It is in times of tragedy that we are tested the most. This is how we learn to rise, become resilient, foster compassion, grow our integrity and see the truth for what it is. These moments happen to everyone in some way--some more public than others--but we are all tested. The purpose of these tests is not to encourage competition or retaliation. These tests offer us the opportunity to dismantle the ego and let more light into the world. The world needs more light.
It is in tragedy that our hearts take center stage. We come together. We rush to aid those who are suffering or wounded. We find ourselves in a state of unity more than any average day. We see each other as brothers and sisters, sharing a trauma bond. We are more alike than we were yesterday... more alike than we will be tomorrow. And in that alikeness, we are family.
But, as the acute quality of the tragedy fades, so too does our living primarily through the heart. We grow less concerned for the wellbeing of others as we fade back into the isolated know-it-all intellect that is primarily concerned with popularity, accumulation, appearance, getting ahead (even when it means stepping on others to do so), being right and winning (a war, a comment thread argument, an election).
It isn't until the next tragedy strikes that we are catapulted back into wholeheartedness.
For too many of us, we require tragedy to feel deep compassion for others. And it is often juxtaposed with feeling angry, victimized and desiring vengeance towards the people or nature responsible for the tragedy. Once the shock of the tragedy passes, along with it go our Earth-moving feelings of community and love. Not true for everyone, but for the vast majority. The intellect distracts with a shiny new object and we're off... chasing that new thing, far from heart.
The struggle between wholehearted living (ruled by love) and survival living (ruled by fear) is both an individual and collective one. While there are many people working tirelessly to increase survival by way of better laws, justice for victims, gun control... this work doesn't get to the root of the problem. Far too many people are so terrified all of the time they cannot think clearly, reasonably or lovingly and they act from this place of deep, destructive fear.
When tragedy strikes, it is natural to suss out where the threat is and extinguish it immediately--that is what the survival mind does. The problem is, the threat is almost always invisible. All we can see are the symptoms. A person who goes into a night club and murders forty-nine people, is a symptom of a society that is caving in on itself. A society that seeds people with fear from a very young age. In a fear-driven society, some people will grow up to be self-destructive while others will project their suffering on to others. But some people, will step out of the pattern all together--not by accident but by pure will--to reject the status quo and carve out a new society. One rooted in love.
The root problem is in how society is orchestrated (by whom and at what price) and its impact on individual and collective psyches. As individuals, we contribute to this problem by buying whats being sold without scrutiny, repressing critical thinking, choosing willful ignorance, puffing ourselves up in a Trump-like manner while uttering the narcissistic mantra that "The U.S.A. is the greatest country in the world," increasing our bad habits and addictions to deal with our pain or growing deeply cynical as a way to protect the heart from more shock and disappointment. The cards are stacked against us for breaking free of this. But, if we want a different society, one where gun violence is not the norm, we must do the hardest work on the face of the planet: Become wholehearted in spite of all the suffering and chaos.
Heart work is hard work. People know this when they poo poo it. It is so much easier to write off compassion, vulnerability, empathy and reflection as "wimpy" than to actually do the work. The issues in the world have everything to do with people not knowing how to get in touch with their emotions, and not having the skill to apply healing love to the places we've been wounded. As a result, wounds fester and they become the lens through which we see and interact with the world.
We don't know how to be still anymore and stillness is a critical component of peace and harmony. In fact, we're programmed to avoid stillness, writing it off as boredom. We're constantly and noisily marketed to and that takes a toll on the psyche. Stillness is where we refuel, connect and ground--without it, we float through life like a plastic bag dependent on the wind. When we don't make regular time for deprogramming and self-reflection, we grow ill. And in a society that normalizes every kind of illness (even some ills that didn't exist until there was a pill for it) with the pushing of drugs, it is much harder to recognize that we are quickly moving beyond the boiling point.
And some people snap.
With each new violent attack by someone with a gun, I wonder when we will grow angry enough to wake up and hold the true source of the problem accountable. Instead, we focus all of our anger at the person pulling the trigger. We are distracted by the symptom. Gun violence gives the ego someone to hate and in those chaotic and shocking moments of terror, we need someone to hate. We are quick to distance ourselves from the person who caused the suffering. We are compelled to dehumanize the perpetrator, label him and to sentence him in the court of public opinion. But the source of the problem remains in the shadows, untouched by our outrage.
We don't have to make sense of a senseless crime. We don't have to feel compassion for the people committing the crimes. But, if we want this madness to end, we have to take a big step back and reflect before adding more noise to the newsfeed. We have to get in touch with our feelings and take inventory of our own behaviors. We have to be willing to connect to Source in a meaningful way--where we can be rejuvenated and cleansed of external chatter and propaganda. We have to open our hearts instead of closing them off and recognize that everyone in the story was once an innocent child. The world shapes all of us and some people need a little extra love. We're so busy being busy, it is sometimes too late before we realize there was discombobulation occurring in someone's psyche over a period of years, maybe decades.
The solution to the madness requires shining a light on aspects of society and, our own lives, that we don't want to see. To apply a mixture of truth and love until we unravel the coping strategies and deceit. Then, we can restructure our lives and society with a clear head and open heart.
The solution is not easy. The solution is to do things differently. To "[b]e the change [we] want to see in the world." - M. Gandhi. These are not sweet words on a bumper sticker--they are words to live by. And it all begins with self-love, self-compassion and self-reflection. We can ban the weapon, but the problem will remain. So we also have to be willing to be present with the ambiguous truth of our situation. We have to be willing to see how we are being programmed and that some of us are struggling terribly. It behooves us to care about people who are struggling. It also behooves us to admit when we, ourselves, are struggling.
The United States is in serious adolescent trouble. A young, self-obsessed country with little desire to self-reflect much deeper than a selfie or a viral tweet. The U.S. has been responsible for a great deal of suffering around the globe for many years (if you look into the dysfunction and violence of many places globally, you will find the U.S.'s involvement) and this country is accountable for a disproportionate share of global warming--with little evidence of collectively changing our ways. And yet, the "news" and our leaders continue to pitch a story that isn't based on reality and most Americans buy it gladly. This country is a contradiction and most other countries are well aware of of our self-aggrandizing and the reality that we are not the "hero" but rather, a global bully.
So it does not surprise me that people snap. It deeply saddens me. But I do not see these gunman as lone gunmen. I see them as programmed by a deeply dysfunctional society. Many hands pull those triggers.
By waking up, we change the story. By becoming conscious to the truth and seeing the delusion for what it is, we disarm violence and the people who profit from it. If we want more love, we need to practice LOVE in our day-to-day lives. A hard ask during election season when nothing about it has anything to do with love. But, this is how we heal the problem. We take inventory of our lives and make adjustments. We disconnect from society's programming and plug into Source (nature, God, what ever you want to call it). We stop practicing narcissism and seek out character-building opportunities. We don't avoid discomfort, but move through it with determination.
Positive change is within our power to create, with simple choices every single day. Moment by moment. Thought by thought. Make your mantra love, not revenge, and you will contribute to ending violence. The more people who do the same = metamorphosis.
It is possible.