April 30, 2015

A Guided Meditation for Overwhelming Tragedy & Needed Action.


As this is being written, we recently had a devastating earthquake in Nepal that has taken thousands of lives.

Riots are engulfing the city of Baltimore in a country where homicide is the leading cause of death for young black men. We can find many examples of pain and suffering in the world that seem too big for us to tackle on our own.

The New York Times recently reported that there are 1.5 million black men missing from our society due to untimely deaths or incarceration. In Ferguson, 40% of black males are missing from their community due to early death or incarceration. The Economist found that there were 458 deaths from police shootings in the U.S. last year compared to just eight in Germany and a flat out zero in Japan and Britain.

In times of great tragedy and loss, it’s easy to freeze because of not knowing what to do, how to help or contribute when the scale and weight of these crises feel overwhelming. In the past when I’ve heard about natural disasters, school shootings, or large societal issues that seemed too enormous for me to make an impact, I would have a range of reactions: decide to do nothing, and complain about it in passing as a part of the moaning and groaning routinely exchanged in day to day interactions with friends or with strangers.

Sometimes I would step up my involvement with a donation, and once I even became trained by Greenpeace volunteers on how to stage a sit-in and scale buildings to unfurl banners for a cause I was particularly passionate about. But no matter what my contribution, there was still a pervasive, lingering combination of shame and guilt that somehow, someway more could and should be done.

There are times when we are called to take massive action. And it is always time to remember the impact that small actions can have in propelling us forward as individuals, as a nation, and as a global community.

Perhaps the best example of this is from the science of meteorology. In a theory known as the Butterfly Effect, mathematician and meteorologist Edward Lorenz was in his lab creating weather predictions and while attempting to use a shortcut (by entering .506 instead of .506127) the miniscule difference by omitting the last three digits radically changed the end results of his model. In effect, a butterfly flapping its wings could account for such a small difference that provided the momentum for an atmospheric chain of events that could ultimately end in a tornado occurring, or not.

The butterfly effect reminds us that in every action and interaction we are co-creating the world that we live in. A small, seemingly inconsequential shift can provide the right conditions for growth and transformation.

As such, the sunshine radiated in a smile to a stranger can set forth a chain of events that alters the course of human history. Not only for the receiver of the smile, but for the giver.

In times of tragedy, it’s important to remember the power that we do hold in our day-to-day and moment-to-moment interactions.

Loving kindness meditation teaches us that we can always do our part. We look to the example of the butterfly as the beautiful reminder of the transformation that can occur through small shifts by being mindful, present and responsive. If we are called to take on greater action, the effect will only multiply.

Through this process, anger and anxiety should not be dismissed. They are powerful instructive guides. By giving mindful attention to them, we can transform them into understanding, compassion and non-violent action.

Bring to mind the image of a situation that is troubling you now. Breathe in the pain and suffering of the event. Let it come in, and as you exhale, breathe out compassion and say to yourself:

May you be free from suffering. May you be safe and protected. May you be healthy.

Let the feelings within you arise naturally. Make no effort to change them. Just simply notice. And be tender with yourself.

Mindful conscious breaths allow us to open up with presence.

Breathing in and exhaling out…

May you be free from suffering. May you be safe and protected. May you be healthy.

Once again, mindfully breathing in the situation and all the feelings that arise, and exhaling out…

May you be free from suffering. May you be safe and protected. May you be healthy.

Now think of the people who are working to resolve, and bring peace to this situation. Place both hands on your heart space and breathe in and out. Extending gratitude with each inhalation and exhalation.

May you have the resources you need. May you have courage. May you find meaning, purpose, and peace through this tragedy.

End your meditation by sending blessings and gratitude to all those affected.

The Dalai Lama has said:

If our minds are ruled by destructive emotions, by self-centeredness, with little regard for others, we won’t be happy. As social animals we need to work together. With friends around us, we feel secure, happy and our minds are calm. We’re physically well too. When we’re filled with anger, fear and frustration, our minds are upset and our health declines. Therefore, the ultimate source of happiness is warm-heartedness.

This warm-heartedness that the Dalai Lama talks about can have a significant, lasting impact that changes the trajectory of your life, the lives of those you encounter, and even a prayer or meditation for those seemingly a world away can be part of the butterfly effect that multiplies and transforms pain and suffering into solace.

Always remember and honor the power that you possess in every intention and interaction—especially in times of hopelessness and despair. Your voice, your presence and the difference of .000127 can have a profound impact on your today, tomorrow, and the future climate of the world we live in.


Check out this conversation between Thich Nhat Hanh and Ram Dass on the role of anger in mindfulness, and activism:



A Butterfly for Nepal.

Author: Kristi Kremers

Editor: Travis May

Images: Flickr/Anne Wu

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