THE BLOG

What The South Carolina Shooting Can Teach The Nation About Reacting To Hatred

06/29/2015 02:40 pm ET | Updated Jun 29, 2016
Joe Raedle via Getty Images

On Wednesday, June 17, I turned on my computer, and the Internet delivered the devastating news of the church shooting in South Carolina. The heinous crime left families and our nation doubled over, suffering in grief, pain and sadness.

There are many aspects of this tragedy to consider, starting with the racism that instigated it, gun control and fear. I am certain politicians and community leaders will be dissecting these issues for months to come.

However, The Inner Fitness Project's focus is on navigating the emotional terrain and discovering how paying attention to our individual healing can guide the healing of our communities and nation.

Repairing an emotional wound begins with acknowledging the hurt sustained. It further involves learning to rigorously observe our thoughts, becoming aware of old patterns and interpretations, challenging default assumptions, and, most importantly, choosing to make healing a priority.

Racism is one of our nation's deepest emotional wounds. And unfortunately, it is unrealistic to think the 300-year institution of American racism has been healed over the past six decades.

The path of healing this national issue is the same process with which we must engage as individuals. We must first acknowledge the national hurt sustained. Then, we must recognize and challenge our wound-causing thoughts. And lastly, as a country, we must rewire our default racist beliefs, interpretations and assumptions. This process takes time.

To further frustrate change, healing is not a linear process. Just when we think we are done with our old painful story, something happens and the old wound gets reopened. When this happens, we feel like we are back at the beginning, and that no progress has been made. This, I am sure, is how many feel after South Carolina. But to think this is a mistake.

Experiencing recurring pain is often judged as a sign of failure. It is not. Rather, it is evidence of hurt that is still present and not yet healed. In the best-selling book The Power of Now, Eckhart Tolle gives insight into this process. Part of our intuitive healing process brings similar situations into our lives to reveal our unaddressed pain, and provide the needed opportunity to respond differently - to reframe our old interpretations in new, more empowering, ways.

Understanding this healing process can help us focus on our progress in the midst of these horrific circumstances. If we don't stay focused on how far we have come, we risk becoming distracted by the pain and pulled into a cycle of blame that takes us nowhere.

True healing of our national wounds must be driven by our individual commitments to notice our own biases, and make change.

The members of Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church put this concept to work when in the midst of their great pain and grief, instead of reacting with hatred, they spoke of forgiveness. We can all learn from them. We each can take a moment, even right this minute -- wherever you are -- and ask out loud to personally become instruments of healing and change. Letting such a high desire swell up in your heart, and then speaking this heartfelt desire out loud into the universe, is a powerful proactive step you can take towards change. You can take this action every day, on your drive to work or in the shower, or while exercising -- anywhere.

Brain research now tells us that the brain has endless plasticity. This means we can change any habit -- including our learned beliefs and reactions -- by rigorously interrupting it. The intervention can be as simple as recognizing that you are exhibiting learned behavior. Set the intention to become aware of when you are "doing it again," then course-correct.

As we learn to stop doubting our innate worth, eventually this newfound way of looking at ourselves, and others, becomes a skill that we can apply to our interactions with all humanity.

Changing the tide of our thinking is not easy, but it becomes easier with practice.

I feel the loss we all are experiencing. But like the members of Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church have demonstrated, it is possible to feel hope, lean into something greater, and remain focused on progress even in the midst of tragedy.