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Rinpoche discusses the importance of starting with a calm mind. Recorded in New York City at Tibet House. May 2013.
SENATORS say they fear the N.R.A. and the gun lobby. But I think that fear must be nothing compared to the fear the first graders in Sandy Hook Elementary School felt as their lives ended in a hail of bullets. The fear that those children who survived the massacre must feel every time they remember their teachers stacking them into closets and bathrooms, whispering that they loved them, so that love would be the last thing the students heard if the gunman found them.
On Wednesday, a minority of senators gave into fear and blocked common-sense legislation that would have made it harder for criminals and people with dangerous mental illnesses to get hold of deadly firearms — a bill that could prevent future tragedies like those in Newtown, Conn., Aurora, Colo., Blacksburg, Va., and too many communities to count.
Some of the senators who voted against the background-check amendments have met with grieving parents whose children were murdered at Sandy Hook, in Newtown. Some of the senators who voted no have also looked into my eyes as I talked about my experience being shot in the head at point-blank range in suburban Tucson two years ago, and expressed sympathy for the 18 other people shot besides me, 6 of whom died. These senators have heard from their constituents — who polls show overwhelmingly favored expanding background checks. And still these senators decided to do nothing. Shame on them.
I watch TV and read the papers like everyone else. We know what we’re going to hear: vague platitudes like “tough vote” and “complicated issue.” I was elected six times to represent southern Arizona, in the State Legislature and then in Congress. I know what a complicated issue is; I know what it feels like to take a tough vote. This was neither. These senators made their decision based on political fear and on cold calculations about the money of special interests like the National Rifle Association, which in the last election cycle spent around $25 million on contributions, lobbying and outside spending. Speaking is physically difficult for me. But my feelings are clear: I’m furious. I will not rest until we have righted the wrong these senators have done, and until we have changed our laws so we can look parents in the face and say: We are trying to keep your children safe. We cannot allow the status quo — desperately protected by the gun lobby so that they can make more money by spreading fear and misinformation — to go on.
I am asking every reasonable American to help me tell the truth about the cowardice these senators demonstrated. I am asking for mothers to stop these lawmakers at the grocery store and tell them: You’ve lost my vote. I am asking activists to unsubscribe from these senators’ e-mail lists and to stop giving them money. I’m asking citizens to go to their offices and say: You’ve disappointed me, and there will be consequences.
People have told me that I’m courageous, but I have seen greater courage. Gabe Zimmerman, my friend and staff member in whose honor we dedicated a room in the United States Capitol this week, saw me shot in the head and saw the shooter turn his gunfire on others. Gabe ran toward me as I lay bleeding. Toward gunfire. And then the gunman shot him, and then Gabe died. His body lay on the pavement in front of the Safeway for hours.
I have thought a lot about why Gabe ran toward me when he could have run away. Service was part of his life, but it was also his job. The senators who voted against background checks for online and gun-show sales, and those who voted against checks to screen out would-be gun buyers with mental illness, failed to do their job.
They looked at these most benign and practical of solutions, offered by moderates from each party, and then they looked over their shoulder at the powerful, shadowy gun lobby — and brought shame on themselves and our government itself by choosing to do nothing.
They will try to hide their decision behind grand talk, behind willfully false accounts of what the bill might have done — trust me, I know how politicians talk when they want to distract you — but their decision was based on a misplaced sense of self-interest. I say misplaced, because to preserve their dignity and their legacy, they should have heeded the voices of their constituents. They should have honored the legacy of the thousands of victims of gun violence and their families, who have begged for action, not because it would bring their loved ones back, but so that others might be spared their agony.
This defeat is only the latest chapter of what I’ve always known would be a long, hard haul. Our democracy’s history is littered with names we neither remember nor celebrate — people who stood in the way of progress while protecting the powerful. On Wednesday, a number of senators voted to join that list.
Mark my words: if we cannot make our communities safer with the Congress we have now, we will use every means available to make sure we have a different Congress, one that puts communities’ interests ahead of the gun lobby’s. To do nothing while others are in danger is not the American way.
If you feel called to pass this along
to anyone in your community
that you think may benefit
from the frequency of the
love within the music, please do.
I Am Adam Lanza’s Mother
Three days before 20-year-old Adam Lanza killed his mother, then opened fire on a classroom full of Connecticut kindergartners, my 13-year-old son Michael (name changed) missed his bus because he was wearing the wrong color pants.
“I can wear these pants,” he said, his tone increasingly belligerent, the black-hole pupils of his eyes swallowing the blue irises.
“They are navy blue,” I told him. “Your school’s dress code says black or khaki pants only.”
“They told me I could wear these,” he insisted. “You’re a stupid bitch. I can wear whatever pants I want to. This is America. I have rights!”
“You can’t wear whatever pants you want to,” I said, my tone affable, reasonable. “And you definitely cannot call me a stupid bitch. You’re grounded from electronics for the rest of the day. Now get in the car, and I will take you to school.”
I live with a son who is mentally ill. I love my son. But he terrifies me.
A few weeks ago, Michael pulled a knife and threatened to kill me and then himself after I asked him to return his overdue library books. His 7- and 9-year-old siblings knew the safety plan—they ran to the car and locked the doors before I even asked them to. I managed to get the knife from Michael, then methodically collected all the sharp objects in the house into a single Tupperware container that now travels with me. Through it all, he continued to scream insults at me and threaten to kill or hurt me.
That conflict ended with three burly police officers and a paramedic wrestling my son onto a gurney for an expensive ambulance ride to the local emergency room. The mental hospital didn’t have any beds that day, and Michael calmed down nicely in the ER, so they sent us home with a prescription for Zyprexa and a follow-up visit with a local pediatric psychiatrist.
We still don’t know what’s wrong with Michael. Autism spectrum, ADHD, Oppositional Defiant or Intermittent Explosive Disorder have all been tossed around at various meetings with probation officers and social workers and counselors and teachers and school administrators. He’s been on a slew of antipsychotic and mood-altering pharmaceuticals, a Russian novel of behavioral plans. Nothing seems to work.
At the start of seventh grade, Michael was accepted to an accelerated program for highly gifted math and science students. His IQ is off the charts. When he’s in a good mood, he will gladly bend your ear on subjects ranging from Greek mythology to the differences between Einsteinian and Newtonian physics to Doctor Who. He’s in a good mood most of the time. But when he’s not, watch out. And it’s impossible to predict what will set him off.
Several weeks into his new junior high school, Michael began exhibiting increasingly odd and threatening behaviors at school. We decided to transfer him to the district’s most restrictive behavioral program, a contained school environment where children who can’t function in normal classrooms can access their right to free public babysitting from 7:30 to 1:50 Monday through Friday until they turn 18.
The morning of the pants incident, Michael continued to argue with me on the drive. He would occasionally apologize and seem remorseful. Right before we turned into his school parking lot, he said, “Look, Mom, I’m really sorry. Can I have video games back today?”
“No way,” I told him. “You cannot act the way you acted this morning and think you can get your electronic privileges back that quickly.”
His face turned cold, and his eyes were full of calculated rage. “Then I’m going to kill myself,” he said. “I’m going to jump out of this car right now and kill myself.”
That was it. After the knife incident, I told him that if he ever said those words again, I would take him straight to the mental hospital, no ifs, ands, or buts. I did not respond, except to pull the car into the opposite lane, turning left instead of right.
“Where are you taking me?” he said, suddenly worried. “Where are we going?”
“You know where we are going,” I replied.
“No! You can’t do that to me! You’re sending me to hell! You’re sending me straight to hell!”
I pulled up in front of the hospital, frantically waving for one of the clinicians who happened to be standing outside. “Call the police,” I said. “Hurry.”
Michael was in a full-blown fit by then, screaming and hitting. I hugged him close so he couldn’t escape from the car. He bit me several times and repeatedly jabbed his elbows into my rib cage. I’m still stronger than he is, but I won’t be for much longer.
The police came quickly and carried my son screaming and kicking into the bowels of the hospital. I started to shake, and tears filled my eyes as I filled out the paperwork—”Were there any difficulties with… at what age did your child… were there any problems with.. has your child ever experienced.. does your child have…”
At least we have health insurance now. I recently accepted a position with a local college, giving up my freelance career because when you have a kid like this, you need benefits. You’ll do anything for benefits. No individual insurance plan will cover this kind of thing.
For days, my son insisted that I was lying—that I made the whole thing up so that I could get rid of him. The first day, when I called to check up on him, he said, “I hate you. And I’m going to get my revenge as soon as I get out of here.”
By day three, he was my calm, sweet boy again, all apologies and promises to get better. I’ve heard those promises for years. I don’t believe them anymore.
On the intake form, under the question, “What are your expectations for treatment?” I wrote, “I need help.”
And I do. This problem is too big for me to handle on my own. Sometimes there are no good options. So you just pray for grace and trust that in hindsight, it will all make sense.
I am sharing this story because I am Adam Lanza’s mother. I am Dylan Klebold’s and Eric Harris’s mother. I am Jason Holmes’s mother. I am Jared Loughner’s mother. I am Seung-Hui Cho’s mother. And these boys—and their mothers—need help. In the wake of another horrific national tragedy, it’s easy to talk about guns. But it’s time to talk about mental illness.
According to Mother Jones, since 1982, 61 mass murders involving firearms have occurred throughout the country. Of these, 43 of the killers were white males, and only one was a woman. Mother Jones focused on whether the killers obtained their guns legally (most did). But this highly visible sign of mental illness should lead us to consider how many people in the U.S. live in fear, like I do.
When I asked my son’s social worker about my options, he said that the only thing I could do was to get Michael charged with a crime. “If he’s back in the system, they’ll create a paper trail,” he said. “That’s the only way you’re ever going to get anything done. No one will pay attention to you unless you’ve got charges.”
I don’t believe my son belongs in jail. The chaotic environment exacerbates Michael’s sensitivity to sensory stimuli and doesn’t deal with the underlying pathology. But it seems like the United States is using prison as the solution of choice for mentally ill people. According to Human Rights Watch, the number of mentally ill inmates in U.S. prisons quadrupled from 2000 to 2006, and it continues to rise—in fact, the rate of inmate mental illness is five times greater (56 percent) than in the non-incarcerated population.
With state-run treatment centers and hospitals shuttered, prison is now the last resort for the mentally ill—Rikers Island, the LA County Jail and Cook County Jail in Illinois housed the nation’s largest treatment centers in 2011.
No one wants to send a 13-year-old genius who loves Harry Potter and his snuggle animal collection to jail. But our society, with its stigma on mental illness and its broken healthcare system, does not provide us with other options. Then another tortured soul shoots up a fast food restaurant. A mall. A kindergarten classroom. And we wring our hands and say, “Something must be done.”
I agree that something must be done. It’s time for a meaningful, nation-wide conversation about mental health. That’s the only way our nation can ever truly heal.
God help me. God help Michael. God help us all.
This morning we held a meditation and prayer service at Sacred!Centre on what happened in Newtown on Friday.
After 30 minutes of meditating, we shared what was in our hearts and the intentions that brought us together. Then evolved a discussion about the subtle and not so subtle violence each of those that were present have felt inside of ourselves. We made personal reflections on how our judgment of other people or ourselves is actually a way of discharging, vs. transforming, our pain. How in actuality, judgment not only fails to enlighten, manage or curtail pain but how it is in itself a form of violence and seems to feed fear and grow anger. We talked about ways we each have experienced our judgmental thoughts as a form of “acting out” aggression. And also how, as quantum physics shows us, such thoughts energetically really matter–these thoughts have sway. What spurred all this was a reading on the “Principle of Nonduality” from Thich Nhat Hanh’s book entitled True Love. And here is what he says:
When our pain comes up it remains for a period of time at the level of the conscious mind, in our “living room.” After a short stay there, it goes back to its usual habitat, the alaya consciousness, *where it takes the form of a seed; and now it will be a little bit weaker. It will always be a little bit weaker after being embraced by the energy of mindfulness. The next time it manifests, we will receive it the same way; we will care for it the same way with the energy of mindfulness, and then it will return to the depths, weaker still. It loses strength every time it is embraced by the energy of mindfulness, which is really a mother.
The door is already open; mental formations can flow freely. And if you practice that for a few weeks, the symptoms of mental illness will disappear. This is because you are now in a situation where you have good circulation I your psyche. That is why the Buddha taught us to invite fear into our mindful consciousness and care for it everyday.
There is no battle between good and evil, positive and negative. There is only the care given by the big brother to the little brother. In Buddhist meditation, we observe, we act in a non-dualistic fashion, and thus the waste materials of the conscious mind can always be transformed into flowers of compassion, love, and peace. Our consciousness is a living thing, something organic in nature. There are always waste materials and flowers in us. The gardener who is familiar with organic gardening is constantly on the alert to save the waste materials because he knows how to transform them into compost and then transform that compost into flowers and vegetables. So be grateful for your pains, be grateful for your suffering–you will need them.
We have to learn the art of transforming compost into flowers. Look at a flower: it is beautiful, it is fragrant, it is pure; but if you look deeply you can already see the compost in the flower. With meditation, you can see that already. If you do not meditate, you will have to wait ten days to be able to see that. If you look deeply at the garbage heap with the eye of a meditator, you can see lettuce, tomatoes and flowers. That is exactly what the gardener sees when he looks at the garbage heap, and that is why he does not throw away his waste materials. A little bit of practice is all you need to be able to transform the garbage heap into compost and the compost into flowers…” –Thich Nhat Hanh
Those of us present this morning agreed that while yes, on one very important and agonizing level, and as all the news stories have echoed, we don’t know what led to the shootings in Newtown, CT, our contemplation on this reading also showed us the imperative of holding this question and avoid fooling ourselves into ineffective and dangerous conclusions based on the usual designation of opposites: good vs. evil; people vs. monsters; flowers vs. compost.
If we hold Adam Lanza as a 20 year old young man who perpetrated horrific acts (vs. the “gunman,”) this might lead us to wonder and perhaps to one day understand the seeds of those actions. And to understand the lesser but nevertheless violent seeds we ourselves feed each time we turn someone into an object in our minds through perjoratives and anger/fear.
What we drew as a group from Thich Nhat Hanh’s words and our discussion this morning is there is a galaxy of difference between properly judging Adam Lanza’s actions as unequivocally heinous and unsanctionable, and deciding he was pure evil. We also agreed there is a great urgency upon the world to be mindful of our thoughts and to not attempt to discard what must be recycled in order to effectively transform harmful energy, the waste material of our mind, back into a Flower.
I look forward to hearing your thoughts.
Gratefully and sorrowfully,
* In Buddhist thought, consciousness is sometimes described as having eight levels. Alaya is the fundamental consciousness that supports and nourishes the seven others. It is sometimes called the “storehouse consciousness,” since it contains every kind of seed and its primary function is to preserve all the seeds. –Ed.
May sentient beings experiencing adversity everywhere in the world be liberated from all suffering.
You may have to cut & paste but please enjoy this beautiful video of the metta prayer for all sentient beings.
A 19 year old young man said something startling to me the other day. Reflecting on his meditation practice and his life, quoting from something he recently read, he reached the following conclusion:
One pays with oneself.
Think about that.
As his listener, I felt a rush of pure joy, the kind one feels when one’s heart recognizes truth.
It makes sesnse, doesn’t it, that the cost of crossing the bridge into spiritual waters would require nothing less than oneself, what Dzigar Kongtrul Rinpoche refers to as one’s “me-ness?”
Unfortunately, “me” goes where angels fear to tread.
Yup, a rush of inspiration lasts only so long. When the rubber hits the gravel road, I’ve worked all day, it’s 6pm, and I haven’t meditated, the naked truth no longer quite cuts it for “me.”. I’d rather pay for a foot rub, or at least get a shower and watch some CNN. You?
Don’t you think most egos, (well, mine at least,) don’t like the cushion? I mean, after the initial romance, aren’t we kind of dying to get off of it?
The Dzoghen Ponlop Rinpoche draws an interesting analogy:
~ * ~
‘For many of us, our meditation cushion is like a really nice acquaintance. Like someone we see, say in Starbucks, each morning or each week… We are really glad to see this friend at the latte bar as we start the day. To smile and wave hello and then goodbye until tomorrow. It’s a very nice, very pleasant and comforting experience. We think we might even like to get to know our friend someday. Maybe have lunch, if we aren’t too busy…. But somehow, someday never quite comes, isn’t it? um… maybe, forget the lunch. Why disrupt something so nice? It could become like work, an obligation. What if we won’t like them later? What if she or he won’t like us? This could be painful and a general pain in the ass. We might even avoid Starbucks altogether and have to look elsewhere for our latte. That would be no fun at all. Better to keep it at a pleasant distance. … oh…, I’m not talking about you, I’m talking about myself.”
~ * ~
As a buddhist, I often contemplate how, at the hour of my death , will I have wanted to have spent my life? I will have wanted to travel that road, gravel and all.
How will I ever make that happen? By lovingly limiting “me,” and taking heed of the wisdom of my 19 year old friend.
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