Our Response-Ability When Faced with Tragedy
Being happy, loving and peaceful in life is hard enough when we’re just dealing with normal everyday circumstances and problems. But, when a tragedy strikes, either on a very personal level or with something like what happened this week at the Boston Marathon, it can be especially challenging to regain your “balance” and not fall into feelings of fear, anger, grief, blame, depression or powerlessness. Here are some of my thoughts on how to deal effectively with these situations, both mentally and emotionally.
Tragedies, whether they be man-made (accidental or intentional) or naturally occurring often seem to “make no sense” to those who are unfortunate enough to be directly affected. Non-acceptance (denial or resistance to what-is) is always the first obstacle to being able to shift into a more calm, peaceful and creative state of being. When we resist the reality that has already happened, we are going to be blocked from feeling these more resourceful states-of-being and we will instead be caught up in the isolated mind (egoic mind) which has a difficult time accepting change in general, let alone accepting sudden dramatic changes that alter life as we know it.
To accept that a tragedy has happened, even if we can’t make sense of it at all (because what happened may not make sense in any way that we can understand from our human vantage point), is a very important square one to reach. It may take some time, but I encourage you to work toward getting up to speed with where reality is as quickly as you can. You don’t have to like it, but at least accept it because from this platform of acceptance you can now reach for peace and other uplifted states that are likely what you would rather be feeling in this moment.
From peace you also have “response-ability,” which means the ability to respond however you choose. Contrasted with “react-ability” which is reactiveness driven by unconscious habitual thoughts, emotions and conditioned responses.
At least with natural disasters, we can understand that the earth does certain things as part of it’s normal rhythm and way of operating, and we can accept that fact as just part of our experience here on this planet. We may still ask, “Why did this have to happen?” but on some level we get that it’s random to a large degree and not a whole lot we can do about it other than avoiding certain geographic locations at certain times and hoping for the best.
Man-made accidents can be harder to accept, but again, on some level we are usually able to understand that accidents do happen occasionally and it’s par for the course for our experience on this plane of existence. Life has inherent risks and even luck or good fortune involved.
It seems that this week’s other bombing event in West, Texas was accidental, although authorities are still currently investigating to confirm there is not a more deliberate cause. There is often some type of human negligence involved in man-made accidents, and it can be difficult to not want to blame the person or persons who in some way “caused” the accident, even though it was not intentional.
Reaching a solid acceptance of what has happened, and later a heart-felt forgiveness for whomever was negligent will be extremely beneficial for anyone who has been impacted by the accident.
This can take some time, especially the forgiveness piece, but it is a most worthy goal to set and will allow you to move beyond the tragedy and get on with your life in whatever ways you can with the changes brought on by the accident. I have worked with several coaching clients who wanted to forgive someone in their life but were very challenged with how to get there. The desire to get there is what is most important. Where there is a will, there is always a way. But there must be a true willingness to let go of blame, judgement and fault-finding, and embrace compassion, understanding and a recognition of innocence.
When it comes to intentional man-made tragedies, such as criminal or terrorist acts, we are faced with probably the most challenging situations to accept. However, it is still critical that we work toward that end if we want to be free of suffering in the form of feelings of fear, anger, grief, blame, depression and powerlessness. Non-acceptance of what-is, is what causes suffering (for a distinction between pain and suffering, check out my article “Pain is Inevitable, Suffering is Optional”). With acceptance of what-is comes peace, the opposite of suffering.
It is important to note that acceptance doesn’t mean “passive acceptance.” I find that people sometimes resist the idea of acceptance because they think it means they have “given up.” Acceptance simply means getting up to speed with where reality is in the present moment, with what has already transpired. From here, peace is now an option. When you are stuck in a resistant mindset, peace is not accessible to you in that moment.
Moving to Step 2, once we have accepted and are experiencing some degree of peace about the tragic events that have transpired, we can now respond in ways that help us to feel connected to other people, the spiritual realm and the environment.
This feeling of connection can be contrasted with the feeling of isolation (me or us against the world) which often accompanies Reactivity, and which feels very disconnected, especially on the level of the heart.
Reactivity is an egoic state. It comes upon us in moments of fear, when we feel threatened, overwhelmed or extremely uncertain. Rather than feeling this fear directly and allowing ourselves to be present to it (which is the most effective way to resolve the energy of fear), we have learned to quickly shift into other reactive states which feel more powerful such as anger, frustration, revenge… essentially it is “fight, flight or freeze” response.
So, by being able to Respond rather than React, we can restore our connection with humanity and the world around us. One of the best things you can do to help restore this connection is to be of service to others in some way. Whether you volunteer to help send aid or care packages to victims of the tragedy, or you just volunteer at a local organization that needs help from volunteers, it is the putting yourself in service mode which can easily and quickly restore your feeling of connection.
It is through human beings coming together and genuinely caring about and for each other that we heal the wounds created by intentionally caused tragedies. That is the response which makes the biggest difference. It is the light that shines into the darkness and dissipates it.
Prayer or meditation can also be very helpful. You can restore your connection with the spiritual level and feel great comfort and peace simply by going into a prayerful state. Focusing positive energy and thought toward the victims of the tragedy is also very helpful and really does do good for them.
Another very important aspect of coming to peace with tragedies or any circumstance in your life is noticing what meanings, points of view or perspectives you are holding. Since this article is already rather long, here is a link which will bring up several more articles that are relevant on this topic. Please read through these articles as well if you’d like more understanding:
Please feel free to contact me directly if you’d like more information about how I help people integrate these types of changes into their lives.