November 25, 2020

Why Empaths need Pema Chödrön’s Equality Practice.

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I was so hoping that things would get better after the election was over.

And they have—marginally at least.

Election complete, and some of us feel better. Others have some time to adjust to a change.

One of my biggest hopes was that with less inciting messaging from the top, things would start to mend in terms of racism and divisiveness—that we could come together as a nation.

This has not happened. People may not be making overtly racist comments—they seem to be going deeper into their hidey-holes, waiting for the right moment to strike. What’s hard for myself and fellow empaths is that while we may feel better on the one hand, we still feel an undertone of waiting for that next strike.

Witness a recent conversation I had with someone about the upcoming holidays. This was an older man who has been lonely and isolated during the pandemic. His family does not feel safe with much contact. In this conversation, the mix of uncertainty, fear, and isolation resulted in some choice comments about Asians, all delivered in a hateful tone.

Now when things like this arise, I don’t just sit back and ignore them, nor did I this time. I redirected the conversation and made my lack of consensus well known. This was not our first conversation like this, so I know that countering these remarks was more for myself than something that would result in a shift.

As on other occasions, it was not easy to put the comments aside, and I thought about them well after the conversation. I needed a way to manage what came up for me. As an empath, I was also struck by how little empathy I felt at the moment, and wanted to respond in a more supportive way.

Pema Chodron’s Equality Practice

Enter Pema Chödrön’s equality practice. For those of you who may not know her, Pema Chödrön is a fellow New Jerseyian, and an Tibetan Buddhist teacher and author. Chödrön teaches many compassion practices. This includes Tonglen practices, daily actions to help bring about acceptance and openness of difficult situations and emotions.

In a time in our history where we cannot escape dissension, one of the most powerful Tonglen practices is equality practice. Equality practice provides a roadmap to connect with others, and helps us to recognize that we all want similar things in life. It is a simple human truth, says Chödrön, that a commonality is that everyone wants to be happy and to avoid suffering. These motivations extend to most situations.

Equality practice encourages us to look at the fundamental needs and motivations beneath even disturbing utterances and circumstances. What was this man expressing in his comments? How can I relate to or understand these needs? Thus, are there motivations we share?

Breaking it down in this way helped. I knew that while misguided, he did not have negative intentions—that he was projecting the anger that he felt at his current situation and isolation on targets that were easy to scapegoat. I knew he just wanted to be happy, that he felt like his time on earth is dwindling, and did not want to continue to be a veritable prisoner in his house, and that he misses his family.

Bingo. Empathy engaged.

So I turned that into a statement I could repeat to myself preceding or following our conversations or that I could send him during my daily Loving-kindness meditation. I then repeated this comment to myself.

Just like me, he wants to feel happy

Just like me, he wants to be loved

Just like me, he wants his loved ones to be safe

And just like me, he is doing the best he can

For good measure I added some wished directed toward him:

May you feel deep peace.

May you have love and warmth in your life

This changed perspective really helped.

Benefits of Equality Practice

The nice thing about equality practice is that in a disconnected world, equality practice fosters connection and relationship rather than disconnection and enmity.

I encourage you to find those ways to bring this, and other similar techniques into your daily life. You may just find that your kindness and compassion comes back to you as well.


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