed of what we feel. Allow yourself to fully open up to being exposed with your journal, trusting it to safely hold all of your self expression.
- When in a conflict of opinions, begin by first writing down your thoughts about the conflict or subject matter. Get out your feelings, facts, evaluations, judgements—anything and everything under the sun. After this, depending on how long you sit with your thoughts, you may wish to take a self-care break, or to set the journal down for the day. There is no need for this exercise to be completed in one sitting; sometimes we need more time to process than that. We need to fully understand our own points of view before we can understand the others.
- After initially dumping our thoughts onto paper, we need to dive into the emotions behind the thoughts. This step is essential for fostering the emotional awareness and empathy towards ourselves. If we only try to relate to the other person without relating to ourself first, we will struggle to manifest the empathy we wish. This step may take the longest, although for some of us it may flow quite easily. Be patient with this, it is crucial to this exercise.
For this part, begin by examining the previous material you wrote down. Is there anything that jumps out as important? Particularly frustrating? Meaningful? Pay attention to these and ask yourself what they mean to you emotionally. If it sparks anger, what in your past may have caused a similar anger that could be contributing to today’s reaction? What do you feel when you re-read what you wrote yesterday? Why do you think you feel this way? Uncover as many root causes and emotions as you can. The longer you take with this step, the stronger the entire exercise will be. And there’s another bonus! This step can lead to incredible transformation and healing. When we uncover past issues and foster self-awareness, we grow.
- From here (and after another break if you need it), write down what the opposite opinions are. Here you can step into logic and a bit away from emotion, basically repeating the first step, but with the other party’s statements in mind. Get as detailed and descriptive as you can.
- After you have a logical picture of what the other individual or group thinks, now return to looking at your own feelings that you journaled about in step two. Take the strongest feelings and observations about what might have caused those emotions and see if you can imagine a situation where the other party might have had a similar feeling or root cause to lead to them forming the opposite opinion.
Let’s say you were angry at someone for expressing something that invalidated part of your identity, especially because your parents used to do this to you when you were a teenager. After examining what the other party said and their opinions through this journaling exercise, you may be able to realize that they might have invalidated you because they had been invalidated in the past too, just like why it was a sensitive subject for you. They reacted out of a past pattern. It doesn’t excuse what they said as being okay, but it may allow you to recognize their humanity and see the same emotions you experienced in their own psyche. You can recognize that you are both hurting, and through this, come to a more neutral stance with the goal of wanting to heal both of your pain, rather than fulfilling a personal agenda. For your next dialogue with this person, you will most likely approach it with compassion. Plus, when you have a good understanding of why you disagree or were hurt by their opinions, you can more easily heal your own pain or anger too.
- Throughout this exercise, you can revisit and repeat steps, if you feel that there are still unresolved issues that you wish to further examine. To close this exercise, it’s ideal to have a sacred moment of directly honoring their core self as being equal and as honorable as you yourself are. The phrase that had arisen with this meditation idea was spoken gently, with your hand over your heart: “You are a fellow being composed of the same light and love I am. I feel you and recognize that we are both here to serve each other on our healing journeys.” You can adapt this phrase however you see fit, it just must recognize your equal sacredness and worth.
If you find this experience to be powerful, please consider sharing it with others! This alone could transform our communication, on a personal front or even all the way up to political culture. Empathy is the primary way of fostering unconditional love and, if we all did a little more of this, the world would be a different and better place. And, of course, if you enjoyed this article, please consider subscribing to get twice weekly blogs in your inbox (and a free PDF of 70 affirmations!).
Here are some other journaling exercises I’ve written about as well! Check them out:
Monday Mindfulness: Journal for Self-Love
Monday Mindfulness: Journaling the Beauty Around You