Q: It is very painful when someone we love has serious difficulties, such as mental illness, post-traumatic stress disorder, or addiction. Sometimes it feels like their problems are so big that we can’t really help them and so we may want to retreat from them and their problems. At other times, we try to help, and then get consumed by the other person’s struggles. What can we do to help in these difficult situations without getting overwhelmed?
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Thich Nhat Hanh : When you feel overwhelmed, you’re trying too hard. That kind of energy does not help the other person and it does not help you. You should not be too eager to help right away. There are two things: to be and to do. Don’t think too much about to do—to be is first. To be peace. To be joy. To be happiness. And then to do joy, to do happiness—on the basis of being. So first you have to focus on the practice of being. Being fresh. Being peaceful. Being attentive. Being generous. Being compassionate. This is the basic practice. It’s like if the other person is sitting at the foot of a tree. The tree does not do anything, but the tree is fresh and alive. When you are like that tree, sending out waves of freshness, you help to calm down the suffering in the other person.
Your presence should be pleasant, it should be calm, and you should be there for him or her. That is a lot already. When children like to come and sit close to you, it’s not because you have a lot of cookies to give, but because sitting close to you is nice, it’s refreshing. So sit next to the person who is suffering and try your best to be your best—pleasant, attentive, fresh.