Newtown, Conn. Boston, Mass. West, Texas. Eilat, Israel. Mashkel, Pakistan. There has been a lot of death, destruction and terror from gunfire, bombing, rockets, chemical explosion and earthquake over the past week and in the past few months. This series of events -- along with other incidents of violence and disaster over the past two decades, including but not limited to the: 9/11 terror attacks; Oklahoma City, Atlanta Olympics, Madrid and the London bombings; Thurston High School, Columbine High School, Santana High School, Red Lake High School, Virginia Tech, Northern Illinois University, and Oikos University shootings; Rwanda, Darfur, and Israel/Gaza conflicts; Tsunami in Japan, hurricane Katrina, and Hurricane Sandy -- have resulted in a local, national and international feeling of unease, anxiety, fear, anger, sadness, grief, helplessness and despair.
When we begin to realize that we have become traumatized by a seemingly endless onslaught of senseless violence and natural disaster, it is very difficult but imminently important that we remember to do the following: Process our emotions, take action where appropriate, practice gratitude and ultimately let love win.
"Your intellect may be confused, but your emotions will never lie to you." -- Roger Ebert
"There can be no knowledge without emotion." -- Arnold Bennett
Process our emotions. No matter the incident, it is absolutely normal, healthy and in fact necessary for us to experience, share, and work through our feelings of fear, anger and grief. Without doing so, it is impossible to come to any kind of personal (or collective) peace. Furthermore, it is enormously helpful to others -- and to ourselves -- when we embrace and share our responses of empathy, sympathy, hope and love. In all of these types of communication, the human need to reach out and to connect is paramount and should be given its due.
"When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, 'Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.'" -- Mr. Rogers
Take action where appropriate. When we feel angry, sad or helpless, it can be motivating and comforting to take action related to the incident we have experienced. The countless impromptu hurricane relief efforts organized by communities across New York City, which eventually became the Hurricane Sandy Relief Foundation, are one example. The attempt by many politicians and activists, including the president, to pass a bill mandating background checks for gun ownership is another. The Indiegogo campaign launched by Elyse Bogacz benefiting a healing art relief fund for Sandy Hook Elementary School is a third. The immediate organizing of the 5k 'Run for Boston' to support the victims of the Boston Marathon bombings is yet another. Such action can take many forms and can certainly go hand-in-hand with emotional processing.
"The highest tribute to the dead is not grief but gratitude." -- Thornton Wilder
Practice gratitude. It can be tempting to sit in our grief for long periods of time. And it can be hard to summon the courage to face the world after frightening events. But rather than living our lives in grief because of what's happened or in fear because of what could happen, we must find a way to live our lives with gratitude for the blessings and joy we have in our lives. (And we all have them!) Practicing gratitude can sometimes be extremely difficult, but to embrace the wonder and depth of life even after tragic events is the only way to continue moving forward.
"Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that." -- Martin Luther King Jr.
"When you spot violence, bigotry, intolerance, fear... hatred or ignorance, just look it in the eye and think: 'The good outnumber you, and we always will.'" -- Patton Oswalt
Let love win: Only light can drive out darkness and only love can drive out hate. It can be so hard to find love in our hearts, to imagine peace, to practice compassion, to have faith in a benevolent universe after terrible things happen. But for as long as we hold on to anger and fear, we add to the darkness in our own hearts and in the world. Instead, we can let go of anger, fear and even grief through emotional processing, positive action, the practice of gratitude, and the search for kindness and compassion in our own hearts. We can only bring light when we bring love.
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