Yesterday, I was driving to the trails where I like to take my morning run, when I heard about the shootings in Dallas while listening to my radio. When I got home, I checked my Facebook newsfeed and was bombarded by images, memes, and news articles. Everyone, it seemed was choosing a side. There were rants, proposed solutions, and admonishments. One friend simply wrote, "World, you can do better." Along with all the rants, there were those who seemed to be bearing the grief and the loss as if it were their own, seeming to feel powerless in the midst of it.
Every and all responses are valid. Seeing incidents like this happen--especially so close to home, in our case--can activate deep-set fears and lead us to feel angry and helpless. It can seem that, no matter how much good we try to do in the world, hate is prevailing over love.
The key to keeping our own peace of mind after these incidents, is to realize that they don't happen in a vacuum. Acting out violently stems from a lifetime of fear and misunderstanding, as well as a tremendous amount of desperation. While there may need to be legal and legislative changes in order to prevent such events from occurring, the only road to lasting change is to move beyond the fear and misunderstanding.
And that is where we are not powerless. The greatest changes don't happen at the government level--they happen in the day-to-day interactions everywhere around the world. In every home, in every business, in every neighborhood.
If we can find peace, love, and understanding within, then we can offer it up as a gift to everyone we meet. When we can be at peace within ourselves, we no longer see differing views as threats, or anger as attack. We can begin to truly listen--to create a safe space for those who are feeling desperate, and to allow those who come to us to be truly heard and loved.
It is possible to be the calm in the middle of the storm:
1. Allow yourself to feel what you feel.
Maybe you will be angry. Or perhaps you will need to cry. Give yourself permission to experience whatever emotional reaction you have. You are a part of humanity, so it is totally "normal" to be affected. Observe your emotions and your thoughts behind them. Take some time to care for yourself and see where you are, before doing anything else.
2. Calm your body and mind.
Without judging your emotions, take some time to breathe deeply and calm your mind. Know that you are likely in a state of fight-or-flight, where your mind is concerned with survival and identifying potential threats. This is an evolutionary mechanism that has allowed humans to survive, but it does not facilitate problem-solving or understanding. Breathe deeply to calm this response, and focus on relaxing.
And at the same time, don't forget to meet your basic needs. Eat healthy meals, get enough sleep, and drink plenty of water. This will help to stop the reaction and keep your mind calm and focused. Use whatever spiritual practices help you to feel calm and comforted, whether it is prayer, meditation, singing, etc.
3. Limit your exposure to news and social media.
Learn the facts, then stop reading, watching, or listening to the news. You don't need 24 hour coverage--this will likely only increase your anger and fear. Ranting on social media, or responding to other people's rants, will also do nothing more than increase your fight-or-flight response, which will decrease your ability to do anything real or meaningful about the issue.
Voicing an opinion online might feel like you are doing something, but it really does nothing more than fuel anger in an echo chamber. Ranting does not increase understanding or educate anyone.
4. Listen, rather than tell.
Remember that you will be around people who are also in fear, also in a state of fight-or-flight. When you tell them what you think, their minds will perceive you as a threat, and they will only hear you saying that you are right and they are wrong. This can lead to defensiveness.
If you really want to increase understanding, begin by listening to those around you. Know that their words and thoughts are based on their experiences--they are not a threat to you. Listen, without saying what you think, and ask questions to help clarify. In opening up this dialogue, it may be easier for both of you to reach an understanding.
5. Keep your focus on what you can do.
A fearful mind will stay focused on the problem, but once you are calm, you can begin to look at solutions. You are now powerless. Begin to look at things you can do, from right where you are. Perhaps you feel compelled to donate time or money. Or maybe your role is to be gentle and kind in your daily interactions, helping people to find the peace that begins at home.
And focus on the good, the love, and the helpers. When it seems that hatred and fear are all the exist, it is simply a matter of looking a little more closely. There is still a lot of love, and still a lot of beauty. And it is our job to find it, and to share it.
For help in finding your own inner peace that you can share with the world, consider an individual e-mail, chat or video session.