Can We Take Away The Pain Of Others?

Mar 18, 2014

I got a touching email question today:

"I lost my mom when I was 6 months old.  Since then, my grandma has been like my mother.  She is now 75 and enduring a lot of physical pain.  We have visited many good doctors, hospitalized her and so on, but the pain is just worsening.   At a personal level, I meet her every evening for an hour, love her, do some nonsensical stuff to bring a smile on her face, massage her neck and back and so on.  I want to believe that love can relieve her pain, but on the days when she is severe pain, I lose faith.  Do you think love can really heal this pain?  If so, what am I lacking?  Is there a way to transfer her pain to me?  I can understand if you don't have time to respond, since you must be getting so many emails, but thanks for being there.  With love and respect ..."

I responded with this: 

When we see others in pain, it is a noble feeling to take away their pain.  During my teen years, I used to volunteer for a hospice and routinely experienced similar feelings -- particularly around those who had to endure a lot of physical pain.

After some experience, I realized the wisdom of this proverb: "Pain is inevitable.  Suffering is optional."  As we look closer, pain is an inevitable part of the human experience -- we can't take that away. What we can attempt to reduce, though, is suffering.   On the face of it, we can provide "pain killers" and physical support, but that only treats the symptoms.  Source of the suffering, in one's own mind, still lies dormant.  A deeper way to help ease that suffering is to listen, make them laugh, share presence with them.  By just Being, the person experiencing the pain is able to differentiate (even if sub-consciously, or momentarily) between the pain and suffering -- "Yes, the pain is there, but I'm still able to laugh and smile and feel joy."

That capacity to equanimously hold space with another person's suffering becomes a solid foundation for compassion.  Along that journey of compassion, it becomes clear that your suffering and the suffering of that person in front of you are connected -- and with that insight, we start "being the change" as the greatest way to help alleviate the suffering of others.  Then, as we help others, we help ourselves and vice versa.  The less suffering we have, the more we can hold space with others; and the more we do that, the greater our capacity to serve.  In that sense, I do think love can heal us and others.

Bookmark and Share


Projects I'm Involved With

"Service doesn't start when you have something to give; it blossoms naturally when you have nothing left to take."

"Real privilege lies in knowing that you have enough."