THE BLOG

Intimacy With Suffering: Feel the Pain, Heal the Pain

12/18/2012 06:31 pm ET | Updated Feb 17, 2013

In Buddhism we talk about the two wings of the bird: Wisdom and Compassion. There are many wisdom teachings, including the teachings about "emptiness." I was preparing to put down some seasonal thoughts on these teachings, which I have been calling the Gift of Nothing, to share with you. But it seems more appropriate to put aside this investigation for a moment, and allow my heart to respond with compassion to the events that just took place in Connecticut. Many beings were killed. Most of them were children.

I watched just a little of the reporting, which was full of "information" but no "answers." To me the most helpful and inspiring clip was the one of our president, the day of the shootings, allowing himself to be intimate with his grief, and struggling to find a place of balance while remaining close to the terrible pain of loss. The effort he seemed to be making to stay close to the pain, while at the same time maintaining his ability to speak and lead and carry on is, I think, the best example of how compassionate effort is a wholesome and healing response. As I watched his effort, it certainly helped and encouraged me to stop and feel the pain with him. This post is my attempt at keeping balance.

Today, when I was on Facebook, I saw a post with photos of the children, and when I first encountered it, I scrolled past it. I was not quite able to take in what I knew would be a pain that would be deepened by the personalization of the loss. But remembering the courage of one person, I reversed direction, scrolled back up and opened up the page. I spent time looking in the eyes of the children, and allowing in thoughts about the lives unlived. Good deeds undone. Mischievous actions unscolded. Breaths not taken.

Perhaps while you are reading this, you could take a moment, right now, to allow this pain into your hearts, far enough in, close enough to your own heart, so that the pain is palpable, but not so far in that you become devastated, broken down with grief and unable to participate in making an offering toward healing this pain. Now, in this highly energized place, send out from your tenderized heart thoughts of compassion for those who are so directly and devastatingly affected by having lost a loved one, having lost a child.

The Buddha taught that all life has three characteristics. The events of the past few days exemplify two of them: the suffering and impermanence of this human life. The third characteristic that the Buddha realized, the characteristic we call emptiness, is that all things are without a separate, independent "self" -- or to put it in a more positive way, we are constantly and without end creating each other's lives and we do not exist separately or alone. When we participate in the activity of being available to receive the pain of the world and in turn give solace, we are enacting the truth of this mutual creation. Offering compassionate thoughts or words can be seen as a ceremony that celebrates and exemplifies the unknowable and total interdependence of all life.

There are many actions that we are being encouraged to take right now. I was particularly moved by the suggestion of doing 26 good actions, in honor of those that were killed, and I make a commitment to do this, letting each person know that the gesture I make is in honor of a life that will not be able to contribute in that way.

There are other actions that, while well meaning, may be vehicles for diverting our pain. When I read such things as "Demand Gun Control," the feeling of violence in that emanates from that word "demand" does not bring me closer to the pain. This doesn't mean that working toward solutions that might save lives in the future is necessarily a diversion -- but for me, right now, redirecting the energy into anger, or hatred or cynicism or violence that I could be using to stay close to my heart, seems like the wrong direction.

As I feel the grief of loss, I also celebrate this interdependent life in which we hold each other up, and mutually create the world. This world is empty of permanent, unchangeable things, and full of mutable, vibrant, complex, relational life. A life in which, when we can allow ourselves to feel each other's pain, we heal each other's pain.