A friend reported the following experience:

“Being an empath can be an odd thing…I was introduced today to an art exhibit photo of two wall clocks hung side-side-side and synchronized.(1) I was asked what I thought it was about. I teared up and cried, with no idea as to why. I didn’t feel any emotion but could not stop the tears, had no idea what was going on, until I heard the story behind the art.

It was made by a man who contracted AIDS from his life partner, which eventually claimed both their lives: first his partner, later himself. The clocks were placed in an exhibit with the instructions to put new batteries in the clocks at the same exact moment. As they ticked on for who knows how long, one became slower and weaker then stopped before the other. Eventually the other stops as well. It was entitled ‘perfect lovers.’ The point was how a real life relationship was through the eyes of the artist. We couple up, and run in sync. One day, one is left alone in time waiting to join the other again. Somehow, this registered with me well before I had thoughts about it.”

What the art held and delivered lived in her tears. Asked what she thought, her tears answered. So, what does the body know?

Her tears say the body understands companionship, love, risk, mortality, loss and reunion and so resonates with expressions of these. The body knows art. Art is its kin–offspring of our bodily capacity to incarnate meaning in gesture and symbol. By bodily engagement we enter empathically into a created work. The body is the imaginal organ which makes art possible and accessible.

Empathically resonating with created works is possible because art and body are soul incarnate. Art and body testify to soul enmattered and enfleshed. Soul is the unity of matter and flesh. Tears mark the passage of time and clocks cry when life runs out. Clocks and tears are one in the encounter; they feel with synchronized beating hearts and they speak with one voice. Aware or not, the body knows this.

Our embodied presence and susceptibility to the world opens to far more than what enters conscious awareness. The body, which tends to fade from awareness in favor of the tasks at hand, registers what we miss. The body opens to, takes in, holds and calls us to attend what eludes conscious awareness. What dwells in the body hungers for remembrance.

“Being an empath” speaks of a heightened bodily susceptibility to what lives below conscious awareness and of a receptivity to its emergence. We cooperate with this emergence by staying with visceral reactions, gut feelings and with encounters that let fall inexplicable tears. By opening ourselves to how the body knows–to soul incarnate, to visceral resonances, to gesture, symbol, metaphor–we open ourselves to what the body knows.

1Artist: Félix González-Torres ( American, 1957 – 1996 )
Dallas Museum of Art  https://collections.dma.org/artwork/5324909