When I wrote my review of 2012 (Looking Back to Look Forward), I mentioned one of my discoveries about myself was that I perceive the world a little bit differently to other people.
“I have figured out that I feel and see the world around me a little bit differently to most others, perhaps more of the feeling and less of the seeing. Now I know why I could not watch the movie “Titanic” till the end and why I was physically ill for two days after attending a funeral for a young person who took his own life a few months ago. I am learning this part of me has up sides and down sides like anything else in life; because it means when I open my heart to someone, I feel what they feel and struggle to figure out where they end and I begin. When I meet someone new I “feel” them before I get to know them in the conventional sense. This means connections when they exist, are instantaneous, which is not necessarily a bad thing.”
Since then, my understanding of this personal attribute/skill or gift has grown immensely. It could be explained as the ability to feel a high degree of empathy with other people and be affected by them quite significantly. Empathy is the ability to feel what other people are feeling as opposed to sympathy where you are feeling bad on behalf of someone else. A good example is: if we are in the same room as a pregnant woman having birthing pains, most people would feel sympathy for the pain she is going through without actually feeling what she is feeling. But imagine the difference, if someone close to her like her husband, (if he had a high degree of empathy) could actually feel the same pain she was feeling. That is empathy.
Having a high level of empathy is not that unusual. About one in five of us are like that and in cultures like mine we take it for granted that the meta physical aspects of life exists. Most of my Sri Lankan friends would be familiar with the everyday belief if you feel a burning sensation in your nostrils or the urge to sneeze with no explanation such as an onset of a cold, then it means someone is thinking of you. As Buddhists we believe in the positive benefits of sound vibrations such as drumming or chanting. Use of smoke as part of a cleansing ritiual (dun allanawa) is something we have all grown up with, whether it be in our own homes or places of worship. So for me as a Sri Lankan, the idea that you can sense the thought vibrations or energy of another person is not that strange.
I had lived most of my life with no real awareness or understanding of this ability or what it meant for me. But I did notice numerous unusual occurrences throughout my life which only made sense when someone on an online forum recently pointed out to me that it could be because I had a high level of empathy. I am discovering that I also have a highly developed sense of intuition or instances where I know the right decision to make without a rational explanation. This came into play during a lot of my son Jacob’s medical diagnosis where I knew something was wrong without being able to explain why and persisted until the doctors came up with an answer. During the financial crisis there was one instance when I had this sudden urge to change all my fixed term mortgages to floating mortgages. It was about 3pm on a Friday afternoon and after checking with my husband who didn’t have an opinion either way but was happy for me to go ahead, I contacted our bank manager and put the order through just before closing. On Monday morning the banks all raised their mortgage rates which meant if we had waited until then, we would have lost a significant amount of money.
The reason I wanted to write about it today was more because of something that happened in the last 24 hours. A realisation of epic proportions you could say…..I had a friendship of 6 months that ended in November last year. The ending was very painful, but afterwards I realised it had run its course as there was no way forward. And for a few weeks after that I had the same nightmare night after night that this person would choose to come back into my life bringing with it a feeling of being trapped and panicky. I could not explain why I felt like this because overall I was very sad about ending the friendship and letting this person walk out of my life.
Life behaves in mysterious ways and a couple of weeks ago, I ran into this person again. A lot had happened to me personally since we had parted and he too seemed a lot more relaxed about life in general. After spending some time together, we decided to try being friends again. And a week or so into it, that feeling of being trapped came back again. It felt like a mass of confusion in my head and the feeling I had to get out of the situation, that it was not right and I should not be in the presence of this person. All the growing up in the time we had been apart meant I was a lot more forthright about things, so I told the person how I felt and that I needed time to figure out why I was getting this feeling. He agreed and I set to ponder on it. I was not feeling very well, so spent a lot of time yesterday in bed, reading.
I don’t quite know how it happened, but at one point I had this sudden understanding of the reasons for the panicky feeling I was getting. Both during the time we were friends last year and now, whenever we were communicating either face to face or electronically, I was receiving from him on two levels. At one level it was the words he used and at the other it was his subconscious thoughts or the sub-text as I like to call it. He was a very private person who did not talk much about feelings or emotions; a complete contrast to me. But when he did talk about them, the two signals I got from him were in conflict with one another. He wasn’t saying what he really felt. It was this disconnect that was creating the feeling of confusion, panic and the sensation of being trapped in me. It was truly a Eureka moment because I had never had this realisation about anyone else before. And I suspect it only happens with people I let into my “inner circle”.
As I had shared with him my discoveries about my empathic ability and what it meant, he understood where I was coming from when I tried to explain all of this to him. The ball is now in his court about how he wants to proceed with our friendship. It is not an easy decision to let someone know your innermost almost unacknowledged thoughts and feelings. It implies a frightening level of intimacy far beyond the reaches of most friendships. And to be honest, I don’t know if I want to know all of his innermost thoughts and desires. But what I do know is I cannot continue to be friends with him as long as his words don’t reflect what he really feels. A true dilemma.