I recently finished reading The Secret Life of Bees, a novel published 15 years ago and made into a movie in 2008. (I’m quite behind on my fiction reading.) One of the characters in the book, May, was described as having a “condition” that made her feel everyone’s pain as if it was her own. She was an empath, in other words.
This character learned to manage her pain by building a sort of wailing wall. When she felt overwhelmed by painful events, she would write it down on a piece of paper and leave it in the wall.
May’s character reminded me of two things:
- We are all affected by the pain of others.
I believe we all have a little bit of May in us. When we hear of tragedies or violence on the news, it affects us. Photos of children fleeing Syria moved us. Hearing stories of how other women were harassed sickened us. Learning about yet another police shooting angered us. It’s not a condition. We are still connected to the pain of others, no matter how far away they are.
- We need a way to deal with that pain.
Sometimes we react by tuning out and shutting down. It’s too much to bear. We close our hearts, become filled with fear, and maybe push people outside our circle away. We can start to deny or ignore our connection with our fellow human beings in order to limit the pain we’re exposed to.
We need to find a balance between maintaining our compassion and connection to the human condition without being overwhelmed.
I’ve written before about dealing with personal pain here, here, and here, but how do we handle other people’s pain? Events we can’t control?
Here are some thoughts:
- Develop your own personal ritual. Write it down and burn or rip the paper up. Carry a stone on a walk and throw or drop it somewhere. Light a candle. Say a prayer. Give the pain a place to be.
- Take action. Take whatever action you can, whether it’s donating money or getting involved with a cause – even if it’s unrelated to the event.
- Connect with others. Develop a ritual with others. Talk about what happened. Take a walk together. Connect.
- Spend time in nature. It is grounding. It helps put things into perspective.
- Practice a loving kindness meditation. Find a guided meditation here: https://www.tarabrach.com/guided-meditation-loving-kindness-2/, on yogaglo.com, or elsewhere online. I’ve recommended this before. It is the meditation equivalent of a cure-all.
Do you have a ritual for dealing with other people’s pain? What works for you?
It is hard to know what to do when a tragedy like Orlando happens. Even if you do not know anyone who was affected, we are all touched by it. You may feel a mix of empathy, anger, outrage, and hopelessness. You may wonder where we can be safe, what will be next, what can I do, what will it take before things change?
As we begin the process of mourning as a country, as individuals, I would like to offer a suggestion for a small thing we can each do. I think one of the best ways we can honor those who have died is to contribute to creating peace.
I once heard the Dalai Lama speak about peace on the national mall, in front of the Capitol Building. He said that peace in the world begins with your own peace of mind. When we are at peace with ourselves, we spread that peace to those around us.
When our actions and words are aligned with this place of inner peace, others will respond in kind. And then they spread that peace to others around them. Creating change in the world begins with changing yourself.
How do you find inner peace? It is a continuous process of cultivating mindfulness and self-compassion. Yoga and meditation are tools that can help, especially restorative yoga.
Try this simple meditation:
- Close your eyes and take several deep breaths
- With your eyes still closed, look down and imagine that you can turn your eyes inward
- Turn your internal gaze to your heart. Sense your heartbeat, feel it in your chest
- Then, listen. What does your heart need? Does it have a message for you?
- When you’re ready, return your gaze forward and take several deep breaths.
- Open your eyes.
Whatever approach you take to finding inner peace, the key is really in prioritizing your own mental and spiritual health. It may seem frivolous or unproductive to spend time doing “nothing,” but to put it into perspective – the world depends on it.
We had been dating for about 4 months when he took a 2-week trip to visit family and friends in Chicago. Things seemed to be going well between us, though he had been out of work for a while and was showing signs of depression. We talked almost every day while he was gone.
Then the day he was supposed to start heading back came and…nothing. I called. I texted. No response. I had other people call him for me. Again, no response. I searched the internet for arrests, deaths, freak accidents…and found nothing. To this day, I have no idea what happened to him.
Once people reach a certain age, most everyone has experienced the sudden end of a relationship. The ending comes in many forms – an unexpected break-up, a fade-away, a sudden death. And the relationships affected can include anyone, from romantic relationships and friendships to colleagues. These experiences leave us feeling confused, wondering what we did wrong or how we could have done things differently. The not knowing makes the end of the relationship even more difficult to get over.
So, what do you do when you can’t get closure?
I have been reading a book called Grieving Mindfully by Sameet Kumar, which says it is helpful to perform a ritual to acknowledge the end of the relationship. Closure allows you to begin moving on instead of staying stuck in shock and disbelief. There are five things we need to say to facilitate closure:
- I’m sorry
- I forgive you
- I love you
- Thank you
You don’t need to see or speak to the other person to find closure. For each step, write what you wish you could say to that person. If that person hurt you, it may be difficult to say, “I’m sorry” or “thank you.” But there are always ways we could be better in our relationships – more present, more affectionate, more active. And all of our relationships teach us something. Even if they just teach us how resilient we can be.
After writing your responses, I suggest lighting a candle and reading it aloud, as if the person was in front of you. Then you can begin the process of grieving the end of the relationship.