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Compassion Overload

Pain is inevitable, but suffering is avoidable 

an excerpt from NARRATIVE HEALING by Lisa Weinert


We live in a time when painful stories are all around us—whether it’s a war halfway around the world, a client sharing, a neighbor whose mom just died, or a memory within us. No matter the situation, we can get overwhelmed by listening to painful stories. Even professional listeners, like therapists and clergy, doctors and healers, suffer from overload. Thinking about others can prevent you from hearing yourself. Worry, concern, fear, and compassion overload can be the greatest writer’s block for many caregiving types.


The solution to this, as with so many solutions in this book, is to allow it, go right toward it, and practice with it.


Inspired by a powerful ancient Tibetan Buddhist practice, Ton-glen offers a practical framework for managing, flushing, and processing overwhelming stories. Pema Chodron writes, “Tonglen means ‘taking in and sending out.’ This meditation practice is designed to help ordinary people like ourselves connect with the openness and softness of our hearts. Instead of shielding and protecting our soft spot, with tonglen we could let ourselves feel what it is to be human.”13

It works to get you out of self and out of worry. It will increase compassion for others and then, as a result, help foster self-compassion and self-love. This can be done for someone you know who is sick and suffering. You can also do this on the spot at a red light when you’re driving or at your workplace—anywhere at all where you interact with people.


Try it!


Find a comfortable seat and soft point of focus for your gaze, like a candle, object of meaning, or a neutral area on the floor.

Begin the visualization by imagining breathing in fire and breathing out cool water. Do this for a few rounds.

Focus on a situation that is real to you—a particular person, place, or entity that is experiencing pain and suffering.


Breathe in their pain or suffering.

Breathe out whatever will benefit them.

Breathe in their pain, suffering, illness, or anguish.

Breathe out love and understanding.

Continue in this way.


After a few minutes, you may expand the visualization so you are no longer focusing only on this one person with this condition but every person with this condition—every person who is suffering. This can include you.

Breathe in pain and breathe out love and compassion for all.


Write it!


Write about the situation that came to mind. What did you breathe in? What did you breathe out?


Copyright © 2023 by Lisa Weinert  

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