I was driving home from a work conference and saw many flashing lights ahead. Ambulance, firetruck, police cars. My heart dropped. As I inched by the traffic incident, I saw a black car flattened like a soda can under a tire. No way someone survived that wreck. And, how was only one car involved? I just drove by death. My mind racing, I began to feel sad and numb. Being witness to this affected the rest of my day and many days to come. Why? I feel deeply. I am an Empath.
Do you feel extreme sadness when your friend’s pet dies? Do you remember all the pets who have died in your life, and maybe even humans, too? Does the sadness become so magnified that you are now in an internal process of soaking up all the sadness in the world? Do you take on fear, anger, or trauma when you see an intense situation in a television show? If people are fighting nearby, do you tend to internalize the fight, even though it has nothing to do with you?
Are you an empath, highly sensitive person, or highly emotionally intelligent?
If the above examples ring true, you probably have high emotional intelligence. I have it, too. While it helps us kind, caring, and understanding, it can also lead us to the brink of exhaustion.
Many people with high emotional intelligence feel something is missing from our lives.
We crave an emotional connection and relief of our empathic exhaustion to a mythological degree. What I mean by “mythological degree” is it’s near impossible to find this connection and relief from other people — it’s too much to ask. The ones of us who do understand are exhausted. The ones who don’t understand, don’t understand.
Some people fill this desire for profound connection and relief with religion. But, religion has become something many folks — including me — don’t engage in anymore. Even if religion helps you refill your empty reservoir, nature can be there for you, too.
I do believe in a benevolent universal life force. I would gamble that most humans with high emotional intelligence feel similarly.
I believe humans can connect with that universal chi through nature. We can find the connection in our backyards.
We highly sensitive people, empaths, and people with high emotional intelligence can get our core need filled by communing with nature. Nature is accessible 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Nature is our perpetual friend.
Being highly emotionally intelligent is exhausting
…empaths can have incredible compassion for people — but they often get exhausted from feeling “too much” unless they develop strategies to safeguard their sensitivities and develop healthy boundaries. Judith Orloff M.D.
It took me until I was in my 30s to truly realize that I could fill my dwindling cup by slipping into my backyard and let myself be in nature. We can all do this. We can eat dinner outside. We can sip tea or coffee in the morning and soak up the world that is not human.
This natural world provides a calming effect for us. We no longer find ourselves taking on, or analyzing, other’s emotions. Instead, we watch a leaf float through the air or a hawk glide in the sky. We find ourselves re-grounding, reorienting, and becoming more calm and energized by the beauty around us.
We don’t have to go far to experience a nature connection. We live in nature. We are nature!
“Our findings suggest that you don’t have to do extravagant, extraordinary experiences in nature to feel awe or to get benefits,” says Anderson. “By taking a few minutes to enjoy flowers that are blooming or a sunset in your day-to-day life, you also improve your well-being.” Jill Suttie
Our communion with nature does not have to be a part of our morning routine. I’d argue that we don’t even need a morning routine. If we can incorporate a few minutes somewhere in our day to be alone, in companionship with nature, then we are giving ourselves at least a large portion of the emotional self-care we need.
Poet Mary Oliver understood the powerful impact nature can have on the human spirit
Why I Wake Early
Hello, sun in my face.
Hello, you who make the morning
and spread it over the fields
and into the faces of the tulips
and the nodding morning glories,
and into the windows of, even, the
miserable and crotchety —
best preacher that ever was,
dear star, that just happens
to be where you are in the universe
to keep us from ever-darkness,
to ease us with warm touching,
to hold us in the great hands of light —
good morning, good morning, good morning.
Watch, now, how I start the day
in happiness, in kindness. Mary Oliver — reading by poet
The practice of grounding in nature
Being in nature can be done at any time of day and in practically any weather.
Give yourself a minute, three minutes, 10 minutes — however many minutes you want, and go in your front yard or backyard and sit or stand or lay down on the ground.
Feel the earth beneath you — look up at the sky, the white wisps of clouds rolling against vibrant blue and notice how they change.
When a leaf starts falling from out of nowhere follow it to the end of its journey.
Taste the air. Stick out your tongue and see what tastes are lingering in the air. Can you taste dirt or rain or flowers? What do you smell? In winter, is it the fragrance of a pine tree or the scent of freshly fallen snow?
Close your eyes and listen. Can you make out the different kinds of bird songs? Can you hear frog or toad song?
What do you feel? Is the sun warming your hair? Is the wind whipping around your jacket? What do you feel in your heart, your soul? This is where intuition comes into play. There are many aha moments to be found when sitting in nature.
Too cold? Raining outside? Live in an apartment? It’s not a problem. Find a window to sit in front of and gaze outside. You can still follow the trajectory of a falling leaf, look a robin in the eye. Open the window, and listen, taste, and smell. Bring nature to you when necessary.
Take a deep breath and inhale all the beauty and wonder. Choose to exhale Worry and Stress or Generosity and Kindness. Both will do wonders for lifting your mood.
Sitting in nature, you are not tasked with emotional empathizing
Going outside and being in nature helps you relax, re-energize, and connect with something both profound and simple. Profoundly simple. Nature understands. No words are necessary.
Anecdotally, my 12-year-old son has high emotional intelligence, is highly sensitive, and is an empath. He spends time outside every day. Not because I told him to. Because that is where he finds a connection that his humans are unable to provide.
He’s even taken over keeping the bird feeder in fresh birdseed and the peanuts in constant supply for the squirrels, blue jays, and grackles this summer. The world outside our back door makes more sense to him than the human world does (I bet). I know I feel this way often.
I can see the peacefulness that washes over him when he takes the time to be nature.
Spending any amount of time in nature, even if it’s 1, 5, or 10 minutes is good for Empaths, People with High Emotional Intelligence, and Highly Sensitive People. Nature is perpetually within our grasp, making the perfect friend for confiding in and refueling our depleted energy reservoirs.
Anyone can do this — I can do this, you can do this! It is good for us. As readers and writers, as thinkers, as humans, being in nature helps open our minds to creativity, inspiration, kindness, connection, and re-energization. What are you waiting for?
Originally published on Age of Empathy on July 31, 2020.
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