I see a young woman punished by a mind that differs from my own pushing a shopping cart through the dregs of society.
The aisles of humanity staggered randomly like blockades of sheeple that spite or ignore or pretend she does not even exist.
She winds carefully through the labyrinth. A test of the gods. A test of her worthiness that she believes she failed long ago.
I wonder: What test? What god would be so cruel to allow this woman, who carries the spark of the divine itself within her breast, to live like this? Why threaten to extinguish the gift of that spark?
I step in front of this woman, only occasionally glancing behind, and part the cascade of ignorance like Moses in a sea of flesh so she can make her way to the hovel that is her home.
I see a man on a corner with a worn sign that says “will work for food” and I know, without a doubt, that he has neither worked nor eaten in far too long. I watch the constant flow of people pass by like a river of wealth that is just beyond his reach while he slowly dies from dehydration.
I wonder: Why should he work for what the planet gives freely? Why should he be reduced to begging for that which comes naturally?
I step into the closest convenience store, a place convenient only to those with means, and spend what little is left on my debit card to ensure that he will not go another day without that which is his right, and I bring it to him with one request—that if he knows another who has not eaten, he share it. He looks at me and offers a portion, and I gently refuse because I have a job.
I see an old man struggling to carry his meager supplies to his humble home. He staggers under the weight of the few small bags that are his sole source of sustenance for the next month. His “retirement” is barely enough to pay for the two rooms in an ancient building that could, at any time, be condemned and leave him homeless.
I cross the street, add my own bags to his, and carry them all to the crumbling facade which represents the dreams of his youth. Without a word, I leave all the bags, including my own, at his door and walk away in silence as he speaks the only word we shared in those six blocks, “Why?”
I wonder: Where did he work so hard that I can see the memories of his past etched deeply into his face? Why did the system he paid into for so long leave him with not so much as cab fare to transfer a true month’s worth of food? Why would my actions, which seem so natural to me, leave him questioning my motives?
When I return home, I see myself in the mirror: this man that proclaims love, who shares it freely with the hungry, who widens the aisle with his imposing figure and intimidates the sheeple with a glance so the meek can pass, who carries the bags for those who are too weak to carry them, and leaves them with more than they started with—where would he be if not for the love and care of the one person who first offered the very same compassion that he feels for others: his Self.
I see their faces in my reflection. I feel their pain, know their suffering, and, in fact, share it.
Where would I be? Exactly where I am now—with them.
I quietly acknowledge my gratitude to a universe that gave me the gift of this vision and know that I am home.
If you want to change the world, begin with yourself, and then carry that change into the world one person at a time.
I feel it. I feel the anxiety that burns. The weight on your heart. The pain in your shoulders. In your neck. I feel it all as if it is my own.
My stress. My ache. My desire. My confusion. My depression. My heartbreak.
Because I feel it I want it to stop.
Because I love you, I want to be the one to make it stop.
What I usually feel from you is an intense, unnameable energy that is your life force. Your very soul. A spark of the divine.
It is love itself.
It is glorious.
When I close my eyes, I can still see it. Colors that have no name as brilliant as the sun. A swirl of prismatic energy that sings in unison with the universe.
You still shine brighter than any soul I’ve ever known, but all I feel now is the suffering.
It overwhelms. Consumes. Destroys.
It dims that light in you—but cannot put it out.
This is not who you are.
You are laughter and joy and adventure and peace and commitment and life. I know this because I feel these things too. Not today. Not yesterday. Not for some time now. If I try hard enough, I can still touch them, but they are buried deep.
Hard to reach. Made all the harder to reach because you know me.
Knowing me has made it worse, because you know I am an empath. You avoid me and block me and keep these things to yourself because you do not want anyone, especially me, to see that what you want to feel now is the pain.
Pain does that. It blinds us to the truth that it, like all things, has purpose. Has a season. Will pass. Is temporary.
Pain doesn’t want you to know that.
It wants you to remain in the moment, convinced that it is lasting, so you either do whatever it takes to overcome it or be seduced into remaining there forever.
Suffering is possibly the most seductive of all emotions.
Misery truly does love company, but the company it desires most is your own.
You have stopped talking with me because you know I can see within you, and it makes you uncomfortable. It makes you want to run because you honestly believe that the person you are right now is who you will always be, and you don’t want me to see that person.
I see you. I see you though you choose to remain in the shadows. You cannot hide the truth from me; you are goddess. A manifestation of the divine. A sacred human.
Because you are unable to feel these truths, to access them, to realize them, you pull further and further from me and from the rest of the world, for fear of the off-chance that you will be revealed by another empath.
There is a better way. Join me.
My ability goes far beyond sensing. To be a true empath means to literally share feelings and emotions.
This sharing does not have to be a one-way street. The relationship can be symbiotic if you allow it to be. It takes practice and patience and trust but we, as One, can overcome those feelings through the simple, difficult, and always fulfilling acts of love.
Through shared breathing and the joining of heart and soul through Tantric practices, through faith and determination and commitment, and, most of all, through the sharing of love and gratitude, we can lift those feelings out of the dark places and raise them into the light—and we can forge new emotions in their place.
You will not hurt me in doing this. I have spent my whole life absorbing what other people feel. I have a capacity for pain and suffering that goes well beyond what others have because I have spent my whole life dealing with others’ pain as well as my own.
I have learned to separate those feelings, and to transmute them. I can take your pain and infuse it with intentions of love and gratitude, and together we can turn them into something meaningful.
I have also spent a lifetime absorbing other people’s love and joy and faith and trust and all those other wonderful things that we all want in our lives, and in absorbing them and making them my own, I have extended and expanded my own capacity for them.
Let me share that with you.
This is what it means to be loved by an empath.
Let me in.
Author: J.M. Greff
Editor: Callie Rushton
Copy Editor: Travis May
Social Editor: Erin Lawson
Maybe we’ve met or spoken. Maybe you have read what I write. Maybe you only know what it is that I do for you, that I love you, that I care.
But you don’t know me.
You know the man determined to live by the simple and incredibly difficult intentions of love and gratitude, but you don’t know why he loves so deeply or what it is that he is ever so grateful for.
You know the man who shares his heart openly. Who is unafraid to admit that he cries as much as he laughs, but you don’t know what it is that would make him happy or why it is he cries at night.
You know the man who is generous to a fault, but you don’t know that his son tells him, “Dad, focus on yourself. You seem to focus on everyone except yourself.” You don’t know why you come first. Even his son doesn’t.
You know the man determined to change himself and his world, but you don’t know why he is so determined. Who he was before the change and why it’s so important for him to change.
You know this man only because of what he does for you.
I could tell you that he goes without food for weeks in order to be sure that you don’t. That he falls four months behind on rent to be sure you have what you need or why his landlord is okay with this.
You know the man who will always be there for you, no matter what, but you don’t know how he cries for you when you are afraid
or when you feel as alone as he does.
You don’t know where or when I was born, what towns I grew up in, my favorite foods or colors. You don’t even know my middle name.
I could tell you these things but you still wouldn’t know me.
It’s okay. I don’t know you either.
You know what you need to know.
You know that you are loved.
Almost as published in Elephant Journal (except they tried to turn it into a poem)
Author: J.M. Greff
Image: Jake Davies/Unsplash
Editor: Taia Butler
Copy Editor: Nicole Cameron
Social Editor: Khara-Jade Wa
I love you
With every cell in my body
With every atom that makes up every cell
With the nucleus and nucleotides that make up those atoms
With the strange, quarks, and I forget what comes after that in my body
I love you with my soul,
that instrument of the Divine
on it’s own,
is but a note in the song of the Universe,
but which plays a melody so sweet,
so in harmony with yours
that my body,
howls with the venom of monsters only witnessed in movies,
for release and blessed union with you,
to endlessly play
an ever evolving song
I long to taste you in my mouth
and when I do
your taste lingers like a chemical burn,
like frost bite,
like that fucking numbing you get when you push too hard,
when you extend yourself so far,
that the energy that normally flows
with ebbs and tides
like an infinite ocean within Our Being,
for certainly we are now
and always will be
a single entity with distinctly separate bodies,
evaporates and leaves us both
so nearly breathlessly spent
and wanting for more.
Oh, please, more!
I want to lay you in the grass by the pond
and gaze in quiet contemplation
until my soul is satisfied
and my body aches
and admire your beauty
in the same way that I adore the songs
of the hundreds of birds,
the swallow and loon,
crow and robin,
that ever present watcher of my soul,
and the black bird that is it’s sworn enemy,
and I want to add our song to theirs.
I want to write great love songs and poems
that proclaim your poise
even when you are ninety
because when you are ninety
you will be even more beautiful
for having spent your life
loving and being loved
until there are so many
that I could spend all day
for a year
reading the poems
and playing the songs
and still have not gotten through them all.
I would carry you across a burning desert
to protect your delicate feet
I would call down a wind
and command a rain
to keep you cool
and I would build a home
from the sand
to keep you out of the sun
and we would live there forever
because it doesn’t matter where we live
as long as we are together.
I want to make your life better than you ever imagined
and in doing so
make my own life better
and thus create
an infinitely building loop of betterness
for us both
and I want it to overflow from us
and spill into the world
so that it becomes better.
I want us to be the example
that people point to and say
“I want us to be like them.”
I want us to grow old together
and hold your hand as you pass
because I promise
I won’t ever leave you alone
and after you have taken your last breath
I will join you,
in infinite grace for eternity.
What was he thinking
Amazed and enraptured
In the land of his parents
Before I was born
What he was thinking?
Was his mind as clear as it was when I knew him?
Was it crowded with thoughts of his future?
Or focused and narrow?
Because he had no idea then
Where he would be now
Did he leave this place
Caught up in the romance
Take his young bride
Long into the night
Is this the day
My brother was conceived
If I could show him
How he would live his life
Where it all would lead
The devotion to an absent god
The honest but misguided love of his wife
The distance of his children
His belief in his work
Would he have been so devoted?
Would he have learned to love better?
Could he have kept his family close?
Would he have continued working unrewarded?
As I look this young man
His whole life ahead of him
A million choices yet to make
A million paths to choose from
If he knew
Where the ones he made
The ones he chose
Would lead him
If he knew he would choke out his last breath
In that cold and sterile place
Betrayed by a body
That couldn’t respond
To the commands of his still
Would he have done things differently?
“Craving and desire are the cause of all unhappiness.”
– Gautama Buddha
The Buddha taught us that desire is one of the root causes of suffering.
Yet the universe seems to have designed us for exactly that purpose with the intention of forcing us to alleviate or even eliminate the suffering only through connections to, and service of, others.
I understand the concept of desire being the root of suffering, but I am not convinced that the suffering caused by desire—at least when it comes to love—is always an unwanted thing.
Some time ago, I fell in love with someone I had known as a friend for five years prior. One day, after several weeks of very intense and intimate conversations, our relationship changed, those magic words were spoken, and I once again found myself in that unhappy state of desire.
It came with all the trimming; self-doubt, self-pity, fear, you name it. A suffering so pure that the Buddha himself might have pointed at me and said, “There, you see? That is what desire will get you.” As he shrugged his shoulders and strolled off to meditate under his bodhi tree.
The woman who professed her love to me, and captured a permanent place in my heart and soul, is the epitome of everything that I find most attractive in a woman—physically, intellectually, and spiritually. This is not an opinion based on that rosy view of fresh love which blinds, distorts, and softens, I have always felt this way about her.
I desired this woman in ways I am unable to describe; I still do, but we can not be together. Not now. Maybe not ever. This does not mean I love her any less.
There are many good reasons why we cannot be together, and maybe I will talk about them sometime, but for now, I just want to share that my desire caused considerable pain and suffering.
Yet, I chose to embrace that desire, not of her, or that which cannot be, but my desire to be loved by her, which I have not felt in many years, because something else came along with it that made me question everything I had learned not only about desire but about love as well.
I was loving deeper, truer, and more fully than I had ever loved before. Words that I had used with what I thought was full understanding, words like “unconditional” and “non-attachment,” took on new meaning. Meaning so clear and expansive that it made my prior understanding—an understanding gained through years of study and introspection and experience—like that of an infant.
I needed to know why, so I began the process of understanding with this one simple question: Is the desire to be loved a bad thing?
According to Llewelyn Vaughan-Lee of The Golden Sufi Center, the answer to that question is no. The Sufi mystic says that the feminine quality of desire, a part of Self that is largely ignored in our society, creates an imbalance both in Self and in society.
“Like everything that is created, love has a dual nature, positive and negative, masculine and feminine. The masculine side of love is “I love you.” Love’s feminine quality is, “I am waiting for you; I am longing for you.” For the mystic it is the feminine side of love, the longing, the cup waiting to be filled, that takes us back to God. Longing is a highly dynamic state and yet at the same time, it is a state of receptivity. Because our culture has for so long rejected the feminine we have lost touch with the potency of longing. Many people feel this pain of the heart and do not know its value; they do not know that it is their innermost connection to love.” ~ Llewellyn Vaughan-Lee
We are all familiar with the concept of yin and yang, those opposing parts of Self, masculine and feminine, that make us whole. When viewed in this way, yin represents the desire to be loved, while yang represents the action to love. Two halves of a whole. One cannot exist without the other—not fully.
To love I must also desire to be loved because desire is the driving force behind loving, and to be loved I must also know how to love.
It can be summed up in the words of Ibn ‘Arabi, who said, “Oh Lord, nourish me not with love but with the desire for love.”
To which I might add: Sustain me with love but nourish me with desire.
The Buddha is right, desire is causing me suffering, but it has also opened my heart, my mind, and my eyes to the fact that desire can be a path to a higher love.
Does this knowledge somehow diminish the suffering? No. In fact, the pain is made all the more severe by my understanding—but is worth every iota because of what it teaches me, and the depth of love which it has amplified and released.
So I surrender to love and to the universe who designed us this way and I accept the pain of desire because through that desire I have learned to love more fully.
It does raise another question, however: What happens if that desire is fulfilled?
Perhaps Rumi already knew the answer to this question when he said,
I watch him walking west all day with more baggage than anyone who is used to walking ever carries.
East. West. East. West.
Each time I pass him, he has made it only a little farther and my day is made longer as I begin to share his torment.
A mile, then a stop to rest. Then another mile. Another rest.
He is determined. Not waiting around for help like those who spend the day with illegible signs proclaiming blessings of gods and spiteful humor.
He’s helping himself. That makes me want to help.
Finally, my day ends. I oil my bike and fill the tires. I check the rack and make sure I have the bags handy. I wish I had my strong backpack with me. It is in storage now, collecting dust and letting the memory of miles fade.
I stop for food and water and gas and I head down the road.
Ten miles even. In the eleven hours I spent watching his snail pace and his exertion, painfully recalling my own journey, he has made it 10 miles.
My intended gift is useless. He is too old for the bike. I scold myself for being relieved that I can keep it.
He makes only a small effort to rise as I come to a stop, reserving his energy should he need it to fight or flee. His life shows in his face. His clothes—someone else’s—do not fit.
“Where you heading?”
The question escapes before I can stop it. His destination was decided years ago by some mistake or the coding in his genes or the vicious humor of an absent deity. He has been on the path so long that any answer holds as much meaning as the reason for the journey.
“Montana,” he says. The next state.
“I’ll take you to Beach.” The last town in North Dakota. It is 42 miles. Nowhere.
I make room in the van, load his bags which include a half-filled sack of empty cans—travelling money.-
Once in the van, I offer him the food and he eats in silence. His slow consumption fills me with gratitude for what is so easy to take for granted, and a distaste for my own fortune, slim as it is.
We arrive in Beach. I give him the cash I got from the ATM, wishing it was more and knowing it could never be enough, and in our longest conversation I wish him good luck. “Thanks, I need it,” he says.
Don’t we all.
I get in the van and turn it back toward home.
It moves easier. Seems lighter. As if saying, “Yes, he is your brother. He is heavy.”
I tell my son what I have done, hoping to feel good about it. He says, “Well you did a good thing dad.” I feel no better.
I try to convince myself I do these things because they are the right thing to do, but maybe I just do them to make up for other things I have done. Or as an offering to those vicious deities so I don’t have to face the same fate.
I don’t know.
I help because it’s the right thing to do, but it’s more than that.
In helping others, I help myself. I make my own life better. I remind myself that I am not alone. Not ever. That I am part of a large family. And, in helping, I hope that those I aid know these things too.
None of that really makes me feel better as I recall the look on his face—the quiet desperation, the resignation—but it does bring a sense of purpose and balance.
In some ways, that makes it worse. It makes it about me.
I have a lot to learn yet.
I stop at the lake on the way back home and let Brown Dog play in the water. He is young again, the eternal pup. He splashes and jumps and runs and he takes my thoughts and tumbles them in the grass with his wet fur.
Then he lays his wet body next to me and insists on licking and nuzzling me, and I am grateful for his simple, clear message, “You are loved.”
Author: J.M. Greff
Image: Author’s Own
Editor: Khara-Jade Warren
Morning declares itself with a triumphant blinding glare
That fills my room and declares
“I wait for no one!”
I struggle briefly to untangle myself from the cacoon of blankets
That threaten to submerge me
Then with three deep breaths
And stumble upwards
Being careful to not fall
And loosely remake what will later today
Envelop me with solace
Blurred eyes are washed with cold water drawn from an icy depth
To reveal a man I hardly recognize
Though kind, or kindly at least
Disguise the man that lives within this vessel of flesh and blood and bone
But can not hide
A pause with closed eyes then open
The Looker sees
The Light revealed
Is younger now than yesterday
Tomorrow younger still
Though the form that holds it moves faithlessly ever forward
The kettles scream, silenced long ago to a whimper
Announces the progression of space and time
A clock of sorts
That tracks the morning
That becomes the rich black syrup that warms and awakens
And prepares me for the day
I sit and wonder
Elate and somber
What infinite wisdom could make me so
The timeless Light that lives within
The suit of flesh that ever changes
And the coffee that fuels those thought
Consumed by both
They are One
You say that you love the rain, but you open your umbrella when it rains. You say that you love the sun, but you find a shadow spot when the sun shines. You say that you love the wind, but you close your windows when wind blows. This is why I am afraid; you say that you love me too. ~ Qyazzirah Syeikh Ariffin, I am Afraid
If you have never stood in the pouring rain commanding lightning, thrilled by the electric charge that makes the hairs on your arm stand up, joyously welcoming the mix of ether and ozone that shortens your breath and quickens your pulse—you cannot say you have ever loved a storm.
If you have never stood bare, arms out in grateful reception of the sun’s life-giving and life-taking energy until your skin burned and your sight dimmed and you became the raging fury and heat of a star—you cannot say you have ever loved the sun.
If you have never stood on the highest point you could find, exposed to the howling wind that threatened to carry you as it screamed its furious emotions in a voice so loud it deafens and numbs as it tears through your very soul—you cannot say you have ever loved the wind.
If you have never stood in complete and total awe and wonder of the one who receives and returns your affection and attention,
with heart and soul open and inviting,
ready to face the storm,
willing to burn,
able to withstand the wind
with unfettered courage and faith and joy and gratitude,
or have never
been fierce enough
as a warm rain
on a cool,
then you cannot say you have ever truly loved at all.
I will do all of this and more.
So much more.
My love is the blazing sun,
the howling wind,
the freezing blizzard,
the devouring sands,
the falling mountains,
the raging sea,
the gentle breeze,
the cool pond,
the warm rain,
the spring day,