NVC and Suffering

“Of the ferryman’s virtues, this was one of his greatest. He knew how to listen as few people do. Though Vasudeva spoke not a word himself, the speaker felt him receiving his words into himself, quietly, openly, unhurriedly, missing nothing, not jumping ahead through impatience, attributing neither praise nor blame — just listening. Siddhartha felt what happiness can come from opening to such a listener, having one’s own life -one’s seeking, one’s suffering- enter this other’s heart.”
~ Herman Hesse

Dear Friends,

Greetings. I hope you are enjoying this summer night.
Below is an article by Miki Kashtan. She writes about how difficult it is to
remain present to someone who is suffering. I recall a time when a spiritual teacher of mine, Wayne Teasdale, was dying of cancer. I believed then, as I do now, that one of the greatest gifts one can give a human being is full presence. Yet, Wayne’s diminishment was painful to me, and one day I met with him and I cried and cried about his suffering. Someone else tried to comfort him
with meaningful words. In retrospect, it became clear to me that our
reaction was difficult for him.

How difficult it is to listen to someone who is in pain without trying to
alleviate it, isn’t it? This is especially true with our loved ones. We can’t
bear their suffering. Yet, I experience over and over again that when I have the fortitude to “just” listen, that’s when people experience relief, healing, and renewed strength. They gain access to their inner wisdom. A wonderful aspect of NVC, in my view, is that it teaches us how to be fully present when listening to someone. NVC has taught me to listen to others with a silent mind and an open heart.
Warm regards to all from,


Being with Suffering
by Miki Kashtan
…This past weekend I expressed some anguish about not having enough support to
someone I care about, and who I know cares about me. She responded, as she has done in the past, by suggesting that my challenge, my stress, is about how I do my work, not about getting enough support. Reflecting on how to respond, I became acutely aware of wanting to be seen, understood. I couldn’t fully resist the temptation to explain the situation. In response, my friend said: “I get it, on one level.” Suddenly I felt the gulf, the distance created by analysis, by what I experienced as a subtle judgment, however loving.

For over 24 hours I was haunted by the question of why we distance ourselves from the suffering of others. I kept remembering the book of Job. The narrator tells us he is an exemplary human being. All manner of calamities befall him. His friends, unable to bear witness to his agony, insist on convincing him that his suffering is caused by some unknown sin of his. In the end, Job is vindicated. There really was no reason. It just happened. Suffering does.

In Biblical times suffering was God’s response to sin. Today’s versions call on bad choices, mental diagnoses, or negative thinking instead of a punitive God. Does explaining someone’s suffering, finding some cause or reason, make it easier to bear? Does the distance protect us from the pain of another’s pain?

I wonder if this is part of why it’s so uncommon for people to talk about their suffering – except, maybe, to their closest. Why create such discomfort for others?

With this heavy heart I found unexpected solace in Tattoos on My Heart, by Greg Boyle. Greg is unafraid to look suffering in the eye. He lets his heart be pierced, again and again and again and again, by the unimaginable hardship of life in the barrios of LA. If you want to be inspired, read the book, and visit the website – homeboy-industries.org. He created an award-winning program that offers jobs and training to gang members and ex-cons. They work alongside rival gang members. Unbelievably inspiring.

And still, it’s his love that got me. The unprotected presence, ready for all that’s there, finding the beauty, the heart, in whoever is in front of him, the downtrodden, the rough. Even after burying many dozens of young ones. Present and loving without blinking away, without explaining, without separating. A blueprint for how we can recover hope, and faith, and a sense of community with our fellow humans. All of them. All of us.


About Institute for Empowering Communication

Co-founder of the Institute for Empowering Communication
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