As I invited my yoga students to some intention in their practice and day yesterday afternoon, I offered the following perspective: Heaven is less of a destination and more what we do and experience NOW. So, what actions and thoughts can you cultivate to bring more heaven to earth for you and others right here and now? During the flow of the yoga class, I reminded the yogis of this focal point in relevant ways. In a posture that feels to me like you’re sending out love to others, Warrior 1 I think, it occurred to me to mention sending kindness and healing to the people traumatized in Florida by Wednesday’s mass shooting at the high school in Parkland. We concluded our hour together by saying/feeling the following meditation toward the Floridians: “May you be well. May you be happy. May you be peaceful. May you be loved.”
What do we make of Nikolas Cruz’s (the shooter) deeds anyway? Were your social media feeds quickly littered with the familiar gun control debate? One side championing better gun control, while the other proclaims, “guns don’t kill people, people do.” While, as you probably do, I definitely have a take on that and am SORELY tempted to offer it to you, I wonder if there’s a more helpful path. How about we start with communal grief? Let out a sigh/scream … or ten. Shed a tear … or a hundred. Let’s feel what we feel and express it, letting it out in safe ways.
Then, as we’re ready lets reflect on some of the big questions this and other mass killings and tragedies raise: Why do terrible things happen, especially if we believe in a good God behind it all or an inherent goodness to reality? How do we respond to such tragedies? What led the shooter to this place? How do we make sense of this all? Across the board I think the answer is: LOVE.
There’s a saying in philosophy that I think is SUPER helpful here (note: while I’m not sure this is exactly right, it’s close enough to get the point across): For the world to be a world, it must be FREE to be a world. What that gets at is in order for us to be authentically ourselves we must be FREE to do so. I believe Love is the nature of reality. While I come at this conclusion from a Christian angle, I also thinks it’s true practically, scientifically, and from the perspectives of other faiths as well. I don’t want to go too far into why I think that, as it’d be quite the rabbit trail, but here’s the gist: Love is “simply” giving of oneself for thriving and flourishing, and we see this pattern and way of living ALL over reality. It shows up in marriages, families, circles of friends, the point of having nations and governments, the circle of life in nature, the orbit of moons around planets and planets around suns (celestial examples of attraction and dependence), the way sunlight gives life to plants and animals in so many ways, the relationship within and between cells in our bodies (did you know we have millions of “good” bacteria cells in our gut, which need us to survive and we need to digest food properly?), and the list goes on and on.
I bring this up because I think it gives us some insight into why senseless suffering and terrible traumas, like the shooting, go on in the world. I believe God is Love and is ALL ABOUT having a loving relationship with us, and us having loving relationships with others (and creation). Whether you agree, disagree, or don’t know, hopefully we can agree love is central to a good life. I’d go so far as concluding love is the nature of reality and point of it all. Just like the world requires freedom to be a world, love requires freedom to be love, which means we have to be free to NOT choose love. When we choose love we bring and receive life, while when we reject love we bring and receive death. Typically the fruits of these decisions are small and virtually unnoticeable, but they do add up over time and occasionally a big choice to reject love will result in something like what happened in Parkland.
I think here of my second marriage. Marriage is one of the most intimate and vulnerable expressions of love possible. If a marital union was a poker game, I put ALL my chips in … and lost. My ex divorcing me crushed me and could have undone me, YET for it to be love she had to be free to reject and leave love. And most importantly, the kindness and care of God, family, and friends brought me back to life in a manner that was bigger, bolder, and more beautiful than before! They called me, texted me, emailed me, visited me, went out with me, and had me over for sharing, food, drink, laughter, fun, encouragement, tears, and more. THAT, my friends, is what I think we can do in response to Parkland and other tragedies.
Along those lines, I will boldly say MORE guns will NEVER stop or solve tragedies like this, Love alone will.
Love starts with giving our time, energies, and money/possessions for thriving and flourishing. Let me pause to note, I’m convinced the “thriving and flourishing’ can and MUST include YOU TOO. With that in mind, my response to the shooting will be largely local, because while I do believe my thoughts, prayers, good vibes, and so on really and truly do reach and touch those in Florida, there’s something extra important about actual presence. So, off the top of my head I plan to look more closely at people (not creepily, but in a “really” seeing them kind of way), listen more deeply to others, ask more questions, be more vulnerable myself, encourage people often, celebrate people always, and eat/drink together frequently. What would you like to do?
This brings me to one last, and related, thought. What led Nikolas Cruz to this place? I honestly think it was a failure to love, NOT so much by individuals (it’s not my place to judge), but by our culture/society. It sounds like Nikolas’ mom died last year and he had to move in with another family, which I take to mean his dad isn’t in the picture. Further, I read he has a history of mental illness. I point this out because I think the U.S.’s culture fails us in two key ways here: First, by being obsessed with violence and owning arms. The numbers are staggering when it comes to how many MORE firearms we own and make than ANY OTHER COUNTRY. Why do we “need” so many when no one else does? Yet, I don’t think the guns are the true problem, I think it’s a failure to love given to us by our culture. We are taught whenever there’s a problem in our “world” violence is the answer, which is sad because doing harm is NOT a part of love. Think of how our country has military bases all over the world, is often fighting in numerous places, and uses drone strikes to kill enemies and innocents. Consider how violent our television news and programs are. Ponder all the violence in the movies we watch. It’s in the “air” we breathe.
This is extra dangerous because I think culture makes us think violence is the solution to our issues, while also dehumanizing people. The positive side of this second thought is I honestly think and believe if/when we love others well, they WON’T do what Nikolas did. The negative side is culturally the U.S. is REALLY good at stuffing “problems” like the mentally ill, felons, immigrants, homeless, street people, disabled veterans, and so on into a “corner.” Instead of doing the HARD work required to help them thrive and flourish, we name them “other” and put them in a home, asylum, prison, on the streets, or fail to pay attention to their struggles at all (like it seems my have happened with Nikolas).
I’m of the mind that love alone is the answer to the questions raised by tragedies like the school shooting in Florida. Love is the most powerful and available force in the world. Nothing can overcome it and it heals, enlivens, and brightens everyone and everything. What do you think and make of this all?
Grace and peace,