Pain is a shared burden

Pain is a shared burden

When I am in deep pain, it often feels like it’s taking over my entire world. All I can see is the pain that I’m experiencing, and it’s a lonely, isolated place.

I don’t think I’m alone in experiencing pain that way. When I was searching for images to go along with this blog post, almost every image I found for “suffering” was of a single, isolated person.

That’s the way most of us experience pain and suffering. It’s a personal burden that we carry alone (even when there are others around).

While it is true that no one else can feel our pain for us, and we must personally face our pain and move through it to get to the other side, that doesn’t mean that we are alone in our pain.

The truth is that every single one of us is carrying around our own pain in varying measures, in various ways, and to varying degrees of consciousness. We are more alike in our pain than we are separate.

In fact, Richard Rohr says that “Some mystics even go so far as to say that individual suffering doesn’t exist at all—and that there is only one suffering, it is all the same, and it is all the suffering of God.”

When I am able to take a step back from the personal particularities of whatever pain or suffering I’m experiencing and can embrace the commonality of pain as part of the human experience, I am immediately comforted.

Even when I am alone, knowing that my suffering is shared experience with rest of humanity removes the isolation and blunts the sharp edge of feeling like I’m the only one who knows what this pain is like.

It doesn’t eliminate or undermine the very real unique circumstance of my own suffering, but it reminds me that this is a normal, shared part of life. (This is one of those both/and kind of things that life is so full of!)

It also helps me treat others with greater kindness and compassion because I am more aware that their difficult behavior stems out of their pain just as my own does.

Pain and suffering are shared burdens of living. We may carry it in different ways, and the details will always be unique to us, but we are not alone in it and never will be.

How does this image of sharing in the same suffering with all humanity impact your own experience of pain in this moment?


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  1. Thank you for your essays; they are always thoughtful and helpful. I wonder if you are familiar with the Tibetan Buddhist practice called Tonglen? It is a meditation practice, and I use it as a form of prayer. My still limited understanding of it this: one aligns oneself with the suffering or pain of others, using one’s breath. For instance, I might be grieving the death of a friend. With each inhalation I consciously breathe in the grief of all those who are grieving. Then I exhale and send out compassion and comfort to them. I do this for as many cycles as I choose: breathing in the pain or grief, breathing out comfort, support, love. In this way, I am connected to others across the planet and, perhaps, healing is manifested.
    Buddhist nun Pela Chiffon explains it here:

    1. Thank you, Jacqueline! Yes, I’m familiar with Tonglen, and I find it to be a very helpful practice. It’s a great connection to this post, and I’m so glad you mentioned it here. Thank you!

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