(from Joanna and Molly’s work on the new edition of Coming Back to Life)
Our culture, including mainstream Western psychology, tends to reduce our pain for the world to personal neuroses, and separate our personal suffering from the condition of our world. This leads people to suppose that personal anguish must be resolved and eradicated before our grief for the world can be considered legitimate. “First I’ve got to work through my relationship with my mother… or with my addiction…” The notion that we must attain enlightenment, get saved, or work through all our hang-ups first, before honoring our pain for the world, keeps many otherwise intelligent people in a state of moral infantilism.
Strength of heart comes from knowing that the pain that we each must bear is part of the greater pain shared by all that lives. It is not just “our” pain but the pain, and realizing this awakens our universal compassion. – Jack Kornfield
Because of the radical connectivity of all existence, suffering in our personal lives always has roots in our collective lives, and the suffering of each of us compounds in turn our collective pain. Indeed, our experience of personal suffering can serve to sensitize us to the sufferings of our world. The poets and visionaries who saw into the nature of our time – the Kafkas and Orwells, the Kierkegaards and Virginia Woolfs – were hardly robust, “well-adjusted” specimens of mental health. They are like the ghost-trap that Tibetan Buddhists weave of sticks and wool, and erect near funeral sites to catch wandering restless spirits. Some of us seem to be woven by life’s fortunes to serve a similar purpose, to be ghost-traps catching the invisible currents of pain that haunt our world. It is an essential function, for it lets us bring needed feedback into the larger system.
Therefore, by virtue of our very infirmities, we can serve our world. Mahatma Gandhi himself was assailed by many inner, psychological contradictions, but he did not devote his life to their resolution on a personal level. As psycho-historian Erik Erikson observed, Gandhi was able to “lift his private patienthood to the level of the universal ne, and to try to solve for all what he could not solve for himself alone.” This is the role of the “wounded healer.”
Let this darkness be a bell-tower/and you the bell. As you ring,/what batters you becomes your strength/… be the mystery at the crossroads of your senses,/ the meaning discovered there. (Rilke, In Praise of Mortality, p. 135)
 Kornfield, Jack. A Path With Heart, New York: Bantam, 1993.
Erikson, Erik.Gandhi’s Truth [information pending]