The Sandy Hook shooting and the deaths of 20 children and 7 adults strikes at the very heart of our belief in goodness in the world and at our sense of personal and collective safety. Violence that is random, unpredictable, and targeted in a time of peace by a single individual against strangers and innocents–especially children–defies logic. How do we make sense of this, particularly in the context of the many predictions among indigenous peoples of December, 2012 marking a great shift in human consciousness? What does it say about us and our world? How can we understand how the great force of love–soul force–can be used to end the deep soul wound of violence we all carry?
I do not use the term “love” here as a glib platitude any more than did Martin Luther King, Jr. or M. K. Gandhi. I am well aware, as they were, that the path to forgiveness and the true power of spiritual love can be a long and hard road. Yet they and my Cherokee teacher, Venerable Dhyani Ywahoo nevertheless repeatedly invoke the power of love to end violence. She writes in Voices of Our Ancestors: Cherokee Teachings from the Wisdom Fire: “Let us take responsibility for the thoughts we have created and realize within our hearts the meaningful resolution, the lighted fire of…love.”
What does this really mean? What does it reveal to us about the force that drove Lanza and his numerous predecessors such as the perpetrators of the Columbine massacre or the terrorists who held a school hostage in Belaev, Russia to targeting even innocent children?
As Venerable Dhyani admonishes all of us, I look to my own inner experience to understand people who do such terrible things and to understand the great force of love–or what happens when we feel its lack. We know that when people use terror and violence, it is often because their people are suffering under oppression, bondage and injustice. In a way, they are fighting for and out of love–love of their people, land, cultures–love for their lost loved ones–children, mothers, daughters, sisters, and the sons, fathers and brothers who have died or are at risk. Such losses lead to the opposite of love–hatred–for the enemy or oppressor. Love and hatred, as is often said, are two sides of the same coin.
I have felt deeply in myself the force of love that resorts to a verbal assault or the impulse to use my body’s strength as a way to be heard, to attain freedom. I understand how hatred can grow out of love and because of love.
Yes, I have been that angry.
Like most of us, particularly girls, I was raised by my parents to be “nice.” Any verbal expression of anger was taboo, much less resorting to hitting or pushing. But in the course of my life, there have been times when words were not working and trying to act or ask nicely was met by so often by indifference, coldness or direct disagreement, that I lost all self-control and exploded in a stream of rageful expletives and verbal assaults.
Most adult children who have survived physical and emotional abuse by a parent are familiar with this scenario. It is one that I came up against over and over again my whole life because of my mother. Her wounded narcissism frequently met my real despair with an emotional brutality so palpable, I could feel it in my body like a physical assault.
One time around the age of 17, I worked up my courage to tell my mother that her refusal to allow me to see my father from whom she was separated, was unfair. He was neither abusive nor dangerous to me or anyone else. However, her pain was so great, she would not suffer me to love, much less spend time with him.
Her response at my heartfelt and fair confrontation of her unreasonableness was to spew forth a stream of accusations of my own selfishness and lack of compassion for her pain. “How dare you!” she spat at me. “You don’t have any idea what it is like to be in my shoes!” I stood in front of her weeping and wringing my hands bloody from painful skin eruptions of excema. I could not stop sobbing, my misery in the face of her attack was so complete. After resoundingly cutting me down, she paused, stared at my misery with disdain and said, “What a great little actress you are!”
Her words but me to the quick. The fight was over; she had won. As I had done many times, I retreated outside to the fire escape to nurse my wounds and try to calm down. Our altercation was never spoken of. Life then went on until the next explosion–often without any provocation on my part.
Occasionally, as a teenager and well into adulthood until the day my mother died when I was 40 years old and she 69, my dreams exposed an unexpressed wish to do physical harm to her because of my deep frustration and pent up rage. In these dreams, I would reach out, grab her by the nose and yank her around while I screamed everything I had ever wanted to say. I would even tell her how much I hated her. In these dreams, I did not cry; rather I stormed and charged like a wild, out of control bull. She crumpled in my hands like a stuffed toy in a large dog’s mouth, her body limp and helpless in my grip. While the image itself is funny (think of being “dragged around by the nose”), nevertheless, the emotional intensity in the dream showed how deadly serious was the inner force of my frustration, anger, and even hatred.
What drove me to such explicit inner expressions of my anger? Love of self and even, dare I say, love of her. My mother was profoundly self-destructive and so often mean to her loved ones while simultaneously seemingly impervious to her responsibility for her actions, that my frustration rose to the point of wishing I could use physical force to make her wake up and to STOP hurting me–and later, as I aged into adulthood, to make her stop hurting herself. For the last 10 years of her life, I watched her harm herself physically through the use of narcotics and seeking out invasive surgeries and medical procedures in a desperate bid for attention. This is a psychological disease called Munchausen’s Disorder.
Indeed, what I finally came to understand in my 30s after years of therapy, was how deeply unloved my mother felt and how much the dramas she enacted and embroiled me in were desperate attempts to be loved. Like a terrorist who thinks that killing the “enemy” will finally drive the point home, my mother thought with some twisted logic that all these harmful words and actions would finally make her loved ones understand her. Instead, what happened is that she eventually pushed most of us away. She died all alone in the University of Virginia hospital of complications from years of abuse of medications, surgeries, and probably from lack of love and despair. In her own way, just as Lanza turned his gun on himself, my mother killed herself.
As I share my own story, I do not want to imply in any way that Lanza’s parents were abusive or fell short in any way. It is well known that some individuals are born with or develop over years profound emotional imbalances. Indeed, when such a thing happens, it makes us wonder all the more why. Why?
The worldview of Native American spirituality offers us some insight into how this happens and how we are all bound into a deep spiritual wounding that leads some individuals like my mother and Lanza to resort to harm of self and others. It is a truism that violence breeds more violence–violence plants the seeds of hatred and fear. In the fight between Palestine and Israel, there is so much hurt, so much harm between them for generations that it is now hard to know which side is the perpetrator, which the victim. Innocent people on both sides have died.
In fact, there is no one living in the world today who has not been affected by violence either directly or indirectly.
The first and most obvious way we are affected is by the violence that permeates the media. Yet, I see this as only a symptom, not the source of our dis-ease. Our obsession with murder, mayhem, war, and other imbalanced responses to threat and lack merely shows us what needs attention, what is out of balance.
As I say to my students over and over again, every single one of us can trace back in our ancestry some harm caused to our loved ones, friends, and communities. It does not matter which “side” our ancestors were one: if he ruthlessly beat a slave, he was as much a part of the cycle of harm as the victim. As Judith Lewis Herman, M.D. puts it, we are all caught in the “dialectic of violence.” Perpetrators as much as victims suffer. The will to harm others often can turn into the will to harm oneself either subtly through a self-hating inner voice or externally through self-harming behaviors–this is called “internalized oppression.” Those who carry this inner oppression can then turn on a dime and become the oppressor. We have seen this happen over and over again in post-colonial countries such as Rwanda and the Congo where black African leaders brutally abuse their own people.
Native American scholars, Lemyra M. DeBruyn and Maria Yellow Horse Brave Heart, put it this way: “Racism and oppression, including internalized oppression, are continuous forces which exacerbate… destructive behaviors [such as suicide, homicide, accidental deaths, domestic violence, child abuse, and alcoholism, as well as other social problems]. We suggest these social ills are primarily the product of a legacy of chronic trauma and unresolved grief across generations. It is proposed that this phenomenon, which we label historical unresolved grief, contributes to the current social pathology, originating from the loss of lives, land, and vital aspects [of culture].” They are speaking primarily of the chronicity of these social and psychological problems among Native Americans as a result of historical genocide. However, this scenario can be applied to practically every human society as far back in human history as we know. Whether we look at the Roman Empire whose armies brutally beat and took into bondage large swaths of Europe, the Middle East and Northern Africa or at the blood thirsty dictators who emerged in the late Aztec civilization of South America, no continent, no people have been immune.
Lori Arviso Alvord, M.D., a Navajo surgeon and writer, notes in her book, The Scalpel and the Bear: The First Navajo Women Surgeon Combines Western Medicine and Traditional Healing: “from a Navajo standpoint, illness can be caused by an imbalance or lack of harmony in any area of a patient’s life.” Further, she states that “Their belief system sees sickness as a result of things falling out of balance, of losing one’s way on the path of beauty.” The path of beauty is “a worldview in which everything in life is connected and influences everything else.”
It takes little imagination to understand within this perspective how violence perpetrated over generations on Native communities or any other society or nation–including on the dark, disease- and violence-ridden European continent of the Middle Ages from which the conquerors of the Americas came from–would result in a powerful imbalance on every level of existence–physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual. Our bloody history is what has marred the age we are transitioning out of in 2012. It is an age of terrible deviation from the potentiality in our human nature for love and peace. It is an age of deep imbalances of the human soul.
This soul wound on a collective level in our times shows up in a persistent, deep-seated belief that violence and force will solve problems and relieve inner tension–that violence is “normal” and more real than peace. It also shows up in the rampages of young men who do not have the personality integration, self-control, or knowledge to seek out other sources of help. They are the most lost in this tragic human story of our collective soul wound.
Yet, if we deeply reflect on how King and Gandhi–each of them members of a people sorely abused and used by other human beings–worked tirelessly and successfully to end violence without the use of force, all the while invoking love and forgiveness, we have a compelling and real-life example of love can instead arise out of the ashes of pain and suffering to be a powerful, transforming force. Their actions and teachings were the first hints of a global shift of consciousness in which as a species, humanity will ultimately shed this polarized and painful experience of reality.
In my life, I recognized finally that the imbalance, or lack of harmony in my mother had been passed on through generations. As a young woman, I was also at risk. Yet, like Gandhi and King, I did something very different: I committed to a different expression of the deep will to find love. I chose to embark on a path of healing–a long, often hard, and yet ultimately rewarding path. I reached deeply into my psyche and, as I faced my own pain with courage and determination, I also touched into both the suffering and pain perpetrated both by and on my ancestors. This process led right into the very heart of love and heart.
King wrote that Jesus teaches us “that only through a creative love for [our] enemies [can we] be children of their Father in heaven….love and forgiveness [are] absolute necessities for spiritual maturity.”
Because of my personal journey, I recognize in Adam Lanza a being who is suffering terribly. When I look even more deeply, I see him as a reflection of a suffering that permeates our world today. We are still taught to hate our enemies and to seek retaliation for wrong-doing. Our media is filled with images of violence while stories of peacemaking and forgiveness are more rare. This obsessive focus on violence and the fact that so many people feel it is necessary to own powerful weapons when there is no war on this ground speaks to a great wound of the soul among us.
When we hurt inside–when we fear assault and harm from others–then we do not feel safe and loving. In that lens, we see the continuum between Lanza being overcome with a powerful need to seek out violent release from his pain on an imagined outside enemy to our own nation’s use of drone warfare on innocent Afgani civilians and our citizens’ passive acceptance of the same.
Therefore, when Venerable Dhyani says”Let us take responsibility for the thoughts we have created,” she is asking us as we leave behind an age of violence and imbalance in 2012 to look at our own wounding and to seek out alternative ways to tame the inner storms. Lanza has shown us in stark relief what will continue to happen if we do not pay enough attention to learning how to heal, love and forgive. These are actually life skills that can be learned and lead to the true force of love in service of an end to violence. There are methods known to indigenous peoples the world over that can cure of if this great illness of soul.
Because of my own healing journey, as I contemplate the end of 2012, I can assert with every particle of my being that love is the rule, not the exception. I am certain that peace will eventually prevail because, despite rampant disillusionment caused by millennia of death and destruction wrought by human sorrow, fear, greed and hatred, I know that peace is the human way. I am here to remind you of this simple truth–a truth that has been delivered to us over and over again through the ages by luminous beings like Jesus, White Buffalo Calf Woman, the Pale One, Mohammed, the Buddha, Kuan Yin, and others.
In my weblogs in 2013, I will discuss more about how we can heal ourselves by merging the best understandings and practices of Native America with western medicine and psychology. I will provide steps and and perspectives that can being each of us greater peace and harmony as we each forge a path, like a toddler learning to walk, into a new earth of peace and healing. Please tune in and join me in this great leap into the love of which the mystics speak!