Being an empath is hard at the best of times, now may not be the best of times…
It’s been tough enough for the average person to stay motivated and grounded throughout the course of everyday life, but what happens if you’re one of those people who feels others’ pain in addition to your own? Being an empath during Covid presents quite the double whammy. But like all tough times, this current pandemic presents an opportunity to learn how to ground yourself and manage your gift.
What Does It Mean To Be An Empath?
Being an empath means having the ability to feel others’ emotions. Their pain, their joy, their excitement, their anger, and to be able to release those emotions and thereby bring about healing.
Most people who are spiritual gifted have this ability to some degree. From a shamanic perspective, it’s an important part of the gift. Just as a shaman is one who walks between the worlds, so too can a skilled shaman release certain emotions on your behalf, as they work to release the energies behind those emotions, and in this way release those energies that may block one’s healing.
What Does it Look Like To Be An Empath?
Imagine you’re in the middle of a shamanic healing like an extraction ceremony, and as the shaman and their spirits work over you, the practitioner begins to weep, but the pain they feel is not theirs, it’s yours.
The more your grief leaves you, the more the practitioner weeps, and at the end of the ceremony, the weight you’ve carried in relation to whatever event caused that grief – the energy behind it – is eased, lighter, and you find that you’re able to think about this event for the first time in a long time and, in this way, begin to heal and begin to truly release that block in your life.
This above scenario is the most obvious example of being an empath (in this case, the healer is the empath) and using one’s empathic gifts for healing.
Does the healer weep FOR you? Not at all. The healer weeps your grief directly, they do not necessarily feel your grief within their own consciousness, they are not crying in sympathy for you, because their own personal feelings are not involved.
In times of ceremony, the healer’s body has become hollow, a clear channel – the proverbial ‘hollow bone’ – through which the energy causing the emotion may be released, and the emotion itself alongside it, and the weeping is one way the healer can ensure that the energy that flows from you through them is released, and it doesn’t get stuck within the healer’s body.
I’ll give you another example. I saw a man recently who carried anger within him, but it was in a deep place and it was hard for him to express it. So I was asked by the Spirits to express it on his behalf. Even just a little bit, to relieve the pressure so that it’d be easier for him to access this emotion in the future.
There’s no magic happening here; we all know that to, be released, emotion must be felt, and the healer is not exempt from that process, even when they are working on your behalf.
Unlike the weeping example, I wasn’t about to express that anger around my client, so the Spirits said, ‘come to us at the sea, and release his anger to us there, and we will take it,’ and that’s what I did.
I made two visits down to the water and released that anger into the water. It wasn’t MY anger that flowed through my body and down to those waves, I had nothing to do with the anger; I was simply the messenger. Just as your local amazon delivery person doesn’t bother with the contents of the box they drop at your door, nor did I have an opinion about or judge the anger. I didn’t even need to know the details as to why this man felt what he felt – what the original hurt had been that had evolved into anger. My job was merely to release it on his behalf, and my Spirits gave me a way to do that.
In the end the client felt better and more in touch with what had originally caused that anger, and I got to take two nice walks along the beach, so it worked well for everyone.
How Does It Feel To Be An Empath?
For me, there is a subtle different between feeling someone else’s emotions and feeling my own. The way I describe it is that the emotions I feel on behalf of someone else sit differently within my body. They are not as tied to me as my own emotions are. I want to say that I don’t feel them as deeply, but that’s not true because they can be just as poignant as my own, but I don’t feel them as wholly; they are not as deeply embedded, and their weight is different.
It took me years to be able to feel the difference and, now that I’m not working regularly (thank you, covid-19), I find that I still sometimes miss the clues and assume that all that fear and grief I’m feeling is my own, and it can take a day or two of my thinking, ‘how did I get so low? I was feeling okay a few days ago, I’ve been so careful to stay grounded and positive, what the hell is happening?!!’ To realize that a-ha, I’m simply processing everyone else’s fear and grief. Well okay then. That resets me because my training kicks in and now I know what to do.
A more positive example is taking in a public event with an empathic friend. Before I left Toronto, one of my shamanic peers and I walked with her son in the Trans Pride parade. As her quiet young man walked ten feet ahead of us, bravely revealing the scars of his transition surgery, emotion from that crowd of supporters on both sides of the street surged in waves. We could FEEL THEIR LOVE for this young man radiating around us and it brought us to tears again and again and again.
Empaths often focus on the negative emotions they feel on behalf of others, and it can certainly feel like a burden to those who don’t understand how to process this kind of energy flowing through them, but it’s important to remember that this gift works both ways and as much as an empath can feel the pain or anger of another, so too can they experience the love that people emote around them.
How To Release Energy If You’re An Empath
So many of us are born empaths, the taking in of others energy is easy and a natural thing for many to do, it’s the releasing that comes harder.
I’ve rarely met anyone who just naturally releases the energy they take in. Of course, if they did naturally release, they’d have no reason to see me so that kind of makes sense.
But I digress. If you struggle with this issue, as so many do, here are a few ideas to help you learn how to release others’ energy and emotions, and to ground yourself. When we release these energies, we need to release them in a way – or in a place – that allows them to be transmuted and send back to the Creator in grace and ease.
How Salt Baths Release Energy
This one is my favourite. We are of water, we are water, and working with the Spirit of that salt and that water make me feel like returning home. This is powerful medicine – especially for women. Of course there’s a few more steps than just soaking in a salt bath.
Remember: In this scenario, you are not necessarily working with the medicine compounds of the salt or water, I mean, we all know that an Epsom salt soak is awesome after a heavy workout, but the exercise I’m talking about is different, even though it appears to look the same, because we are working with the SPIRIT of the medicine.
First we must make an offering to the spirits of the water and the salt. Offer tobacco, fruit, herbs, flowers, a song, a prayer. Whatever works for you.
When you soak, visualize that salt and water drawing whatever you have taken in away from you, cleansing your body and your spirit. Bringing peace to your soul and calm to your emotions. You may need to release – to cry, to feel, be aware of what comes up and focus on releasing it. When you finally pull the plug, imagine all that being washed away, and thank that medicine for helping you, show real gratitude.
If you’re living the stand-up shower life, you can still use salt and water to help you release whatever you’re carrying. I give my thanks and simply use the salt to wash and the water to wash away. For me it works just as well, and I imagine that energy flowing down the drain.
A note: I don’t it matters what kind of salt you use because you are working with the Spirit of the salt, not the salt itself. Sure, it’d be great if we could all travel to the salt seas and harvest our own salt, but I’m just as happy to buy sea salt from Asda, lol. And yes, if you only have table salt, go for it. Imagine how wonderful it might be for that salt that has been through heavy processing to be given the opportunity to wake up, activate, and become powerful once again? When we step into our own healing, it impacts everyone and everything around us in the best of ways.
How To Visualize Energy Leaving You
One time I had back pain so I went to see a medicine woman at my work, and as she worked on me, I had a vision of a grandfather taking me behind the building where I lived at the time, and showing me that I could dig a hold and send my pain into ground and bury it. In this way, I would release the the pain. I told her about it, and she encouraged me to do exactly what the grandfather had showed me, and so I did, and it worked.
While being an empath is hard, I learned that the Spirits will often show us exactly what we need to do to release whatever we are carrying that we don’t need, including energy or emotion that belongs to others.
If I can’t take a quick bath or shower, heading out to the land is another way that I release that energy. I always start by offering my tobacco, and I ask permission from the Spirits of that land. Is it okay for me to send my energy there? Are they okay to accept it? And I don’t assume the ‘yes’ here. If the Spirit of that land doesn’t want to work with me for whatever reason, it’s perfectly fair for them to erect a ‘no dumping’ sign in the spot I had hoped to release that energy. I simply move on, and keep asking until I find a spot where the Spirits are willing to help.
When I do this, I see the energy entering the ground, flowing down into the ground water and washing away to the oceans. Through the waterways and oceans, the energy returns to the Creator.
This is where existing spiritual relationships are important. Get to know the trees in your area. Strike up a friendship with the river, visit the water Spirits of the sea if you live close to the shore. Once they know you and understand the work you do, your local Spirits will likely welcome the opportunity to support you in this way.
Why Hugging Trees Really Does Help Release Energy
Along a similar branch (see what I did there?) is to work with a specific tree. Trees are so skilled at transmuting energy, and their power and wisdom is calm, grounded and profound.
Again, make an offering. Everything starts with an offering. I use tobacco only because I was taught that tobacco is like ‘money to the Spirits’ and we must exchange something to receive these gifts of healing. You can offer food, silver, water, flowers – every culture has its own preferences, and the important part is making that offering. If you want the Spirits to work with you, you can’t be lazy about it. You can’t ignore the rules of engagement in this work. You don’t need to offer up the Taj Mahal, but you must give something.
We approach all land spirits carefully. The land around us has often been traumatised, scarred and is in distress and pain.
Imagine being in pain, exhausted, doing all you can do to simply keep yourself alive, and suddenly your neighbour you’ve never met before waltzes into your home without knocking, without introducing themselves or saying ‘how are you’, and demands you help them.
When we talk about ‘Spirits’, whether it be the spirit of an ancestor or a tree or a stone, we are talking about cognisant beings. We must never assume help simply because we have good intent. Good intent helps, and so does a handful of tobacco, a solid introduction, and the word ‘please.’
Tread lightly and with humility. Accept the ‘no’ if it comes and embrace the ‘yes’ with gratitude and relief if you’re lucky enough to get it.
How will you know if the tree agrees? Being an empath, one would hope you would feel it! LOL! But seriously, don’t worry, you WILL feel it. Simply empty your mind and allow your energy to flow, then trust what you’re getting.
This teaching comes up when I think of trees, because for me, standing in front of a tree asking for help has always been a bit intimidating. Even the smallest of trees carry the wisdom and power of their ancestors and their community.
But if you approach a tree and it agrees to work with you, you have been given a great gift! Lay that offering, express your gratitude, then ask the tree what you need to do to release the emotion or energy.
For me, I’m usually told to touch the tree with my hands and head until I feel the excess energy leaving me. There are also times when I’ve been asked to sit under the tree and journey through the heartwood to visit with the tree’s Spirit.
Sometimes this exercise has led to long-term friendships with certain trees and healing support that I can bring into my ceremonies at home. Other times, it’s a matter of sitting quietly under or near the tree for a few hours or a few days. Sitting in safety and being a part of a community is a powerful thing, you see. There is usually more to be learned this way than in a big dramatic ceremony. Let things happen slowly, peacefully but with great power and eventual transformation. This is tree medicine.
Once you’ve created a relationship with a local tree, nurture that relationship. Return to that tree, ask how it is, journey to it if you know how to speak with it, and make regular offerings.
Is Being An Empath A Gift?
It’s not easy being an empath, and we do often struggle with the gift.
Learning how to balance this ability with a healthy and grounded life is the work of a lifetime. But the Spirits can be kind and they have given us these powerful ways to release the emotion that we take in from others and to return it to where it needs to be. In this way, we complete the healing ceremony for everyone.
These ceremonies, above, are only three ways to release others’ emotions you may be carrying, but there are so many more. You just need to find the one that works for you.
And yes, while being an empath can sometimes make us feel cursed, in learning to work with the gift, we are able to see the true beauty of all these amazing technicolour emotions around us and within us.
In accepting the gift, we finally come to understand how emotions can be a reliable roadmap that lead us to a place of truth, honestly and strength. And if we can extend that to others, the healing will come full circle.