“You can keep your face glued to the screen of what is…or, stand up. Stretch. Breathe…and hammer down toward what could be.” – Kristopher Carter, This Epic Life
Recently one of our brilliant writers here at elephant journal wrote a most compelling piece, The Pistorius Case: Why do We Thirst for Blood? For those, who haven’t yet read or have successfully kept their head tucked in the sand, it’s about Oscar Pistorius, the South African double-amputee Olympian, and the tragic killing of his girlfriend, Reeva Steenkamp. Specifically, asking the question why are we so drawn to stories of bloodshed and gore?
Coincidentally, and a little earlier in the week, I had also written an article on an equally tragic event—the case of Joseph Hall, a 10 year old boy recently convicted of murdering his abusive father. This story of this young boy, stopped me dead in my tracks as I struggled to find some shred of inner peace in all of it.
And yet, in both of these cases, the spike in readership and thoughtful comments was duly and very much noted.
Maybe, there was something to this? Why is it that we are so drawn to these stories of much violence and bloodshed?
Each night, our television channels are strewn with tragic news events and reality shows. And, each moment of the broadcast day is filled with the most careful executive decisions intended to maximize profits and viewership. All of which, has a most profound effect for me personally, as I often feel this slight tightening in my chest. On some evening, and even worse still, I find that these stories and shows cause me to lose a little of my much needed sleep.
And, yet as I sit here typing just this—the sound of a 600 pound. Sasquatch-hunting, Moonshiner is jumping out at me from just beyond my TV screen.
Dear, God—when did this happen to me?
It can be hard sometimes to live a mindful life…when it is, that this world seems to be filled with such misery. We tend to fall into a trance of old habits, of flipping through life’s “channels” without much regard for the realness of what is there. Perhaps, in some way we have sadly grown accustomed to this mess of this misery, in such a way that we have also acclimated our response to it.
How sad would it be that we are all gripping tightly to suffering, for fear of the not knowing what else is out there?
“People have a hard time letting go of their suffering. Out of a fear of the unknown, they prefer suffering that is familiar.” ~ Thich Nhat Hanh
All fears aside, I have always believed, and always will—that when it is that we find ourselves clinging on the most, that is probably the time we most need to let our grip go. It’s in these moments, of letting go, that I believe we are most able to be the peace.
And, still, some of us choose (perhaps from the smallest space of a much bigger fear) to metaphorically ‘look away’ from these things—perhaps, rationalizing at a much deeper spiritual level…if we don’t ‘see’ it, it doesn’t ‘exist.’
But, as our most fabulous elephant journal Managing Editor, Kate Bartolotta, so eloquently pointed out, you simply can not sugar coat your way through this world.
So, then what do we do when life makes us feel like hiding our heads in the sand? Such that we completely wish to disregard how these stories make us really feel?
For some of us, it can be seemingly impossible—to look past the initial shock and awe.
But perhaps that is what we most need to do.
Today, as I was meditating I was thinking over these very questions, pondering back and forth in my own mind—and I was reminded of a few of my most favorite words shared through the spirit of Thich Nhat Hanh,
“It’s not enough to suffer, we must find peace, too.”
And, that’s when it occurred to me—that maybe it’s not just about finding the peace within me, but also helping the world find its peace, as well.
But how do you begin to find peace in a world that is seemingly strewn with these such stories? That simple thought can make even the strongest gal feel powerless.
But, we are never powerless… because, we always have a choice.
Why is it that we are drawn to these such stories? Perhaps, down deep in our collective spiritual human core—our instinct is telling us we should. Maybe, we are so very drawn to stories just like these because these are the ones that we need to discuss the most. Because, when it is that we take a moment to really talk about how we feel—that’s when we are compelled to action.
And, I see this also evidence in small ways, every day. I see it when I read an article about a good Samaritan who helped a man reunite with his dog in which one woman’s simple action, caused a rippling effect of good. In a much bigger way, we all experienced this as our Nation pulled together in those days and weeks following 9/11.
It’s that raging flood of emotions in our heart that can bring about the greatest good.
So, perhaps the question to be asked isn’t so much a “why are we drawn to this bloodshed and violence?” but rather, “what is it that separates those who view, from those who do?”
What is it that keeps us from examining these events in their most heart-wrenching fullness? And what is it that prompts a much needed conversation beyond just the headlines? Such that we may all, collectively, pause and reflect…and find a better way? Or, better yet—motivate us to become that change we most wish to see in this world?
We are all so very guilty of it, including myself. Of seeing those most shocking headlines stories, and not allowing ourselves the time and space and presence to go just a little bit deeper into our thoughts—and ask, perhaps, those much harder questions…including, what can I do to help?
Why is this? In our world that needs our compassion so very desperately, why are we stopping ourselves from this much needed thinking and doing?
Is it because, in this process of looking just a bit deeper, that we fear we might just begin to feel helpless?
Or, do we simply convince ourselves that it is not our place to get involved…that someone better equipped to handle it will (eventually) come along?
What is it that is keeping us from lending a hand in moments where it is needed the most? Of really effecting change, and providing compassion and hope—instead of turning life’s blind eye to those things which are very real in this increasingly weary world.
Not to ever presume, but perhaps that is what Thich Nhat Hanh may have been eluding to?
Yes, this world can be so very painful—at any single moment, we can feel completely crushed by the weight of our day. There are tragedies surrounding us, both near and far. And yes, there is violence and hunger and death all around.
But, in this same world—each day, there is also a magnificent sunrise…and 24 brand new hours for us to use just as we wish and may.
And, even in those moments that seem most devastating—there is still, and will always and forever be, a capacity for things to change.
It’s up to us to create a space for compassion and love and understanding to exist. And that’s not done through some grand sweeping global change—this is a much smaller change that can only begin within you.
So, let me ask this just once more again—what is it that moves us from ‘view’ to ‘do’? Is it just a simple matter of choice? That one, split-second decision to make things better or simply walk away?
I see you, trying to hide your eyes—thinking that none of this applies to you, and yet here you are reading over so many beautifully written articles of living a mindful life. But, guess what? This is our world, and yours, too. And before you start thinking that you are just so very small, let me just add that you are a big part of all of this, too.
Everything you think, everything you say…and all that you do. It all counts. Everything matters.
“Every thought you produce, anything you say, any action you do, it bears your signature.” ~ Thich Nhat Hanh
So, instead of just sifting quickly over and through these most horrific events, why not just once get off of your pondering ass, and do. (authors note: this comment is meant for me, too)
You can even start small, with that person at work—the one who seems to be having such a bad day. Or, you can brighten up the heart of someone who at times might lose hope…by just sending a little chocolate her way.
Or, perhaps there is something much bigger still that has captured your heart—and in that process, made you feel so very small. But, the depths and reaches of human kindness is endless. So, you see, you are not so very small, at all.
Do something…anything…but, just don’t turn and walk away. Because, right now…right here, in this moment someone, somewhere in this world most needs you.
So what are you going to do?
Look, I’m just one writer and I have only been on this Earth long enough to know that I have made some pretty big mistakes. But today, as I look through all of these news stories and reader comments—I don’t feel overwhelmed with sadness and sorrow; instead, today, I feel completely empowered. Sure, I’m just one person—but, I am that one person who had decided to make a change. And, I’m not going to let my fear or worry blindly convince me that something is too big for me to do.
And, how wonderful is it that elephant journal has opened a space right here for us all to gather, and share of our hearts and our spirits? To share with us a small corner of this much bigger world, so that we may all have a voice to realize and empower change? To reach out to wonderful readers, like yourself, and ask the questions that bring us deeper than just the headline?
And, even though, we have not yet formally ‘met’—trust me when I say, I can feel this in your heart, too. You are here because, like me, you wish to find a way to infuse more love, compassion, and peace into your day—to make a much more mindful impact on your world.
I think when all the headlines are stripped away, we all want the very same thing.
So, take my ‘hand’ as we walk together down this path. Let your heart be the final arbiter of all that you think, and then do. Fill all of your actions with love and compassion, even when your fear tries to steer you the other way.
So with respect to all of these stories and headlines, the ones that quickly glance across our ‘life screens’ each day, let me just ask this one simple question…what’s stopping you, my friend?
Because, the question isn’t so much why are we drawn, but rather, what are we going to do when we get there?
In closing, just a few more words to help inspire you. From the poem, The World Has Need of You, by Ellen Bass.
“It’s a hard time to be human. We know too much
and too little. Does the breeze need us?
The cliffs? The gulls?
If you’ve managed to do one good thing,
the ocean doesn’t care.
But when Newton’s apple fell toward the earth,
the earth, ever so slightly,
fell toward the apple as well.”
Bonus Video: Thich Nhat Hanh and his thoughts on suffering and compassion.
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Ed: Kate Bartolotta