Last week I spoke of the importance and theory behind multispecies empathy. This week I offer a practice that can develop your general sense of empathy, and especially that towards other species.
You can do this as a longer journal exercise that incorporates introspection and science, or by simply going to the imagination step #5. You can do this as an individual or with others.
1. Think of an individual with whom you have a relationship. Write here what you know of the being. What is the species? Individual name? Gender? Age? Life stage (growing, juvenile, parent, etc). Health status? If you can't think of an individual, choose a species you would like to get to know better or understand.
2. Observe them over a period of time and write what you see them do. Explain what you see as if you were a reporter with as little judgment or human projection as possible. In other words, don’t try to interpret the behavior at this point. It may be easier to choose just a short period of time or one behavior for this exercise, although you might find it useful for your relationship to journal at some point about all behaviors you encounter.
3. Now guess what you imagine they are thinking and feeling. List your guesses here.
4. To help you understand what you observed, do some research on the species regarding behavior, communication, feelings, and thoughts. You may find it difficult to find information about emotions and thinking in nonhuman species. Did you discover any new feelings or thoughts that occurred in the individual?
|What is this plush-crested jay thinking and feeling?|
5. Now imagine that you are the animal. Get into their paws, scales, fur, or feathers for about 15 minutes. Pick an animal that is in your yard or along a walk or a hike. You can also watch a video or nature documentary. You become them and now are doing what you have observed them doing. As this animal, what are you thinking and feeling? For these 15 minutes, just be them without analyzing too much why they do what they do. After you are done, ask yourself if you discovered anything new by pretending to be the animal? Share what you learned with another person and also invite them into this journal or imagination exercise.
6. Now looking over the list of feelings and thoughts, make a list of this individual’s needs. Try to be as complete as possible as you go through the behaviors observed or if you have the time, a normal day as this individual. How might these needs be different from another individual of the same species, or from the average needs of this species?
7. What feelings and needs arise in you when you consider the feelings and needs of this individual?
8. What have you discovered about this individual, this species, yourself, or life through this exercise? If you have discovered anything, what needs of yours or the individual does what you have learned meet, or not meet?
9. Go back and spend time connecting to the energy of the other being by reviewing their feelings and needs, and then do the same with yourself. Allow this to be a time of being and connecting to life, without thought of requests or demands.
10. Then consider possible actions or steps you might do, or ask of others, based on this multispecies empathy exercise.
11. Share what you have learned or experienced with others and invite them into the exercise.
Please let me know how this exercise was for you, and if you have any suggestions or creative idea on how to use it.
In hope for all beings,