Monday, April 28, 2008

Seeking the sesame seed

Grief must certainly be the most narcissistic of all human emotions.  In the midst of such intense suffering, no one else could possibly feel the same degree of pain for how would they survive it? Sadly, even within the bereavement community, there exists this tendency-- the grief olympics-- as if one child's death is worthy of a gold medal of grieving while another merely a bronze. Ah, grief is, indeed, subjectively experienced.

Tibetans practice tonglen- tonglen is the act of exchanging the self with the other. This practice is intended to help people abandon narcissism and focus on the struggles and sufferings of others.

There is a famous Tibetan myth about a woman who encounters Buddha after the death of her only son. Carrying his dead body around unable to relinquish him, she approaches the Buddha seeking a miracle: restore his life so she can truly live again. Buddha agrees. But first, she must bring him  a sesame seed from the home of a family who had not been touched by the death of a child. Relieved, she sought the seed, knocking frantically from house-to-house. Not a single door upon which she knocked was free of the same suffering she was enduring. In her search to bring life to her own son and ameliorate her angst, she witnessed the pain of others, suffering amidst her own suffering. And she finally saw and smelled and heard and felt and tasted and touched the grief of others.

Our own grief can suffocate our senses, the very senses that would grant us deep compassion for others.  Empathy requires us to stand outside our own grief and recognize pain in the lives of others. When we are able to truly do that- to reach beyond our own boundaries of loss, our hearts become bigger, and we are able to find healing in our connection to and concern for others.  

It is my hope that in my own quest for the home free of the sesame seed, my compassion for others will continue to grow. 

(Dallas, I hold you and your mother in my heart...)


Olive Lucy said...

Dr. Cacciatore- you have posted on my blogs before but i have yet to comment on your.

this post touched me. i reminded me of something i have felt in my heart before. Somewhere toward the beginning of my journey i realized that i felt "better" like i was healing, stronger for having know these families i have met on my path to understanding. The more i reached out to the other women and families suffering like i was i felt my sorrow lighten. it was as if combined we were stronger than we are alone. thank you for your post and i'll be looking for the seed as well.
peace, light and love- Christine

Dr. Joanne Cacciatore said...

What you said is beautiful-- "combined we were stronger..."


Thank you for sharing your thoughts, and I keep Lucy in my thoughts...


The soul still sings in the darkness telling of the beauty she found there; and daring us not to think that because she passed through such tortures of anguish, doubt, dread, and horror, as has been said, she ran any the more danger of being lost in the night. Nay, in the darkness did she, rather, find herself.

--St. John, Dark Night of the Soul

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