Sitting with suffering…

Sometimes I’m crushed by the brokenness of our world. I weep as I see the images of suffering and despair, of little children’s limp bodies. On this morning, it breaks me open.  Some years ago I stopped watching news on television, deciding that a daily dose of news, with video, was poison to my soul. I began to consume my news in bits from written word and radio. The stories still bruised and splintered, but the visuals were not so deeply etched across my eyelids.

We live with the question of how to be with the heartbreak of the world and not be consumed by it. Often open heartedness with suffering is not an easy place to find footing. Sometimes it feels scary, like inching too close to a jagged cliff’s edge…It stirs up deep reverberations of faith and fairness, impotence and callings, hope and humanity. It strains at the tension between keeping one’s eyes clear and heart uncalloused and not being pulled over cliff’s edge by tidal waves of pain.

It’s a question and tension most of us have come to and of course there are no easy answers.  And yet, here are some ideas…

It’s been both my experience and witness that carving out a stillness into our days can help. Whittling space and moments to honor the suffering in us and all around us and to sit with the pain of it, without turning away from our own experience. Taking time to allow ourself to feel and notice and again notice how we feel...and to not so quickly push ourselves to move on or feel anything different than what we do.

And then after awhile perhaps, in that carved out place, to very gently turn our attention to our heart’s next call.  Which is often the call to breath deeply (sigh), wiggle our toes and ground ourselves in the very moment where pain and beauty coexist.  In that carved out space, holding pain and beauty, we can turn our attention, yet again, to our heart’s next call…maybe the call is to whisper a prayer…or to write a poem (or note or check)…or to notice the light of the sunrise (or the song of the tea kettle)… or to wipe a sticky face…or kiss stale lips…or join a cause…or pursue a calling…or “just” to more gratefully and gracefully minister to our very own hungry in our very own kitchen.

Let us notice that so often our own heart’s return call to the echoes of suffering is compassion. And during these times and in that space, may we allow ourselves to be moved by compassion’s call. Compassion that goes bravely to the jagged edge of suffering. Compassion for ourselves and compassion for each other. Compassion that recognizes the common humanity in suffering and serves in beautiful and mundane ways, in the very moment before us.

There is a quote that’s been attributed to Mother Teresa. Recently, I read that it doesn’t belong to her.  I find it a beautiful and frightening sentiment, no matter who authored it.

“May God break my heart so completely that the whole world falls in.”

I’d love to hear how this quote speaks to you and to hear, also, of the ways that you find footing as you meet the world’s deep suffering and great beauty with open heartedness.

Today, may you breathe more deeply, laugh more often and feel more at home in your own (beautiful and sometimes heartbreaking) life…

P.S.  Below you’ll find a short “field note” from author and poet Mark Nepo about his experience with compassion.  It’s dear…

Taking Turns

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