By Jeff Foster
One of the most challenging experiences we could possibly have is when we’re sitting with someone we love – a friend, a partner, mother, father, a loved one – and they’re in pain. You may also be a therapist working with someone who has come to you in a lot of pain. The pain could be physical or emotional. They could experience intense pain in their body or be going through huge changes in their emotions. They might experience grief, anger, sadness, or a sense of loss or confusion. Perhaps they feel as if their life is falling apart, that their heart is broken wide open. Maybe they’ve lost something or someone they thought belonged to them, and they’re in a place of absolute chaos. It can be challenging enough to meet the chaos and discomfort within ourselves, but what about meeting it in a loved one? Often that can leave us feeling so powerless and helpless.
Stop rushing to make them better
When we face a loved one in pain, so quickly, we rush to solve the problem. We rush to give them an answer, or to give them some comfort, to manipulate their experience, to change their experience, to make them better. Often when we think of healing, we think of the reduction or disappearance of symptoms. That’s really what western medicine is very good at – numbing symptoms and pain, or removing them. But if we’re talking about true healing, we’re not just talking about the removal of symptoms or the numbing of symptoms. True healing is about remembering who we really are, the rediscovery of wholeness here and now. True healing is not far away, it is always close.
When we are sitting with someone, we sometimes feel the urge to fix them. In the running away from someone’s experience, we’re coming from the place where “I’m okay, and you’re not okay” or “I’m the expert, and you’re the one who needs my help” or “You’re the one who needs my healing.” We’re not really seeing things the way they really are, we’re not seeing the one in front of us for who they really are. We’ve forgotten who they are and we’re seeing them as a victim, someone who needs help, someone who is broken. If that’s our intention or attitude, what we’re really communicating to them is not true healing, but that healing lies outside of them, that it’s far away. We’re saying to them we have the answer, that they are not home.
Rediscover the order in the chaos
True healing is about remembering wholeness and communicating it to the one in front of us. They are already whole amid the chaos of the present moment. In chaos there is order.
We’ve seen this in our own lives. Often when we’ve faced a moment of chaos ourselves, intense and unexpected thoughts and feelings arise and our dream of how the moment “should” happen gets shattered. Again, there’s the urge for order. We long for all that we want, to get we want, to get out of the chaos and reach a place of order. We believe that order will come in time, so we try to escape the moment.
Sometimes I talk about life as a movie. This moment is the present scene of your life. The mind always wants to rewind or fast-forward the movie. It doesn’t want to be here in the scene but to fast-forward to a better scene, to rewind to a scene where there was more joy, peace, love, bliss, or certainty. It wants to fast-forward to a future scene where there will be answers, joy, calmness and order. We try to rewind to order or fast-forward to order, and we miss the order in the chaos. Perhaps that’s where true order lies; in the chaos, the last place you would ever look for it.
Stay with them no matter how the present moment seems
True healing is all about discovering the calm, still, restful, peaceful, center of the present moment storm. You can keep on escaping storms your whole life and life will always give you another storm.
When you’re sitting with someone who’s in pain, the invitation is to stay with them, to make the moment sacred, to try not to fix them or give them second-hand answers you don’t really believe. In moving away from their experience, what you’re really communicating to them is “I cannot be with you, so I’m trying to fix you and take away what you’re feeling. I’m trying to stop you feeling like you do because I can’t be with you in that experience.” It’s about your resistance.
Communicate your presence
What you really want to communicate is very simple: your presence. It’s the sense that “I am here with you in the chaos, fire and hell. Yes, this is what it feels like right now, and I trust on the deepest level that this experience is valid. Somehow, you need to go through this. This is not your life going wrong, it just feels that way. Something needs to express itself in you. You need to feel it all fully. You need to touch, taste, and smell it all.”
There can be a deeper trust whatever they’re going through. The storm, the intense feelings of fear, grief, and sadness. Somehow it’s all intelligent and not a block to healing. Then the invitation is to meet them as that absolute trust in life and experience. This is true even if they’re feeling that they’ve completely lost trust in life, their awakening, or God. Even if they feel absolutely homesick, perhaps that feeling is sacred. Yes. Even the sense of feeling homesick is sacred.
Admit you don’t know and validate their experience
You don’t know what’s best for them. Of course, it’s difficult to see a loved one in pain. Your preference would be for them to not be in pain, perhaps. But this moment is as it is. This is the experience they’re having. Any true healing has to begin with the absolute validation of this moment, an absolute ‘yes’ to this moment. This is the invitation.
Tomorrow the pain may go away. Tomorrow the sadness may disappear. Tomorrow the answers may come. Tomorrow everything may appear to be certain and safe. But right now it doesn’t feel that way. What we’re interested in is what is present, not what may be present tomorrow or what was present yesterday.
Years ago, when this truly dawned on me, there was such a relief that I didn’t have to know how to fix anybody. I don’t have to come to you with all the answers. I don’t have to come to you as an expert. I don’t have to come to you as the teacher. I don’t have to come to you as the one who has worked everything out, because, to be honest, I was never very good at that. I think no one really is.
I come to you naked. I come to you in that place of not-knowing. I come to you as presence. I come to you as this inherent ability to be with whatever energies are moving right now. When I stand as presence, I’m mirroring to you your own inherent ability to be with this moment. My presence is your presence because there is only one presence and it’s non-dual. I’m reminding you of your wholeness. I’m reminding you of your vastness, your inherent ability to hold and embrace this moment. You are already vast enough to hold this pain, this fear, this grief, or even this joy and ecstasy. You are as vast as I am.
Don’t confuse them with your story of them
I’m not confusing you with my story of you. I’m not mistaking you for a limited separate entity, I’m not reducing your potential, and I’m not seeing you as a victim. I’m not coming to you with pity. I’m not even coming to you with advice. I come to you as presence, and I offer you presence. I offer you yourself. I’m here to remind you of who you really are now.
Of course, you wouldn’t necessarily say all of that. If your presence could speak that’s perhaps what it would say. But the beauty of presence is that, ultimately, it comes before words. It doesn’t need words. So that’s why sometimes just doing nothing and offering your presence, your beingness, is the most healing thing of all.
This is such a relief for the one in emotional or physical pain. To not be treated as a broken thing or to be advised, or comforted, but instead to be seen, felt, met and validated. That’s the place where true healing can begin, not fixing but remembering that who we truly are is never actually broken. Life allows even the sense of being broken because it’s just something that wants to move through us.
Who we are always stands as the still, silent, vast, open space amid the storm. And this spaciousness is not to be found yesterday, tomorrow, not in a previous or future scene. It is here and now and this is where we truly meet and heal.