When practicing self-acceptance, we learn that it's our acceptance of the flaws and vulnerabilities of others that takes us farthest. We learn that real love isn't adoring another person's beauty and talents, no; love is when we behold and see with compassion the complex, imperfect self of another. It doesn't really matter whether we're practicing personal self-acceptance or acceptance of someone else's flaws. It's all the same energy, it's all love.
We are all connected.
How do we love and accept all people when we are so angry, shocked, and so very scared by the actions of certain others? How do we find meaning in acts of self-kindness, self-acceptance, lovingkindness in a world containing terror?
But how, I wondered over and over during the first 24 hours of the Orlando nightclub murders, how powerful is lovingkindness, acceptance of others, and upholding hope in the face of fear? How useful is it to send love to the tortured souls of living men who may decide to buy a gun, who find their hate and failure too much to bear, and might shoot? How do we love and accept all people when we are so angry, shocked, and so very scared by the actions of certain others? How do we find meaning in acts of self-kindness, self-acceptance, lovingkindness in a world containing terror?
Wondering exactly that and standing at my kitchen sink, "What's the damn point of even trying--" I saw a little brown bird alight on a branch outside the screen window. His fluttering created a stir. His little wings flapped fast. He perched for a couple of beats then chirped with unmistakable joy. Just as purposefully he flitted off, somewhere. I smiled. My melancholy broke for a moment as nature reminded me of how things work.
It's my job to feel gutted and distraught by terrorism, crime, rape, war, murder as much as it is to flap and tweet. Exactly as much.
Our job is to be and do. Questioning that is madness. By that I mean, it's my "job," or dharma, to take care of the self, to appreciate others and try to light their paths. It's my job to work, to rest, to eat, and to cultivate and share love. It's my job to feel gutted and distraught by terrorism, crime, rape, war, murder as much as it is to flap and tweet. Exactly as much.
It's cliche because it's gospel-true: love is the way forward. Love is the only way to slide under the surface of the hate glacier -- the pinball machine of action-reaction-action-reaction (the marketing of "weapons of mass destruction” fear) that begs for quarters and keeps us on the surface. That cold, hard surface we know so well is where hate hangs out, where defensiveness and reactiveness party. Beneath the surface, in the depths plumbed only with curiosity and faith -- that's where we find understanding.
That key opens all locks.
"...the soul that has taken on this heavy karma - the heavy karma of all the shit he's got to do. I cannot like the karma, but I've got to love the soul..." - Ram Dass
Spirituality teacher Ram Dass added a framed picture of Donald Trump to the deities and other photographs collected on his puja table, which he shared on Instagram (@baberamdass). It replaced an image of George Bush.
Of it, he said, "My Maharaji said 'love everyone and tell the truth.' So I have to love the soul that is George Bush, the soul that has taken on this heavy karma - the heavy karma of all the shit he's got to do. I cannot like the karma, but I've got to love the soul. The soul has got a road to hoe. I can love George Bush because I love the soul and I can therefore be true to my commitment to my guru."
We must look at our situation (yes our situation, all of ours) with new eyes, with differently-seeing eyes. When I wonder why these mass shootings are happening, I see: Disconnection. Extreme disconnection from identity, nationality, self, from a tribe. Almost if not all mass shootings (and bombings) have disconnection at their roots, whether that disconnection was due to untreated mental health issues or bullying, or whether a shooter was a US citizen with immigrant parents yet felt more of a connection to terrorist groups in the Middle East than other American friends at home. It's not enough to be born here or become a citizen here, a sense of belonging doesn't come in the citizenship packet. Belonging comes from being embraced and embracing. Belonging comes from being seen.
What do we do as a culture, as a society, to ensure that first generation Americans feel a part of this place, included in something, and feel at home?" What about high school kids struggling with being unable to cope with personal failure (a known characteristic of high school shooters)?
This made me wonder, "What do we do as a culture, as a society, to ensure that first generation Americans feel a part of this place, included in something, and feel at home?" What about high school kids struggling and suicidal because they're unable to cope with personal failure (a known characteristic of high school shooters)? Is that the job of our government, to create our nation's first Feels Like I Belong task force? Our schools? The disturbed individual himself? Or, rather, is fostering a sense of belonging our job, both individually and collectively?
Two nights ago, the nightclub in Orlando was alive with brotherhood, connection, belonging, and tribe. Where the shooter was coming from was the complete opposite.
How many of us have looked around in a city or public space and wondered about the strangers among us, Does she feel connected or rootless? Does he feel a part of something?
Have you read their faces?
Two nights ago, the nightclub in Orlando was alive with brotherhood, connection, belonging, and tribe. Where the shooter was coming from was the complete opposite. Given that contrast, it's fascinating that the shooter called the police to claim allegiance to ISIS during his rampage -- now he could go out as a member of something, he could die having belonged.
Sometimes you want to go
Where everybody knows your name,
And they're always glad you came;
You want to be where you can see,
Our troubles are all the same;
You want to be where everybody knows your name.
- "Cheers" soundtrack
There are times I go meditate on a Monday night in a room full of upper middle class primarily white people in their fifties and sixties. Because at first I noticed our differences and how odd I felt, how disconnected, I would wonder, "Do only white retired people meditate?" And, more urgently, "Are two hundred people meditating together really saving the world?"
No, and yes.
That 'other' feeling, the disconnection, faded over time, as I volunteered at the meditation center, and attended more dharma talks. I saw through all the exteriors of old/young, novice/neophyte, classy/gauche, accomplished meditator/occasional meditator, etc. It was just a room full of souls who knew suffering.
...hold the anguish of people being killed and the impetus of a killer together in the mind...
We must try to remember there is a root cause
I cannot offer a solution to violence. How I wish I could! I willed a solution -- a big idea -- to come to me but generated only a migraine and a limp, exasperated Facebook post. Finding a way to hold the anguish of people being killed and the impetus of a killer together in the mind is a step toward understanding. We must try to understand. We must try to remember there is a root cause -- sometimes disconnectedness, sometimes untreated mental health issues, or both, and sometimes it’s a thing we don’t yet understand.
“If I kill a man who obstructs me, I may experience a sense of false security. But the security will be short-lived. For I shall not have dealt with the root cause. In due course, other men will surely rise to obstruct me. My business, therefore, is not to kill the man or men who obstruct me, but to discover the cause that impels them to obstruct me and deal with it.”
— Mahatma Gandhi
One pair of kind eyes seeing is enough to fire up the projector. Let us all look where it's hardest to go with kind eyes.