Ok, let’s just say it: school killings in Newtown (and elsewhere), horrific fires such as the fertilizer plant in Texas, acts that terrorize, including Boston on Monday and, of course, 9-11. It can be a scary and dangerous world out there. And, if we over-embrace the idea of bad things happening, our lives will be fearful and not very fulfilling or joyous.
When the bombs exploded in Boston at the marathon on Monday, I was surprised by my own feelings. For the first time that I can remember I didn’t immediately turn on the TV to soak up all that I could about what had happened. I felt even at peace a little bit. Now, don’t get excited, I’m not that crass that I didn’t feel profoundly sad and concerned about the loss of lives and other injuries. But, what I didn’t do was drop everything and plug in. I didn’t start talking to my friends and conjecturing about who and what. And I didn’t start that familiar tape in my head that says, “You should be scared. Bad things happen all the time, so you should be vigilant about what might happen in your town.” Then there’s also the other tape that says, “Don’t get too happy because something bad can take away your joy.”
I’m a sponge instead of a filter. When I hear bad news, it doesn’t just register and then pass on through me. It stops in my body, my mind … my soul. And I can’t shake it off. But I’ve worked hard over the years to get the information I need without getting so much that I couldn’t function in the rest of my life.
I got the main points of what happened in Boston via the headlines on MSN when I logged onto my computer. Then I didn’t pay attention to the news or anything else about the event on TV or in the newspapers until this morning when Obama gave his speech at the interfaith prayer service. When that was over, I turned the TV off again. I know I’ll check back in at some point when the perpetrators have been captured and a motive is presented. Then I checked in with a friend who lives in Boston and I made a donation to One Fund Boston, but that’s it. Life goes on for me. It does no good for me to stay stuck in sorrow and angst and fear.
I remember that the world is a good place, a safe place, an abundant place. Sure, bad things happen, but I’m not willing to let those things – either events in the past or the possibility of events in the future – mar my knowing of the goodness that exists nor interfere with the quality of my current actions. My staying sad and curtailing my activities because of sorrow in no way assists the victims or anyone else. Am I sad about what has happened? Yes, I am, and I’m not tossing that wet blanket of sorrow out into the universe to dampen the spirits of others.
So how did my new-found calmness develop? Something has shifted and I believe it started while I was focusing on forgiveness. A lot of forgiveness for me is about letting go. There’s that popular saying, “Forgiveness means giving up all hope for a better past.” To me, letting go melds right into a calmer reaction to things that go wrong. I realize I have no control over these scary events but I can control how I respond to them.
I have identified five things that worked for me in dealing with all the recent tragedy in our world:
1) Don’t try to pretend it didn’t happen but don’t wallow in the situation either.
Avoid TV and newspaper reports that repeatedly guess at the who, what and
where scenarios. Avoid conversations with friends and family who are into
wallowing in the horrific nature of the event.
2) Check your worry levels…either about the victims or about what could
happen to you. Worry just saps our energy and robs us of emotional stability.
3) Check to see what you can do, if anything. Can you donate time, money or
your efforts? You can always pray. Once you have done it, let go of the
outcome of your contribution.
4) Visualize how you will deal with it. Obviously, how you respond will depend
on what the situation is. If it’s local and/or a bad situation in your family it
might be more difficult to handle than if it involved people far away and no
one that you knew. But go for an overall acknowledgement that it’s beyond
your control and the best thing you can do is to remain calm and empathetic
but slightly detached. Again, it all depends on what happened. Being calm is
5) Focus on the positive. Reaffirm the goodness in life by spending time in
uplifting activities: family, pets, outdoors, crafts, music, books, etc.
There is no right or wrong way to handle catastrophe. This isn’t a test that you either pass or don’t pass. To me, it feels better to try to deal with whatever is thrown at us in life peacefully. I’d rather show up in a tranquil mode, ready to do what I can and to let go of all the rest.