The recent shootings in Tuscon have left many stunned and groundless.
This essential advice from Deepak Chopra – in response to the tragedy – tells us how to deal with distressing news.
Linda Gabriel at Thought Medicine summarized Chopra’s heartfelt advice into four key points:
- Become a neutral observer of your feelings
- Remember a time you felt better
- Try to find something positive in the negative situation
- Take positive action
In one way, we absolutely need an emergency tool-kit for times like these when mind and emotions are overwhelmed by tragedy. We are only human. Underneath our bravado, we are ever so fragile. Bad news and the ensuing shock have the power to unleash a biochemical rampage in the body and the brain. Witnessing violence can leave seemingly indelible marks on our being.
In addition to taking care of ourselves, we may also need to soothe our children.
“Dad, why do people kill other people?”
That’s the question Bill Gerlach’s son asked. Bill dug deeply into his huge compassionate heart and used the question as a springboard for making sense out of senseless tragedy.
Asking the Deeper Questions of Life
Once we’ve regained our center – instead of blinding skipping forward – shouldn’t we too be asking these deeper questions about life? These are some of the questions that have arisen in my mind.
- Why are we always so taken by surprise when tragedy occurs?
- Why do we deny death?
- Why do we cling so fiercely to life?
- Why do we believe we are this body?
- Why do we feel we need to protect ourselves from distress?
- Why do we need to push distress away by creating a contrived state of inner peace?
- Why do we expect life to be different?
- Why do we feel that longevity is our right?
- Why are we afraid to see the suffering nature of life?
Reflection: To practice death is to practice freedom
If all those questions aren’t enough, this week’s reflection focuses on the freedom that comes when we make friends with death, the ultimate expression of change and impermanence.
“There is no place on earth where death cannot find us—even if we constantly twist our heads about in all directions as in a dubious and suspect land… If there were any way of sheltering from death’s blows – I am not the man to recoil form it… But it is madness to think that you can succeed…
Men come and they go and they trot and they dance, and never a word about death. All well and good. Yet when death does come – to them, their wives, their children, their friends – catching them unawares and unprepared, then what storms of passion overwhelm them, what cries, what fury, what despair!…
To begin depriving death of its greatest advantage over us, let us adapt a way clean contrary to that common one; let us deprive death of its strangeness, let us frequent it, let us get used to it; let us have nothing more often in mind than death… We do not know where death awaits us: so let us wait for it everywhere. To practice death is to practice freedom. A man who has learned how to die has unlearned how to be a slave.”
-Montaigne as quoted in The Tibetan Book of Living and Dying
In my tradition of spiritual practice, it is said: “Death is real, comes without warning, this body will be a corpse.” Although I recall this verse to mind each day, I know it’s not easy to undo the solidity and permanence I have affixed to life.
Yet death – and tragedy – happen every day, every hour, every moment in the world around us. Some times timely, some times untimely. Some times naturally, some times tragically. Death is a fact of life. We can’t make the truth of change and impermanence go away by “remembering a time you felt better.” A bandaid is useful in an emergency, but eventually we have to take it off. We have to face the truth.
From a spiritual perspective, death is not necessarily a tragedy. It is actually an opportunity to realize our true nature if we prepare well. The Dalai Lama says he tends to “think of death as being like changing your clothes when they are old and worn out, rather than as some final end.” He also says, “…if we wish to die well, we must learn how to live well. Hoping for a peaceful death, we must cultivate peace in our mind, and in our way of life.”
Death is not the problem. Our suffering doesn’t come from death, but from the meaning we attribute to it.
This is not meant to dismiss the tragedy of Tuscon or the suffering that has occurred in its wake. I know I will feel devastated when loss visits me too. My heartfelt sympathy goes out to all those who are suffering.
How have the Tuscon shootings touched you? Does the thought of death make you recoil? Do you feel you will meet death with peace and confidence?
This article is part of a weekly series of reflective exercises to help you – and me – uproot limiting thoughts, emotions, views, and habits. See more mini-mind challenges.
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