By Joy Vernon. First published on the Biddy Tarot Blog in summer 2015. When I was searching for it this week to share with someone, I noticed it was no longer there, so I’m reproducing it here. I edited the article for clarity and optimization. I also added the “Additional Resources” section.
Being an Empath
When I was in college, my work study position was as a stagehand in the theatre. One day I arrived early for a rehearsal. I was sitting quietly, just being in the downtime in between everything else. Then a friend of mine came in and joined me. All of a sudden I was overcome with feelings of depression. I contemplated this strange turn of events. Then I suddenly said to her, “How are you feeling?” “Oh, I am so depressed” she said. That’s how I learned that I was empathic—I can feel other people’s moods as well as their physical pains.
I won’t dwell on how my life could have been different if I had figured this out earlier than college! Empathy is a psychic phenomenon that is not usually discussed, or for that matter recognized to its full extent, among the general population. But it is more common among those who are drawn to modalities like tarot or healing. Fear of the overwhelming sensations of empathy can even deter people who are otherwise talented readers or healers. At the same time, empathy is one of the qualities that can characterize some of the very best readers. If you are an empathic tarot reader or healer, read on to find helpful definitions and useful techniques for living and working as an empath.
Difference Between Empathy, Sympathy, Compassion
I tend to distinguish between empathic, empathetic, sympathetic, and compassionate. To me, empathy is the ability to experience the emotional or physical state of another. You feel it in your body as if you were them. I was doing a Reiki session on a friend once and suddenly I felt severe pain in my lower back. It was not a sensation I had experienced before and I wondered if it was because I was sitting on the floor. Then I remembered that he had said he suffered from lower back pain. To me the distinguishing characteristic of empathy is that you experience the sensation as if it were your own. It’s not in your mind, or a vision, or a knowing, but something that affects you as if you were suffering from it.
I use “empathetic” or “sympathetic” as being able to recognize what another person is going through without actually feeling it in your own body. “Compassion” is taking the recognition of empathy or sympathy to a higher level of spiritual awareness and understanding or even sharing the suffering of the person while radiating the light of healing from a place of Divine Unity.
Picking Up Other People’s Stuff
People who say they “pick up other people’s stuff” when doing sessions are empathic. The truth of the matter, though, is that you are not actually taking on another person’s pain, even though it feels real. You are a mirror reflecting their emotional, mental, and physical image. You are sharing it with them during the session and it is no more yours to take home with you than their wallet or cute shoes. It is only information. If you dive into the water in the photo above, will you find the mountains? No, they are not there. Likewise, the pain you feel in your body is only a reflection.
I recommend to my students that when they have experiences of taking on something from a client, that they say to themselves, “Yes, I understand, thank you for the information. I no longer need to experience this.” If nothing else, this puts us in the mindset that this is not ours, it is only our way of receiving the data we need to accomplish our work.
Protection vs. Oneness
When a student of mine, an empathic tarot reader, asked me about this recently she wondered how to separate herself from her clients. This is one of the biggest misconceptions about healing. True healing comes from a place of Divine Unity, in which we recognize all-that-is as being one with the Divine. Advice about shielding or bubbles of protection or psychic armor only reinforce that we are all separate. Separateness from the Divine is the cause of all disease. Being one with the Divine is the source of all healing. The key to successfully negotiating your empathy is to turn it into compassion through experiencing oneness with Divine Source energy.
Techniques for the Empathic Tarot Reader
The empathic tarot reader benefits from techniques that help them ground, connect to spirit, and release the specifics of the readings they did. Finding the right techniques for you will transform the pain of your gift into the compassion that characterizes a true healer. Here are some straightforward practices you can implement immediately. Also consult the Additional Resources section for more practices and philosophies.
Technique 1: How to Ground
The first step is to ground yourself. Grounding is one of the most basic concepts taught in most healing and spiritual modalities, although it’s not taught as often when learning tarot. You can use any technique you like to keep yourself grounded. A popular visualization is to feel roots extending from your feet, legs and the base of your spine. Feel the roots reaching down into the earth to stabilize you. You can also pull up additional energy from the earth, like a tree takes up nutrients.
Technique 2: Connect to Spirit
Next, connect to Spirit. When I started reading at fairs, I did a visualization in which I saw a beam of light coming down from very high up more or less centered between the client and me and stopping a few feet above my head. At that point above us, the beam split and one ray extended toward my crown and another ray extended toward the client’s crown, like an inverted V. Then I saw a beam of light connect my heart to my client’s heart, forming a triangle of light. (You can do this no matter where in the world the client is by picturing them in front of you.)
I don’t do this meditation very often anymore, but I did it a lot when I first started. I think it probably just happens naturally now. If I start to become too overwhelmed by my empathic connection during a session, I go back to the visualization.
Technique 3: Release Your Readings
The last thing you can do is release your readings at the end of the day. A popular tarot blogger mentioned in one of her blogs that she does a “reading dump.” She didn’t provide any more info than that, but it was suggestive enough that I was able to develop my own method. My practice was to perform this at home after a day of sessions, although it could be just as effective to do it at the location where you do your readings.
When I got home, as soon as I walked in the door, I would light a stick of incense and hold up my hands in offering, and say, “May my work and my clients be released to Divine Unity for the greater good of all.” As you can see, it doesn’t have to be fancy, just functional. It made a huge difference. As with the visualization, I did it regularly for a while when I first learned it, and then slowly stopped doing it. But now if I find myself thinking about a client after their session, I just release them using this technique.
Additional Resources for the Empathic Tarot Reader
The following articles and meditations might be useful for those who identify as an empathic tarot reader.
Basic Reiki Meditation. This meditation is grounding while also connecting us to our divine nature, and by extension to Divine Source. Includes written instructions and a downloadable mp3 recording.
Psychic Self Care. Tips on caring for your psychic self from a variety of professional psychics. For anyone who works with providing care to others or takes on the difficult emotional state of others, from hair stylists, aestheticians, and massage therapists, to psychotherapists, social workers, and peace officers. These techniques also work for any empath who simply needs to go out in the world. Especially useful after coming home from Walmart!
Spirit is Our Shield. On the topic of Protection vs. Oneness. I discuss the idea of shielding, protection, and taking on other people’s stuff in this article, introducing the concept from the system of Reiki that shielding separates us while connection with the Divine heals us and others.
The Three Diamonds. In this article I explore methods from the system of Reiki as well as non-Reiki methods to ground, connect to Spirit, and access compassion. Following these steps increases our ability to connect deeply with others in a way that is healing for us and them.
Are You an Empathic Tarot Reader?
If you are an empath in general or specifically an empathic tarot reader or healer and find yourself connecting too easily with others, I’d love to hear from you. I know many readers have developed their own ways of dealing with the difficulty of empathy. I’d love to hear from you. What are your favorite techniques for working with this challenge? Please share your ideas in the comments.
Joy Vernon is widely recognized by tarot professionals as an expert tarot teacher and respected community leader. With over twenty years’ experience teaching energetic and esoteric modalities, Joy brings expertise and practiced familiarity to her specialty of esoteric tarot, which layers astrological and qabalistic symbolism onto the traditional tarot structure. Under her leadership, the Denver Tarot Meetup has grown into one of the largest and most active tarot-specific meetups in the world. Joy works as a tarot reader, astrologer, and teacher at Isis Books. To learn more, please visit JoyVernon.com.