Tuesday, June 22, 2010

3 Mindful Ways to Be With Someone in Pain

This is part II of Vidyamala Burch's pearls of wisdom, on chronic pain, this time for person trying to help chronic sufferer:
1. Empathize and ground them in present:
The first thing I would try to do is simply connect with them as another human being who is suffering. I would try to help them feel that they are not alone in their pain and I would try to connect with them on the basis of empathy. I would talk to them about the fact that they will ever only experience the pain one moment at a time and ask them to examine how much of their distress is based on ideas of past and future (such as dreading future moments of pain). 
2. Laugh with them and help them find pleasantness in the moment: 
I would also ask them what is pleasant in their experience right now: It might be something very simple like having warm hands, or being in a beautiful room, or feeling the gentle sensations of breath in the body. By experiencing this directly they may be a little less overwhelmed by their pain. I would try to laugh with them. One thing I have found through my own practice of mindfulness and compassion is that it is always good to lighten up. Everything is changing and if I can let go into this broad sense of flow then I experience life as being much less heavy and stuck.
3. Model honesty and equanimity about present experience:
So I would try to empathise with their situation as deeply as I could, and I would try to engage on the basis of enjoyment of their company as well and in this way help them realize that chronic pain is just one element of life and that it is possible to be quite light about the situation if one isn’t dominated by the pain either through being overwhelmed or through being trapped into habits of avoidance and running away. I would try to exemplify a sense of being with the pain with great honesty, whilst simultaneously having a broad and open appreciation of all the other elements to the moment as well – many of which are joyful and pleasurable.
Simply beautiful. Nothing to add.


  1. Probably most will apply these passages to the problem of physical pain, but I recalled the pain of losing my 12 1/2 year old doggy while reading passage #3. It helped to consider the pain and loss as one element among many. When we brought home a new puppy, the human capacity for love and sorrow was palpable. Simultaneously, we experience seemingly contradictory aspects of life. And then if we're present, the one becomes less overwhelming with time.

    Thanks for posting these.

  2. Thank you Donna! Yes, agree, these principles apply to all primary pain, whether physical or emotional. As I practice, I get the sense of becoming larger inside - and I don't mean physically :) Using the container analogy, it feels as if I am able to hold more and more, including seemingly opposite experiences. As right now, pain in my side from pulled muscle, and joy of writing here, and being present!

    Deep bow to you, sister!