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We are in mourning. Shock, grief and anger wash over us in waves. For many, the media (old and new) has become the place we turn in order to deal with such an event. In traditional societies, we would have physically gathered together as a community to process our pain. This week, Occupy Cafe will attempt this virtually on behalf of its members, including founding steward Ben Roberts, who is a Newtown resident.
A friend wrote Ben an email saying that she hoped that "we can use this as a catalyst for new ways of making sense together." We would especially like to hear from one or more people who have gone through something like this and come out the other side with their spirit intact. Perhaps they even discovered some sense of mission and purpose that is their own form of "making sense" of something that seems to defy the very notion with its randomness.
Join the online conversation by posting below. Our Cafe Calls are complete for 2012 and will resume on Jan. 7, 2013.. Perhaps we might all contemplate this question:
How do we respond to this tragedy in ways that serve life?
Image: memorial display on Church Hill road in Sandy Hook, CT
I received a copy of this letter by email from my friend Terry Halwes in New Haven, CT. We read it aloud on yesterday's wonderful Occupy Heart call, which delved into the question of the way in which we raise our boys, prompted by the fact that two people on the call were members of The Mankind Project.
Here in Newtown, many people wracked by grief and rage would just as soon never hear or read another word about the young man who committed this unbelievably heinous act, let alone hear his name or count him among the dead (twenty eight people died last Friday, including Adam and Nancy Lanza, but mostly the number you will see is twenty six, representing the children and adults who were murdered in their school).
And yet I wonder... We're focused on guns and ammo right now, which is fine. We're so good at problem solving, we are craving some kind of tangible action, and the first response here seem fairly obvious. Plus it feels good to many of us to fight for something (and boy are we fighting--check out Newtown United for an example). We are all also asking ourselves questions about the ways in which our society addresses mental health, but as of now the "problem solving " approach hasn't yielded anything comparable to "ban assault weapons and large ammo clips" clarity in terms of obvious next steps. What if we shifted our focus to possibility instead?
Is it possible that the most powerful impetus for change might be emerging out of our contemplation of what we might do to never have another boy grow up into an Adam? I can see our town committing itself to that goal within our own community, and putting in place all kinds of programs to insure that we do not ignore such desperately lonely and troubled souls.
Saturday, 15th of December, 2012
Dharma Cloud Temple
Let me start by saying that I wish for you to find peace. It would be easy just to call you a monster and condemn you for evermore, but I don't think that would help either of us. Given what you have done, I realize that peace may not be easy to find. In a fit of rage, delusion and fear—yes, above all else, I think, fear—you thought that killing was a way out. It was clearly a powerful emotion that drove you from your mother's dead body to massacre children and staff of Sandy Hook School and to turn the gun in the end on yourself. You decided that the game was over.
But the game is not over, though you are dead. You didn't find a way out of your anger and loneliness. You live on in other forms, in the torn families and their despair, in the violation of their trust, in the gaping wound in a community, and in the countless articles and news reports spilling across the country and the world—yes, you live on even in me. I was also a young boy who grew up in Newtown. Now I am a Zen Buddhist monk. I see you quite clearly in me now, continued in the legacy of your actions, and I see that in death you have not become free.
You know, I used to play soccer on the school field outside the room where you died, when I was the age of the children you killed. Our team was the Eagles, and we won our division that year. My mom still keeps the trophy stashed in a box. To be honest, I was and am not much of a soccer player. I've known winning, but I've also known losing, and being picked last for a spot on the team. I think you've known this too—the pain of rejection, isolation and loneliness. Loneliness too strong to bear.
You are not alone in feeling this. When loneliness comes up it is so easy to seek refuge in a virtual world of computers and films, but do these really help or only increase our isolation? In our drive to be more connected, have we lost our true connection?
I want to know what you did with your loneliness. Did you ever, like me, cope by walking in the forests that cover our town? I know well the slope that cuts from that school to the stream, shrouded by beech and white pine. It makes up the landscape of my mind. I remember well the thrill of heading out alone on a path winding its way—to Treadwell Park! At that time it felt like a magical path, one of many secrets I discovered throughout those forests, some still hidden. Did you ever lean your face on the rough furrows of an oak's bark, feeling its solid heartwood and tranquil vibrancy? Did you ever play in the course of a stream, making pools with the stones as if of this stretch you were king? Did you ever experience the healing, connection and peace that comes with such moments, like I often did?
Or did your loneliness know only screens, with dancing figures of light at the bid of your will? How many false lives have you lived, how many shots fired, bombs exploded and lives lost in video games and movies?
By killing yourself at the age of 20, you never gave yourself the chance to grow up and experience a sense of how life's wonders can bring happiness. I know at your age I hadn't yet seen how to do this.
I am 37 now, about the age my teacher, the Buddha, realized there was a way out of suffering. I am not enlightened. This morning, when I heard the news, and read the words of my shocked classmates, within minutes a wave of sorrow arose, and I wept. Then I walked a bit further, into the woods skirting our monastery, and in the wet, winter cold of France, beside the laurel, I cried again. I cried for the children, for the teachers, for their families. But I also cried for you, Adam, because I think that I know you, though I know we have never met. I think that I know the landscape of your mind, because it is the landscape of my mind.
I don't think you hated those children, or that you even hated your mother. I think you hated your loneliness.
I cried because I have failed you. I have failed to show you how to cry. I have failed to sit and listen to you without judging or reacting. Like many of my peers, I left Newtown at seventeen, brimming with confidence and purpose, with the congratulations of friends and the approbation of my elders. I was one of the many young people who left, and in leaving we left others, including you, just born, behind. In that sense I am a part of the culture that failed you. I didn't know yet what a community was, or that I was a part of one, until I no longer had it, and so desperately needed it.
I have failed to be one of the ones who could have been there to sit and listen to you. I was not there to help you to breathe and become aware of your strong emotions, to help you to see that you are more than just an emotion.
But I am also certain that others in the community cared for you, loved you. Did you know it?
In eighth grade I lived in terror of a classmate and his anger. It was the first time I knew aggression. No computer screen or television gave a way out, but my imagination and books. I dreamt myself a great wizard, blasting fireballs down the school corridor, so he would fear and respect me. Did you dream like this too?
The way out of being a victim is not to become the destroyer. No matter how great your loneliness, how heavy your despair, you, like each one of us, still have the capacity to be awake, to be free, to be happy, without being the cause of anyone's sorrow. You didn't know that, or couldn't see that, and so you chose to destroy. We were not skillful enough to help you see a way out.
With this terrible act you have let us know. Now I am listening, we are all listening, to you crying out from the hell of your misunderstanding. You are not alone, and you are not gone. And you may not be at peace until we can stop all our busyness, our quest for power, money or sex, our lives of fear and worry, and really listen to you, Adam, to be a friend, a brother, to you. With a good friend like that your loneliness might not have overwhelmed you.
But we needed your help too, Adam. You needed to let us know that you were suffering, and that is not easy to do. It means overcoming pride, and that takes courage and humility. Because you were unable to do this, you have left a heavy legacy for generations to come. If we cannot learn how to connect with you and understand the loneliness, rage and despair you felt—which also lie deep and sometimes hidden within each one of us—not by connecting through Facebook or Twitter or email or telephone, but by really sitting with you and opening our hearts to you, your rage will manifest again in yet unforeseen forms.
Now we know you are there. You are not random, or an aberration. Let your action move us to find a path out of the loneliness within each one of us. I have learned to use awareness of my breath to recognize and transform these overwhelming emotions, but I hope that every man, woman or child does not need to go halfway across the world to become a monk to learn how to do this. As a community we need to sit down and learn how to cherish life, not with gun-checks and security, but by being fully present for one another, by being truly there for one another. For me, this is the way to restore harmony to our communion.
Douglas Bachman (Br. Phap Luu)
who grew up at 22 Lake Rd. in Newtown, CT., is a Buddhist monk and student of the Vietnamese Zen Master and monk Thich Nhat Hanh. As part of an international community, he teaches Applied Ethics and the art of mindful living to students and school teachers. He lives in Plum Village Monastery, in Thenac, France.
Published on Dec 20, 2012
This song is dedicated to the victims of Sandy Hook Elementary School and the Newtown, CT community. The talented artists involved in this project all are from Newtown, CT.
In the face of of this tragedy, our community has come together and supported one another in incredible ways. The outpouring of love and support from around the world has let us know that we are not alone.
This song is dedicated to all those affected by acts of violence and serves as a reminder that the bond of a communal heart is stronger than any act of evil. Love, kindness, charity, and faith will forever prevail.
Newtown will forever be in all our hearts. Bless the souls we lost too soon. Support those in need. Do all you can to help your neighbor. WE ARE NEWTOWN.
**Please visit "We Are Newtown" Facebook Page for more information on how to become involved**
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I said to my soul, be still, and let the dark come upon youWhich shall be the darkness of God…I said to my soul, be still, and wait without hopeFor hope would be for the wrong thing;Wait without loveFor love would be love of the wrong thing;There is yet faith…But the faith and the love and the hope are all in the waiting.Wait without thought, for you are not ready for thought:So the darkness shall be the light,and the stillness the dancing. ~ T. S. Eliot
I've been posting a lot of inspiring things that I see amidst the terrible grief of these times. And while I still see those possibilities, I also am getting that the current moment feels extraordinarily dark to most of us. I just read Meg Wheatley's excerpt of Yeats' The Second Coming ("things fall apart...") in the beginning of So Far from Home and they landed with a thunk in my gut, telling me that we must do our best to plumb the very depths of our grief if we are to rise anew to meet the challenges of this broken world.
The Second Coming
Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.
Surely some revelation is at hand;
Surely the Second Coming is at hand.
The Second Coming! Hardly are those words out
When a vast image out of Spiritus Mundi
Troubles my sight: somewhere in sands of the desert
A shape with lion body and the head of a man,
A gaze blank and pitiless as the sun,
Is moving its slow thighs, while all about it
Reel shadows of the indignant desert birds.
The darkness drops again; but now I know
That twenty centuries of stony sleep
Were vexed to nightmare by a rocking cradle,
And what rough beast, its hour come round at last,
Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?
More from Wheatley:
"Chögyam Trungpa, the founder of Shambhala training,
taught that dark times arise when people lose faith in one
another. Absent that positive belief in others, there is no
motivation to act courageously. People disappear into
their private worlds, just as is happening now. If we choose
to be warriors, we will find ourselves struggling day to day
to be wise and compassionate as we work inside the collapsing
corridors of power. We have to expect a life of
constant challenge, rejection, invisibility, and loneliness.
So it’s important to contemplate how much faith you have
in people, because this is what gives you courage and the
ability to persevere. What has been your direct experience
with the best qualities of the human spirit, with human
We know we have seen both the worst and the best "qualities of the human spirit" in our midst here in Newtown this past week. Wheatley seems to be suggesting to me that continuing to manifest the latter may be the greatest gift we can also give to the world--the best way to honor the memories of those who were lost on Dec. 14th.
Changing some laws is all well and good, but is it going to be enough? My sense is that whatever policy-oriented victories we achieve will leave us feeling hollow, and can only serve at best to make some modest, incremental shifts. But... what if we also make these efforts to "do something" an exercise in connecting deeply and compassionately with one another as one human family? And I mean all of us. No exceptions.
I do not suggest that we adopt this discipline to "save the world," although lord knows that is where my head is tugging me. We do it simply because we sit here together in this place of unbearable pain, and it is the only way to truly create meaningful lives amidst that pain and loneliness. Anything else is a form of resignation and denial. And if we do this, who knows what shifts in our beloved NEWtown (and beyond) might emerge as a result?
Also reminded of the poem my sister-in-law Felicia wrote this week:
NOT ALL IS BRIGHT
They sprout and grow, like sweet little weeds
Stretching up towards our light.
Never having been the sun before,
we look down and somehow shine.
And we keep secrets that the sun never had:
That our encircling arms will never quite manage to shut out all the dark.
That we ourselves are flawed
and frightened of the dark
And that we fail. We live in the shadows that we cast.
Not all is calm,
Not all is bright.
How to explain to a small, trusting heart
That the Thing under the bed is us?
The beauty of this poem taps-in to my now distant memory of being a young parent... when my children asked so many questions, needed to know so urgently, and who tested so literally. How could I not tell them the truth, I thought... what a huge responsibility, how could I forsake them, how could I fool those beautiful, innocent, vital little people?
And to my surprise they were, with their loving trust, teaching me I had such a jumble of bullshit inside me... illusions, assumptions, prejudices, dark places, etc.. I had a lot of work to do so I could give them my best, most honest answers and guidance. What a cleaning they caused in me... a lifelong cleaning! I thought I had things all straight before they got those little fingers into my heart. Nothing's been the same since.
Why doesn't 'society' know of these things? I must learn for myself and turn them upside down...
I learn much more from children than they learn from me. And I might extend this to all 'innocents' 'meek ones' 'tender ones' 'disabled' 'weakened' 'hurt ones' ... all the ones who I "supposedly" have advantage over. But, who are in fact the ones, who if I serve in my fullest capacity and most honestly, will thereby imbue the most important and true lessons of life.
Three GroupWorks cards I have pulled in the past twenty-four hours or so, that are on my desk in front of me right now (in the order they appeared):
A song my step-son's former piano teacher recorded with some local children.
Here is a link to "Do As One" where this site helps link people from all around the globe synchronously.
It shows where other earth inhabitants are located who are 'with you' on the site. It has several 'rooms' you can choose from, such as one for Meditation, for Breathing, for Om, and Color. There are options if you like in each room to adjust e.g. ambiance sounds, colors, timer sound, visual designs...
Occasionally they post an event or a word to be the focus for all who wish to do it that way. There are other sites too.
I was emotional with strong connection during the Breathing As One.