This morning I awoke to the awareness that five of my dear ones are in the midst of great suffering. Five!
I also realized that I'd been carrying their suffering the last few days in a burdensome way. It was weighing me down, tiring me on many levels.
Four of the dear ones (two couples) are in the midst of their relationships ending, or, at the very least, transforming via separation. Such a difficult reality when you have been with someone for a long time!
Another of my dear ones is experiencing degenerative health issues and intense bodily pain. Nothing is bringing her relief.
When our dear ones are troubled, of course, we want to be as present as possible to them, but how can we do this in a helpful way? Instead of taking on their pain ourselves and becoming physically exhausted, mentally overwrought, or emotionally paralyzed, what can we do?
As I sipped my morning coffee, listening to the birds sing greetings to the early morning light, a song rose up in my heart for the well-being of my dear ones. Metta phrases, blessings of goodwill, filled my heart. This morning, the phrases were a bit different. Not the traditional phrases taught to me by my own good teachers. But those that felt more appropriate for the relief of great suffering.
They come from Mary Brantley and Tesilya Hanauer and their lovely book, The Gift of Loving-kindness: 100 Mindful Practices for Compassion, Generosity, and Forgiveness. This book is a favorite of mine.
I've been using these three phrases from their chapter, "Befriending the Monsters," for a while now (and have been sharing them with those whom I offer spiritual companionship).
May you be held in compassion.
May you be free from pain and sorrow.
May you be at peace.
To make the offering of loving-kindness feel more genuine, I often bring each person to my mind's eye, as if they were standing right in front of me as I offer the phrases. Sometimes I will imagine that I move closer to them and cradle their faces with my two hands. Tenderness infuses me when I do this. I am hopeful that somehow they will feel my tenderness too—and take comfort from it.
This morning, after practice, I felt more open-hearted and supportive to my dear ones. But I noticed the sense of "refreshment" I usually feel when doing this practice wasn't complete. I realized I hadn't offer Metta to myself because I, too, was suffering, feeling the pain of their travail.
I proceeded to offer the phrases of goodwill toward myself.
May I be held in compassion.
May I be free from pain and sorrow.
May I be at peace.
Indeed, relief flooded in. A few tears fell, opening and cleansing the tight places within me.
When life feels difficult for loved ones, it is good and wise to include ourselves in the compassion equation. In the spirit of inter-being, we never suffer alone. Your suffering is my suffering. Addressing one we tend to the other.
I am so very glad this is how life works.
p.s. Using the phrases above, sometimes I substitute the word "suffering" for the word "sorrow." "Sorrow" often implies loss or sadness to me, rather than physical or emotional pain. Feel your way through this and choose the word that best describes what you are feeling in the moment. Or what you sense another might be feeling.
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Janice Lynne Lundy, DMin
is an educator, interspiritual director/guide and retreat leader who has been pointing people back toward the Sacred for more than twenty years. She is the author of several spiritual growth books, including Your Truest Self, My Deepest Me and Portable Peace., and is the co-founder and director of the Spiritual Guidance Training Institute.