And then I was on a video call with David Whyte as part of a training that I’m doing and he said it this way: “When we push away our own suffering and pain, we push away and abstract the pain and suffering of others.”
This isn’t exactly news. People in the counseling industry have said for years that the worst thing a therapist can do for their clients is to not do their own inner work. I think this applies to coaches, too.
There’s something about David Whyte’s visual - of pushing people away - that has gotten under my skin. There are so many people who feel disconnected, lost, disempowered, people who feel alone or like they are just going through the motions or barely keeping their heads above water.
It feels overwhelming sometimes. I think about the people I grew up with who are no longer alive because of mental illness and/or substance abuse. One thing each of these losses has in common is a sense of disconnection, from one’s self and from others. I keep picturing us all running around on the playground, the picture of innocence, unaware of what lay ahead. In the video in my head, kids begin to disappear mid-jump or mid-swing, as they are swallowed up by a brutal world.
I don’t want to turn a blind eye to the suffering in the world, but it is easy to get overwhelmed by it. My idea is that if I tend to my own inner work, I can be more present to the pain of others.
The course I’ve been taking over the winter in embodied presence supports this practice. The idea is that the more I can be present in the moment in an embodied way, the more aware I will be of what’s going on in my inner life. And then, the more I can be with what’s going on in me, the more I can be with what’s going on in other people.
It’s not about taking away people’s pain. It’s about helping them to be with their own pain, so they can move through it in a healthy way. It’s about helping people feel connected even when things feel challenging or painful.
I spent yesterday morning at a nursing facility, singing to patients at their bedside. Offering comfort and connection at the end of someone’s life feels like a powerful, healing practice. Not because people are going to get well, rather because it brings a moment of ease and lets people know they matter. Someone is there to witness their leaving.
I can’t erase anyone’s pain, but I can hold space for it, and in doing so, it is my hope that they feel connected to themselves, to me and to the world.
How connected are you feeling - to yourself? to others? What happens if you slow down and sense into those connections?