A WELL-KNOWN BUDDHIST story known as the Mustard Seed helped me learn that continually asking “Why Me?” was an unrealistic assessment of the human condition that had become an ongoing source of suffering for me. In the Mustard Seed story, Kisa Gotami was a young mother who refused to believe that her young son had died. She carried him door-to-door in her village, pleading for medicine. People told her that it was too late for medicine, but she was unable to understand or accept that. Then someone suggested that she ask the Buddha for medicine. When she did, he told her to bring him a mustard seed from a house that had never experienced death.
Many decades later, when I got sick and didn’t recover, the “Why me?” refrain started up again. I blamed myself for losing my career and for having to give up so many activities that I loved. I felt unfairly treated by the world and by my body. But repeatedly asking “Why me?” served only to intensify the resentment I was feeling and the blame I was directing at myself.
After several years, I finally began to change my response to being chronically ill.
Remembering the Mustard Seed story helped; it enabled me to accept that all people face unexpected upheavals in their lives. This meant that my “Why me?” refrain — which left me feeling as if I’d been singled out in some way — was a distorted view of the human condition.
How to Live Well with Chronic Pain and Illness: A Mindful Guide