A ‘Mettatation’ on what we all need to co-exist, happily

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My cousin Matt says people are crying at the drop of a hat. At the hockey rink. At the gas station. At a stoplight. At wherever.

My cousin Matt lives in the town next to Newtown, Conn.

“I saw more than one person crying while they were driving past me leaving town. It is so emotional here,” he tells me.

It’s not just Newtown, Matt. It’s everywhere. A stone was dropped on the heart of Newtown, and it created ripples of pain and grief across the country, across the world.

Last week, as I was putting the finishing touches on my column, the news of the nightmare unfolding in Newtown was just breaking. I was stunned with horror and disbelief. I forced my fingers to keep typing, to finish and hit “send,” and then wandered down the sidewalk to finish the rest of my tasks for the day. I could feel myself moving along, functioning but frozen. The last time I experienced that feeling, that ripping of the soul, was when I heard the news that John Lennon had been shot and killed.

Incomprehensible. Then, and now.

Today, as I sit and write this column, it is the Winter Solstice, the darkest day of the year, and in light of what happened one week ago, of the soul as well. At this exact moment on the West Coast, a moment of silence is taking place in honor of the victims at Sandy Hook Elementary School. And although it’s difficult to make that evident in writing, yes, I am honoring that moment of silence too. I meditated on 27 beats of love to each victim. And, with huge difficulty, a 28th beat of love to the one who perpetrated this tragedy.

You see, ironically, just before the shooting on December 14, I’d stumbled across a guided meditation by Bernie Clark on Metta, the Buddhist concept of Loving Kindness. I’ve long been familiar with, and loved, the “Chant of Metta,” by Imee Ooi, in both English and Pali, and have been working on memorizing it in Pali. I’m almost there.

In English, it says, “May I be free from enmity and danger; May I be free from mental suffering; May I be free from physical suffering; May I take care of myself, happily.” It goes on to wish the same for all beings, on all planes of existence. It’s the most beautiful, soothing, healing thing I’ve ever experienced, and if you’d like to experience too, you can find it on You Tube or purchase the CD at Tibet-Nepal in Davis, if it’s in stock.

Clark’s meditation calls you to focus on yourself, and bless yourself to be free from danger and fear, to have health and happiness, and to live in peace. Next, it guides you to focus on someone you love or greatly respect, see him or her in your mind, and bless that person with the same, and recognize that there is no difference between you and that person. You want and need the same things. Then it guides you to focus on someone you feel neutral about — a casual acquaintance — and also bless that person with the same things, and recognize that you want and need the same things, and that there is no difference between you.

Then it gets trickier. You’re guided to focus on someone you actively dislike, someone with whom you have great difficulties and maybe even hate, and to bless them as well, and recognize that you want and need the same things, and that there is no difference between you. You want and need the same things.

It’s much more difficult than you might imagine, that last visualization. It generates all sorts of cognitive dissonance, and emotional dissonance as well.  It’s almost begrudgingly that you force yourself to face the reality that we’re all the same. We all want safety, health, happiness, peace and love.

What does all that have to do with the Newtown shootings? Well, I’ve pondered long and hard about the knee-jerk reaction that we must have tighter gun control laws. And weighed those seemingly logical comments against the fact that no gun control law we might construct would have made a difference in Newtown.

The guns used in the shooting were taken from a person who owned them legally and abided by the gun laws, just as the guns used in the Portland shootings earlier this month. I’ve concluded that the problem isn’t guns. The problem is US. There is something wrong with US.

I’ve also listened to the comments, and made many myself, that the broader issue is mental illness, and the need to identify it early on, and provide treatment to any and all who need it. But the issue is even broader than that: We need to be taught, at a very early age, how to love and respect each other.

Not just the people we love, or the ones we get along with, but the ones we don’t like as well. And, particularly, the ones who don’t fit in, who are socially awkward, and who are mentally ill. Rather than punish them for what they can’t control, we need to embrace them from the start so they don’t lash out at the world.

John Lennon had it right. Love is all we need. Love is the answer. And today, on the darkest day of the year, and of the soul, may the Mayans be partially right: May the old world die and a new world be born. May it begin here and now… May you be free from danger… May you be free from fear… May you be healthy… May you be happy… May you live in peace…


To listen to Imee Ooi’s “Chant of Metta”: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=S5JAVk3Qwi8.

For a sample of Bernie Clark’s meditation: http://www.myyogaonline.com/videos/meditation/a-meditation-on-metta.

— Email Debra at debra@wintersexpress.com; read more of her work at www.wintersexpress.com and www.edebra.com

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