I recently lead a day long women’s retreat in San Francisco. I taught them different ways to uncover and own their Superpowers. I opened the day with breath, meditation and yoga to release tension, open their awareness and create community. Many of them had never done yoga, let alone partner yoga so it was fun to see them laughing and supporting each other to go further in their personal discovery of yoga with a partner.
They began observing each other as they shared stories and ‘aha moments’ about how they saw Superpowers in each other and how their expression of their Superpower was often unique to them. We talked about how we used Superpowers to overcome adversity and rise to meet challenges. As we reflected on how life calls on us to reveal our strengths to move through transitions, we began seeing how we stand in our own way of our greatness.
I had one Empath in the class observe, “I think my Superpower as Empath works against me…my goals…desired outcomes.” Its funny, because I know in my life journey as an Empath I have struggled with the pitfalls of my Superpower. I get overwhelmed feeling others’ feelings. My analyzer-brain will replay circumstances when I felt someone else’s feelings and thought they were mine. I would overthink “how I should have reacted” in a situation. I took a beat before I responded to this woman’s statement about her empathic strength…was it really the Superpower at fault here? Or was it how she thought about her Superpower? Or how she used it in certain moments?
I came to the conclusion that it wasn’t the Superpower standing in the way. The thorn was not being conscious of the inner workings of that specific Superpower. When I am conscious, grateful and aware of how my version of Empath works and consciously use it for optimal results I GET that desired journey…those intended results. Its when I “shoot from the hip” without stopping to pull back the bow and aim the arrow at my target that my arrow/Superpower flies willy nilly—not yielding the preferable journey or outcome. Both experiences are helpful though! The uncomfortable journey with the undesirable outcome teaches me and wakes me up. It shows me I was not taking full ownership of the positive aspects of empathy. That I could shore up a little better with grounding myself and creating positive boundaries and filtering others emotions so I could really understand what is mine, what is theirs.
Heres a story to illustrate my point. I had a student in one of my classes who struggled with overwhelm and exhaustion as a result of feeling too many feelings of others in her roles as kindergarten teacher, mother of high school teenager, and daughter of an ailing elderly mother. When she came to my Empathy Superpower class she was seeking a strategy to navigate her current life and gain some energy and perspective on how to show up, meet her obligations while still preserving some sense of self. One of the strategies we masterminded in the class was using different visual tools to filter incoming energy and emotions. Empaths feel the emotional current in a room, among people and in environments in their gut or in the center of their chest generally. It can sometimes feel like sharp pain, anxiety, bloating or indigestion. Empaths are aware of the difference of these symptoms stemming from eating or encounters with people. Their onset of symptoms happens immediately and spontaneously upon encounters with people, conversations, places or situations. With eating, it happens much later as the food is digesting.
One of the tools I suggested for my Empaths was to visualize they were grounded like a tree, like their feet were extensions of tree roots. When we think of something, our energy follows that thought. As they grounded themselves they observed feelings of being more centered, more present and peaceful. Next, I had them visualize a cone-shaped coffee filter in front of their belly or heart with the intention that the filter would capture the incoming emotional energy from others. I then suggested to visualize a familiar person standing in front of you, one who challenges your inner peace and confidence. Imagine that coffee filter trapping judgement, criticism, fear, worry, stress from the exchange with that person. After we practiced that meditation, many people reported epiphanies about themselves, how they have used empathy to their detriment and realizations about the challenges of that relationship.
Fast forward to a week later, I heard from my student and asked her how she used the ‘empathy filter’ in her classroom. She noted that she had more energy when she left at the end of the day than usual. Her biggest realization with the empath filter was in the context of a challenging sibling relationship. As she practiced using the filter in their communications, she was able to gain some neutrality in their exchanges and not take on so much of her sister’s emotional energy. My student observed how much her sister’s stress and self doubt clouds her sister’s ability to be present when they talked. The empathy filter enabled her ability to observe her sister’s stress impacting their conversation and how it dominated the emotional tone of their exchange. She set up her visual filters before meeting with her sister again and noticed a dramatic change in her ability to hold her own personal space with peace. She was able to observe her sister’s affect but not “take in” her emotional energy. My student was able to be more understanding and neutral with her sister. She left the exchange feeling accomplished at learning this powerful lesson rather than diminished and defeated by her empathy.
I am left with this story feeling more certain that our Superpowers are here for us to activate consciously and use for the benefit of ourselves and others. There’s a reason why we put the oxygen mask on ourselves first before we can help others around us. Same goes for our Superpowers. Listen and fill yourself and Superpowers up with awareness and love first, then consciously reach out to serve others.
There is a routine I use to end each yoga class that I teach to my students. We extend our arms forward with our palms lifted in a gesture of offering. Then we press our palms together in a prayer position and bring them to our forehead saying, “Let our thoughts remain peaceful. Let our thoughts be filled with love, kindness and compassion; for ourself and others.” Then we bring our hands in that prayer position to our lips saying, “Let our words be truthful. Let our words be filled with love, kindness and compassion for ourself and others.” Then we bring our hands in prayer to our hearts saying, “ Let our hearts be uplifted with joy. Let our hearts be filled with love, kindness and compassion for ourself and others.”
This practice reminds us of the importance of nourishing thoughts, words, and feelings with mindful positivity to prosperously influence our partnership WITH our Superpowers for impactful journeys and outcomes.