I recently had another guest post published. This one was published on a site called Change Your Thoughts. The title of the article is 8 Ways to Start Your Morning Right. You can read the article here. Promise.
When you pay attention to boredom, it gets really interesting. – Jon Kabat Zinn
I came across this video last night and I wanted to share it. For me, it perfectly illustrates what a meaningful life moment is.
The video is only 4 minutes long and I promise that it’s worth more than that. The video is of British naturalist Steve Backshall encountering a group of orcas.
What I love about this video is how “in the moment” he is. Notice how he says this has probably been the two most incredible minutes of his life. And notice the enthusiasm in his voice when he makes eye contact with an orca.
Now here’s the thing about meaningful life moments. You don’t need to sit in a kayak and watch orcas in order to have them.
What you do need is to wake-up, to pay attention, to be in the moment.
Meaningful life moments are all around you, every second of your life.
So here are my questions for you:
What were the two most incredible minutes of your life? And were you paying attention when they happened? Or were you somewhere else, and only noticed how incredible they were sometime later?
“Listening is such a simple act. It requires us to be present, and that takes practice, but we don’t have to do anything else. We don’t have to advise, or coach, or sound wise. We just have to be willing to sit there and listen.” – Margaret Wheatley
How do you respond when someone is in pain, when someone is suffering? I think most of us feel inadequate to the task.
Most people haven’t been trained to respond to such situations. And even those few of us who have been trained, still often feel that what we have to offer isn’t enough to truly help the other person.
Years ago, when I was working towards a Ph.D. in counseling psychology (never completed), I faced two such situations that I remember.
I want to share these stories with you as a way of talking through how we might respond to someone else’s pain.
When Life Throws You a Bunch of Crap at Once
I don’t remember his name. Or his face. Or his voice. Or his clothes. Or really anything about him.
Except his story. Even all these years later, I still remember his story.
When I met him, I was doing a psychology internship in a community mental health clinic in Wichita, Kansas.
He was assigned to me as a client. I only saw him once. After that one session, he didn’t return to therapy.
Perhaps I was too young to help him, only 25 years old at the time. Perhaps no one could have helped him, given what he had been through.
Here’s what I remember, even two decades later. In the six months prior to our session, the following three things happened to him:
- His dog died
- His wife left him
- His house burnt down
He was in pain, he was suffering. And understandably so in my opinion.
I don’t remember exactly what happened during our session. I’m sure I tried to be compassionate, tried to be empathetic. And I probably asked lots of questions. Those were things that I had been trained to do.
But I’m sure my responses were inadequate to his level of pain.
How Can You Respond to Someone’s Pain?
What do you say to someone in that situation? How can anyone possibly help someone who’s dealing with so much, all at once?
I don’t know. I honestly don’t know. Even two decades later I’m not sure.
I generally believe that happiness is a choice. But let’s be honest. Some life circumstances are more conducive to happiness than others.
It’s easy to be an outsider and say that pain is part of life but that suffering is optional.
It’s easy to say that there are people who are far worse off. That what my client was going through wasn’t that bad. That everyday there are people throughout the world suffering from circumstances far worse than that my client was experiencing.
It’s easy to say that no matter how bad life gets, all we need to do is look for things to be grateful for.
It’s easy to say those things when it’s not our life, when it’s not our pain, not our suffering.
But in the end, those are simply empty platitudes to someone who’s in pain.
When someone’s stuck in their story, trying to comfort them by offering empty platitudes doesn’t work. And compassion only goes so far.
Silence: A Way To Respond to Someone’s Pain
Now let me tell you about another client of mine, someone I saw a few months later.
This was a client I had seen several times before. When he came in that particular day, he was distraught.
He had run into his ex-wife earlier in the day. Following an argument between them she threatened to cut him off from contact with their daughter. Forever.
He certainly believed that she could and would follow through on her threat. Faced with the idea of never seeing his daughter again, he was in raw, emotional pain.
I was once again faced with a client who was suffering, who was upset, who was in deep pain.
If you were to hear a recording of that session, you’d notice something unusual. There are lots of pauses in the conversation. Lots of gaps, that sometimes go on for several minutes at a time.
Unsure how to respond, and unable to fix or change the situation, I took a risk. Instead of trying to respond to his pain, I just “let it be”.
I gave him space. I gave him space to say what he needed to say, to experience what he needed to experience. To process his thoughts, to process his feelings.
I mostly kept silent. When I had something useful to say, I interjected. But otherwise, I waited patiently, as he processed what he was going through.
Why Silence Matters
When someone is in emotional pain, we often want to rush in and rescue them. We offer them some sort of solution, tell them how they should handle the situation.
But that’s not what they need at that moment. And offering a solution can make the person feel unheard, make them feel that their experience doesn’t matter.
Other times we try to comfort them, as I tried to do with my client who had lost his dog, his house, and his wife.
There’s nothing wrong with comforting someone per se. But often we comfort others through a “poor you” perspective in which the other person is viewed as a helpful victim, rather than a potentially courageous hero of their own life story.
Often what someone in pain needs is just to be with another person. And to hear their own voice, to talk through what they’re experiencing.
Sometimes that’s the best we can offer another person. Our presence. The understanding that they’re not alone.
When we offer someone silence, we’re creating a sacred space. A space in which they feel safe to face and their pain, face their suffering. And we can be right by their side, silent, helping them heal and move forward.
Dear Readers – I apologize for the blog silence over the past two months. I was attempting to do the impossible. Run two different blogs, one here and one on my coaching website.
In the end, it proved to be too much.
So after much thought, I’ve decided to consolidate everything here on this website.
I am shutting down my coaching website – Lotus Blossom Coaching – and will instead have just one website. This one here.
If you take a look around, you’ll see that I’ve already completely redone the website to include information about my coaching services. At this point I’m about 90% done with the changes.
Now that everything is consolidated on one website, I can offer more and (hopefully) better content on my blog.
I will likely be bringing over some of the blog posts from my coaching website onto this website. Once I figure out how to do that.
What You Need To Do
Absolutely nothing. Since you’re receiving this email, it means you’re already subscribed.
A Guest Post
I expect to have a new post up sometime this weekend. In the meantime, I wanted to share a post of mine which was published on Pick The Brain.
It’s a bit different than what I would normally write but I think it has value and I hope you enjoy it.
The post is called “7 Ways To Exercise Without Exercising”. You can read it here.
Soon after I published my last post – People Are Not Loving and Loyal All the Time – I knew that I would need to publish a follow-up. See, I’m just like everyone else. Sometimes I’m not loving. Sometimes I’m not loyal.
This is part of the spiritual journey. Recognizing that what others do to us, we often do to other people as well.
That just as others are imperfect, so am I imperfect . That just as others are sometimes unkind, so am I sometimes unkind. That just like other sometimes treat me in a way that I don’t want to be treated, so do I sometimes treat others in a way they don’t want to be treated. That just as others have hurt me, so have I hurt others.
Recognizing these things is part of growing up, part of being an adult, part of spiritual maturity.
Another part of growing up, of being an adult is asking for forgiveness. So for anyone who is reading this whom I have harmed in any way, whether intentionally or unintentionally, whether through words or actions, I ask for your forgiveness. I promise to do better in the future.