Finding the Light: Newtown, Violence, Depression and Renewal

Buddhist Response to Newtown Shooting

Two weeks ago today the country was shocked and saddened by the news of the tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary. Frighteningly, senseless violence seems to have become a common occurrence. The Buddhist tradition talks of the dark ages. Ironically, the dark ages occur when the world is most full of light. In our current times, progress has reached a critical mass and technology has knit the world together with instant information streams. In this way, there is light, but light that ignores the depth of our experience. Light for its own sake, for the sake of speed and commerce. Light in opposition to dark. It is not the essential light, or the primordial understanding of great compassion that allows for both darkness and light, depression and elation, and sees all as part of the flow of the energy of time.  The light of the dark age is more the illumination of ambition. Things are moving fast, but in such, we may have lost track of some basic connection to the earth. Trauma has dissociated us from the ground and the moment of our experience. We are increasingly alienated from the earth, our source of safety and sustenance.

Separated from the ground, we are also cut off from heaven and thus, our source of inspiration and uplift. We lose sight of what is actually possible, and lose ourselves in on-line fantasies, chasing proxies for love.  As exciting as this may seem to the addicted mind, we are not satisfying the heart on a human level.  And, so as our excitement is not sustainable,  we fall into depression.  In despair, we end up at war with imaginary evils. We become lost in these cycles of suffering as our human connection is increasingly bartered for instant gratification.

Yet, in the darkest of times, there is always access to knowing. In the darkest confusion, we can come to understand. We need only allow our basic nature to simply be as it is, whether happy or sad, and allow it to be part of our experience. This willingness to stay in our experience is an expression of loving kindness that is not diminished by torrents of dark tides. Because even in in our darkest moments, there is basic goodness.

Basic goodness lies at the foundation of life – at its source – and, as such, is a universal solvent. It connects everything, because it is part of everything. It is a sad irony of the human condition, that trying to connect to something outside of ourselves, we cut ourselves off from everything.  The missing key is not chasing the hamster wheel of momentary release, but touching the universal heart. Each time we stop the incessant scrambling mind, drop to the heart and open to our experience on the spot, we cut the momentum of the torture cycle and begin to allow connection to earth. This connection to the earth – to the authentic moment of our experience – reconnects us to heaven and its vision.

Depression is a descent into the darkness of psychic experience. It is also part of the energetic wave of our general experience. It can be seen as part of the cycle of our lives as much as night is part of our daily cycle. Yet, if we take a severely dualistic stance, seeing only good and bad, then we are in danger of trying to rid ourselves of an important part of our psychology. Depression connects us to the depths of our experience. Sadness connects us to the depths of humanity. Each time we drop into the darkness and touch our experience, we bring in an essential light.

Great Eastern Sun is not a light that extinguishes the dark. Is is not a light of righteousness that poses against evil. The Great Eastern Sun is an essential radiance of the universe that simply “sees”, and “allows”. It is the understanding thatcomes from an open heart. Each time we allow ourselves to feel the hurt, we are accepting ourselves on a very basic level, bathing our wounds in love and kindness. This is compassion and mixed with cognition. It is the union of knowing and understanding, of wisdom and compassion. It is an essential light. It is not for or against. It simply is and, as such, sees what is. It is the source radiance of the universe, illuminating everything equally, by activating its innate basic goodness.

Our basic goodness comes alive when we accept our hurt, doubt, fear and confusion. In this way, we align ourselves with the essential love of the universe. Then we can then simply open to ourselves and begin to see what’s there.

Conversely, we can continue to hypnotize ourselves by chasing the stick, over and again, trying to find a solution outside of ourselves. Each time we grasp for a lover who will fit the need, an angel who will remove our pain or a victim to pay for our pain, we increase the cycle of suffering in our hearts and in the world. Each time we disassociate from our heart experience so that we may feel momentarily released from suffering, we add to our inner sense of doubt. Each time we rely on someone else to take the blame, or give us love (or both), we simply increase our sense of lack and keep our minds searching for sustenance from which it has separated.

We do this reflexively. We all do it. We look for help outside of our experience in order to protect our hearts. We disassociate in order to escape the pain. In this way, we deny ourselves, diminish our self-worth and only increase our suffering.

Yet, the hearts we are protecting are our very portal to release. If we relax back into the moment, and FACE the pain, then we are reconnecting the heart to our experience. In this way, we join the practical limitations of our current life with the vision potential of the universe.

Sakyong Mipham likes to refer to an old Buddhist adage about the dog and the lion. If you throw a stick at a dog it will likely chase the stick. Many dogs live for this. They are in such delirious ecstasy they will do this again and again. Chase the stick and return the stick only to chase the stick. It feels so powerful and perfect. They are aligned for the moment with their purpose. They are cut off from their pain and their intellect. If you throw a stick at a dog, it will chase the stick.

But, if you throw a stick at a lion, it chases you.

So, the lion’s roar in the Tibetan tradition, is the fearless proclamation that human experience is workable, if we are willing to be there, and work it. When we look outside for help, we chase the stick. In this way we encourage our weakness and dependency. When we are brave enough to face ourselves and love ourselves, even in our darkest moments, then we have a lion’s courage. In this way, we encourage confidence in our decency.

So, sitting practice is an expression of that. Of being able to tame the mind and bring it back to the heart. Again and again it will run to chase the stick. But, again and again we return it back with patience of a parent for their child. Eventually, the mind matures and begins to settle until one day it is willing to look at itself. Perhaps, as in my own case, it simply runs out of options and has no alternative but to turn and face itself.

Its hard work and not nearly as sexy as chasing the stick, but it is the gate to understanding. And, our world so needs that right now.

Joseph Mauricio, a senior teacher in the Shambhala Buddhist Tradition, is a student of Meditation Master Sakyong Mipham, Rinpoche. He is a writer, lecturer and, as founder of LIFEWORK Personal Coaching Services, a meditation, performance, public speaking and personal actualization coach.