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Building Empathy with Mindfulness

This mindfulness worksheet outlines a simple practice that can help us to feel greater empathy for anyone we meet. It invites us to put ourselves in another person’s shoes – to experience the world as they do. Over time, this practice increases our sense of compassion, understanding, and patience for all those we interact with. 

But what does empathy mean, really? Often there is some confusion between empathy and sympathy, so let’s break it down before getting into how we can enhance it with mindfulness.

What Does Empathy Mean?

Empathy is different from sympathy in that empathy is our ability to understand the feelings and experience of another. This virtue enables us to feel for someone as if we are experiencing what they’re experiencing for ourselves. Sympathy, on the other hand, might be considered as understanding the pain of another.

The difference? Putting ourselves in someone’s shoes, or diving into the feeling for ourselves.

Building empathy is therefore not about rationally understanding why someone might be feeling pain, sorrow, or any other challenging feeling. It is about having a felt understanding of another’s experience. In other words, it is an embodied understanding. To enhance this virtue within ourselves, mindfulness practices can play a supporting role.

Mindfulness Practices for Increasing Empathy

Mindfulness and meditation are not practices that stop at awareness of our own world; they expand far beyond our individual being by enhancing our awareness of our interconnectedness with all things. As such, there are a variety of compassion-based mindfulness practices that can help us to harness the virtue of empathy. And by building empathy, we enhance the wellbeing of ourselves, of others, and of the world at large.

Some exercises (in addition to this worksheet) that you might consider exploring include:

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