Compassion is not passive. It is a recognition of suffering – the quivering of the heart – followed by the motivation to do something about it. Yet, there are times we cannot take away the suffering. Think about someone you know who was upset, sad or frustrated. You recognized their suffering and the feeling of wanting to ease it. What did you do? Did it help?
Often times we want to fix the problem, offer advice, or speak in a way that we think will remove the suffering. These actions can be useful, but sometimes they are futile. This can leave us feeling helpless. Offering our presence, simply being with the person as they move through their suffering is often the most meaningful action we can take. How does one offer presence?
First, as you recognize another’s suffering and your pull to ease it, pause and notice where you feel this compassion arise in your body. Also, see if you can recognize any feelings of discomfort in recognizing another’s suffering. Becoming aware of our physical responses to suffering, our own and other’s, will allow us to be more present. It is normal to feel triggered by another’s suffering. If you want to be present for another, do not deny what is happening within you. You do not have to share this with the person you are trying to support, as your intent is to be there for them. You can bring a kind and loving awareness and reflect upon it more later- I am feeling tightness in my stomach. Let me breathe and focus on this person right now. Later, check in with yourself so not to deny your experience, but to deepen your awareness and compassion for yourself.
Second, listen to the person even if there is silence. Let them know they are not alone – I am here for you. You are not alone. What do you need? If the person does not know, then take their hand or offer a hug, or simply sit silently. I find imagining that I am breathing out loving-kindness from the center of my heart supports my offering of presence and supports any discomfort that may arise within me.
Offering compassion through our presence takes courage. It asks us to admit the truth that we cannot remove all suffering but we can hold it with tenderness. This nurtures connection sending the message that even in the midst of our suffering we are not alone and that we are worthy of love. We all have this capacity to offer compassionate presence. It is a practice worthy of our time.
The more we fully offer our attention, the more deeply we realize that what matters most in life is being kind. As we open to the vulnerability of others, the veil of separation falls away, and our natural response is to reach out a helping hand.Tara Brach, Radical Acceptance