Everything Helps a Little, Nothing Helps a Lot

Recently I realized that I’ve had an awful lot of conversations looking into the brimming eyes of someone I care about while my own were brimming, too. I’m in the midst of one of those times when several people in my inner circle are struggling. Their challenges are varied, but all of them are dealing with an extreme situation they can’t change – something that’s bringing up intensely painful feelings.

My friend lost a child. She said she read somewhere that “everything helps a little, nothing helps a lot”, and that really summed up her state. I’ve been thinking about that and it’s resonating for me as a truth about life itself, not just deep suffering.

Without exception, my friends have shared that their community has reached out and responded to them in their pain in a myriad of generous and loving ways. They are all so grateful and even a little stunned at how much caring their people have expressed for them. And yet nothing anyone says or does can actually “save” them from the pain they’re feeling.

At a fundamental level, our experience of deep pain is a solo endeavor, even when we’re being held in a multitude of loving arms and spoon fed delicious, nourishing morsels of food. Even when we feel a connection to Divine Love, when we experience the All as a constant presence, our pain is exquisitely our own.

I had a teacher who called this place Planet Pain. If you’ve got a body on earth, you’re in for some pain. The end. It’s an unavoidable effect of life. But that doesn’t mean we have to be tossed around by its currents and tides.

Werner Erhard, the founder of est, draws a vital distinction between “living” and “life”. In his somewhat convoluted but ultimately brilliant lecture in 1973 (Life, Living and Winning the Game), he says that the experience of living is quite simple. It’s just being present, moment to moment. Accepting that what is, is, and what isn’t, isn’t, without a fight. This experience of “being” isn’t easy to achieve, but it is simple.

But being completely present – without any grasping or resisting – doesn’t prevent pain. The act of truly “living” doesn’t protect you from your day-to-day “life”, from the losses or the messes or the bad smells. From a body that’s aging, that’s in effect, wearing out every second you’re alive. Jack Kornfield titled his beautiful book about this very thing: After the Ecstasy, the Laundry 🙂

For me, life is a learning tool for the act of living. They are separate things. Erhard calls life a “game” with “rules”. It’s an illusion that can make it quite challenging to stay in the space of “living”. In “life”, any number of dramas can and will occur, and keep occurring, including the profoundly painful ones.

The relief in “living” is not that there is no pain, but that pain just is. We are intensely alive as we feel the heaviness in our hearts, the brimming in our eyes.

Any fight with pain – Why me? Will it ever end? How can this be ok? — is an overlay of life that adds a layer of suffering to the intrinsic pain of living. In one sense it’s optional.

The most important practices in my life have become the ones that help me accept that what is, is and what isn’t, isn’t. To roll with that simple truth. Sometimes I’ll take action to make a change, and sometimes I won’t, or can’t.

From any place but the open heart of being, of living, pain is Not Okay.
Everything helps a little, nothing helps a lot.
And that just is.

So I try to stay open to living. Sometimes I can, sometimes I can’t.
And when I can’t, that’s what is, so I open wider to that.
I’ll keep opening to being, wider and wider, until I can encompass all that just is.
Wide enough to be with my own heart’s breaking.

Join us at Tenth Gate Yoga on Tuesday afternoons at 4PM and final Fridays of each month at 6pm for Unwind: Integrative Yoga Nidra.


  1. Beautiful. Thank you.

  2. Beautiful said, Jeannette.

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