I have been using the word “lonely” as a generic term my whole life to describe a need I didn’t have a name for. I’ve never felt a lack of love in my life. I was raised by amazing parents with unconditional love and undivided attention.
But deep inside me, there was a yearning to feel something I couldn’t put my finger on. There is a richness to empathy, a gooey chocolate cake flavor.
Empathy came over me like a wave of bliss, very strongly, very surprisingly, (and possibly for the first time in my life) at Solsara, in Oregon, a Personal Transformation program co-founded by the creator of Coconut Bliss Ice Cream, Larry Kaplowitz.
There, I learned what I meant by “lonely” because, for the first time, I began to feel its absence.
I believe loneliness an “inner longing” for connection to the “inner feelings” of each other. I believe Empathy is an umbilical chord that allows us to connect deeply and tenderly.
Empathy is the emotion that connects us to one another and opens the portal for true, deep intimacy to blossom. Empathy feels like snuggling up in a warm down blanket and cuddling. In that space, with empathy swaddling us, the feeling of loneliness finally, for once, abates.
Empathy has nothing to do with romantic love. Infact, I think we often use romantic love as a substitute for empathic love, in an American culture that I would characterize as being emotionally jilted.
Solsara’s website describes their program as “The Process of Opening.” For someone from the Midwest, the Portland-based work has a stereotypically “Portlandia” feel to it, and reading through their website, I had a heck of a time understanding what it was they actually do there. It took a fair deal of courage to dive in and attend a 3-day retreat with them at Atlan, a camping retreat space in the Columbia River Gorge.
Solsara’s facilitators expertly help participants do a swan dive into their Shadow Side. It is powerful personal growth work.
The container for the work is effective because it’s deeply, richly teaming with empathy.
I experienced something over that weekend I had never known existed before. It was the antidote for loneliness. I didn’t understand what that was at the time, and even today I am still integrating that experience. It was powerful, and not for the faint of heart.
Empathy and Shadow Work seem to be entwined in the Solsara format, and I believe there is still space for more of us to learn how to do a deep dive into empathy outside of the context of what is referred to as emotional process work. Or “process work” for short.
Empathy for our suffering truly is a deep and powerful healing experience. And I’d like to see more empathy skills being taught around daily relating, infusing empathy into healthy relationship skills.
Being immersed in Empathy for 3 days felt blissful, and it re-wired my brain, in ways I’m still working on, 2 years later.
We need Empathy. And we absolutely need empathy when we’re going through Shadow side
Being back in the Midwest, many of my day-to-day interactions with friends aren’t nearly as Portlandian as they were in Portland, and, I miss that.
There are pockets of community here in the Over-the-Rainbow State, but nothing here matches the emotional depth of Solsara’s work.
I once referred to Solsara as “Landmark for Hippies.”
The stuff that comes out of my mouth, I tell ya. I hope none of it sounds offensive ~ my intention is to draw parallels and put experiences into context.
Only now am I fully integrating that Empathy has always been a missing need ~ especially in the emotionally repressive Midwest. And I think so many of us don’t even realize what the missing need is. Because whenever I expressed I was every feeling lonely, the most common, dismissive, response was, “You’re never alone. You’re enough.”
The empathetic response would be along the lines of expressing tender and gentle curiosity, “What does the experience of loneliness feel like for you? What’s missing? What hurts?”
But if the Midwest is emotionally repressive, then I’d also have to counter that by saying that it can be quite easy to unintentionally offend folks who are hyper-empathic.
It’s a fine balance to create emotional harmony between sensitivity and vulnerability.
As an Article in the Atlantic astutely points out, “Empathy as emotion-sharing draws too much attention to an individual, standing in the way of effective social change.”
There is a unique flavor of individualism in the Portland area. Ironically, the rich empathy I felt there was countered by the feeling that so many tender souls were perpetually preoccupied by emotion.
I see the emotional wheel being one that can be hard to take a step back from. But there comes a place and time when our emotions can and do begin to drown us.
Emotions have much to teach us, and one of those lessons is how we can experience the empathic love we all long for, outside of the shadow work we definitely need to do.
But, it’s only called Shadow Work because there’s light at the end of the tunnel, and I’ve noticed many people who seem to get disoriented in darkness.
“You can’t rush your healing,” Trevor Hall sings.
“The way out is through,” they say, and sometimes it’s not easy to keep walking towards the light.
But imagine the feeling of empathic love showing up when we’re healed and whole. Now that’s the chocolate frosting on the cake I’m going for.