How To Be With Suffering

Have you ever been in distress and the person you share your distress with also becomes distressed and you end up wishing you had not said anything? 

I think there is an art to being with suffering. I think it comes from being able to be with one’s own suffering. We have an aversion to suffering and try to push it down and away. With help, I learned how to be with my own suffering. I still feel the impulse to run from it, to hide, to push it away, but slowly, I come back to it. I know this helps me to be a therapist and to be with other people’s suffering. 

I know how powerful it can be to sit WITH someone in pain and not feel as though I need to change it, make it go away, or help them fix it. Simply being WITH someone you love in the midst of their pain can be the greatest gift you can give.

Sometimes, we find ourselves looking for the ‘right’ words to say to make them feel better. Maybe there are no words. Maybe saying “I have no words, but I am here” is the most honest thing to say in that moment. 

I have found being fully present to the moment, especially in the face of suffering, to be incredibly healing, for myself and others. Staying connected to my breath, grounded and thus fully present for the other’s experience.

I feel quite touched by the thought of our shared humanity as I write this, and I find myself wondering what the world would look like if we could all be with suffering in a different way.

Reference: Thich Nhat Hanh. (2014). No Mud, No Lotus. Parallax Press: Berkeley, California. p. 75.