What we must learn from Congresswoman Giffords’ shooting.

Via on Jan 8, 2011

Listening To Tragedy.

Today at least five people were killed, and fourteen more seriously wounded. This included a federal judge, a congresswoman, and a nine year old girl…

The gunman was a 22 year old kid…the culprit was fear.

Jared Loughner shot those people because he was sick. He did not choose to shoot those people anymore than you or I choose to lash out at a friend or loved one when we feel threatened. His actions were far more drastic, but I assume he lost the capacity to choose along time ago.

It is sad. I do not know that there are any consolations to be offered for the senseless death of a nine year old girl, or anyone for that matter. However, it is important to remember that they were senseless. Insanity was in control of this situation.

I think it is far too easy to blame today’s tragedy on high octane political rhetoric. Certainly, the political climate in America has become divisive, and full of sensational talk on both sides of the aisle. But even this is a symptom of a greater problem.

Earlier, Waylon Lewis sent me an e-mail. In it he said, “Hopefully a lot of good and waking up will come out of this.” I have now thought for an hour or two about what good can come out of a situation like this. I asked myself, “What could he have been so afraid of that forced him to act in such a way?”

The truth is I do not know…in the worst of times, I am usually just afraid of fear.

I know that I do things from time to time that I regret. I hurt people in the hope of having my own selfish fears silenced. I do not want to hurt anyone. I do it without any thought of them. Perhaps, that is my saddest thing of all…That we can push ourselves into such a tight spot that we act without any thought of others. Every time I reflect on my selfish actions I realize I was afraid.

Forgetting others is always preceded by an obsession with myself. I get so caught up in me that I become paranoid. Terrified of what others think of me. In the final analysis this paranoia is always revealed to be a left-handed projection of my own second guessing, my own distrust of myself. I forget that I am fundamentally trustworthy and intelligent, and begin to make decisions on the basis of misinformation. If I buy into this self-generated propaganda for long enough I find myself in a claustrophobic situation. That is, a situation where life appears tight, or solid. It seems like nothing is workable. Like everything is happening to me, and there is absolutely nothing I can do about it. Life becomes too dense, and begins to collapse at the center. “Choice” seems to have evaporated, and I feel compelled to either hide or destroy.

I suspect that is where Mr. Loughner found himself today.

From the 6th chapter of Shanitdeva’s, The Bodhisattva’s Guide To The Way Of Life:

“If inflicting harm on others is the nature of the foolish, then my anger toward them is as inappropriate as it would be toward fire, which has the nature of burning.

If this fault is advantageous and if sentient beings are good by nature, then anger toward them is as inappropriate as it would be toward pungent smoke in the sky.

Disregarding the principle of cause, such as a stick and the like, if I become angry with the one who impels it, then it is better if I hate hatred, because that person is also impelled by hatred.

In the past, I too have inflicted such pain on sentient beings; therefore, I, who have caused harm to sentient beings, deserve that in return.”

His actions are not excusable by any means.

It is an unfortunate transgression of life’s most basic urge—life seeking to express itself. However, writing him off as a lunatic or blaming today’s events on sensational politics minimizes the situation, in my opinion. We as a people—not Westerners or Americans, but as a human family—simply do not revere basic sanity. Our lack of reverence for our internal welfare gives rise to all sorts of disasters: pointless arguments with loved ones, domestic violence, child abuse, wars, temper tantrums…

Perhaps, this is not a message that will be received well, as it hasn’t been the most popular answer in history! The fact is, this is a sad event. It is painful for a great many people, especially those closest to the tragedy. We cannot apply a sugar coating to such travesties. We can not sweep this under the rug by blaming it on some intrinsic unsolvable mental illness, or an explosive political climate. I do not feel that imputing supernatural afterlife consolations onto the victims does justice to the situation either. We have to look at it for what it is, ugly. It is literally an abomination of life…The most unnatural thing imaginable.

Perhaps, if we sit back and develop an appreciation for the profoundly unnatural and irreversible consequences insanity is capable of producing, we could develop a greater appreciation for basic sanity. Maybe, if we realize how ugly we make the world when we ignore our fundamental well being, we can begin to cultivate a sense of gratitude for the beauty and prestige we are capable of expressing when we take the time to love ourselves. To observe our situation. To touch it. Feel it. To sit and just be with ourselves. Maybe, if we as a people spent more time with ourselves—real time, in silence—we would realize that life is spacious enough to accommodate all of our differences, even our own internal discrepancies and contradictions.

I have never felt more at peace or in love with myself than in those silent momenta when I see and accept as real all of the things in me that I hate, all those things that do not agree with my contrived self-image. In those moments insanity is transformed into sanity. Chaos becomes order. Hate is revealed to be love. Filth is seen as beauty, and conflict ceases to be.

I will leave with you with a quote from Carl Jung and a video where he begs humanity to look within for the origin of destruction…

“The acceptance of oneself is the essence of the whole moral problem and the epitome of a whole outlook on life.

That I feed the hungry, that I forgive an insult, that I love my enemy in the name of Christ—all these are undoubtedly great virtues. What I do unto the least of my brethren, that I do unto Christ.

But what if I should discover that the least among them all, the poorest of all the beggars, the most impudent of all the offenders, the very enemy himself—that these are within me, and that I myself stand in need of the alms of my own kindness—that I myself am the enemy who must be loved—what then? As a rule, the Christian’s attitude is then reversed; there is no longer any question of love or long-suffering; we say to the brother within us “Raca,” and condemn and rage against ourselves. We hide it from the world; we refuse to admit ever having met this least among the lowly in ourselves.”

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About Benjamin Riggs

Ben Riggs is the director of the Refuge Meditation Group in Shreveport, LA. Ben writes extensively about Buddhist & Christian spirituality and politics for The Good Men Project, Elephant Journal, The Web of Enlightenment, and is the editor & chief for Henry Harbor--an online magazine concerned with art, culture, spirituality, & politics in the deep South. To keep up with all of his work follow him on Facebook or Twitter. Looking for a real bio? Click here to read my story....

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16 Responses to “What we must learn from Congresswoman Giffords’ shooting.”

  1. Jeremy Jones says:

    This made more sense to me – and was more of a comfort to me – than any "they're in a better place" message.

  2. Alan Haffa says:

    No offense, but I am not persuaded by your attempt at a psychological analysis. I find it much more likely the extreme and violent political rhetoric on the Right (you claim that the rhetoric is as extreme on both sides but I would challenge that) is a contributing cause. The radicalism and fear mongering on the Right has been steadily increasing ever since the elimination of the Fairness Doctrine under Reagan. That opened the door for hate mongers like Rush Limbaugh and all of his imitators. The creation of Fox has brought it to an even larger audience. You can't have respected, political and media leaders calling their opponents "enemies of America" who "need to be taken out" without some wackos taking them literally. Words have meaning and consequences.

    • Benjamin Riggs BenRiggs says:

      "You can't have respected, political and media leaders calling their opponents "enemies of America" who "need to be taken out" without some wackos taking them literally. Words have meaning and consequences."

      In your words: The "wacko" or the insanity that has rendered this person a wacko is the cause (actually it is the constituents of insanity thats the cause, but another time!)… The "fear mongering is the condition.

      A cause will always produce an effect. The effect will always be similar in nature to the cause. So an insane outcome is the product of an insane origin. But a cause is always called into being by appropriate conditions. In this case, perhaps fear mongering was the appropriate condition, but the cause was there long before Rush Limbaugh or Ronald Reagan did anything!

      In the spirit of Shanitdeva: Trying to treat the conditions is like trying to cover the earth in leather while treating the cause is like wearing a pair of shoes.

  3. [...] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Waylon Lewis, Fredric (aka Rick), marilee r torres, violetsblue, Red Fox and others. Red Fox said: Listening To Tragedy. http://bit.ly/g3vTSw [...]

  4. Thank you for this post, it brings healing to read it, and yes peace can only start when we look within, when we, horrified as we are at what happened, can perhaps use the horror to turn within, to see where is it that we are contributing to peace or not.

  5. [...] Violence from Everyday Speech. Here is a powerful commentary on the Giffords shooting yesterday, in which Keith Olbermann asks figures in the media to drop violent [...]

  6. JarrodHomer says:

    Wonderful article Ben, I believe you are spot on with this. Thank you.
    I especially like this:
    "Maybe, if we realize how ugly we make the world when we ignore our fundamental well being, we can begin to cultivate a sense of gratitude for the beauty and prestige we are capable of expressing when we take the time to love ourselves. To observe our situation. To touch it. Feel it. To sit and just be with ourselves. Maybe, if we as a people spent more time with ourselves—real time, in silence—we would realize that life is spacious enough to accommodate all of our differences, even our own internal discrepancies and contradictions."

  7. [...] at elephant will stand and face the nearest flag at 11 am EST (9 am our time), offering a personal prayer, in Boulder, Colorado tomorrow morning. Join us, and encourage your friends who want to ratchet [...]

  8. tamingauthor says:

    Thank you, Ben, for working hard to get in touch with the foundations of this horror.

    Jung misreads and misinterprets Christianity in your quote. The Christian starts first with the internal; one can find this throughout the texts and the practice. But then Jung did miss quite a few things in his journey…as the record shows. So, we can set that aside and move on.

    As much as we do need to get in touch with that which is inside, as you correctly note, we need to also come to grips with an understanding of evil. Too often we do not believe evil exists; too often we look the other way or our karmic blinders obfuscate the obvious.

    The Buddha and Christ charted these waters but few have followed upstream, and few have crossed the stream.

    The journey is so daunting we grow weak and fall back on karmic illusions for certainty. And we do this in spite of a century filled with unimaginable horror and carnage. We can look at the causes and conditions of that era of horror and see the views, actions, and words we must avoid — but few will do so. The truths of that era have been buried by those who do not wish us to remember.

    Instead, the karmic mind, the whispers of evil, force us to repeat the past. We will once again suffer the horrors of national socialism, Marxism, and communism. We will be dragged into the streets by hate-filled youth loosed upon us with minds saturated with drugs and the indoctrination of immorality. We will suffer at the hands of a generation cut loose from any inner or external truths.

    So, once again, people are destined to suffer on a large scale. The demons have been set loose and few choose to confront them, even fewer have the strength or sufficient spiritual formation to approach the situation from the point of view of a bodhisattva.

    We, you and I and a small cadre of others, will make the effort and will prevail in the long run but in the short run we face too many crazies with minds dulled by state education who react, in robotic manner, to the angry voices pushing class warfare, making empty claims of racism, and pushing the evils of Marxist unrest into what was the nation of greatest hope for the world.

    The karmic mind dictates that this is the way it shall be…. and only when we tame that karmic mind, as you suggest, will we move beyond unnecessary suffering.

  9. tamingauthor says:

    Ben, you may enjoy this video. It speaks to how one sets up the monkey mind to do one's bidding.
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QJ2fMeer5Mw&fe

  10. Bud Wilson Bud Wilson says:

    Ben thank you for your thoughtful reflections and inquiry into the nature of ignorance and the way our society may avoid looking at the question of a deeper cause. Thanks also for appreciating the very real pain and suffering this event has caused in the lives of those directly touched by such violence. You might appreciate my own Elephant Journal post on this subject. http://www.elephantjournal.com/2011/01/hot-sun-in
    All best wishes,

  11. Duane Eaton says:

    I thought this was a great article and one to lead us away from the this tragedy being political. It saddens me to see the posts here and the arguments about the political hate talk. That really only adds more hate. I am in law enforcement and investigate hate crimes, especially those from the militia/white supremacist movement. In my mind, and that of many in my field, this appears to be a killing spree from a very sick young man, and not politically motivated.

  12. [...] The causes are internal. Life is not at odds with us- life sustains us, all of us! We have to see that we have been held captive, made a prisoner in our own skin. However, we have to go further than this. It is essential to realize that we are not only the captives, we are also the jailers! We have to accept the situation as it is, and see how it is us not them, which creates and sustains this conflict. There is no such thing as them, and it is this insight which separates Gandhi, King, and Dalai Lama from your run of the mill activist. We have to realize that the conflict we witness in the world is nothing more than a projection of th… [...]

  13. [...] order. Hate is revealed to be love. Filth is seen as beauty, and conflict ceases to be. ~from Listening To Tragedy on Elephant Journal by Ben [...]

  14. [...] Chapter 5-a: Listening To Tragedy. [...]

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