December 21, 2012
It is almost impossible, no, it is impossible, to have any idea how to react to a tragedy as profound and senseless as the one that occurred today at an elementary school in Connecticut. It is impossible to grasp.
I’m sure that, like me, many of you have been crying all day.
An event this horrific causes us to see that all of our normal coping mechanisms are inadequate. We turn to each one—blame, hiding, medicating—and each one fails.
Nothing can make this okay. There is no explanation that helps. Blaming lack of gun control, insufficient guns, or inadequate mental health care may be entirely reasonable and valid, but it doesn’t matter. No matter how right you are (or aren’t), it doesn’t change the grief, rage, or numbness.
Using ideas to treat or metabolize feelings doesn’t work.
Then what? I’m afraid that there is not much we can do other than to be absolutely, irredeemably heartbroken. It turns out that this is helpful. Weep, sob, rage. Weep, sob, rage. Every time your mind tries to tell you, “this is because of poor gun control,” or “this world is rotten, terrible and I have to ignore it in order to survive,” and/or “if mental healthcare was better, we could help people before they explode into violence,” please ask it to wait. I’m not saying we shouldn’t act. WE SHOULD. But before we act, we should feel. Allow your heart to break. Let down your guard. There is strange redemption in heartbreak.
Then, in your own way, you could open your heart to the suffering of all who have been directly involved.
Relax your mind and then think:
For all of you children who lost your lives and may now be wandering terrified and confused, I share your suffering with you. In return, I offer you my peace.
Breathe in their suffering. Breathe out your peace.
For all of you parents who lost your children, I share your unspeakable suffering. May I take even the tiniest bit of your sorrow and rage into my own heart to relieve you of it. In return, I send you my strength.
Breathe in their suffering. Breathe out your strength.
For all of you children who lived through this horrific day, I share your suffering with you. May I take in your fear and your nightmares. In return, I send you my bravery.
Breathe in their suffering. Breathe out your bravery.
For the officials of the state of Connecticut and of this country who have born witness and now must act, I share your suffering with you. May I take in your shock and confusion. In return, I send you my confidence and open heartedness.
Breathe in their suffering. Breathe out your confidence and open heartedness.
Then, as best you can, relax your mind and sit quietly for a few minutes or a few lifetimes.
We can’t leave out that someone committed this crime. We might hate the horrible monster who did so. We might condemn and excoriate him. I’m not saying don’t do that. It’s not useful (especially to you), but it is human. The only thing we cannot do under any circumstance is think that we are any different than he is.
It would take a very big person to offer compassion to the perpetrator and I for one am not capable of it today. But while I cannot feel kindhearted, nor will I permit myself to imagine that if I lived his life, I would not be just like him.
In the meantime, tonight I will wrap my arms around those I love and, recognizing the extraordinary fragility of our lives, give thanks for the preciousness of our time together. Truly, the only solace is in the dharmas of love, compassion,and fierce warriorship.
Susan Piver is a meditation teacher in the Shambhala Buddhist lineage. She is the author of five books, most recently The Wisdom of a Broken Heart. This piece was originally posted on her website, and is reprinted with permission.