From Apathy to Empathy, and Beyond

fireWill you dare to feel?

This morning, I spent some time looking at Global Forest Watch’s maps of deforestation. Witnessing where trees are being chopped down. Identifying the last stretches of dark green, the intact forest landscapes cloaked in magic and mystery that we have not reached yet. Spotting hundreds of active forest fires. Exploring land uses and concessions without and within protected areas.

Sobering statistics flash by. 230 million hectares of tree cover have been lost since the year 2000. Images of smoke and flames. The acute knowledge that we are relentlessly cutting into our very lungs.

And yet, somehow, when we gaze into the mass of information provided through the virtual world, our senses become blunted. After all, forests still cover 30 percent of the landmass of the planet. If we can survive on one lung instead of two, why worry?

And so, we move on. To the next piece of news. Bad news. Images of polar bears desperately clinging to a lone piece of drifting ice. Coral reefs bleached into oblivion. Bloodied shark fins hanging on a line. An expert suggesting we have already entered the 6th great extinction. Crumbled buildings and wide-eyed children staring in disbelief at the crude suffering of their lives. Men about to have their throats sliced. And I could go on, and on.

How is it possible to remain sane amongst such suffering? The answer is simple: Denial.

It is not a denial of the facts. It’s just that we don’t let them penetrate into our flesh and bones. They remain at a mental level. We operate with only one aspect of our existence, convincing ourselves that it’s the only one that exists. We shut everything else down, especially the feminine aspects of our being, such as our capacity for empathy. Then, we slip into apathy, severed from the juicy life in our bodies, frozen by the belief that the world is too complex, its problems too great, and that we are powerless in the face of it all.

But what would happen if we really felt in our heart and bones what is occurring in this world? If we removed the unconscious protective barriers we have built around ourselves? If we stepped from denial into empathy? If we truly opened up and let it all in…?

Those of us who have been endowed with an innate ability for radical empathy know that when you become porous to the world, and tune into the lives and feelings of everyone around you, it is not only overwhelming, it can be utterly unbearable.

Unless… we go one step further.

Empathy is not enough. But it is the starting point. There is more. It is a more that stems from our coming into wholeness, embracing our bottomless capacity for knowing the world through our bodies, spreading our roots into the soil and connecting with life in all its forms, anchored in the felt experience that we are all one and the same.

And from there, we can overcome our fear of feeling the pain of the world, and step into empowered action in service to Life.

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