What Do I Do With My Pain and Despair for the World?
If you're like me when I was younger, you probably just ignore your pain and despair. Get busy and you won't notice it. This strategy worked "well" for many years. However the cost was a deepening sense of numbness and distance from life.
This was writ large for me when I traveled to Zambia. There surrounded by images my mind could barely take in, my emotions were frozen. I didn’t have a framework for understanding the endless stories of suffering.
And my old question of who was to blame had no simple answer.
And my get busy strategy seemed ridiculous.
And I hadn’t a clue where to begin dealing with my pain and despair.
Years later at a workshop, I recall an invitation to talk openly about my felt experience in Africa. I was surprised by my rush of anger as I recounted hearing endless stories of loved ones lost to aids or hardened street children who wouldn’t know the tender hand of a parent or seeing first hand the desperate plight of Africa’s amazing wildlife, boxed into smaller and smaller areas while being poached for food.
My anger soon turned to fear of my own helplessness and despair as I recounted the cruel and relentless famines the community we worked in experienced. I couldn't put this together with our easy access to supermarkets back home with aisle after aisle of processed food. Then fear gave way to a deep sadness and sorrow. I couldn’t see how I could help stop the life bleeding out of such a rich and beautiful land.
I remember looking up at the group and repeatedly telling those about me tearfully that "I don't know what to do, I don't know what to do...". When I was done, I had spoken my truth and visited places I do not like to feel much less expose to others.
Yet as I looked into each person's eyes I saw recognition.
I was sure they understood. There was a shared understanding between us that didn't require words or actions. We were all just being together with the felt knowledge of the pain and despair of our human condition. I wished in that moment that I could have carried that energy with me as I moved through Africa, compassionately sharing my recognition of their pain and despair. Paradoxically, by sinking into my despair and hopelessness, I found hope and faith.
Holding helplessness and despair at a distance has deep roots in us. We can remember the pain of loving others and not being able to help them. And yet, when we connect with our pain and despair, we are more deeply connected with our loving and strength. And in this place, with each other.
Expressing my pain and despair that day was a compassionate act. The invitation, my response, the look in everyone's eyes... compassion filled the room with its lessons. The experience opened a door that I continually seek to expand within myself and others.
What should we do with our pain and despair?
Find your courage to share it and deepen your learning about compassion and connection.