Growing up in Northeast Texas, I learned to shoot. Starting out with a BB gun at a young age, I eventually learned to shoot an M-14 about the time I was 20 years old. I grew up around hunting, target-shooting, guns around the house — and Gods help us, if my brother or I EVER touched one without permission or supervision. I remember folks visiting our property for hunting and seeing the animals all lifeless and limp and sometimes slightly bloodied, afterward.
But nothing has ever died by my shooting it, nor had I ever witnessed an animal being shot then watch it die until I was around 10 years old.
And down the rabbit hole we go …
There I was, standing over the still-jerking body of a cotton-tail rabbit, laying in the green grass peppered with tee-tiny yellow and purple flowers that were spattered in the blood that was oozing out of the orifices of the soon-to-be carcass. (And my brain has probably filled in visual information that wasn’t originally there.)
I could argue that I was sensitive to the picture at my feet, as I had an affinity for animals that spurred multiple, friendly arguments between me and other family members. The image itself could have been just traumatizing enough that I felt over-sorry for what was supposed to be a future meal. After all, it was a wild animal that was ethically hunted, with the intention of feeding my family.
Even now, I still call the rabbit “it,” as though I’m attempting to distance myself from the inundation of emotional vicissitudes that have stayed with me for 30 years.
Because I can tell you what it feels like — the dying. Specifically, what a rabbit feels when dying from being shot.
A fear overwhelmed me that sent my feet sprinting, just like I had witnessed the legs of the rabbit spasming as its nervous system was shutting down. Its eyes were black, and the whites ringed them all around.
And I cried — floods of tears. I sat on my bedroom floor with my knees pulled up to my chest, leaning against the window sill.
It would be another dozen years before I understood what had happened and why. At the time, I thought simply that (from an adult’s point of view) I had been over-sensitive to the killing of the rabbit. Knowing the kind of kid I was, this is most likely true.
But there’s more to it than that.
Being empathic means that the person can sense the emotional state of others, and in extreme cases, take on those emotions and even physical symptoms as his or her own.
This is different from being in empathy with someone, or empathetic, which means the “ability or state of sharing someone else’s emotional state or experience,” as though two people could experience the same event in exactly the same way. I don’t believe this to be entirely accurate, as one’s reaction to one event could be colored by previous, personal experience not shared with the other person.
Empathic, however, “describes someone who has an unnatural or uncommon degree of empathy.” (Source: English Language & Usage)
It is unfortunate, that in the broader academic writings, there is not much differentiation between empathic and empathetic, unless one is a science fiction writer, pulling on a Star Trek-type ontological lexicon. We are, therefore, dependent upon the writings and wisdom of spiritual leaders within alternative or forward-thinking faiths, if we want to develop and establish the difference. (And there’s my academic moment for the week.)
Jenna Avery has a very interesting article, “Understanding Empathy,” in which she states:
Some schools of thought hold that empathy is a form of psychic ability, but my training has led me to believe that empathy is actually a form of having weak boundaries. Clairsentience is the fully developed and highly functioning form of empathy and is a psychic ability. Clairsentience, when it’s working properly, allows us to experience the emotions, energies, and physical sensations of others, without being personally affected by them ourselves. This state is an advanced skill – the ultimate form of empathy. The first step toward harnessing it is learning to balance and manage our empathy.
In advancing this skill, there still need to be boundaries, or more specifically, filters. Because the danger of simply being in empathy, as Avery differentiates here, could affect even an advanced clairsentient.
Earlier in her article, she mentions that this is a gift — a state which I had a difficult time with until I learned how to filter and cope. For most, including myself, this is a trial-and-error process in learning to recognize triggers, like managing anxiety attacks or similar.
There are multiple elements that lend themselves to the experience of an empath, or clairsentient. This is a short list:
- amount of light
- the number of people and their collective or individual emotional state/s
- whether or not an area is enclosed and how big or small it is, and the ratio of people to space available
- elevation, such as air travel, and confinement
- internalizing of emotion, belonging to others and/or the empath
- amount of personal space required
- avoidance of certain situations containing any or all of these elements
- sudden, inexplicable shifts in emotional states
There are only a handful of people who have ever heard me sing. More have heard me humming, and may have questioned the timing or even wondered why I would hum in front of folks, but not sing.
When being overwhelmed with my environment, it’s time to come up out of the aforementioned rabbit hole: I need to stay in the present to fully function within an event or experience. Humming helps me find my center: I can hear it, I can can feel the vibrations, and I have to think about the next note before getting to it. I focus on my physical, emotional and mental states with a tune that has spiritual significance for me. Otherwise, I would fall into regular, deep depressions and nothing would get done in those situations.
This comes after years of learning to distinguish the difference between “me” and “other.” Learning to cope with “other” came only after the recognition of it.
- How did I feel before the sudden shift? How did I feel after?
- Were the differences in my body or my head?
- Is there a reason I should be feeling this way?
- Am I hurt in body or mind?
- Is the energy coming from within or without? If without, from what direction?
- If I walk away for a few minutes, does it go away?
It has been several years since I had an “episode,” a situation from which I was unable to walk away. I was flying at 30,000 feet on a commercial airliner, and the passenger sitting next to me probably thought I was either insane or was deathly afraid of flying. It took me until almost to the end of the flight to realize what had happened, as I had not had an experience like that in years: The in-flight movie for the 6-hour trip was “The Pursuit of Happyness.” (It’s a tear-jerker, if you haven’t seen it.)
Still makes me cry!
I didn’t want to pay the $2 for headphone to hear the movie, having decided I could just read the book I’d brought along. The next thing I know, I’m in the middle of extreme sadness, helplessness and longing, tears rolling down my face, and trying desperately not to cry out loud. I held on the back of the seat in front of me and rocked. The feelings would come in waves, coming and going suddenly. In between, I was quite myself and would go back to reading, shaking off the experience as just weird. Once the movie was over, the waves stopped, and I was left feeling happy and content. It was a WTF moment for a few hours until it hit me. Duh.
Dude sitting next to me: Sorry for what looked like weirdness. (And bad on you for turning away from me, absorbing yourself in your laptop and not asking after me. Talking it out would have helped.)
When the absence of feeling others is there (Yes, it does happen!), it can be unsettling. The first time I noticed this, I was on a date. Throughout, I couldn’t figure out why I couldn’t “feel” anything from him. (In going on dates, I’ve learned to anticipate how things are going and what will potentially happen next.) When he walked me to my car, he suddenly grabbed my face and kissed me. I was so surprised, I started to pull away. In his profession (he was a psychologist), the skill of keeping his energy to himself is needed in order for him to succeed in his career. The problem for me with this is, he needed to learn how to let go of that away from work. (On the other hand, it was kind of refreshing not being able to anticipate. An empath’s Catch-22.)
Getting to this point, I’ve had guidance and help from friends and loved ones. I spoke with others who had similar experiences (and still do), read up on it (and still do), even went to counseling (not for years). Today, all I have to do is say, “Something feels weird,” to my sister, and the conversation is on.
It has become a survival skill, a tool in helping me make judgements in any given situation, and allows me to help others, especially in my Reiki practice.
Learning to filter the crap and the constant inundation when not by myself took patience and practice. It can be done, developed and utilized for daily and spiritual living.
But to this day, I still won’t eat rabbit.