Today, I came across this photo that I took a few years ago while traveling. It brought tears to my eyes. As I gazed upon the image of this deity, I felt a wave of profound compassion move through me like a soothing balm.
Like millions of others, I have been feeling the aftershocks of the Orlando shootings. My heart is full of sadness, grief, overwhelm, as well as deep empathy and a desire — no, a need — to help, somehow.
My human mind and heart barely know what to do with something like this. How can one human being DO that to other human beings? I remember the first time I was old enough to comprehend what war was. I was aghast and perplexed. Even as a child, I wondered, incredulously, “How could anyone think shooting each other could possibly solve anything?” I still wonder.
As an adult, I know now that we are, indeed, all One, and that just as we all breathe the same air, we are connected in energetic ways, in Spirit, if you will, that science is finally able to prove on a quantum level. And yet, in instances like this, it doesn’t matter if we don’t understand HOW we’re connected. Many of us simply experience, in our hearts, that we ARE. Perhaps we experience this connection a little more deeply than ever before.
Consciously or subconsciously, each of us is affected by what happens to any and all other members of our collective human being-ness.
I’ve witnessed the Orlando incident’s emotional aftermath manifest in various ways in those around me, from expressions of rage, anger, and disgust to an unspeakable sense of grief and sadness, a sense of helplessness and hopelessness. I’ve also seen it manifest as highly elevated levels of fear, evidenced in all sorts of other situations.
An example: On Monday morning, just hours after the shooting, I called a business associate who was in near hysteria that his computer had been hacked and he had been, or would soon be, a victim of identity theft. Turns out it hadn’t, and he wasn’t. But in his heightened state of fear, his overriding feeling that the world is an unsafe place was expressing itself in this more immediate sense of personal vulnerability.
When we are repeatedly cautioned by many “authority” figures to live in a constant state of “high alert,” our nervous systems are quite literally altered — and not for the better. We begin to live in a constant state of “fight or flight” and we become chronically predisposed to perceiving people and situations as threats, and hence feel a need to protect ourselves from real and/or perceived danger.
So, as news of Orlando’s tragedy continues to permeate our minds and hearts, as well as our news feeds, it can serve to add yet another shove to the flywheel of fear. Or it can serve as a catalyst for healing on a very deep level.
We cannot change what happened. But we can remain conscious of choosing how we respond. We can choose to open our hearts in compassion, to take whatever outer world, pragmatic steps we may feel moved to take, such as giving blood, donating time, energy or money to healing efforts. But in my opinion, the most important choice we can make is to choose love. And choose love again. Choose forgiveness, even when it seems impossible. Choose not to feed the fear, the anger, the judgment, the blame… (yes, even for him).
Choose to ask the childlike question, “How can anyone DO that?” And then listen deeply for the compassion that goes far deeper than blame, judgment, anger, and fear, to a place of understanding that the only way anyone can make choices like the one that was made by the Orlando gunman is when he or she is deeply afraid and feels deeply cut off from Love.
And so as we mourn the losses, and feel the pain and sorrow of the families and loved ones of the victims, may we also feel within our hearts an expanded capacity to love. And may it prompt us to choose love in little ways, in big ways, in all ways.
So, rather than reacting to my partner (for the thousandth time) with frustration about some habit I don’t like, can I choose to see that person with fresh love and appreciation, looking past the “small stuff,” to what really matters?
As Goethe put it: “Things which matter most must never be at the mercy of things which matter least.”
I strongly believe that choosing to acknowledge and rise above our own petty judgments, angers, and little daily “attacks” on others (and ourselves) are the essential building blocks from which a larger global balance of understanding, tolerance, and ability to “live and let live” will be built.
So, as I reflect on the Orlando shootings, once again I come to this simple truth: We MUST BE the change we seek. Very, very literally. And in honor of lives lost and suffering that remains due to this act of fear, I deepen my commitment to choosing love. Even when I feel justified for not doing so. I will remember to apply these affirmations of my heart:
- I surrender being right, and choose compassion.
- I surrender being righteously angry, and choose forgiveness.
- I surrender blaming someone out there — whether a gunman across the country, a political leader across party lines, or my partner across the dinner table — and choose love.
As Lin-Manuel Miranda so passionately reminded us a day after the Orlando shooting in his acceptance sonnet at the Tony Awards, “Love is love is love is love is love is love is love is love, cannot be killed or swept aside.”
Choosing love is not always easy, but I know what I do for myself, I do for all others. Thus, I redouble my commitment to being the change I so desperately want to see in the world.
I end this written reflection as I often end my yoga classes, with this simple prayer: “As we move through our day and our week, may we remain aware that each and every moment is a moment of choice. May we choose Love.”