In one of the many replies to my last post (thank you everyone!), I received an email from my friend Mallory, who forwarded a link to an article about a cancer survivor, Emily McDowell, who is now designing empathy cards. Emily’s designs are written from her perspective of what she wished people had said to her, rather than nothing, unpleasant platitudes or stupid jokes.
Reading about empathy—or its lack—reminded me of a number of workshops I attended a few years ago on non-violent communication (NVC), a process developed by Marshall Rosenberg. In these sessions, the idea of true empathy was explored; some of the most insightful teachings I’ve ever heard.
And we put the ideas to practice.
A major part of NVC is how to listen deeply, that is, without judgment or mentally preparing responses while the other person is speaking.
In one of the first workshops I attended, it might have been in Oakland, Barbara accused me of being an “HSP”. My mind shut down and I wanted to immediately disappear from the room. Three years later, I found myself at an opening of the world premier movie on “highly sensitive people” and found myself saying OMG, that is me.
How fascinating and informative it was to realize, that Barbara was right. And I didn’t realize it then because I wasn’t listening deeply. What a relief. I’m an HSP and it’s okay!
When we block listening, we may missing something huge; in my case, that I was so an overly sensitive individual on many issues. But more to the point, if I had truly paid attention and listened to Barbara, I would have been able to practice more empathy both for her and myself.
Ever since those NVC sessions, it often strikes me how much we spend in aversion; in not wanting to listen, or in wanting to give advice, or suggestions, or relating our own story. Now it seems to me, that true empathy is much more about being totally present to another person’s communication. Most people who took part in the NVC trainings confirmed that really being heard is transforming for the both the speaker and the listener.
I’m not really sure how this applies to artwork. It definitely is a part of what’s been on my mind, as it relates to the question of what is its benefit to other people. Most of the time, we live our lives from the perspective of our own personal world, separated from others. While I’m not certain how it would be to live differently than this, it is what most of the major spiritual teachings point to: that we are all connected, all one.
The thought of opening to this notion of being one, may be daunting or even scary, if it evokes the fear of loss of self. Pondering our oneness and practicing real empathy may just be the remedy for many of our ills.
Which brings me to the main question: Could this idea of empathy and oneness be expressed through my paintings?