Here’s how my experience with Walmart changed and subsequently changed me. I’ve never been a fan of the place myself but in 2011, I happened to be in a Wal-Mart in central Virginia attempting to get in and out with little fuss. While I never experienced anything like panic in the store, I was easily befuddled and could never go without a list and pen to mark things off the list. Otherwise, in the haze, I’d forget half of what I needed and probably looked like a coked-out squirrel (think about it for just a sec!). This time, in the cereal aisle, while pretending to stare at my list—the perfectly acceptable way to be seen muttering to oneself—I was nearly knocked over by a energetic force outside of me making contact with my head. It wasn’t an ‘oops, upside the head’ kind of thing. It was an intentional ‘now I’ve got your attention, haven’t I’ kind of thing. I muttered a few choice foul words and finally, in a fit of pique, said, “Fuck it. Show me.”
I didn’t know then what I know now about my relationship with the invisible. Clueless, I was stumbling through my own evolutionary process in a way that was about as ungraceful as one can feel at Wal-Mart. My response was one of frustration more than curiosity but someone or something had made an impact in more ways than one and I was going to find out why, dammit.
For the lack of a better description, I turned my shopping cart into a dowsing rod. What first seemed like aimless wandering finally took me to the front of the store, past the customer service desk, and to the ladies room. I didn’t have to pee (unusual in itself) but there I was because that’s where that damn shopping cart took me. And, given the choice to ignore why I was there or go into the restroom, I chose the latter. I entered and nearly walked right into the only other person there; a woman whose boyfriend or boss, so guessed because she kept calling him “He”, had been an asshole. In that moment, all I could do was say, “Come here, honey” and wrap my arms around a distraught stranger and repeat, “I’m so sorry. I love you. We’ve got you.” When I got smacked in the head by that unknown energy, the direction was clear: go to the person who needs to be loved on. Who knows how long I’d been receiving the message but could not ‘hear’ it through the filters of anxiety, exhaustion, and confusion.
In case I missed the point, that set-up repeated itself four more times, each time in a public shopping area. By the fifth time, at the Fairfax, Virginia, Macy’s where I was on the hunt for that perfect pair of jeans, I knew the cue. Although my response to the energetic stimulus was not as if I’d been assaulted again, that energetic ‘signature’ was identical each time and wasting time or arguing was moot. By the time it occurred at Macy’s, I dropped the two feet-high pile of jeans I was carrying in the most inappropriate place and walked directly to the nearest ladies restroom. And, sure enough, there she was, another upset woman who, when asked if she needed some help or a hug, merely said, “I just need time to myself.”
I never did go pick up the pile of jeans. That ‘aha’ and ‘oh shit’ moment was enough for one day. Like with many other experiences, I left the mall and while stuck in traffic on the return home said, “Well now, what in the hell do I do with all that?”
What I’ve learned in the ensuing five years is to turn that into a teaching tool for others, how to discern what is mine to deal with, what is not mine to not deal with, and what is mine to deal with. You’ll soon be able to do the same.
There is no denying that there is discomfort, even pain, in this exploration of yourself and the world around you. However, that cannot harm you. Unlike one of the more common myths, you are not taking on any one else’s pain or absorbing it. You are feeling it, sometimes the depths of it. The feeling of it and it’s expression bring a freedom to you and to another.
Anthon St. Maarten has described his experience of feeling another this way:
I can even feel the anxiety some people feel in the pit of their stomach when they are telling a lie, or feel their heartbeat increase when they are feeling guilty. If the lady in front of me at the supermarket is getting angry I might feel her blood pressure rising, and possibly perceive additional information about her personal life that may cause her to be so impatient and irritable. But that does not mean that I necessarily identify with her feelings (empathy) or feel sorry for her (sympathy). I simply experience what she is feeling and I know why she is feeling that way, even if it makes no sense to me personally.
The difference for me and, quite possibly you, is that these experiences generally make complete sense to me, I can identify with her feelings and, feel sympathy and empathy, and, when necessary express them without attachment to the feelings or any outcome.
Unlike St. Maarten and many others, I disagree that empaths walk around absorbing or taking on the energies of others like a sponge. If that were the case, we would be experiencing joy, surprise, grief, awe, and orgasm, sharing those in the same way we bitch about being effected by ‘energy vampires’ (which, following my logic, don’t exist in the way they are commonly described).
That is not to say i don’t believe we are not affected by the energies around us. We absolutely are but being affected by our environment is not limited to those who identify as empath and the effect upon us is real. How we define it is important, mostly because it’s our responsibility, not another’s. Everyone is affected by things surrounding them. We may be special enough to feel someone’s kidney stones but they are not going to land in your own kidney. Debbie Downer’s negative mood is not a virus. You may feel her funk because she’s telegraphing it in more ways than one but she’s not sucking everything out of you. You are absolutely feeling it but your systems don’t know what to do with it. Your feeling of ‘sucked dry’ is a tiredness that comes from all of your systems trying to figure out what the fuck to do with the unknown funk it’s attempting to process. You’re tired. Not for ‘no good reason’ but for a very good reason. You may know you haven’t run a marathon but other parts of you disagree because they actually have been working that hard.
So, homework: Post-It notes “Is it Mine?”. Pay attention to how the brain and body respond to the question. Don’t create an answer. If one flows through you, connect to your breath and ask another question; who or why is a good one.
This is work. Simple work but it requires some focus. Ask, attend. As you begin to consciously discern what’s yours and what’s not, you’ll also begin to learn what you’re to do with that knowledge. I touch (or mentally air-kiss) and cure shit. You might create energetic space for a new song, design, recipe, or poem to move through. You might be smacked upside the head with the next brilliant idea that makes the rest of us say, “Why didn’t I think of that?!” You might just find space for peace within your ownfineself.
I’m available to ask questions. If you’ve got ’em, ask.