In light of the recent tragedy in Connecticut, I'm compelled to share with you, dear reader, my experiences. I hope that you might use them as a stepping stone to your own mental freedom.
Death is always a tough thing for us to deal with. Even when it comes to someone who has long been suffering, it's hard for us to accept that we'll no longer be creating memories with the ones we've lost. Tragic death is an even tougher circumstance for us to cope with, both mentally and emotionally. By "tragic death," I'm referring to when someone dies "before their time," deaths we don't see coming. We have no time to prepare for their impact, and they often disrupt our lives to a greater degree than a death we saw on the horizon.
Earlier this year, my social circle experienced a similar tragedy to the recent shooting in Connecticut. A cafe where my friends worked and hung out, a place I often popped into to grab a cup of joe, had a disturbed gunman come in on a murderous rampage. Several friends perished. Later that day, the gunman took his own life, circumventing any hopes we had that justice would be served. In reality, there was no way we would have felt compensated for the loss of our friends.
A few months later, another mass shooting occurred, at the opening night of the Batman movie. Though I didn't know any victims there, I empathize with their friends and family. And now the news of two more mass shootings (one in Portland, the other in Newtown), challenges our thoughts and emotions again.
The first thing most of us think is: "What motivates someone do something like that?" There's no rational way to answer this question. It's foolish to think something like this results from any kind of logical thinking. Often we wonder if we could have prevented what happened, but that's futile too. Though we can make changes now, dwelling on the past is pointless, because we can't go back.
So what can we do? How can we return our minds to peace? My answer to these questions is to practice compassion and forgiveness with everyone. I know, it's easier said than done. I'm no saint. But I know connecting with and acting from compassion is an immediate release from confusion and frustration. Actively forgiving is a long, lasting release from anger and resentment. To return to peace we must use compassion and forgiveness as the guide for our actions with ourselves and toward others, especially in the circumstances we find it most challenging.
Anger, confusion, and frustration can be important signals to us, but they are poor states to make decisions from and notoriously awful for guiding our actions. It goes without saying that we don't want to be in these emotions for extended periods of time. If we continually make decisions and act from these feelings, we generally end up in circumstances we regret.
The important part of this is moving beyond just thinking nice thoughts, or thinking we're nice people and start (or continue) acting that way. Especially to people who piss us off! When situations or people challenge us, we need to identify that we're angry, confused, or frustrated. If we acknowledge that we're likely to make poor decisions in these states, it's easier to find the motivation to let these emotions go.
Our next move forward is to find our compassion (believe me, it's in there somewhere). When we come from a place of compassion, we identify with our highest potential as humans and amazing things emerge. Even simple, seemingly-small deeds can have huge impacts on us and others from this intention. If we acknowledge that all humans (in fact, all sentient beings) want to be free from fear and confusion, and exist in happiness, we can empathize with those who are seemingly different. Even the ones who cause us grief and pain wish to be happy, though they may be confused in their ways of finding happiness.
My challenge to you, my wonderful reader, is to practice compassion not only in your most challenging affairs, but in the times when you feel indifferent, too. Of course, practice compassion with those you love and who mean the world to you as well! But don't forget the ones you don't care about, and the ones who get on your nerves. They are here to teach you valuable lessons too, the kind of lessons that take effort and make you feel like a better person for doing.
There it is. Give it a think, try it out, see what happens.
I wish it didn't take tragedy for me to write such things, but maybe it does. Hopefully, with some practice it won't take a disaster to remind ourselves to act this way, all the time.
Thanks for reading.
Michael Stanclift, ND
Naturopathic Doctor - Carlsbad, California
*This post was originally published on the Huffington Post, by Dr. Michael Stanclift, ND