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© Blythe Dolores Utz 2018

This morning, waking to the news of another mass shooting, this time in the town I grew up in—a town historically considered one of the safest in the country—I feel shut down. Which for me, a heart-on-my-sleeve kind of person, is highly unusual. 

I anticipate the casting of the gunman as the monster, and in doing so, scapegoating our collective accountability. I anticipate some people will deflect reality and call this very real horror a “false flag” while others slip, understandably, into despair over how common these mass shootings have become. But mostly, I ache for children and teens growing even more anxious in the increasingly disturbed society adults are cultivating. Children who have no control over our actions and who we foolishly expect to become well-adjusted adults in spite of these atrocious childhood conditions. 

We’re not listening.

These gunmen do not work alone. They are programmed, influenced and encouraged by a society losing its grasp on sanity. These men serve as the front line to wars being waged on average citizens, in every community, indirectly led by psychopathic-leaning people in positions of power. They who pull the trigger are accountable, absolutely. But, they are also pawns.

Just like our health, political and eco systems, we focus only on the bothersome quality of symptoms. And our obsession with and effort to silence symptoms, en masse, creates a culture of blind consumerism and disconnection from essential nature. As a result, all of our problems, from personal health to broader communities to the environment, are increasingly unstable.  

Why aren’t we listening to what these symptoms are telling us about our shared wellbeing?

Instead of soul searching and truth-telling we’re unintentionally adding to the noise and creating even more cover for those who benefit from our collective chaos and intolerance. A schizophrenic noise that contributes to the radicalizing of unstable minds. How can we spot unstable and dangerous people when instability is the norm? 

Symptoms of imbalance are critical to listen to. From disease to gun violence, symptoms offer us a way to understand what is out of balance and how to reclaim it. 

Balance, though, doesn’t suit those who profit from societal chaos. Yet rather than being united as a common people, we are pit against each other. Distracted by our daily outrage and ever-increasing opposition to absolutely everything. Some Americans cultivate radical alternative notions of reality. And most of us live in some sort of in chronic despair, aching for a sense of safety, security and stability.

We need to focus on the needs we all share regardless of politics, religion or values.

We claim the cause of mass gun violence is mental illness or loose gun laws, complicated by staunch ideologies of the right and the left … these factors contribute, yes, but they don’t reveal extensional truths about why an individual decides to murder others often sacrificing their own lives in the process. 

The argument around mental illness as a factor in mass shootings is both obvious and flawed in a society where the average adult has at least one addiction and most people rely on multiple medications or vices just to get through the day. We’re ALL on the spectrum of mental wellbeing/illness—some more vulnerable to outside programming than others—but we’re ALL on the spectrum. So we need to start the mental health conversation from a place of a shared potentiality for imbalance, rather than othering those who don’t hide it so well. 

It is no measure of health to be well adjusted to a profoundly sick society.
— Jiddu Krishnamurti

If this were an isolated case, we could scrutinize the gunman in great detail, keeping the focus solely on him. But these are not isolated cases. They are symptoms of dysfunction in the larger system. We need to care for the important details, like policies and laws, but we must also tend to the underlying emotional imbalances and existential crises within society that infiltrate the human mind purging empathy and reciprocity. Both of which are essential to a well-functioning society. 

And we must begin by facing our own trauma and despair. 

We are a society messily caving in on itself while absurdly touting, “We’re the greatest country in the world.” We are cognitively dissonant and in grasping onto comforting delusions, we become desperate and more easily persuaded to focus on the side show and not the main attraction.

We need to sober up and take care of reality prudently. We need to slow down and stop multitasking. We need to see things for what they are and recognize that the human psyche is delicate. As such, we need to stop dismissing the profound impact that trauma, chronic stress, isolation, shame, abuse or a disconnection from nature have on people. And, we absolutely need to tend to our own wounds and stop projecting onto others.

We must also stop viewing the world in rudimentary terms—black/white, good/evil—and realize we do not live in a two-dimensional reality. Context and empathy are antidotes to many of our woes. Yet, they can only be found in the in the grey. Living in the grey gets messy, is largely ambiguous and it takes courage. But it is in this soul-searching space that an individual can come to terms with all the ways in which one’s ideologies don’t align with reality—how most isolating ideologies reflect a personality framed by a lifetime of coping skills more so than essential character. It is in this soul-searching space we can heal our wounds—or at least, begin the lifelong process of doing so. 

Of course, some will scoff at this notion of healing one’s own baggage so as not to project his or her trauma into the collective.

For everyone else, all is not lost.

Begin within:
Start with generous self-love and compassion.
Cultivate a daily practice of deep listening—listening to self, the senses, nature and others.
Then, align thoughts, actions and words with purpose and calling.

This is how the flower blooms, the cell divides, the newborn horse stands and the entire ecosystem, of which we are part (though we have forgotten), dances in harmony. It is about honoring intuition and flow. Our troubles in this world would fade were we to stop resisting our essential nature.

It is subtle and will never make headlines. It won’t spike adrenaline or get a thousand followers. That is the thing about essential nature, it isn’t loud or boastful. It requires us to become still, quiet and listen deeply. If the world needs anything right now, it is more people choosing a practice of listening and reacquainting with essential nature.

I am so sorry for the profound suffering being lived through today in my hometown. I can’t fathom the trauma of it. In the midst of the understandable anger and fear, I hope outpourings of LOVE will provide survivors, the victims’ families and the community respite and strength.

My heart is with you, Thousand Oaks.

Heart work is hard work reflections after Pulse shooting 2016
When will we ever learn? reflections after school shooting in Oregon 2014

heart work is hard work

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. 

when will we ever learn?

On Tuesday, Oregon experienced what many other states are experiencing, a school shooting. My social media sites are filled with people expressing concern and compassion as well as with degrading, vicious comments about the fifteen-year-old shooter and his family. Each time violence occurs in the U.S., I find myself pulling away from the mainstream narrative. People are quick to make disparaging comments. Quick to judge offenders as “evil.” Even turning on each other when in disagreement. It seems that people are unwilling to step back and contemplate the whole picture. I think this is because when we step back - no matter how far we think we are from the tragedy - we see that we are part of the story and therefore accountable in some way.

Violence sucks. I cannot be eloquent about this. I am a pacifist, a trained mediator, and I wear my heart on my sleeve. I will never hold a gun and I choose not to watch violent television, movies, or other media including mainstream news. I am not in denial about violence. I have been the victim of violence. I understand that the human mind is soft and full of places for violence to creep in making a home in the psyche; normalizing violence and encouraging anxiety about the world. I treat violence as an unavoidable toxin; while I know it exists and is even floating in the air I breathe, I don't pour it into a glass and drink it.

When I heard about the school shooting on Tuesday morning I did not grow angry or righteous. Instead, I grew quiet and introspective. The lyrics of Pete Seeger's "Where Have all the Flowers Gone" and the line "when will they ever learn?" spinning in my mind.

We like to blame mental illness, bad parenting, guns and the like for the reason(s) why a person or people become(s) violent. These things certainly can contribute but they too are symptoms of a more pervasive issue. Violence is the result of alienation, oppression, and disconnection.

If we were to take steps back and look at the whole picture we might see things we are not ready to see. We might relate to the offender. We might identify with his/her pain. We might become compassionate to everyone involved in the story. Actually... we will relate, identify and feel compassion. And this makes most of us very uncomfortable.

Compassion is not about granting permission. It is not about accepting violent behavior or giving a pass to someone who makes choices that cause others pain. Compassion is the serum to alienation, oppression, and disconnection and thus the most impactful and lasting solution to ending violence. Compassion is about choosing to understand someone long enough to recognize where the break from inner peace took place. Without this understanding, we cannot prevent the next tragedy.

It is my hope that the silver lining of this tragedy and the many others like it is the beginning of a new kind of discourse. One that stems from a place of curiosity and good nature. A discourse that seeks to understand rather than persecute. When the exception becomes the rule, we are fools to hold accountable only those who are instigating violence. Something is tugging at the strings.

In a peaceful world, accountability is queen and compassion her scepter.

Maybe people worry that if they spend time seeking to understand a violent offender they might be infected with whatever it is that creates the violence in the first place. Maybe it is rooted in our biology and our unconscious need to ensure our own survival. The irony is, that when we give compassion in lieu of persecution, people heal (including and especially ourselves). It is a huge mistake to believe that “bad” people don't deserve to heal. A mistake because the fewer oppressed, alienated, and disconnected people there are in the world, the more peace there will be. If we want change in the world we must begin within.