How To Hold The Suffering of the World

On a rainy winter afternoon about a month ago, in a beloved spot in Paris, called Centre Culturel de Pouya, I wrote the following piece and drew the following drawing in my journal, mainly as my heart’s response to a conversation we had had at Mudita Mindfulness Community a few nights before. We had discussed compassion, and although the pandemic was not yet fully there, hearts were already (and always) heavy from the many ways in which our world suffers, from climate change to fires, from lack of emotion at work to family relations. Hope you will enjoy and engage in this dance of compassion. We need it now, more than ever. ❤️

How to hold the suffering of the world? Certainly not as if you are standing under a heavy fall of snow-rain, with a small bucket in your hands. Your bucket will overflow with ice water, you will be snowed under, your body, heart, mind will freeze.

You must first take shelter if you can. Shelter may come as a luxury in our violent times. If you are lucky, if you have shelter, your first task must be to strengthen it further. Prop up the walls, turn on the heat, cover your cold body with warm blankets. If your shelter is big enough, invite others in to stand with you, as you stand watching the suffering world.

You must remember the universe. You are standing on a pale blue dot, in a continuously expanding universe. You must let the suffering be held in this ever growing love and empty space. You must trust that there is space for all the pain there is. You must connect your breath and your heart with the 8 billion humans standing. You must let the 8 billion suffering be held in the 8 billion loving hearts.

Now is the time to see the loving beauty of all the hearts, even those who may be, momentarily, hating.

You must remember, it is only a moment between love and pain. If you woke up, so could they, so will they, for as long as you don’t give up hope.

The small bucket in your hands can’t hold it. You must turn yourself into the wind, into the great skies, into the deep oceans; you must make yourself as large as the universe if you are to hold this pain.

How to hold the suffering of the world? Certainly not with insistence. You must be wise, and you must know when to turn away. You must not let others shame you or blame you for not reading the news, for not donating to save the koalas, for still taking airplanes to that country you’ve been dreaming of going since you were 12.

You’ve heard it before: you must always put the mask on yourself first. It’s okay if you are not the person to give compassion to that person who made that sexist or racist remark. You are the only person who knows the true limits of your heart. You are the only person who can tend to your needs fully at any given moment.

You must remember life is a give and take. You must know when to take. You must know that you can’t give what you don’t have, that you can’t skip self-compassion and give compassion to the world.

You can’t force yourself to feel for that person at work who seems inhuman to you. You must feel for yourself. You must feel the pain of how you are suffering in relation with that person at work who seems inhuman to you. You must open your heart to your own pain.

You must remember to include yourself in your own benevolent wishes. You belong here. Just as much as anyone else.

How I visualized, in my journal, these two very common extremes

Reflection Questions

  1. How do you relate to the suffering of the world? Do you feel too much of it? Are you often unable to calm down? Or have you checked out, unable to feel anything for some issues or some beings?
  2. Where are you in this dance of compassion nowadays? How can you find your way back to the middle?