Saturday, March 15, 2008

Standing in the Presence of Pain: A Reflection on Henri Nouwen and Pema Chodron

An Honest Being-With

Being with a friend in great pain is not easy. It makes us uncomfortable. We do not know what to do or what to say, and we worry about how to respond to what we hear. Our temptation is to say things that come more out of our own fear than out of our care for the person in pain. Sometimes we say things like "Well, you're doing a lot better than yesterday," or "You will soon be your old self again," or "I'm sure you will get over this." But often we know that what we're saying is not true, and our friends know it too. We do not have to play games with each other. We can simply say: "I am your friend, I am happy to be with you." We can say that in words or with touch or with loving silence. Sometimes it is good to say: "You don't have to talk. Just close your eyes. I am here with you, thinking of you, praying for you, loving you."
- Fr. Henri Nouwen

How often do we want to "fix" someone else's broken heart, their agony, their fear, their journey? We can't stand to see someone else's woe. It breaks our own hearts, it takes us into the core of our own fears, own hurts, own woes. Or not. I'm not sure. I guess I can only speak for myself.

When I have encountered people, (my students, their mentors, friends) in pain, in abusive situations, in dire straights, seeming destitution, I have wanted to "fix it."

But Fr. Nouwen's words here make me wonder,
"What is enough? What am I called to do or be? What happens if all I am to do is stand alongside? Is pray? Is witness the ache, the deep wonder, the questions, and hold fast to the present moment? Is be love?"


I think the Buddhist Nun, Pema Chodron has taught me this, in her writing about being a "warrior of non-aggression" - one who is able to walk into "fire" without having to put it out.

More to meditate on. I invite you to hold Nouwen's words, along with this concept of Chodron's, and weigh the pain and heartache of your own life, your own circumstance, and be okay. Be present to to it.

Happy Contemplating!

1 comment:

Anne said...

Hey this latest blog! From someone who feels the need to "fix" everyones pain, it's nice to be reminded that just being there and loving them can be enough. Love you chica!! Have a Happy Easter!