Focusing Tip #657 – How can we bear the suffering we see?

Focusing Tip #657 – How can we bear the suffering we see?
May 15, 2019 Ann Weiser Cornell
What do you do with feeling helpless about other people's pain? Read on...

Focusing Tip #657 – How can we bear the suffering we see?

What do you do with feeling helpless about other people’s pain? Read on…

Iris writes:

Ann, may I ask how you personally deal with witnessing extreme physical and mental suffering of others? In particular, the ones that have no voice (children, animals). It’s beautiful that some of us have the opportunity to embark on the path of healing. But most sentient beings never will have that. I guess I’m asking, how is it possible to be balanced and joyfully alive in the face of so much overwhelming suffering – with no end in sight?

Hi Iris:

I’m touched that you asked that question, and it is such an important one, because as we grow on the path of awareness, we will be more awake to suffering, including much that we cannot change.

No one can change all the suffering. But each of us can make some difference.

Healing begins with our own suffering, because as we become clearer and calmer ourselves, we have more resources to give to others. It helps me to remember this.

The other thing that helps me is to know that people do heal from trauma, and presence is the great healer. When we can be there, be present, it does make a difference.

Along with doing what I can to help, I acknowledge and hear how hard it is and was, for that person. Bearing witness is important. “I see you, and I am here with you.”

Yes, there is a part of me that wants to pull away from people (and animals) that I cannot save. Whenever I turn to that part of me with compassion, I discover that the underlying fear is that I will get in touch with my own pain and helplessness, and it will overcome me.

That’s why the inner work of being able to be present with our own difficult feelings, and to accompany them while they heal (yes, they do), is also outer work. It makes us more capable of changing the world.


  1. ina 3 years ago

    Thank you, Ann, because to me sometimes “the world” is unbearable.
    It is not the suffering of people only, it is the suffering about all the negative things that we are doing. Not only war and hunger of individuals, but the broadening hole between rich and poor, saving the gap. The daily mistakes towards this poor planet.
    The new report of the UN about the extinction of plants and animals in a huge run.
    And humanity that does not know, does not act, doesn’t want to act, is not capable of changing. Etc.
    That is some kind of elusive thing, Abstract for a big part; we did not know plastics were harmful long ago!
    I can do my part but it doesn’t feel enough AT ALL.
    Yes, that is personal pain. And I am not afraid of it; seeing it focusing is also painful. The awareness makes me very sad but when I have looked at it focusing, been with it inside, somehow it looses its grip on me. I don’t know if I explain this in the right and an understandable way.
    But it is good to be with my own sad, worried and whatever feelings and say your magic words; no wonder! It gives me more strength.

    • Author
      Ann Weiser Cornell 3 years ago

      Thank you Ina. That’s how I feel too. It’s unbearably awful and sad… and yet when I can be with it inside, it loses its grip on me, and I can do what needs to be done, in front of me now. Thank you so much for writing.

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