Monday, July 23, 2012

"Oh, no. Not Again..." Our Violent Society and How to Use Compassion

We awoke Friday morning to the news that there had been yet another massacre in Colorado...

We live outside of Denver, Colorado. I would describe Denver as a fairly safe city, yet it is no stranger to mass murders. From the innocent slaughter of Native Americans, to a number of recent shootings in schools, to violence brought by gangs, Denver has had more than its share of heartache due to the bloodshed of innocent people. It has become so common place, in fact, that while my reaction to the Columbine High School shootings was "This can't be happening! There is no way this is real! These things don't happen!" my reaction to the shooting at the Aurora theater was "Oh, no. Not again..."

We are a dark and violent society.

When I say that, a lot of people will agree, and point to the crazies, like the young man who opened fire in the theater. But when I say that, I mean ALL of us. We are all dark and violent.

There are only two responses one can have to anything. One is violence, and the other is compassion.

Whenever we judge someone, that is violent. Whenever we have any thought of causing harm, in any way, to ourselves or someone else, that is violent. Whenever we have a thought that is not of compassion, that is violent.

The very first principle of the very first step of Raja Yoga is 'ahisma' - non-violence. For ten years, I have worked at trying to get through a single day of not judging anyone or wishing any harm on any thing. I have not made it a day yet. Most people would quickly identify me as a non-violent, peaceful person, but I am not. I am trying to be.

A lot of people would say that there is a big difference between someone who just thinks a violent thought and someone who shoots 70 some-odd people in a movie theater. Yoga says they are the same. The thoughts we have in our heads are as real as the things we do outwardly.

There is a popular belief in a universal law called The Law of Attraction. A lot of people are aware of this from a movie called "The Secret," where they tell you that what you wish for and think about, you will attract into your life. This is not completely true. The law of attraction has to do with energy attracting like energy, or, as Wayne Dyer puts it "You don't attract what you want, you attract what you are." And we are a dark and violent society. We are violent, and we attract violence.

Did the people in the theater attract this shooting to them? No. They did not. They were innocent people, not any more violent than myself, simply relaxing in a theater. It was all of us who attracted the violence, the violence we naturally attract just happened to land at this particular theater on this particular night. It could have been anywhere.

Think about the role of violence in our society. We learn that we solve problems by fighting. We go to wars when we don't like something another country is doing. We curse and wish death upon people we dislike - and while we don't pull the trigger ourselves, generally, someone who is just unhinged enough will. We approach anger not often as 'I'm mad that such and such an injustice occurs, I will devote myself to selfless service to help solve this problem,' but as 'I wish harm and ill will upon these people I'm mad at.'

How many people are saying, today, 'I wish that shooter gets the death penalty. I hope he dies. I would like to kill him myself?' That is just as violent as if you did killed him yourself.

Certainly, a lot of people are looking at this whole thing from a political perspective, but, as much as making it easy to get help for the mentally ill and making it hard for the mentally ill to get assault rifles might help some, it will only make small inroads. What we really need is a shift in consciousness to a society that embraces people who have problems, and where guns are an unknown in our world.

How often do people applaud the person who killed the intruder? How often do we whisper under our breath 'I hope that person fails?' How often do we feel we are superior to another person we have never met simply because of the way he or she looks? These are daily occurrences in our world. These are acceptable, and they shouldn't be.

Look at what people do in our society to 'relax.' People watch TV and movies, many of which are violent, and a number of which are extremely violent. Even the people in the theater in Aurora were watching a uber-violent movie to wind down and relax and have a fun time. That's why they were there! The movie was so violent that many people took a few minutes to realize that the gunshots erupting around them and the people falling, dead, on the floor around them was something real, and not just part of the movie they were 'enjoying.' This is not to fault the people watching the movie, but the fault that we are so jaded that watching violence is a universally acceptable way to relax and calm down. There were a lot of young children in that movie theater, too, watching an R-rated, ultra-violent movie as part of spending time with their families. None of them were doing anything wrong. This is a completely acceptable level of violence according to our society. But it is also the reason we are such a dark and violent society.

I am not one who supports the notion that media and art create violence. I believe they reflect our consciousness. But looking at the amount of violence in just the entertainment world is means for great alarm.

As long as we don't put considerable focus into changing the way we, as a society, think, these mass acts of violence are never going to go away.

We have to approach our thinking with discipline. Violence is the easy way to think through a problem. Wishing harm on people is so second-nature to us and so acceptable that we rarely look at the path that takes us to compassion.

Compassion is when you look at a person with only love. This is a place where your thought is always of 'how can I help. How can I love more?' When we see a person in rags, we don't think 'that poor person must be too lazy or too dumb to get a job, 'we think 'that person is perfect.'

A compassionate society would not even be making a violent movies. A compassionate society would not need to engage in escapism in order to relax. A compassionate society would have helped the shooter long before he ever purchased his first gun.

But people just don't realize that while violence uses energy, compassion generates energy.

Think of a time you have responded to someone with love and compassion; and compare that to the daily drudgery of judging people, and wishing people would get out of your way and leave you alone, and wanting to throttle someone for irritating you. Can you feel the difference? We always feel good after we show compassion. We generally feel worse after thinking a violent thought.

Compassion is the power that propelled Gandhi, and allowed his to expel the British from India. This is the power that allowed Martin Luther King Jr. to ignite the Civil Right Movement. This is the power that drives the Dalai Lama to pray for the well being of the Chinese, who drove him out of Tibet and killed thousands of his people.

This is why 'ahisma' (non-violence) is the first principal of the first step of Patanjali's Yoga Sutras. Yoga is the art of generating energy.

If just a few of us start, this energy can spread, and maybe in a few years, these dark, random acts of violence will merely be something we read about from the past.

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