11/27/2012 04:16 pm ET Updated Jan 27, 2013

It Takes a Community to Heal Sorrow

Exercise to Promote Harmony (from "To Relieve Tension and Cultivate Relaxation"):

a. Try to see and feel that the aura of Light has an actual substance and that It is becoming part of you, that you are melting into It, becoming one with It. Next, think of it as being the pure essence of Love, especially in the Region of the heart.

b. When this Love has been experienced as a sensation of heart-melting happiness, let it then extend outwards to embrace all the world.

This exercise should give a feeling of being in harmony with Nature, the universe, with all living beings, and with humanity as a part of Nature.

-- Paul Brunton, from The Notebooks, Vol. 15

The release of Living Tibet: The Dalai Lama in Dharamsala (with photographer and co-author Bill Warren, and foreword by H.H. Dalai Lama) was pleasant in the West; in India it was a minor triumph. A return trip was scheduled; a private audience with His Holiness was arranged. Even my taxi driver knew who I was, as did everyone in Dharamsala. I gave talks and was honored at a book fair in New Delhi.

But beneath all the outer excitement, I was in great turmoil and sorrow. While my 17-year-old daughter and I had acquired our passports and scheduled flights together, she was back in a hospital in upstate New York. She had lived in Dharamsala four years prior, went to the Tibetan Children's Village School and had met the Dalai Lama several times. She adored Tibetan culture. She since had been struggling against a life-threatening illness and relapsed prior to our trip. We had thought a visit with His Holiness would be even more healing for her.

After a heart-wrenching decision to leave without her, and after a teary yet powerfully uplifting meeting with the Dalai Lama, I was sad, worried about my daughter and needing to escape Dharamsala. I had about 10 days before my flight home. I booked a plane to Nepal.

I stayed in a meditation hut above Kathmandu and decided one day to go down into the valley. I was told I could either take a tourist bus or the daily transport vehicle used by the locals. I always opted for the real life experience so inquired about catching the local ride.

At the designated time and place, an open-backed army-style diesel truck stopped. Two or three women were inside. We somehow verified that this was the right vehicle. I got in. Not too bad. There were narrow benches along the sides. The truck gave a bumpy start and off we went. After a few moments, we stopped again. More folks got on.

And so it went. At each of the many stops, additional diesel fuel swirled into the open rear from the truck's tailpipe. Men going to work, children to school, women with babies, toddlers and even live chickens began crowding onto the truck. Soon there was no more room on the benches. The people of the mountain were pressed together, standing in the middle of the truck. The regular jolting coming to a stop, then staring up with equal ferocity, became unbearable as I sat squashed between a Nepali man and a teenaged boy. I was the only white person on the truck.

The downward road along the mountainside, mixed with the diesel smell and the mixture of gritty human and animal odors in his new-to-me combination was making me nauseous. I'd experienced a lot in India and Nepal, and I wasn't squeamish, but this was getting to me. I was becoming so sick I wanted to tell the driver I needed to get off the truck. But did anyone speak English? And how to get to the driver? Anyway if I got off the truck, I'd be in the middle of nowhere. For some reason, the loneliness and isolation I'd been feeling over my daughter increased a thousand-fold.

Suddenly, the woman who sat three seats in front of me reached her arms over her head and toward me. She was passing something my way. I knew what it was: her infant. I was dumbstruck. Logic would have predicted she pass the child to a known Nepali woman, even a young girl. I must have been gazing at the baby for much of the ride, diverting my thoughts to the soft innocence. Now the woman, who was packed uncomfortably close to too many dangers, decided I was the one who could safely guard her infant.

In an instant, I belonged on that truck, in that community, in the diesel fuel with the chickens and workers and school kids and the women on their way to market. Through one mother with a baby, the Nepali people embraced me as one of their own.

I returned to the United States rejuvenated and ready to face the next stage of my daughter's illness and her eventual death. Just as it takes a community to raise a child, it takes a community to heal sorrow. Let's reach out, over our own heads and the obstacles, to hand to those who sorrow something to soothe.

'It Takes A Community To Heal Sorrow'

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