We are never alone in our suffering. The pain of being human is shared by all who live. In this meditation, we use our own pain to make contact with the simultaneous suffering of all other beings.

Find a comfortable sitting position in your place of refuge. Gently close your eyes and allow your attention to rest on the breath. Slowly become aware of the sensations of breathing, noting "rising, falling" with each inhale and exhale. Take a few moments with this practice to center yourself in your body.

After a while bring your attention to your heart, noticing any sensations in the area of the chest. Going deeper, become aware of any places within where there is sadness, grief, or loss. Allow the images to arise one after another, feeling the depth of your sadness. Acknowledge to yourself that all your friends, your children, and your family will die some day; feel the place that knows that you, too, will die one day, and perhaps leave so much undone. Become aware of all the things left unspoken, all the love you didn't get or give, all the hurts and disappointments that have touched your life. As feelings arise, let them come. Be soft and feel them as fully as you can. Feel the depth of the sorrows that have come, that will come, that will be a part of your life until you die.

Take a few cleansing breaths into your heart area. As you exhale, begin to let go of the holding and the tightness around the pain. Allow the pain to soften and to loosen its grip of your heart.

Now, shifting your perspective, gently allow the image of someone close to you to arise, someone you care for deeply. Allow yourself to become aware of her pain, the places in her life where she has felt sadness, hurt, or loss. Be aware of the deep sorrows this person has experienced over the course of her life. Take all the time you need to feel her pain, her sadness, her hurt; be aware of any anguish of grief she may have been given. Try to feel it in your own heart, in your own body.

How do your feelings change in relation to this person? What do you notice about your own pain, your own sorrow? What words arise within you, what do you feel you wish to offer this person? Silently imagine yourself giving this person some comfort, some care, some loving kindness. Be aware of the intimacy made possible when you share deep sorrow with another.

After a while, allow images of others who are in pain to arise. Begin with people close to you who are suffering illness, loss, or physical or emotional discomfort. Become aware of the nature of their pain, the sadness and grief they feel deep within. Feel how their pain is a mirror of the sorrows you carry within yourself. Feel how the pain connects you; feel also how touching this pain together, with mindful attention, opens a door to mutual love and intimacy.

Next, allow images of others to arise: men, women, and children suffering the horrors of war; mothers losing their children to violence and illness; mothers and fathers dying of hunger, trying to keep their children from starving; old men and women in hospitals and nursing homes, uncomfortable and alone; men and women sleeping in the cold, homeless. Allow each image to arise for a moment, one by one, feeling the depth of their suffering and sorrow, becoming aware of the kinship between the pain you feel in your life and the pain felt by all other beings. Allow the pain to open and soften the heart with compassion, allowing a sympathetic vibration to exist between your heart and the heart of all who suffer.

Observe how birth, suffering, illness, and death touch each one of us who lives on the earth. This is the pain we all share, in which we all partake, the pain of being human that touches our common bodies, hearts, and minds. You may say to yourself as each image arises, "I am your other self."

Embrace each image with forgiveness, mercy, and love, touching the pain with your heart, touching all the beings who suffer with your heart. This is the inheritance of the family of creation. This is your family.

Feel the depth of connection to all beings as you allow the pain to be a doorway into community with your greater family. Feel the truth of your belonging. Gradually return to the awareness of your breath as it naturally flows in and out of your body; feel your body as a tiny cell in the larger body we all share. When you are ready, you may gently open your eyes.

Afterward, you may wish to make a collage celebrating the family of all beings. Using pictures from magazines, family photos, or your own drawings, gather a pile of images that speak to the multitude of joys and sorrows experienced by all living beings. Select from your collection of pictures those images that most accurately describe the common pulse we all share as children of the earth. Arrange them to make a collage of the larger community to which you belong. You may also use the collage to explore and identify your place in the human family.

Wayne Muller in Legacy of the Heart