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Creating the Space for Empathy

The importance of finding our inner space amid life's hustle and bustle.

By Carrie Lee Ferguson

Carrie Lee Ferguson is a mother and writer, furthering global awareness by creating new perspectives and connecting mind with heart. She writes on childbirth, childhood, education and social change. Holding a masters degree in education, Carrie has always been passionate about teaching and learning and views childhood as a critical stage laying the foundation for compassion and creative thinking. She is co-author of A Child's Way: Slowing Down for Goodness Sake and blogs at

January 11, 2013

It’s that time of year when it’s so easy to fall into the go-go-go of our culture.  The busyness of running around town checking off wish lists and making presentable for that declinable holiday function can be exhausting and unfulfilling.  All the while the natural world outside our doors is in it’s slow-slow-slow state of winter, cueing us to balance the go-ing and the slow-ing. 

The dance between going and slowing and light and dark is especially poignant during this season.  Winter’s lack of light offers us a path for turning inward to rekindle our inner light.  Now is the time to sit within the space of dormancy and darkness, trusting that just as winter creates the conditions for spring, this inner landscape creates the conditions for rebirth.  When the time comes to turn outward, our inner fire flares forth, and our relationship with the world is renewed. 

The capacity for empathy is inspired within that innermost space.  I have found that if I neglect the inward life, getting too distracted fulfilling my roles and responsibilities, then the life I’m so busy creating no longer feels authentic.  I have to start with empathy for myself.  I have to give myself a nurturing space, even when I think I should be doing something else, even when I think I don’t have the time.  Even when I think I should be out there serving someone else.  

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In the Start Empathy blog, Teach Empathy Through Relationships, Josh McManus of Little Things Labs expresses the essentialness of space for cultivating empathy:

“When we look into empathy and how it is created in the individual, we find that there is a need for physically and mentally safe spaces in order to activate that part of your brain.”

Giving ourselves the gift of these spaces is gifting the greater whole because we enter into a knowing of our connectedness with each other, our planet and our own creative impulse.  It’s in this way that empathy is let loose and expands beyond our intellectual understanding. 

I feel that one of the best ways I can “teach” my five-year-old daughter empathy is to simply show up from this place of knowing.  When I create safe spaces to see and hear my self, the better able I am to do the same for her -- to create an accepting environment where she can be seen and be heard. 

It is in this winter season that I am reminded to trust all conditions, restoring a new level of compassion for myself.

What better way to start empathy than to start with myself?