An open space for global conversation
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?
Podcast for Monday's call available here
Image: memorial display on Church Hill road in Sandy Hook, CT
Thank you Ben. Your picture expresses it so well. What can any of us do? Is this a "system failure" -- something fundamentally wrong with the way we are doing things? We seem absolutely unable to get any sort of meaningful gun control conversation moving in the country. Why? Is it because all our resources are tied up with other issues? Because something very deep in our assumptions about our social order are simply failing us?
Bob Costas asked the question to the nation just two weekends ago following the murder-suicide in Kansas City. I searched Google just now for details - and found story after story scorning Costas for daring to mention the issue. Of course gun control is a complex issue on its own -- but we can't even discuss it reasonably -- and we can't get it on a serious national agenda. Occupy raised its fist and made a loud loud cry about critical issues: STOP! It mattered and made a difference.
Ben, we have to find a way to move our politics forward. Are we just going to endure an endless string of these incidents -- or all other consequences of gridlock?
We do need bold new thinking. The USA is still the international leader in innovation. We've got to find a way...
Signed this petition and it felt good:
In the first post of this thread, my friend Bruce refers to an image that is no longer one you now see above. At a certain point during the week when I felt like stepping into the light, I changed from the original image I used to one of the angel shrine which is now on Church Hill Road, on your left as you drive down into Sandy Hook Center from Exit 10 of Interstate 84. I had walked past it on Sunday the 16th just after it had been set up and found it so sweet and moving that my heart called loudly to me to offer that vision in place of the darker one I had first used. Here is that original image:
Interestingly, I had to go back to Google images to find this again, as I had deleted it from my desktop the other day to clean things up there. The reason I was doing that is that I had changed my desktop wallpaper from an image of snow covered trees in winter (below--my wallpaper for the past several years) to the angel shrine image you now see above. Having done so, I didn't like the way the various icons on my desktop, including a link to that grief image, were covering up some of the angels in the foreground. So I cleaned up my desktop, which is something I rarely do either in its virtual version or in the physical space of my Newtown home office, from which I am writing this now. I expect that one of the "small" ways in which these tragic events have changed me is that am now committing myself to being a much less "sloppy" person, per the suggestion of my new spiritual inspiration, Chogyam Trungpa.
Normally, I credit the source for the images I use, but I had failed to do so (or even to look at the source I was getting that image of grief from) the first time around. It was easy to find that picture again though, and this time I also checked out the page that it was linked to. It's a piece by Judy Mills entitled Supporting People in their Climate Grief, on the ecoAffect blog. Climate was, coincidentally, our theme in the Cafe during the week of the shootings. Here's an excerpt:
When someone suggested I write about climate-change denial this week, I thought I was clever in deciding to address denial as but one stage of what surely is a collective grieving process. After all, we are not just losing glaciers and coastlines. We are losing seasonal certainty. Worse yet, we may have to change, and people grieve during periods of significant change – even good change.
Grief over climatic changes makes solid sense. And so does the fact that people are moving around among denial, anger, bargaining and depression, often fighting acceptance tooth and nail. Many have dug in for long-term stays in denial...
As it turns out, a bunch of people have mulled and remulled the five stages of climate grief long before me, including a Nobel laureate, a widely published California social worker and a blogger less than half my age.
In the interest of exploring new ground, let’s talk about how best to communicate with people in the throws of grieving a significant loss or change. I know what felt good to me after the double blows of losing both my parents in the same month. I also know what rankled and rewounded me, what sent me back to denial, anger bargaining and depression, and also what eased me toward acceptance.
I wonder how we might employ what’s known about communicating with the bereaved to reach the hearts and minds of a broad American populous that may be silently – and not so silently, as in the case of Rush Limbaugh – grieving the loss of climate as they have known, loved and depended on it. Firstly, we would benefit from taking into account their diminished state. Yes, even those entrenched in denial. Secondly, we may have better luck getting through if we approach them in some of the ways recommended by grief experts.
Mills then posts an excerpt from Helpguide.org which she says "offers a summary of what is, in my experience, some of the best advice" on how to have conversations with those in the throws of grief (in general).
The bereaved struggle with many intense and frightening emotions, including depression, anger, and guilt.
There is no right or wrong way to grieve. Grief does not always unfold in orderly, predictable stages. Everyone grieves differently, so avoid telling the bereaved what they “should” be feeling or doing.
Grief may involve extreme emotions and behaviors. Don’t judge them or take their grief reactions personally.
There is no set timetable for grieving. For many people, recovery after bereavement takes 18 to 24 months, but for others, the grieving process may be longer or shorter. Don’t pressure the bereaved to move on or make them feel like they’ve been grieving too long. This can actually slow their healing.
Almost everyone worries about what to say to people who are grieving. But knowing how to listen is much more important. Invite the grieving person to openly express his or her feelings.
Accept and acknowledge all feelings. Don’t try to reason with them over how they should or shouldn’t feel. The bereaved should feel free to express their feelings, without fear of judgment, argument, or criticism.
Offer comfort and reassurance without minimizing the loss. Tell the bereaved that what they’re feeling is okay.
Continue your support over the long haul. Stay in touch with the grieving person, periodically checking in.
The pain of bereavement may never fully heal. Be sensitive to the fact that life may never feel the same.
Words of wisdom that those of us here in Newtown, and all the kind souls around the world who are reaching out to us in an empathic embrace, would do well to be guided by.
Here is my old desktop picture, one of a series taken outside my home in 2010:
And here is a picture I took of the angel shrine when I revisited Sandy Hook yesterday, with my twenty year old daughter who came up to Newtown from NYC:
They took down the angel shrine a few days ago. I find myself puzzled and angered by this. It was not going to rot. It was not in anyone's way. It's as if some people think we should limit all signs of mourning or remembrance and only allow such things in official granite-inscribed designated-area-bound form. God forbid we let ourselves be reminded too often or inconveniently of the pain we all feel.
Today I learned that the angels were each taken home by one of the families that lost a child. That warns my heart. And it also seems like a lesson in how easy it is for me to misplace anger and how destructive a habit judgment is.
Here are some additional images from the shrine, near its last days:
I read this section of Trunpga's Shambhala: The Sacred Path of the Warrior this morning:
The warrior's awareness is not based on the training of ultimate paranoia. It is based on the training of ultimate solidity--trusting in basic goodness. That does not mean you have to be heavy or boring, but simply that you have constant joyfulness; therefore you can't be startled. Sudden excitement or exaggerated reactions to situations need not occur at this level. You belong to the world of warriors. When little things happen--good or bad, right or wrong-- you don't exaggerate them. You constantly come back to your saddle and your posture. The warrior is never amazed. If somebody comes up to you and says, "I'm going to kill you right now," or "I have a million dollars for you," you are not amazed. You simply assume your seat in the saddle. p.75
Of course I wouldn't dare read that to the parent who lost a child. But it makes me wonder... Trunga seems to be saying that even murder is in some sense a "little thing." And I guess when I consider how commonplace it is at the global level, or that we will all die eventually, perhaps that makes a certain kind of sense. He also talks a lot about the sacred warrior's "raw and tender heart," filled to the brim with sadness and joy all at the same time, and all the time. Can we learn from this concept?
More Buddhist inspired thought, via my friend Gary Horvitz:
When the zen master Lin Chi
attended his own master's funeral,
he wept illimitable tears while
other monks restrained themselves
in cool zen fashion.
Everyone was surprised. One monk
spoke out: You are a zen master who
has transcended life and death.
Why do you weep like a child?
Your reputation will be marred.
Lin Chi replied: These eyes weep of
themselves! I have left volition long
ago. What else do you expect, when
for decades these eyes have feasted
on his presence, upon whose face
they will never once more gaze?
the warriors Trungpa speaks of are based on the Buddhist influenced tradition of Shambhala. they are spiritual warriors, not physical combat troops armed with guns. Here's how Meg Wheatley describes them in So Far from Home, the book that got me thinking more about these ideas recently:
Most cultures identify this as a dark time, an age of destruction,
the end of a cycle or the end of times. And most cultures have
the tradition of warriors, an elite class entrusted with defending
the faith, the culture, or the kingdom. Warriors undergo rigorous
training and display great courage; their valiant acts live on
in stories that inspire people to maintain the faith and strive to
For many years now, I have been inspired, motivated, and
comforted by a prophecy that comes from Tibetan Buddhism
of impending darkness and the summoning of the warriors.
Although this word warrior has heavy connotations of force
and aggression, it means something very different in Tibetan
culture. The Tibetan word for warrior, pawo, means one who is
brave, one who vows never to use aggression. I practice for this
kind of warriorship in a lineage based on the prophecy of the
Shambhala warriors. My personal vow is to refrain, as best I can,
from adding to the aggression and fear of this time. Shambhala
was an ancient kingdom of wise and conscious people, ruled
by enlightened kings. (My Tibetan teacher places it in current day
Afghanistan. Others believe it is not a physical place but a
description of our awakened minds.) The people of Shambhala
were unusual in that they had no anxiety. Free from fear, they
were able to create an enlightened society.
I know that yesterday, I did join together virtually via Facebook with a diversity of acquaintances but with only a brief acknowledgement that I was sitting quietly alongside and intending waves of Peace wash over the heartbroken to comfort. More words for what I feel fail me.
Yesterday, I sensed a multitude of Angels present for the children who were slain. It is difficult to wrap one's mind around the enormity of it. Last night, I signed a petition via Signon.org "Newtown, today we tell our leaders 'No more!' " that my husband forwarded to me. " 'We've endured too many of these tragedies in the past few years. And each time I learn the news I react not as a president, but as anybody else would, as a parent. And that was especially true today.' These words, spoken today by Pres. Barack Obama, express utter anguish in the face of an evil act: the murder of children and educators."
"This is not war-torn Syria, Afghanistan, or the Congo, but the site of an unspeakable tragedy -- Newtown, Connecticut. A gunman armed with semiautomatic rifles stormed the Sandy Hook Elementary School. Reports are still streaming in, but in the aftermath: 20 children and 6 adults were murdered."
"No one can fully answer why. But today we can change HOW. I am asking you, begging you, to please sign this petition and demand that your elected officials FIX OUR GUN LAWS. People who should not have access to guns buy them every day. Our background checks, systems of purchase, and laws have far too many loopholes and fail to protect our most innocent members of our society."
"We must DEMAND COMMON SENSE GUN LAWS TODAY. Please sign the petition and let's NEVER AGAIN witness a day like today!"
Yet, I sense that gun control, while tempting, is not the actual "answer", though it could be part of the approach to bringing sanity into our everyday lives. We have an ethic of violence in this country that serves the military and law enforcement community's need to pursue violence as a solution to political situations. Our country is is ill-served by an inadequate mental health response. We have soldiers suffering post-traumatic stress syndrome from killing, even though the military attempts to sanitize the experience of war with discipline and by never using that word. The soldiers still experience the reality as a tear in their souls that leads to homelessness, substance and domestic abuse. Our economic situation has left a multitude without adequate financial support or housing. This is a breeding ground for the kind of despair that acts out as it was expressed yesterday.
Something caused this man to snap and do what he did; but there are many more like him, who simply have not acted on such impulses but could at any time. I do believe that humanity is on the cusp of a quantum leap of morphic resonance into better qualities of life. I have to believe in such possibilities, or continuing to live amongst the madness would be intolerable.
Someone said it well yesterday, something to the effect of "I refuse to live in a country that" and ended it with "And I am NOT leaving". It is a battle cry of intended activism. It is a perspective that the Occupy Cafe embodies in all the best ways.
Ben, this morning, my heart resonated with parents in your hometown who are waking up from a nightmare to realize that it is horribly real and has only begun. There are bedrooms empty of life this morning that will hurt these parental hearts forever. Humanity can do better than leave its parents feeling such pain.
We serve life by looking for ways to address the inadequacies of our collective caring that lead to behavior such as the whole world experienced emanating from Connecticut yesterday.
Thank you Deborah. Just rereading this today and I especially appreciate your affirmation of the place we have co-created here at the Cafe, and grateful that you are a part of it.
Just edited the main post to add this, but thought it might also get more notice if I put it in as a reply as well....
We would like to find 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.
If you think can help, you please email me.
A Facebook friend writes:
As the tragedy unfolds, it seems there is a lot of ambiguity involved that is not amenable to sound-bite, reactive solutions. Is better gun regulation the answer? Under the circumstances, I wonder if that's the right question to be asking.
This hits very close to home - literally and figuratively. I met the principal who lost her life a few years ago, when she was working in my town. I know people with friends and family in Newtown. What has always before been "out there", is now "in here". I feel, on a more visceral level, what it means to be part of a community - here in the US or far away, in Afghanistan - hit with the worst kind of violence - that perpetrated on children.
There are conflicting reports about how the gunman gained entry to the school, but in both cases, it seems that regulations & policies were not the problem. The weapons apparently were legally obtained, probably safely stored - so I don't know that we can say that we need to be still more stringent - this might still have happened.
There's something deeper - a loss of community, a loss of a kind of spiritual connection to the people around us and the natural world within and without us - lack of connection, and we're all guilty of that.