The Root and the Fruit of Empathy

January 30, 2020

I’m Sam.
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There is no doubt in my mind, that the tragic events this last weekend have touched the souls of many. Mine included. The loss of NBA Icon Kobe Bryant and his 13-year-old daughter Giana has filled my social media streams with images of them both and quotes from an undoubtedly grief-stricken world of sport and fame. I have witnessed my coach peers broadcasting their live tributes, trying to hold themselves together and, and friends posting their comments and sentiments on Instagram and Facebook,  as they are overcome with sentiment for the wife and mother, now trying to stay strong for her remaining 3 children who are left behind to grieve their father and sister.

I have also borne witness to the back-lash of those appealing to their social media worlds to please not forget the other families grieving the loss of family members in the same devastating accident. The most poignant is the loss of baseball coach John Altobelli, his wife Keri and their daughter Alyssa who leave behind the two children left to grieve the loss of both parents and their sister.

I have found myself glued, as have many, to the hour by hour reports emerging that debate the ‘blame’ factor of the pilot, Ara Zobayan. We have learned he was granted special clearance to fly in the foggy weather conditions that had grounded the LA police department helicopters. Experts have stated that he would have had to make a decision to turn back, begin flying using the helicopter’s instruments and find a nearby airport to safely land…or press on. Did he choose to ‘press on’ and in that split second make a fatal choice that lost his own life and those of his 8 passengers?

For me, this has been reminiscent of the death of Princess Diana, also in the news this last week in the context of her youngest son, Prince Harry, who openly admits he has never recovered from his mothers sudden, tragic death. I recall my then-husband arriving home after his night shift to me getting ready for mine. I remember him sharing the news of Diana’s death that had swarmed the media through the night. That day I was stunned along with the rest of the world, but nothing could have prepared me for the outpouring of grief amongst my patients that day. At that time I was a Nurse-Manager of a seniors facility and within hours we became aware that our patients were in need of extra medical support. The worldwide outpouring of grief had triggered in them their own grief and loss. Anticipatory and past. We called in extra staff to sit, listen and comfort and engaged the services of a psychologist and I put on my own Bereavement Counsellor hat so we could provide our patients with the professional support they needed to navigate this incomprehensible loss and help them through the coming days and the funeral. 

Little did I know all those years ago, that I would find myself reflecting upon both these events as an ’empath’. In those days I had absolutely no idea what being an ’empath’ was, I doubt I had ever even heard the word derived from its big sister ’empathy’. I was taught throughout my nursing, counselling, psychology and coach training to be an ’empathetic listener’ and to ‘imagine placing myself in my patients’ shoes’. But I had no concept of how to differentiate my feelings from theirs. I also had no concept of how important a lesson it would be for me to learn how to protect and safeguard myself in these important interactions. Instead, I felt, imagined and walked the experiences and feelings of my patients. And it did not stop there. My friends, my community, my society, the rich and famous. I felt for them all. National disasters would enter my home via a television screen or radio and would send me into a spiral of woe. Movies, novels, poems and song lyrics would all have their turn to envelop me in their emotive stories. I think at the time I saw this an escape from my own very real and sad story, but in this confusion, there would be drawn a fine line between what was my imagination and what was my reality. 

Now if you have read this far, I am pretty sure you will already be relating to what I have written and I know this because the audience I attract are soulful, spiritual beings, called to be of service to others.  You may already be aware that you too are an empath: ‘a person with the ability to apprehend the mental or emotional state of another individual’ and you may also, like me, use this knowledge to assist your own audience. 

But sometimes it can be difficult to explain to others who do not see this quality in themselves. And yes, it is a quality, but only if you know how to differentiate between your own feelings and those of others. When you are an empath without this ability, you place yourself at risk of depression, anxiety, ideation and emotional physical exhaustion.

In my work with my clients, I have developed the ‘Root + Fruit’ analogy. This has been especially effective with teenage clients who are transcending the childhood state where we have few filters and are open to experience all we can in our quest to learn and the adult state where we are exposed to the worlds travesty and tragedy and expected to deal with and let it go. This can be a confusing time, as it was for me, and can be the source of many teenagers depression and anxiety. It is also an especially effective tool when coaching my adult clients who have been exposed to emotional and generational wounding, manifesting itself as the psychological and physical symptoms of suppressed emotion.

Imagine yourself as a tree. Running deep into your soul are the roots. These are the feelings that lie deep within your soul. These are the feelings that ground and hold you safe and secure, much like the roots of a tree. Now imagine the branches above bearing the fruit that exposed to the elements, vulnerable to their surroundings. they grow and they fall, lasting a transient period, unlike the roots that support their growth. These are the feelings that change ambiently, affected by their surroundings.

Now imagine your self in one of your most calm and quiet moments. Much as you would in meditation or prior to falling into a deep slumber. Describe that feeling: calm, peace, ease, centred, grounded, comforted, secure, joy…. that is your ROOT feeling. it is deep within and unaffected by any outward stimulant. Now imagine upon waking from your slumber, you are still feeling that ROOT Feeling: Refreshed. Vibrant. Optimistic. Then you burn the toast- FRUSTRATION! You cannot find your keys – INCONVENIENCED! A car cuts in front of you on your drive to work – ANGER! You’re about to miss your turning and brake making a late manoeuvre, the guy behind honks his horn and wave in a not terribly pleasant manner – EMBARRASSED, ANGRY, PANICKED! These are all feelings generated by external influencers. These are your FRUIT feelings.

Now let me take you back to the events of this weekend and ask you, were these your ROOT or FRUIT feelings? How did YOU feel reading this article? Were those your ROOT or FRUIT?

As an empath, one of the most important lessons we have to learn is how to differentiate these feelings. 

The second is how to release the FRUIT and reclaim the ROOT. 

More on that next time!

With inspired hustle!

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