Okay, Now I know I'm crazy!! I've got a Barry Manilow song stuck in my head. What's even worse is that the only words I remember are "I feel sad when you're sad.... I feel glad when you're glad".... Holy Hell! Barry Manilow? Really? Shouldn't I be hearing the Gayatri mantra or something? Is the Universe trying to tell me something? What yoga lesson does Barry Manilow have to teach me?
Years ago, when I first started meditating, I remember telling my teacher that all I wanted to achieve from the meditation practice was a sense of equanimity. 10 years later, I still find myself searching for this sense of equanimity. There's a passage in the Upanishads which I can't remember exactly but the image I have in my head is this: There's 2 birds sitting in the tree of life, eating the fruit - sometimes it's sour and sometimes it's sweet. One bird avoids the sour and searches for the sweet fruit while the other just eats whichever without being effected by whether it's sweet or sour. Can you guess which bird I am? Which represents you? I want to be the other bird..... the one who is steady in his true nature knowing that whether the fruit is sweet or sour doesn't matter. How do I achieve this state of equanimity when "I'm sad when you're sad....."
Wikipedia's definition of empathy: Empathy is the capacity to recognize and, to some extent, share feelings (such as sadness or happiness) that are being experienced by another sapient or semi-sapient being. Someone may need to have a certain amount of empathy before they are able to feel compassion.
I'm confused here. Is it empathy I am experiencing or am I just allowing external circumstances to effect my state of mind? Do I allow other people's moods to effect how I'm feeling?? Why do I feel guilty when I'm happy and you're sad?? Why do I allow my happiness to disappear into the ethers when you are angry? That's just craziness! But does that mean I'm lacking empathy if I'm happy while you're sad??
Think about this for a minute, you find yourself, momentarily, in that elusive state we call equanimity. Maybe even feeling..... dare I say it?.... Content. But there is so much discontent around you. Others around you are sad/angry, etc.... how do we feel empathy and maintain equanimity at the same time? (I'm imagining a yogi sitting in lotus pose with her fingers in her ears and eyes shut tight saying.... lalalalalalala..... I don't hear you...... ) That's obviously not the answer. We can't ignore other people's feelings just because we don't want them to spoil our bliss. But how do you practice empathy and still be content? How do practice empathy and not take on other people's negative energy and make it our own?
What confuses me even more is that in yoga land we learn that we are not separate from one another but that we are all one. However, I feel like in order to maintain equanimity I must separate your emotions from my own. Somehow that doesn't sound right either because then am I lacking empathy? OH HELL!! I'm giving myself a headache!!
The best I can do right now is share the advice my teacher gave me: "Stop thinking! Meditate!" Let's see if I can replace Barry Manilow's "I feel sad when you're sad......" with Om Namah Shivaya!