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Defending Against Violence

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As I went to Facebook to upload a post on my group page, I saw the sidebar headlines, "2 Killed at UCLA" followed by, "Man shoots wife at shopping center." The violence is happening so frequently that it almost seems commonplace. We are more outraged at a gorilla in a zoo being killed than a professor or a wife. What is happening in our society that the terrorism is most often people in our own community?

We spend billions on defending ourselves against outside enemies, but we are vulnerable against the people who have turned against the connectedness to humanity and flipped off the switch to honoring life, basic compassion and respect for others. These are the peoples who rage turns outward and self-control is lost to the moment of vindication.

Bruno Bettelheim once said something to the effect that violence is the behavior of someone incapable of imagining other solutions to the problem at hand. Which makes me think it's not "evil" that makes someone react in a violent way, rather more likely it is a pain, so deep, that few of us can possibly imagine. Hurt people hurt. They hurt themselves, they hurt others, and often both. Pointing fingers and blaming politics, guns, evil, and morality does nothing to address the root causes of pain.

All of us have the capacity to love and hurt, create and destroy, laugh and cry. In moments of reflecting on mass tragedy we may ask ourselves, "How can something like this happen?" when really the better question may be, "What is it in me that prevents me from doing this?" It's way beyond your religious faith and moral upbringing. We can all look at this and point fingers at who should have been doing what to prevent such a tragedy. However, the better directed conversation starts with, "What is my part in all this? What could I do differently? How do I turn my back on those who are hurting? How do I judge others? How do I create pain? How am I hurting? And what do we all need to heal that hurt?"

As you explore these deeper questions, it is helpful to know the concept of Neti neti. It roughly translates to "not this, not this" and is a pathway to what we truly are our our core through process of elimination -- our soul is beyond gender, race, sexuality, religions, beliefs, and roles we play. At our core, we're just energy, expanding and contracting, consciousness evolving through experiencing the contraction and expansion through our thoughts, feelings, actions and inactions.

My consciousness wonders what it will take --

  • For us all to try to understand why someone vastly different from us believes what they believe without trying to change their opinion?
  • For us to open our hearts to the pain we are feeling without trying to numb it or ignore it, rather to use it as a guidepost for healing?
  • To step up and create community, care about our neighbors, reach out to friends in need, reach out to strangers?
  • To see our lives aren't all that bad and build on the good rather than dwell on the disappointments and difficulty?
  • For us to wake up?

I believe my evolution requires increased compassion and kindness, a willingness to deeply listen with the desire to understand, even if I do not agree, and commitment to treating others with dignity and respect. I also know that all starts in how I treat myself. If I want to see the violence around me decrease, I must first practice peace with myself.

To incorporate neti neti, set aside five minutes of uninterrupted time. Close your eyes and take a deep breath in through the nose and exhale through the mouth with a soft "ah" sound. Repeat two more times. Allow you mind to float to something you are resisting or judging about someone or something in your life and repeat, "neti neti." Repeat the three breaths. Continue moving into the space of resistance or judgement, saying "neti neti" and breathing three times. At the end of the five minutes, take a few moments to just breath normally and notice how you feel before slowly opening your eyes and returning to your day.

This is an excellent practice when we are trying not to be angry, anxious, worrisome or when we're frustrated, disappointed, or saddened by someone. It helps to bring you back into a place of equanimity and clans so you can refocus with a fresh perspective on the situation. It is also a lovely practice to do at the end of the day before bed to release the stress of the day and free the unconscious mind to process more effectively during sleep.