Receiving Empathically


Empathy happens when we can empty our mind and listen with our whole being.

“The hearing that is only in the ears is one thing. The hearing of the understanding is another. But the
hearing of the spirit is not limited to any one faculty, to the ear, or to the mind. Hence it demands the emptiness of all the faculties. And when the faculties are empty, then the whole being listens. There is then a direct grasp of what is right there before you that can never be heard with the ear or understood with the mind.” – Chuang-Tzu

Letting go of preconceived ideas and judgments about people.

“In spite of all similarities, every living situation has, like a newborn child, a new face, that has never been before and will never come again. It demands of you a reaction that cannot be prepared beforehand. It demands nothing of what is past. It demands presence, responsibility; it demands you.” – Martin Buber

Non-Empathic Reactions

Empathy is rare quality – Instead of empathy we tend to give advice or reassurance or to explain our own position or feeling.

Temptation to Fix a Painful Situation

Believing we have to fix situations and make other people feel better prevents us from being present.
Example of therapists, reacting to: “I am feeling very depressed. I just don’t see any reason to go on.”
Mostly sth like: “When did it start?” — Intellectual understanding blocks presence required for empathy.

Empathy is both different from intellectual, mental understanding and sympathy.

Daughter: “I am as ugly as a pig.”
Father: “You are gorgeous.” vs. “Are you feeling disappointed with your appearance today?”

Categories of Non-Empathic Reactions

  • Advising: “I think you should . . . ” “How come you didn’t . . . ?”
  • One-upping: “That’s nothing; wait’ll you hear what happened to me.”
  • Educating: “This could turn into a very positive experience for you if you just . . . ”
  • Consoling: “It wasn’t your fault; you did the best you could.”
  • Story-telling: “That reminds me of the time . . . ”
  • Shutting down: “Cheer up. Don’t feel so bad.”
  • Sympathizing: “Oh, you poor thing . . . ”
  • Interrogating: “When did this begin?”
  • Explaining: “I would have called but . . . ”
  • Correcting: “That’s not how it happened.”