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Question: How can you stay peaceful when you are with people whose lives are really in distress, especially when they are close to you?
Answer: You must ask yourself a different question. I’d suggest the following: What could be more healthful and healing to those around you who are distressed than your calm detachment from their pain? The distress you feel around such people is not born from your wish to be peaceful, but rather is a form of identification with the very pain you would address.
Question: How does one “identify” with another person’s pain? Do you mean we take it or feel it to be our own pain as well?
Answer: To identify is to vest one’s sense of self in that thing, person, or with whatever the subject may be we are identified with. When someone we care about is suffering, they need (our) compassion and not our unconscious identification with their pain. Why? This state in us — of identifying with another’s distress — serves only to help make their pain more real to them, as well as helping to make the sleeping “I” in us seem real.