I cannot count the number of times I have recalled with regret and embarrassment my part in a conversation with a person in crisis.

Looking back over my words, I know I have said the wrong thing. I wanted to be helpful, to ease the pain, but I know in hindsight that my words only inflicted more anguish.

I have said the wrong thing because I was uncomfortable. I was afraid of the person’s suffering. I wanted to make things better, to take away the pain, to make the person feel less alone and frightened.

When we enter the life of a person who is suffering some deep trauma, we are always walking into uncharted territory. The experience is calculated to make us feel insecure, uncertain of what is the right thing to do, or the best thing to say. It is easy to find ourselves stumbling for words, flailing around for the right thing to say, or the best action to take. It can be terrifying to confront another person’s suffering.

I wish before each of the encounters in which my words betrayed my intention to be compassionate, that I had been able first to read the advice of Susan Silk and Barry Goldman in the LA Times: http://touch.latimes.com/#section/-1/article/p2p-75241622/(Thanks Renee for posting this on FB)

This brilliant and sensitive piece of advice for being in relationship with people facing trauma has the capacity, if taken to heart and put into practice, to help prevent us from heaping further pain on people who are already suffering enough.

There are two skills essential to putting into practice Silk and Goldman’s advice.

1. Stop. Stand still. Before doing anything, saying anything, offering anything, take a deep breath. Let your shoulders relax. Feel the weight of your body on the ground where you stand, or in the chair where you sit.

The goal of stopping is to open and allow to emerge that deeper innate wisdom that is your true nature.

2. Shut your mouth. Almost always the less said the better. Chatter comes from nervousness and only increases the tension in the room and the likelihood of saying something you will regret.

Most of the unhelpful things I have ever said have come from the fact that my fear of silence caused me to rush into the empty space and fill it with ill-considered words.

Stopping and being silent are easier when I trust that it is not up to me to fix anything. It is not my job to control the universe, to take away the pain of life, or to wave a magic wand to make everything better.

There is a deeper wisdom, a greater truth and light that is present when I am open to receive it.

The power of love is always present when my heart is attentive. When I listen to that deeper inner well-spring of life, I will always respond from a better more helpful place. When I listen first to the deepest part of my being where there is no fear and no insecurity, I will find myself saying “the wrong thing” far less often.