But What If I'm Barefoot?

They say that you shouldn't judge another person until you've walked a mile in their shoes.

The idea here being that we really have no idea what another person is dealing with, what their lives are like, what it's like to be in their heads and hearts, and therefore really don't have an accurate picture by which we can make judgments about their words and actions.

I think this is good advice, as easy as it often is to make assessments about that other guy's so obviously blatant rude behavior.

But I digress.

I've been thinking a bit lately about empathy and compassion. About certain governmental leaders in recent news who may have been calling the kettle black. And while the rest of us scream 'hypocrisy', I was thinking what a opportune time for that person to rethink his former stance against another governmental leader who once was in a similar position that he now finds himself.

But I digress yet again.

What I was really thinking when this came up, while working on a recent client, was this woman's breathing. And how it might feel to breathe that way. And her feet. And her body. And what it might feel like to inhabit that body.

This was one tip given to us in shiatsu school... when assessing a person's condition, and observing their posture, imagine putting yourself in that same bodily position. In doing so, you can almost imagine what they feel like.. what kind of outlook they might have on the world.

Try it, if you can. (Preferably without them noticing, otherwise they might accuse you of mocking them). Notice if their shoulders are slouched or pulled back, or if their chin hangs down or juts out. How do they walk? Do they shuffle? Or aggressively stride? Can you mimic this for a few moments and see if your own attitude changes, for better or worse?

And if you are fortunate enough to have someone beside you when you sleep, try noticing their breathing pattern and making yours the same. Often it's very difficult and uncomfortable after a few minutes.

This same client (coincidentally) was telling me a while back about a psychologist she knew of who would slowly mirror his client's mannerisms throughout their session ... so little as to be imperceptible. (I believe this conversation came up with her around the topic of goth.) And so, in his process of working with young people who had adopted this dark, macabre fashion statement, and then mirroring their posturing, he found his own thoughts growing rather dark and gloomy.

How interesting, I thought. To be able to get into a person's head by getting into their body. Almost literally walking in their shoes (which, by the way, in doing so, we possibly could get an idea of their posture, as our shoes wear out in accordance with our way of walking).

Body empathy? Kinesthetic compassion? Maybe there already is a whole science around this. I know that I've heard that when we want people to know that we're really listening to them, we mirror their body language. Often we do this unconsciously, adapting their movements, and sometimes even the pitch and tempo of their voice. (Try it! Notice what your own arms want to do when talking to someone who has their arms folded as if in a protective stance..)

And then, what would happen if we were to try reversing the process? In ourselves, by adopting a more upright and forward outlook when we're feeling down. Or keeping our postures open and uplifted when interacting with someone else who feels closed or low.

Could we better 'feel for each other' by learning how to feel as each other?