The key to listening to people’s pain, paradoxically, is to be clear that we are not responsible for taking it away. The entire study and practice of Buddhadharma is designed to address the problem of human suffering. With time, we come to understand that simply being present to each other is our most basic moral obligation. There may be occasions when we can lend a helping hand. There may be instances when we are obligated to interfere, but more often than not, simple presence provides a context for others to listen to themselves, and that is the real service.

Letting go of responsibility for other people’s states of mind is fundamentally liberating. When we feel free of pressure, we are happy to listen, so we listen well. In the context of practice, releasing ourselves from this responsibility is to learn—again and yet again—what it feels like to let go.

Diane Musho Hamilton