Sometimes, people who we love are suffering. And, all we want to do is take away their pain. It’s such a desperate feeling. There must be some way I can resolve the problem, offer some relief, do something!

It’s been one of the hardest and most cherished lessons of my life, that at these times all I can offer is my spacious presence. That there may in fact, be nothing I CAN do. It’s so tempting to want to fix, to make it better. But to slow right down, to allow things as they are. Not completely passively, but slow enough to allow any actions required to arise from a deeper, more sacred knowing than my quick, fix it, solve it, ‘make it better’ mind.

Being with suffering

It’s hard to be with suffering. To watch those dear to us wrangle and struggle with whatever challenge they are meeting. I know from my own struggles that other people’s well-meaning fix it, solve it, ‘make it better’ mentality can feel like a complete dismissal and override of the sacred journey I’m undertaking. To be held in trust, however, allowed to be where I’m at without the imposed ‘I need you to be ok because I can’t bear the discomfort of witnessing your suffering’ affords some space to move, to explore, to get comfortable with the discomfort. To find the gold that suffering offers. A precious gift that many have given me that I am so grateful for. Something I hope I can offer others.

The greatest support that I can receive, and that I can offer, is to recognise the innate ability of each individual (including my own) to find their own perfect response to what life presents them. To make their own meaning, follow their own inner code.

Our culture doesn’t support this. There are ideals we collectively hold about how a life should be, how it should progress, how it should end. We measure ability, skill and knowledge in a hierarchy that usually places authority firmly outside ourselves. Something that we have to seek out, pay for, find. I’m not suggesting that there is no validity in the qualifications and skills of professionals. The skills and training that afford certain authorities. Of course, there are experts, specialists and authorities that offer great service and that we can respect. And, each of us needs to be our own authority on the healing journey in relationship with these experts. Deciding, discerning for ourselves what it is that we most need to meet ourselves where we are and navigate our own unique journey.

Finding meaning

The greatest gift, beyond the practicalities of support we can offer to people suffering is a recognition of their own inner knowing. Their own unique way to make meaning from their situation. A trust in their ability to do so. A belief that they have access to this wisdom and that they know better than anyone else what the experience is offering them.

We can watch carefully our own need to fix and change, to remove the source of discomfort for ourselves. We can trust that whatever is happening for the person is in some way perfect for their journey. Perfect, only because it IS happening and our arguments with reality, our rationalisations and protestations are a waste of energy.

We can certainly recognise our preference for things to be other than the way they are and feel the longing for things to be different. And, recognise that they are not. That we haven’t failed because they’re not. We can listen to the grief that we’re experiencing, allow it, feel it. We lose so much when we by-pass our feelings of failure, loss and disappointment. We are conditioned to move away from these feelings and see their appearance as an indication of being wrong in some way. Instead, they are part of the very rich tapestry of life. They offer definition and texture to our lives.

A seat at the table

What if we met these undesired feelings and responses, got curious about what they bring to us? Not to the point of overwhelm but little by little getting curious and interested in these lost and forgotten aspects of self that have been banished into the shadows of our psyches.

This takes courage, support, gentleness and friendliness. Gradually opening the door to these darker aspects of the collective consciousness that have been refused and banished. Giving them a seat at the table. A move towards wholeness, a move towards integration.