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Broken Hearts Seeking Hope
Posted: 12/19/2012 | Inspirational Comments
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We are all heartbroken over the tragic event in Newtown, Connecticut. So many beautiful young lives ended unexpectedly and terribly, as well as the lives of courageous adults. Perhaps most difficult to imagine are the lives of parents, family and friends who’ve lost loved ones, especially their cherished children. These people are changed irrevocably, and must travel a path of profound grief few of us can really know.

It’s all so incomprehensible. We wrestle with unanswerable questions seeking hope. Why did this happen? How can our humanity produce such acts of horror? Where is God in all this? How can we stop this from happening again?

We suffer as we witness the suffering of others. It’s easy to feel helpless as we sit glued to the television or searching the Internet for information that might somehow help us make sense of all this. Watching the media can add to our fears and anxiety with sensationalized, dramatic and sometimes inaccurate coverage. We begin to fear for our own children, our own lives. We question the safety we so recently took for granted. We can so easily succumb to powerlessness, fear, resignation, and negativity.

So how did this happen?

Thinking about this, I can’t help but ponder two things. First, our laws are such that assault weapons were available to this deeply troubled young man. As Senator Dianne Feinstein said on her campaign website, “Who needs these military-style assault weapons? Who needs an ammunition feeding device capable of holding 100 rounds?” Gun control is a complex and hot issue, but certainly needs to be addressed given the repeated acts of terrible violence that have taken so many innocent lives.

Second, we need to address the availability and effectiveness of support for those with mental health issues. Anyone who can shoot innocent children and adults in this fashion is not in their right mind. As a mental health clinician, for about 25 years I’ve watched the defunding and dismantling of clinical programs and support services in mental health. When I speak with clinicians who’ve been in the field longer than I have, I hear about the safety nets that were in place years ago to catch psychologically vulnerable people. 

We all have places inside us of arrested development, and sometimes we act out from these places. Most of us, however, would never, under any circumstances, do what Adam Lanza did that day. Those who suffer from a mental illness that distorts their thinking and judgment so severely need much more help. Many of these folks never get help or some are in and out of hospitals with little support in between hospital stays.

Sometimes their families feel helpless, burnt out, and unable to cope with all that happens around their family member. Sometimes the families themselves also suffer with various degrees of mental and emotional challenges, whether genetic or environmental, that make it difficult for the families to make good decisions, know how to get help, or what help to get for themselves or their loved ones.   

How can we help?

We can take action in several ways. First, talk to your government officials about the control of assault weapons. Next, let your representatives know how desperately we need better access to mental health services and facilities to care for these people who suffer, and cause the suffering of others.

Lastly, we can open ourselves to the deep Mystery holding all of life. We can pray and meditate for the victims and their families, as well as for all who suffer so deeply they could hurt another person. We can open to that which is beyond our rational mind, the love and compassion which is ever-present and available, even when we don’t realize or experience it.

This inner opening allows deeper love to be present, helping us expand beyond our fear and anger into the Wholeness that holds us all. We can then sometimes feel a gratitude well up inside for all of life, with its difficulties and its preciousness. We can experience the ever-present beauty around us and affirm the Divine in its many facets. This takes us to the connection with our essence, our deepest and highest awareness, and we then offer healing to the world around us. Our compassion creates compassion. Our peace permeates the space around us.

As Ram Dass wrote recently to parents of a young child who died in this tragedy, “I can't assuage your pain with any words, nor should I. For your pain is Rachel's legacy to you. Not that she or I would inflict such pain by choice, but there it is. And it must burn its purifying way to completion. For something in you dies when you bear the unbearable, and it is only in that dark night of the soul that you are prepared to see as God sees, and to love as God loves.”

A Buddhist Tonglen Meditation comes to mind. As we inhale, we breathe in the suffering of the world. As we exhale, we breathe out compassion and relief of the suffering to the world. We can do this meditation for anyone at any time. When we feel our own pain, fear and suffering arise, we remember the millions on earth who feel exactly as we do, even if we can’t name our emotions in the moment, possibly sadness, grief, or anger. We might feel pain in our stomach or a heaviness in our chest. Breathe in these many emotions and painful thoughts. Breathe out peace and understanding. Breathe in the pain for us all. Breathe out love for us all.

A broken heart is an open heart. When we open our heart to the world, we relieve the suffering of others and ourselves. We remember we are one. We remember love can truly heal.

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