Stayin’ Together, Stayin’ Alive
My friend and student, Dayavati, died of triple negative, metastasized breast cancer. At least that’s what the Western docs said.
During the last few years of her illness, she and I spoke on the phone frequently. Dayavati often expressed a desire to return to her native Jamaica, move into a beach-side cabin and contemplate the ocean until the end came.
She said she wanted to be alone.
That wasn’t true. Or at least, it wasn’t her deepest truth.
Dayavati wasn’t really coping well on her own, and she felt lonely and scared. Sometimes she told me this when the honest, human pain of loneliness overwhelmed her shame at feeling it.
The simple reality was that there were not enough people around her day-to-day to care for her or accompany her.
She had a large, loving family, but they lived far away and could only come for visits. She had loyal, loving friends, but many of them also lived in other places. The ones who lived close by were too few.
Dayavati’s fantasy about being able to go it alone on the beaches of Jamaica expressed her desire to have aloneness be beautiful. Her vision temporarily painted a painful present reality as a positive, potentially strong position.
Most of us cultivate the fantasy that we are independent beings. We often feel proud when we do something “on our own.” When our ever-present loneliness manages to make itself heard amidst the tumult of our hyper–activity, we feel shame. When we get sick, many of us delay letting others know how badly we feel. We don’t want to be dependent, or trouble anyone. We don’t want to appear weak, even if that is our real condition.
We are just like Dayavati, telling ourselves we can make it on our own when in fact, we cannot.
The truth is, at no moment are we ever doing anything alone. We cannot breath without an entire world participating.
Not only is our life totally, and I mean totally, dependent on others, but we all need support and company, and many times, we just need help.
In her wisdom heart, I’m certain that Dayavati knew she was too ill to decamp to an isolated cottage. After all, she never did that.
But the samskara of believing, or wanting to believe, the poisonous myth of self-sufficiency stayed with her until the end.
After making an epic, near-death journey to a shaman healer in Peru, it seemed that the cancer was abating.
But a couple of weeks after her return, Dayavati had stopped taking the herbs. No one knew this until it was too late.
Her reason? She had misunderstood the shaman’s instructions, mistakenly believing him to have told her that only she, and she alone could prepare the herbs. But she was too sick to prepare them. And then she died.
After Dayavati went into the bardos of death, I felt her joy and strength had returned. I feel her presence just as much today as I did when she was in that body.
And I have no idea if the shaman’s herbs would have healed her had she continued to take them. I think the likelihood of that is rather small.
But I do know that we all would benefit from sticking together through all the times of our lives. When we are hurting, or sick, especially.
As the wonderful teacher and human being Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche said: There is absolutely no shame in anything about being human.
We all need to take this teaching to heart. Understanding that we are always dependent, we can perhaps find the courage to ask for help and solace when we are feeling that dependency more acutely.
Then there is the other side of the equation.
During several periods in my own life when I was having a hard time, I noticed that some people pulled away from me.
The reaction of some people to the spectacle of a person manifesting weakness and dependency is to retreat further into the fortress of their separateness and try to reinforce their self-concept of being strong and independent.
Disparaging, criticizing or isolating the “weak” person often comes with the territorialism.
Let’s set the intention to begin experiencing more of our continuity with life in a practical way. It’s simple and human.
Ask for help if you need it. Give help if you are asked for it.