When you are willing to really take in your own suffering, you find, within that very suffering, the suffering of others; and the reverse is also true: when you are able to truly take in the suffering of another, you find within it your own human pain. Being willing to receive pain, we come to understand, is the only way to open our hearts to love. Norman Fischer, Training in Compassion, Page 34
Conflict can readily put any and all of us face to face with suffering. As mediators, we are often faced with the parties’ suffering and also with our own. It is normal to seek to avoid pain — both our own and that of others. Yet, sensing and acknowledging our and others’ suffering can be a way to help us to engage, live and work with it in a healing and constructive manner.
In Training in Compassion, Norman addresses the suffering that can envelope us when faced with conflict, our own and that of others. We can all readily experience suffering as a heavy, draining, and burdensome aspect of conflict. Norman addresses this suffering in a manner that can also allow an appreciation of, and the possibility for, at least a somewhat less painful and disabling experience of the suffering we all fear and often feel when faced with conflict, and how through accepting it we can open to our connection with others.
As mediators, we face parties’ pain. We also confront what it touches in us – which is often our own pain as well as our compassion. And we have the opportunity to bring that place of suffering and compassion within us to our work as mediators. And through doing so, we have the possibility to address and to touch, in a sensitive and healing way, the parties’ pain as well as our own.
Acknowledging suffering need not be an overwhelming experience — neither theirs nor ours. Norman helps put suffering in a manageable context by saying we can feel it and let go of it through our breath — “breathing in suffering, breathing out ease.”
It is surprising how hard it can be to acknowledge (at least outwardly) that suffering is going on within others and within ourselves. We fear acknowledging it because we fear we will be stuck with it, trapped in it. Yet, ironically, it is the failure to acknowledge it that can keep us in it.
Suffering does not have to be so overwhelmingly painful and frightening. Ironically, we can make use of it to deepen and strengthen our lives. For us as mediators, that is true of the parties’ suffering as well as our own.
Sadness, too, can be meaningful. As can pain. Not just the parties’ but also our own. Pain and sadness can be an opening, a deepening, depending on how we hold them. Ironically, by not recognizing and acknowledging the parties’ sadness and pain, and our own, we can be trapped by them, and in them. Norman says that the willingness to take in suffering is key to our lives. It can certainly be key for our work as mediators. Ironically, we may suffer more by failing to acknowledge our suffering.
The parties can do the same by failing to acknowledge their deeper experience underling their conflict. Acknowledging does not mean becoming mired in pain as we might fear. It is accepting that it is part of our experience, our humanity. Acknowledging suffering can help us live with it and move through it. Indeed, with this awareness, we may be able to bring some lightness, and some light, to the human experience of suffering. And to our work in mediation.
And, of course, it also it is not all sadness and pain in the conflicts that come to mediation. There is also the possibility for, and not infrequently, the realization of joy and wonder. For many, acknowledgement of their suffering can open them to their positive feelings, including joy and wonder. We are looking for authentic engagement, with others, between others and ourselves, with ourselves.
We believe that to be most helpful professionals need to be close to the problem. Understanding ourselves, using our own emotions and our emotional understanding can help develop that intimacy, that closeness. And an essential part of that is acknowledging others’ suffering and our own.
It is helpful to realize how judgmental we can be about the parties’ and our own. And how judgmental the parties can be. We need to notice, to see, to realize that we all have judgments. To be in relation to them. If we do not realize this, that we have them, they can readily take over. By accepting we have them, we can begin to let go of their grasp.
Instead of turning away from judgments, we can turn toward them. Instead of turning away from suffering, we can recognize it, open to it, accept it. Accept ourselves. Help the parties’ in conflict to do so. Accept themselves. Mediation holds the possibility of authentic engagement. We are looking for authentic engagement — with others, between others, with ourselves. Opening to the possibility. Finding possibility in the face of seeming impossibility. Realizing hope in the face of despair.
At the deepest level, people know what is right for them, not the professional. As professionals, we can be helpful in helping them realize that. In doing so, we need to be present, to strive to bring presence to every moment. And, to be with ourselves to be with others, to support them in being with themselves with each other.