Finding peace after personal tragedy takes years, perhaps, a lifetime. We must recognize the long-term nature of healing and avoid the “instant response” mindset that is integral to our impatient, short-sighted culture and society.
Welcome to Week 16 of Beyond Self 2012 in SunnyRoomStudio — a creative, sunny space for kindred spirits. As those of you know who have been following our informal spiritual retreat since September, our retreat closes next Friday, 12-28. And today I had intended to post something very brief, like last week, so we could capture the spirit of Zen — its simplicity, its ability to shine a light on issues and obstacles we stumble over routinely. But in the wake of sudden loss, the devastating tragedy in Connecticut, I’ve decided to dedicate this blog post to all of us who are struggling to understand this moment in time. Especially, however, I would like to dedicate this to the parents, the children, and all of the families impacted directly and indirectly by this alarming loss of life. I am so sorry and extend my deepest condolences.
As a culture, as a world, we are not good at endings. Especially endings that are considered tragic. And I do speak from personal experience.
But my son has been gone since June of 2007, so I have had the luxury of time to experience firsthand the many dimensions of loss. I have had time to realize the paradoxical nature of loss, how it is truly everywhere–an inevitable part of life itself–yet each loss is also a unique occurrence. The history that preceded it, the context and the impact, the changes and challenges that follow … each one of us could tell a slightly different story about our experience of loss and how, in many ways, it comes to define us. It is not something we “move on” from, however. Rather, loss becomes part of who we are, evolving as we do. And though I am still finding my “public voice” on this subject, I would like to offer my support to anyone who is grappling with the demands of grief.
But my intent here today is to simply offer a few words of understanding. Many many words have been uttered and written about this tragedy and barely a week has elapsed. Everyone has an opinion it seems; everyone wants to frame “the” problem differently. Yet, the heated debates that have been launched and sustained are merely symptoms of more deep-seated challenges. Friction has erupted on blogs, on television, in homes and in workplaces, and unfortunately, we (as a collective) have even acted with a degree of violence per our reactions. And yet we continue to wonder why violence happens in its most extreme forms.
Really? Is it that mysterious?
Consider these words from Eckhart Tolle: “Once you have dis-identified from your mind, whether you are right or wrong makes no difference to your sense of self at all, so the forcefully compulsive and deeply unconscious need to be right, which is a form of violence, will no longer be there.”
Indeed, violence takes on many forms. And Tolle makes a valid point. Are we numb to the most insidious forms of violence, thereby allowing the more apparent and obvious forms to manifest in the first place? Should we be looking at our own attitudes and proclivities for guidance on the bigger questions that swirl in the air like insistent dots on the universal radar screen, especially since Friday, December 14, 2012?
Gary Zukav (author, spiritual leader) recently noted that “the origin of the violence that erupted in Newtown is in us.” He suggests we look inside ourselves. “What is in you is in the world. When you change yourself, you change the world.”
- Zukav bio highlights: In 1979, The Dancing Wu Li Masters: An Overview of the New Physics, plumbed the depths of quantum physics and relativity, winning The American Book Award for Science. In 1989, The Seat of the Soul led the way to seeing the alignment of the personality and the soul as the fulfillment of life and captured the imagination of millions, becoming the #1 New York Times bestseller thirty-one times and remaining on the New York Times bestseller list for three years.
The entire point of this informal spiritual retreat in SunnyRoomStudio has been to look beyond the “I” of the moment … to find the spiritual dimension in our lives and to weave it into the very fabric of daily life. Since September we have been focusing on elements of Zen each week. As we have just witnessed in CT, each “I” is temporary, impermanent, and clearly, fleeting. Sometimes more suddenly than we could ever have anticipated. Sometimes in ways that leave us staggering and defeated. I have posted about loss previously … looked closely at the elements of grief, death and dying, in my own life.
In fact, one reason I launched this site 3 years ago was to bring more light into the world in the aftermath of heartbreaking loss.
So my heart goes out to each and every person directly and indirectly impacted by the eruption of senseless violence in a school … a place of learning, of friendship, of assumed safety. But schools aren’t perfect either. They come with flaws like everything else.
Students, teachers, parents, families … all mortal. All subject to human limitations and challenges. (If you are interested in digging deeper into the diversity of family systems, I highly recommend Andrew Solomon’s new book, Far From the Tree: Parents, Children, and the Search for Identity.)
But one thing is clear to me. Life is not meant to be predictable, nor routine, nor without strife, struggle, and obstacles that threaten to overwhelm us.
As Eckhart Tolle has suggested, life is not designed to make us happy. Life is meant to wake us up (in the spiritual sense).
And sometimes endings can be catalysts for greater understanding. They can help us to grow spiritually, because the mind resists, and has trouble comprehending the reality of death. Yet, spiritually, if we accept the challenge, a certain “knowing” will come with time — a “knowing” that is far deeper than surface explanations.
But if we continue to operate from ego, from a reactive mind that wants to be right no matter what, and without a degree of mindfulness, the status quo will be ours to experience for time unknown. The forms may change; the outward expression of violence may change. But to truly alter deep-seated patterns within cultures and societies, it will likely take a shift in consciousness. We will not only have to look within at self, we will have to go beyond self to find our spiritual roots and to live from a more enlightened perspective.
- What are you doing to explore your level of consciousness … especially before you speak, or act, or assume? Just venture back through the 15 weeks of study we have just completed here, pick any week, and see if you have actually absorbed the deeper message. Or look to any of our spiritual leaders for guidance. Commit to a different world by committing to your own spiritual evolution. We will not have one without the other.
I am finally hearing people talk about our “culture of violence” in reference to CT. This vantage point will take us closer to solutions than anything else.
We are so used to violence, even in its most subtle forms. Even in “socially acceptable” forms. Within organizations and institutions of all sizes; within political structures; within family systems that are nearly always dysfunctional in one way or another. Let’s start with a fresh look at what we encounter each day, at what we contribute to relationships, to workplaces, to potentially controversial situations. (Are we addicted to controversy?) Let’s consider how the small things add up to big things.
Our world is waiting for change. Hoping for change. But as we all know, we must be the change we envision.
This week, for our retreat, and for those of you who are keeping a journal in lieu of leaving comments (they have been closed since September when we began this spiritual journey), take a step back. Try to put yourself in the shoes of the parents who lost young children; try to feel their pain, their anguish, before you jump in with assumptions and solutions of old — with your ideas of what must be done. Get some perspective. Meditate. Seek out spiritual wisdom. Pray. Envision the world you want to live in. We are not going to solve the problem of violence this week or next week. It will take a shift in consciousness that must come from within each person. And if you think you are already there, I invite you to look again.
Go beyond self … shine a light on your “certainty.” On your “need to know.”
- Shine a light on a deeper truth, on your own humanity and what it means to care, to show compassion, to consistently act from a place of internal peace. The gap is wide. The bridge is not yet apparent. You will have to construct it, one breath at a time.
As many of you know, I have been working on a memoir about the loss of my son and have recently completed a draft. I was planning to write the second draft next year. But we’ll have to see how I feel upon review of the manuscript. In its current form it at least conveys the complexities of life that defy simple solutions, black and white thinking, and assumptions of old. I did my graduate work in sociology, so obviously, I understand well the powerful influence of society in our lives. Indeed, its influence is everywhere, because it is everywhere.
Adam Lanza may have been behind the trigger in the mind-numbing tragedy that has everyone glued to televisions and social media, but we can be sure our society and culture played a role in his evolution as a human being. How do we relate to troubled children in our schools, in our homes and beyond? Or even if they aren’t considered “troubled,” how do we relate to children who don’t fit the one-size-fits-all conformity mold … who seem to have unique needs and abilities? Have we really made mental health a priority in this country? Are we a compassionate and empathetic world? Are we really supporting the diversity of life that is our planet?
While meaningful answers can be difficult to find, we must first see the problems anew. We must look with “new eyes” if we are to find more peaceful and effective ways to live. And sometimes, with humility, we must also come to see our need for greater spiritual awareness. In this journey called life, we are all kindred spirits.
- In closing I would like to share a personal message about grief. I wish I could tell the parents who lost young children last week these things.
First of all, forget time … this won’t feel real for years to come … the reality of loss dawns very very slowly and only in stages, as we are ready. It could easily be 5 years or more before you come full circle with this deafening experience. Allow yourself all the time you need. Please don’t try to conform to arbitrary standards generated by society, friends, or family. There is no “right” way to grieve. And, most of all, insist on keeping your children in your life … only their form has changed. Honor their memory in ways that bring you comfort. To deny their ongoing presence in your life is terribly painful and unnecessary. The memory of those we’ve lost looms large this time of year, but by keeping your children in your lives, you can honor a deeper reality. Most of all, take very good care of yourself. Your energy level will be low for a long time. Allow it. There are physical, emotional, intellectual, and spiritual reactions to grief. Expect to feel and act differently; honor your human needs. Time does not heal all wounds, but its passage can provide perspective, eventually. My concern and blessings to all of you.
Grief is never linear, it flows somewhere outside of time … and it knows no boundaries. Indeed, it is direct contact with the greatest unknown, and how we begin to learn who we are at our deepest level. ~ D.A. Hickman, Kindred Spirit Quotes
Next Friday, our retreat, Beyond Self 2012, will conclude with Week 17. Until then I wish you a peaceful holiday season.
May it be a time of meaningful reflection and deepening spiritual awareness.
May you acknowledge, as never before, the interconnectedness of everything.
May you discover “new eyes” with which to see your life and its expression.
Do you not see how necessary a world of pains and troubles is to school an intelligence and make it a soul? ~ John Keats, Letters of John Keats
- Comments will be open periodically, but personal reflection is encouraged in lieu of.
“Knowledge is knowing that we cannot know.”
~ Ralph Waldo Emerson
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