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In the Wake of Tragedy


On my way home from the annual Symposium on Yoga Therapy and Research, I heard the news of the tragic shooting in Orlando that resulted in the deaths of at least 50 people. The stark contrast between leaving a huge room full of love to entering a world full of hate and suffering felt overwhelming. But, coming from a place of love helped me to carry hope, and be more peaceful than if I had not been in that place.

In response to this tragedy, I have read many different opinions, I have heard songs and poems of hope and I have heard people lash out in blame and hatred. It reminded me in some ways of the aftermath of the Baltimore riots over a year ago. No one was killed in those riots (that I am aware of), but a great deal of damage done to several businesses, several police officers injured and at least one person was in critical condition. In response to those riots, immediately opinions and accusations began to fly across the internet and in newsprint. Instead of joining in the fray, I listened. Sadly, I heard some white people say, "They should have just opened fire on the rioters - the "thugs" that caused this damage". Words of violence spoken, without the rationality or consideration that many of the rioters were high school children - acting out in response to a system in which they feel completely disregarded. In the aftermath, volunteers came together to clean up and rebuild. I heard the mother of a young black man say she was not going to volunteer to help with the clean up, because her son could be the next Freddie Gray. Two opposing opinions about the riots, but neither willing to come together and make change. Combating the violence of riot by shooting young people is not a solution. Nor does it teach these young people anything if we do not involve them not only in cleaning up the destruction caused, but in moving forward rebuilding their community. If we can't build bridges, how do we move forward? How do we react to tragedy in our community? In our Nation? How do we find peace in our minds in our hearts? Often our first reaction is not a sensible one. And while it is understandable to be angry, it's best to sit with that anger and channel it constructively, rather than lash out at others.

Dr. Yoichi Kawada explains, "In India, the equivalent of "peace" is "shanti," which means the state of inner tranquility. It also means the enlightened condition attained by Shakyamuni sometimes referred to as "nirvana." With respect to the state of inner peace, a Buddhist text describes this as follows: "Tranquility of mind comes from having successfully transcended greed, hatred and ignorance." ("From Inner Peace to World Peace: A Buddhist Perspective", I highly recommend reading his full article: http://www.sgi.org/resources/study-materials/from-inner-peace-to-world-peace-a-buddhist-perspective.html).

I submit to you that the only way to heal after violence and to find peace in our hearts during times of tragedy, is by reaching out - by finding compassion. Straight community to gay community, Caucasian to African American, Christian to Muslim, and so on. It is easy for us to vilify each other and demand revenge. It is difficult to grieve, forgive, come together, find common ground, heal and move on. But this is the only way. The light in the darkness of the Orlando tragedy is the huge number of people from all walks of life who donated blood to the survivors and who came out in support of one another - to mourn together.

Again, Dr. Kawada states, "Each human being exists within the context of interrelationships that include other human beings, all living beings and the natural world. In other words, each person is sustained by the interdependent web of life. By awakening to this principle we are able to expand instinctive self-love into an altruistic love for others; we are able to nurture the spirit of tolerance and empathy for others."

The prophet, Jesus, commanded his followers to "Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you..." (Matthew 5:43-45) . Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., in his sermon on Loving your enemies (as printed in "Strength to Love") advises, "there is some good in the worst of us and some evil in the best of us. When we discover this, we are less prone to hate our enemies. When we look beneath the surface, beneath the impulsive evil deed, we see within our enemy-neighbor a measure of goodness and know that the viciousness and evilness of his acts are not quite representative of all that he is. We see him in a new light. We recognize that his hate grows out of fear, pride, ignorance, prejudice, and misunderstanding, but in spite of this, we know God's image is ineffably etched in his being. Then we love our enemies by realizing that they are not totally bad and that they are not beyond the reach of God's redemptive love."

We always have choice in how we react to any situation. We can react in anger or we can take the time to listen, contemplate, meditate, or pray before acting or reacting...We can move from our most basic instinct of survival or we can move from our heart....And coming from the heart, we move forward from a place of love, forgiveness, and kindness. In times of national tragedy it is important to continue our own self care - loving ourselves, our family and friends as well as to reach out and care for our neighbors and community. To find common ground. It is necessary for us to acknowledge our loss, grieve, nurture ourselves and each other, learn from this experience, and forgive in order to be able to transform ourselves and our society, heal, move on, love and live. We are here for each other. Namaste.


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