The Dark Light of Empathy: Living with Anxiety & Depression

“I’ve gotta feeling that I just can’t shake
I’ve gotta feeling that just won’t go away
You’ve gotta just keep on pushin’ and
Keep on pushin’ and
Push the sky away.”
Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds
“Come feel her.”
The Horrors

I don’t live in the same world that most people do.

I live in a world of deep shadows and dazzling lights, where tears and laughter both come easily. I live in a world of powerful emotional forces that sweep me up into aching beauty.

There’s so much feeling. Each moment is intense, even when there’s nothing but ease. It’s all so sharp, crisp, bright, and captivating. It’s like being an exposed nerve, responding to every little twitch of the breeze.

I’ve never had a perception of a solid self, but dozens of moving parts that come and go without my involvement. I’ve always felt just like a witness of my own life, a bare awareness that’s constantly emptied and filled with experience.

I’m not alone. We know when we meet each other. We can sense it, we can see it in the eyes: empath.

I think that a lot of people with depression and anxiety are empaths living in an increasingly apathetic world. The world makes demands on us that we weren’t born to obey, like if we took a fish out of water and shouted, “What’s wrong with you? Breathe, damn you! Breathe!”

Most of us find ourselves living lives that are ill-suited for us. We’re natural mystics, teachers, artists, and healers. So much of our suffering comes from living in a suffering world that won’t let us help it because it won’t let us be ourselves, and being ourselves is the only way we can help it.

We’re in hiding. In a burning world of cheap plastic and throwaway dreams, I think we’re afraid of becoming the target of the next great witch hunt. So we try to turn ourselves off, and we come to see ourselves through the judging eyes that we imagine others see us through.

We try to fight our feelings, our nature. But we weren’t born to hide, and we’re not fighters.

I practice what the layman Vimalakirti called “The Inexhaustible Lamp.” The metaphor is that we use our lamp to light others’ lamps, and in this way we not only help others, but also fan our own brightness as the lamps shine together.

We can’t let the world exhaust our flames. We can’t let it close us off from ourselves, from feeling.

The first step is to stop trying to escape our pain but to see it as part of the whole, to see its natural beauty. There’s a beauty to shadows, isn’t there? And when you see a shadow, that means there’s a light somewhere.

We have to resist that impulse to race toward the light like moths because that’ll cause us even more suffering later on. We have to open ourselves and let the light shine by itself, shine with the shadows. This is the Middle Way, our refuge from getting trapped in our turns.

2 thoughts on “The Dark Light of Empathy: Living with Anxiety & Depression

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s