Deena Metzger

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Deena Metzger is an award winning novelist, poet, essayist, storyteller, teacher, healer, and medicine woman. For more than four decades, she has taught, mentored. counseled and visioned with writers, healers, medical practitioners, visionaries, helping to bring forth a new culture in alignment with the natural world, indigenous knowledge, new and ancient wisdom traditions. Her creative work includes the novels, La Negra y Blanca, Feral, Doors: A Fiction for Jazz Horn, and The Other Hand. Other books include Ruin and Beauty: New and Selected Poems; Entering the Ghost River: Meditations on the Theory and Practice of Healing; Tree: Essays and Pieces (including The Woman Who Slept With Men to Take the War Out of Them); Intimate Nature: Women's Bond with Animals, (co-edited with Linda Hogan and Brenda Peterson) and the classic writing text, Writing For Your Life. http://deenametzger.net.

Author photo © Jay Roberts 2013

Also By Author

The Presence of Spirit

Deena Metzger—author, poet, teacher, and the creator of the classic Sounds True audio title This Body, My Life—has an in-depth conversation with Tami Simon. Tami and Deena discuss her work with the ReVisioning Medicine organization and the necessity of listening to the story that chronic illness is trying to tell you about your body. They also talk about creating a “literature of restoration,” intended to promote values other than those pushed by materialistic society and to focus on what is truly life-giving. Finally, Deena expounds on the idea of the coming “Fifth World” and the steps necessary to create it. (62 minutes)

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Embracing Empathy as Your Superpower

What do I do when a loved one is suffering? How do I have empathy if I’m getting a divorce or losing my job? If my family treats me unfairly? Or if I’m emotionally overwhelmed or in chronic pain?

If you’ve ever asked yourself these questions, I’ve written The Genius of Empathy for you. It also includes a beautiful foreword by His Holiness the Dalai Lama.

In the book, I present empathy as a healing force that helps you overcome obstacles in your life with dignity, grace, and power. As a psychiatrist and empath, I draw from my insights and present techniques from my own life and from the healing journeys of my clients, students, and readers. As I say in the book, “Empathy softens the struggle, quiets the unkind voices, and lets you befriend yourself again.”

Empathy doesn’t mean being “on call” 24 hours a day for those in need. Empaths can often wear an invisible sign that says, “I can help you.” However, if you want to heal yourself, have better relationships, and contribute to healing our tumultuous world, you must learn how to set healthy boundaries and observe, not absorb, the energy of others.

To start taking a more proactive role in how much empathy you give others at any one time, I suggest that you keep in mind the following “rights.” They will help you maintain a healthy mindset and prevent or lessen any empathy overwhelm that might arise:

  • I have the right to say a loving, positive “no” or “no, thank-you.”
  • I have the right to set limits with how long I listen to people’s problems.
  • I have the right to rest and not be always available to everyone.
  • I have the right to quiet peacefulness in my home and in my heart.

Practice: Take a Sound Break to Repair Yourself

Plan periods of quiet to recover from our noisy, fast-paced world. This helps calm your nervous system and your mind, an act of self-empathy.

It’s rejuvenating to schedule at least five minutes of quiet or, even better, complete silence for an hour or more where no one can intrude. As I do, hang a Do Not Disturb sign on your office or bedroom door. During this reset period, you’ve officially escaped from the world. You’re free of demands and noxious sounds. You may also get noise canceling earbuds to block out noise.

If too much quiet is unsettling, go for a walk in a local park or a peaceful neighborhood to decompress from excessive sound stimulation. Simply focus on putting one foot in front of the other, which is called mindful walking. Nothing to do. Nothing to be. Move slowly and refrain from talking. If thoughts come, keep refocusing on your breath, each inhalation and exhalation. Just letting life settle will regenerate your body and empathic heart.

Embracing your empathy does require courage. It can feel scary. If you’re ready to discover its healing power, I would be honored to be your guide to helping you in overcoming your fears and obstacles, and enhancing this essential skill for long-term change.

Though many of us have never met, I feel connected to you. Connection is what fuels life. While empathy is what allows you to find peace. With both, we can make sense of this world together.

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Digital Audio
Ignite empathy as a superpower for personal healing, deeper relationships, and more potent work in the world. New York Times bestselling author Dr. Judith Orloff draws on insights from neuroscience, psychology, and energy medicine to show us how to access our sensitivities, soothe our nervous systems, and embody our most fierce and authentic selves.

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What is Somatic Abolitionism?

Somatic Abolitionism is a living, embodied anti-racist practice, a form of culture building, and a way of being in the world. In this immersive audio workshop, Resmaa Menakem presents ten sessions of insights and body-based practices to help listeners liberate themselves—and all of us—from racialized trauma and the strictures of white-body supremacy.

Listen to the first 15 minutes of this audio program:

This is an adapted excerpt from You, Me, Us and Racialized Trauma by Resmaa Menakem.

You, Me, Us, and Racialized Trauma

Somatic Abolitionism is a living, embodied anti-racist practice, a form of culture building, and a way of being in the world. In an immersive audio workshop, Resmaa Menakem presents ten sessions of insights and body-based practices to help listeners liberate themselves—and all of us—from racialized trauma and the strictures of white-body supremacy.

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Are You Suffering from Empathic Distress? How to Recla...

Are you exhausted, anxious, or overwhelmed? Maybe your life is challenging. Or perhaps the state of the world and others’ suffering feels unbearable. If your life is going well, but you still feel miserable, maybe you have some guilt or shame. You are not alone. You may be suffering from empathic distress.

Most of us have been taught that empathy is wholly positive and should be fostered in children and revered in adults. This idea is partly correct. The absence of empathy is clearly problematic. When the ability to sense or care about others’ feelings or pain is missing, we edge into sociopathy. However, empathy is experiencing another person’s pain as our own. In small doses and for short periods, it allows us a deeper understanding of our fellow beings. But it can also make it harder to help, because the pain is spread around, not diminished. If your friend breaks their leg and you experience genuine empathy, it might feel like your leg is broken too. This makes it harder for you to function and definitely harder for you to help them.

Empathy can make us sick, overwhelmed, and burned out.

Many people feel helpless in the face of the magnitude of suffering in the world today. It can result in what appears to be apathy at first but is actually empathic distress, which means “hurting for others while feeling unable to help.” An op-ed in the New York Times titled “That Numbness You’re Feeling? There’s a Word for It” described this phenomenon and cited some of the research I used to create the Sounds True audio course Shining Bright Without Burning Out: Spiritual Tools for Creating Healthy Energetic Boundaries in an Overconnected World.

The Research

Neuroscientists Olga Klimecki and Tania Singer identified empathy as a contributing factor to burnout, primarily but not exclusively, among healthcare workers and therapists. The older term compassion fatigue is a “misnomer.” Compassion and empathy have distinctly different impacts on our bodies and psyches. Compassion is witnessing and being willing to help when possible and appropriate. Empathy is taking on others’ pain as our own. Empathy often creates “more distress.” It is a huge distinction.

Empathy is overrated and fatiguing. Compassion is what we need. Unfortunately, we often confuse the two. This dynamic is one reason why developing healthy energetic boundaries is essential.

Decreasing Empathic Distress

Being unable to adjust between compassion and empathy is a big reason many people feel drained and overwhelmed. Research about the critical difference between compassion and empathy aligns with many spiritual concepts of energetic boundaries. It also challenges some. One of the ways we inadvertently make things difficult for ourselves is when we believe that to be good, kind, “spiritual” people, we must always be wide open. We must be at one with the universe, be open to everyone, and say yes to everything. There is a paradox here. We are all one on some level, but we need to embrace the ability to differentiate ourselves from others at times to steward our own health.

We have reached a tipping point with empathic distress; it is a crisis within the crises.

Klimecki and Singer focus on how training in compassion meditation can help reduce empathic distress, shifting from an experience of absorbing others’ energy to a state of kindness toward others with clear self-differentiation. The distinction between empathy and compassion is one of the first things we cover in Shining Bright Without Burning Out: Spiritual Tools for Creating Healthy Energetic Boundaries in an Overconnected World. The course also includes a full set of tools for addressing empathic distress from the perspective of energetic boundaries.

Here are a few additional steps you can take today to begin reducing empathic distress:

  1. Be clear about your direct responsibilities and what is not yours.
  2. Pause before entering new situations: conversations, appointments with clients, meetings, etc. Take a moment to reset yourself with a breath and an intention for how you want to engage.
  3. Pay attention to how you feel after interactions with people, places, and media. Note over time when your mood or body feels drained so that you can prepare more thoroughly in the future, consider how to minimize those interactions if they are optional, and take time to reset after engaging.

 

Mara Bishop

Mara Bishop is a shamanic practitioner, intuitive consultant, teacher, author, and artist. In private practice, she uses her Personal Evolution Counseling™ method to provide an integrated approach to spiritual healing, personal growth, and emotional well-being. Her books Shamanism for Every Day: 365 Journeys and Inner Divinity: Crafting Your Life with Sacred Intelligence are resource guides for spiritual practice. She resides in Durham, North Carolina. For more, visit wholespirit.com.


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