How can we alleviate the sickness and suffering of others just a little—or at all? Feelings Detective gives us insight into personal and collective healing.
We see all this suffering in the world, and we often want to help. We ask, “Can I do anything?” and then we often feel so helpless in the face of it all.
It’s there. There is a lot of it.
Some of us are hurting a little. Some of us are hurting a lot. It’s not a contest. We’re all probably hurting more than we care to admit.
Why is it hard to admit to suffering?
Why is it hard to admit? Because, for one, Western society is predicated upon achievement. We are trained to pursue some notion of success above all other considerations. We also live existences isolated in ways unknown to previous cultures in history.
People are simply not present to each other as often in the way things are set up.
Sickness and pain are always scary. They put our lives and our survival and the meaning of our existence on the line. But we are biological organisms. Health is not optional. It’s kind of all we have. And when we don’t have it? Life gets really uncertain. And certainty is another one of those things that comes with success, right?
People who have not experienced or been close to those who have experienced chronic conditions frequently don’t understand how intense and isolating it can be.
Is winning all there is?
No one wants to be seen as weak, and yet society has a real orientation of winning, acquisition, and projecting a vision of brutish strength, none of which have much direct relationship to the health of our own biological systems (our bodies) or those in which we live (our environment).
It is the job of those with the privilege of being more healthy, to make a safe space for those who are dealing with seen and unseen burdens with their health. What does that look and feel like? It looks like kindness and it feels like warmth.
And what about for those of us who are suffering? It is compassion on ourselves, being gentle, and knowing that the best we can do is the best we can do. Hopefully we have people we can count on to help us. If we don’t, hopefully we can learn to help ourselves in a way that nurtures as much as possible under our conditions.
Anything that doesn’t nurture is probably going to make things worse. Think about it, when you’ve already fought just to get through the day, even the smallest things can make a big difference.
That is why for those of us who are not acutely suffering with our health, it’s important to cultivate perspective and compassion.
Carry the weight—and let yourself be carried
If you aren’t making the world a nicer place for the sick and the suffering, there’s definitely a chance you are making it worse. Perhaps that is a sign you are suffering yourself.
If you do spend time with people who are not well, try asking if you can do anything at all to make things a little easier. Don’t pry. Don’t invade. Don’t be overbearing. But do make yourself available. Never insist. They may not even trust you at first, but don’t worry about it. The suffering can tell for themselves what is helpful or not. Let them guide you.
Acutely suffering people have enough to carry. If you feel compulsive and uncomfortable or even over-eager in your desire to help, and this is probably most of us if we are honest, start with self-nurturing, be compassionate and present and nonjudgmental toward yourself. Always gentle, always respectful of privacy.
Does that sound impossible? Well that’s a symptom that you need to start working on it yesterday. Self-deception and suppression of feelings of any sort is unhealthy for the biological organism too. It means you are ignoring the most important data your body is providing you. You probably have your own suffering—be loving toward it and help make yourself more present.
As I mentioned earlier, that urge to compete and succeed within ourselves makes it hard to face another’s suffering. If you cultivate compassion to your own suffering, chances are you’ll do better when faced with another’s.
You and the people around you
Finally, pay attention to yourself and the people around you. Don’t be content with surface relationships. Those kind of relationships do not nurture us, they don’t decrease our suffering. They leave us uncertain and hurting more, typically.
If you want to be present to those who are suffering anywhere in the world, you are going to need to practice being present to hurt, both within and without, near and far.
There is neither a magic nor a complicated solution to the problem of suffering in the world. It’s here to stay. But, with just a little more kindness, we can help ourselves and others feel a little bit better. We’re all we’ve got in this universe.
Remember to show some love today. It’s the only day there is.
Photo:Riccardo Croci Torti/Flickr