“I feel that I’m not doing enough to alleviate the suffering of the world,” she said to me. “And I am terrified I’m going to somehow add to the suffering.”
My friend is six months pregnant, just finished a 10-day sitting meditation vipassana retreat, and was about to open her work emails to see how her coaching clients fared while she was away.
I could see the weight bearing down on her, the impossible heaviness of the sorrows and heartbreaks and fear of countless strangers and close family.
As I sat with her, sharing the helplessness of witnessing a gaping wound and knowing you can never have enough thread, skill, or bandages to close the flesh and stop the bleeding, I thought of her unborn child.
And all the suffering that awaited that tiny being.
“Sweetheart,” I said, reaching out to hold her hand. “You can’t end the suffering of the world. And truly the most important thing for you to work on right now is to be willing to witness the suffering your child will be faced with throughout their life. To love fully without trying to prevent the suffering from happening. To get so rooted in yourself that you are a beam of light, shining possibility. To listen to the silence for your next action, rather than your mind’s belief it needs to stop suffering. Impossible.”
I shared with her my practice: prayer and what I call my goddess box. When I feel that clutching urge to fix someone or something or the temptation to turn away because of the hurt I pause and assess. What am I avoiding in myself? What am I afraid of? Can I breathe a tiny bit more into the pain? Then I write the name of the person I am worried about on a piece of paper and put it into my goddess box. I ask the Mother to hold them and to bring what they most need. I ask to be of service in the best way possible. And then I listen for guidance.
In a world where we want the quick fix, how can we simply be with the suffering? To not minimize, to not dramatize. To not avoid, to not attach. To find the incredible courage to stand and witness, to feel the hurt, to reach out and hold a hand without trying to fix. To give the immeasurable gift of our presence, rather than the drain of our worry or the fear of our inadequacy.
Over the past few weeks, I’ve been going back to choice points in my life, places where I went against myself. Places I didn’t listen to my intuition or decided someone knew better than I did. The places where I hurt others with my words or actions. The places where I didn’t see the pain in front of me.
I’m trying to do better. Each day I pray I can show up and quietly hold hands with myself and others. I pray for the courage to turn and face the suffering and to let it soften me.
And some days I curl up in a blanket and weep until I’m empty.
Because I believe what is needed to stay soft is both our still compassionate witnessing and our honest shattering weeping. Let our actions arise from those two love-filled bowls.