|C. Coimbra photo|
Many years back a dear friend was struck with an aggressive brain cancer. She faded quickly as the disease ravaged her. I never reached out to her. I wanted to, but her pain was too much for me to accept at the time. For years I wrestled with an internal conflict of trying to live a compassionate and empathetic life, yet I could not accept my friend’s pain. This came from, I later learned, from the lack of peace within myself. With no personal empathy, it was much too fearful to allow another’s pain to touch me.
This is not an unusual circumstance of the human condition.
Dr. Rick Hanson, a neuropsychologist and author of Hardwiring Happiness, Buddha’s Brain, Just One Thing, and Mother Nurture and founder of the Wellspring Institute for Neuroscience and Contemplative Wisdom, suggests in his recent newsletter:
“Let the pain of the other person wash through you. Don’t resist it. Opening your heart, finding compassion – the sincere wish that a being not suffer – will lift and fuel you to bear the other’s pain. We long to feel received by others; turn it around: your openness to another person, your willingness to be moved, is one of the greatest gifts you can offer.
“To sustain this openness, it helps to have a sense of your own body. Tune into breathing, and steady the sense of being here with the other person’s issues and distress over there.
“Have heart for yourself as well. It’s often hard to bear the pain of others, especially if you feel helpless to do anything about it. It’s OK if your response is not perfect. When you know your heart is sincere, you don’t have to prove yourself to others. Know that you are truly a good person; you are, really, warts and all, and knowing this fact will help you stay authentically open to others.”