What to do when you witness suffering

When we witness suffering of another, the heart always responds. It’s designed to respond. What should I do? the heart asks. How can I help?

It’s easy to determine what to do when we are sitting beside a crying friend or helping an aging parent to bed. We hold their hand, we listen, we open our heart and allow the natural flow of love to pour up and out toward them.

But what of the suffering we witness from a distance?

What happens when our heart responds to a stranger as we pass the scene of an accident; when we witness the suffering of flood victims on television; when we are moved by a story about someone we’ve never met? What can we do with this flow of love?

We can let it flow.

screen-shot-2016-09-07-at-3-14-15-pmWe can offer our support as energy -we can send love.

This is the natural response, the only response to suffering. Oh, we may feel other things – revulsion, fear, worry. But under all of that, there is love. The heart always responds to suffering with love. It’s how we are made.

We can translate this love into action – writing a check, making a phone call. We can translate it into prayer – allowing the natural up-swelling of concern to flow from our own heart to theirs. This activates and increases the very real support of collective prayer – and the support of the angels – while also honoring and responding to our own heart’s natural call to flow love.

This releases us from the feelings of powerlessness that arise when we don’t know what to do – feelings of worry and guilt. We DO know what to do. We are already doing it – our own wise heart already flowing love.

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  • Kristin Noelle

    Amy, thanks so much for your thoughtful response! One thought that arises for me in reading your words is to wonder whether there’s a radically different way to see these two “worlds” that you describe – a way to see suffering and “light” not as two disparate things, but things that are equally contained in this grand story/unfolding of light. I think of the ways that darkness and light can’t be untangled from each other – how they exist because of each other – and analogously how some of our most essential growth and awakening comes through our darkest seasons. This has been so wonderfully, painfully true for me.

    As you might imagine, I’m very much NOT into platitudes when it comes to suffering, so that’s not the angle I’m taking here (and I so appreciate how nuanced and open and honest your angle is, too!). But it seems to me that defining the moments of softness and security and comfort and viscerally-felt love as the moments when we’re in touch with light/angels/connection, and the moments when we’re plunged into darkness and even distrust and isolation as somehow OTHER than that may not be the deepest truth.

    This gives me a different way to view the seasons in my life when I’ve asked whole-heartedly and repeatedly for signs of sacred presence and felt completely at a loss to see them. From this perspective, there was a deeper kind of light holding me then, growing the things in me that are now or will someday come to fruition, and my inability to see that light, or to feel the warm fuzzy yumminess I craved so much was actually a necessary part of that growth. Not something to wish away or to try with all my might never to repeat.

    There’s a surrender, here, to the whole of experience. To the trustworthiness of it.

    I’m so grateful for the chance to explore these things out loud with you.

    • Amy

      Yes. Yes. And your response reminds me that there are not two worlds – but one. One world, of shadow and light. Our work, perhaps, is to learn to live with the seeming duality, while finding the light where we can.

      I find that the more that I turn my heart toward light – the less I suffer through the so-called shadow things that come to me. They are just events, impermanent, passing through my life like other events. The less I resist them with my thoughts about what should and should not be happening to me, the more I can accept what is here – and integrate it into the world that is here.

  • Kristin Noelle

    My dear Amy,

    After such resonance with you at the Creative Joy Retreat, my murky feelings about this very topic – suffering – have had me hesitating, repeatedly, to connect again. I’d love to hear you talk more about how you see love and angels supporting those in dark, dark times. I’m so drawn to stories of miraculous intervention, but have such a hard time knowing how to hold those stories in the same hands as I hold periods – in my own life and in others’ – where the experience has been of abandonment. Of no knights swooping in to save.

    Feeling love and gratitude and respect for your work in the world!


    • Amy

      Hello lovely Kristin –

      I am so moved by your courage and transparency. It is not easy to ask a question like this. Thank you for reaching out.

      I want to answer you carefully, thoughtfully. My sense of this subject is always evolving. Right now, I find that I am studying suffering – the suffering of others and my own suffering. I spend time with my parents and their suffering opens and closes my heart. I listen to a client’s story and their suffering sears into my mind. I suffer through a headache, a sore muscle – I argue with my husband. All of this suffering – and I seem to be in mystery school again.

      Again and again, I am given these two worlds to hold, like magic balls – one in each hand: there is this ball of white light, a world where miracles happen every day, where every prayer is answered, where angels grace all of our lives. In the other hand, there is this other ball: this world of suffering and sorrow. Both are real. Both are here. What is the teaching? What am I being shown?

      What I have seen is this: Everyone holds these two balls. Everyone suffers and observes suffering. Everyone is also, always, wielding and receiving light.

      In everyday, real-life, how-to-be-human terms, the question is always going to be: how do I meet this? How do I meet what is here, right in front of me, in the present moment?

      My relationship with the angelic realm has given me a foundation out of which I can meet everything that happens to me. It gives me solid ground to stand on when I feel abandoned; or when I abandon myself. It reminds me that there is a REAL and palpable presence IN THIS WORLD that does not judge my errors, does not hold me separate from love just because I am imperfect, incomplete, scarred, scared, or 20 pounds overweight.

      What I mean is, the angels are a bridge to the part of me that is already, always divine – a seed of love that sits at the center of my heart (and my life) and which connects me to that which is divine (and is love) in all things. Every time I feel lost, abandoned, separate, overwhelmed, there is a part of me that reaches for light. And when it reaches, light always responds.

      That’s what your question is doing. Your question puts you on the path to knowing this for yourself. Your question, like a prayer, is enough to activate the conversation. Ask for (and watch for) signs of this presence in your own life.

      More to the point of your question: The memory of past suffering stops us from making the connection to the world that we long to make. We meet someone that we want to connect with and the mind goes racing into the past, flashing up caution signs. Remember, it whispers, you are so easily hurt.

      Now, instead of reaching out to this person before us, we hold back, abandoning the guidance of our own heart – which recognized a potential friend. We stand in the present moment, where there is no rejection, no abandonment, no hurt – no suffering – and we create it there. We import the suffering from the past, abandoning the present moment. In this way, we miss what is here – in the present. Better to be safe (albeit numb) than to be hurt again, the fear counsels. This leaves us feeling cut off from the world of feeling, cut off from love and from ourselves.

      It has helped me to know that, inside of the person standing before me, there is also a chip of divine light which is also connected to the source of all love. When I am caught between the world of light and the world of suffering, I remember this.

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