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Monday, December 17, 2012

Help from the Gita: Response to Newtown, Connecticut Shooting

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At times like this many of us find ourselves questioning how to respond to the world, asking, how does the idea of unity and allness play out in such a situation? What am I supposed to think?
I remember a trip back to South Africa when I had a chance to visit our spiritual community there.  I had already been the minister in the US for many years, having many opportunities to see Good at work in the world, to face various personal and organizational challenges, and to navigate through life assisted by this philosophy of oneness.  I felt faith filled.
It wasn't until I got to South Africa that I had an opportunity to examine my faithfulness to the teaching in a completely different setting. Here we enjoy a relative sense of well-being  safety and freedom.  In South Africa I watched metaphysicians who were living in a world of relative danger; a prevalent feeling of threat, where outside the church armed guards watched the parking lot in a city where newspapers reported the most recent murder and rape tolls regularly.
Could I do the same?
I watched the members of the church community say and sing the same things we say here:  “There is only one life…” and I wondered if I would be able to do the same thing with so much unsettling danger all around me on an ongoing basis.
The truth is, sometimes I get shaken up when I misplace my keys…or if I perceive some mistreatment by another person.  Small things unhinge my equilibrium.  I can’t imagine what it must be like to come home to something as epically large as the news that my children were shot at school, and I don’t know if I could stand secure in my faith at such a time.  In the South African community I could see how profound their connection to our spiritual teaching is, perhaps because they've been tested in an environment that is much more taxing than what I had faced in America.  I am awed by the young father whose video message about his slain daughter will live in my heart forever.  I'm humbled by the forgiveness of the Amish community years ago.
Everybody is trying to do the same thing.
I've been reading the news and commentaries and opinions and through it all I realized, everybody is trying to do the same thing, everybody is trying to make sense of this situation, and everybody is trying to make sense of life.  The people who believe in oneness, the people who believe in the influence of an independent evil power, the people who believe in God of various forms, and the people who believe in no God whatsoever…
We’re not that different in that we are attempting to navigate through a world that is sometimes incomprehensible.  And although we are the same, our diversity makes it so that there is no one answer that will meet everyone’s need and calm everyone’s troubled soul.  
Conversations with the Divine.
One of the many things I like about the Bhagavad-Gita is that it emphasizes that there really is no “One Size Fits All” spirituality. The central character, Prince Arjuna, like us, is trying to make sense of an incomprehensible world and an impending tragedy of grand proportion.  He is having a conversation with God in which he wants to know what the best way to understand this is.  “What is the best way to God awareness?  What am I supposed to do?” he asks.
In the conversation, God in the form of Krishna in this story, says that it is in the still mind that we access our answers and he instructs the prince to try and keep on trying until he attains success in this endeavor.  But God doesn't leave it at that, he acknowledges that there are many different ways to arrive at that sense of equilibrium and everyone has their own path.
Have patience with each other.
This is so important to keep in mind right now, to have patience with each other, and to make space for each other to do, or not do, understand or not understand in our own way, lest we turn upon each other fueled by the echoes of a tragic violence we wish to heal.
With the variety of people writing to me with different expressions, needs and hurts, I am reminded that each of us has our own way of responding to the world and each of us gets to discover what will restore our equilibrium so that we can act and contribute our love and support to the world.
Some people find it alone in nature.  Some people find it in complete motionless stillness. Some people find it with soft music in a peaceful room. Some people find it in the company of others who want to do the same thing.  Some people will not find it until they do something constructive.  Some will find it by first travelling through a period of avoidance and numbness.  Some will find it with loud expressions and yet others will find it by contributions of prayer or finances and so on.    
Follow the prompting of your soul.
A teacher once gave me the instruction to pay attention to what has heart-meaning to me…and serve there. In other words, what touches me might be different to what touches you.  If we both exit the supermarket and encounter a homeless person asking for help, we might have different responses.          One person might notice: This has heart value for me and now that I know that, I can take action, I can become involved with responding to the homeless, or contacting an organization that does that and contributing my time or treasure there.  Whereas the other person might find that although they notice the homeless person, where they are really stimulated to serve is with youth.  One response is not more correct than the other.  Not responding to the prompting of our soul, however, seems to produce problems.
What kind of person do you want to be through this?
During times of distress I often turn to the Bhagavad-Gita for its words to remind me of what kind of person I want to be while responding to the challenges of life.  One of the most beautiful set of verses in the text is a description of men and women who are servants to love.  I don’t think it is an easy approach, but I sense that there is something in it that is right for me to aspire to:

 “The one I love is incapable of ill will and returns love for hatred.  Living beyond the reach of “I and mine”, and of pleasure and pain, full of mercy, contended, self-controlled, firm in faith, with all their heart and all their mind given to me – with such as these I am in love.”
“Not agitating the world or by it agitated, they stand above the sway of elation, competition, and fear, accepting life, good and bad, as it comes.”
“They are wholesome, helpful, detached and ready to meet the demands I make on them as humble instruments of my work.”
 “They are dear to me who serve both friend and foe with equal love, not buoyed up by praise nor cast down by blame, alike in heat and cold, pleasure and pain, free from selfish attachments and self-will, ever full, in harmony everywhere, firm in faith – such as these are dear to me.”

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  1. Thank you Edward, I appreciate your words and leadership through this experience which has moved me so deeply. XO Lili

  2. Found this tonight. I find it very comforting as it points in a direction that moves and inspires me. Thank you Edward xo Debra E.


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