I’m writing this on the heels of one of the deadliest mass shootings in modern U.S. history: the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, FL. Being a South Florida native and current resident, this one hits very close to home. In fact, it’s the third in a series of mass shootings that have occurred here in the past 3 years: In 2016, it was the Pulse nightclub in Orlando. In 2017, it was the Fort Lauderdale International Airport. Now, in 2018, it’s Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School.
Even if you’re not directly affected by an event like that, it can still be extremely unsettling, and can shake you to your core. If you’re feeling challenged, as I have the past few days, the following steps can help you to move through it mindfully.
Pause and breathe. Hearing about a mass shooting or any other kind of public tragedy can be shocking. It can put you in a state of panic and make your heart race. It can also put your senses on high alert or create that strange feeling where everything around you seems to slow down.
Instead of following the urge to immediately call or text someone to talk about what happened, just sit with the reality of it for a moment on your own. Take a few minutes to slow down and take some long, deep breaths. This will increase the supply of oxygen to your brain and stimulate your parasympathetic nervous system, which will help you to feel calmer. You’ll also be able to think more clearly and communicate more effectively, with less tendency to fall into a low-vibrational “gossipy” conversation when you do talk to someone.
Don’t spread the news like gossip. I’ll never forget when a new friend called me a few years ago to tell me about a celebrity that died tragically. The news had apparently just been released, but I wasn’t aware of it yet. When I answered the phone, she said excitedly, “Oh my God, did you hear what happened?!” I hadn’t heard anything and was really upset when she told me. We had met recently and didn’t know each other too well at that point, so my response created an awkward moment. She was expecting me to match her energy with my response, but I didn’t.
She meant no harm by it, but I’m sure she didn’t take a moment to let the reality of the situation sink in before calling me. To her, in that moment, it was just gossip. But to me, it felt icky. I have since learned that gossiping has been found to increase levels of the “feel good hormone” oxytocin, so it makes sense as to why people do it. But since there are many other ways to get your oxytocin fix, try to be mindful and don’t use a tragedy as a reason to release those feel good chemicals.
Limit your attention to the media. When these types of tragedies occur, they are all over every media outlet and constantly being updated with the latest breaking details. Instead of letting yourself get swept up in the media frenzy, limit the amount of times you check for the latest news, including social media. Hearing and seeing too much of it, especially if it’s from a sensationalistic news source, can cause anxiety and stress to build up within you. Limiting the times you check, and listening/watching mindfully when you do, will help you to stay grounded, keep your anxiety level down, and maintain a macro view perspective on your life and the world as a whole.
Take a moment for self-reflection. Life is always happening, and it includes both things we consider to be good and things we consider to be bad. When “bad” things happen, whether to you personally or in the world, you can use them as an opportunity to look within and ask yourself where you might need to grow or change. This can be extremely difficult for some people, and some may even be offended at the idea.
However, for those of us that have had the revelation of “oneness,” it is a lot easier. When you realize that we are all connected through the energy of life itself, you also recognize your individual energetic contribution to the planet, and are continuously striving to be, do, and give your best. A key to that is reflecting upon your own words and your own actions, and being open to seeing where you might be falling short.
For example, a mass shooting is an extreme expression of violence. At its core though, violence is behavior that involves the intention to hurt someone or something. Even though you may never do anything as extreme as what we’ve witnessed lately, try reflecting on your own behavior and seeing if there’s anywhere you may have (or have had) the intention or desire to hurt someone else, including with your words or even just wishing it in your mind. If you have, allow yourself to admit it and think about why – what triggered that in you? Maybe it was because you felt hurt. Maybe you were stressed out and lost your cool with someone. Whatever it is, it’s okay. Don’t beat yourself up about it. Instead, think about a healthier way you can respond next time and then put it into practice next time something like that comes up.
Take action. Once you’ve gotten past the shock of the situation, think about what you can do to make a positive contribution, regardless of how big or how small. Sometimes, a public tragedy strikes us so close to home or affects us so deeply without explanation that we are forever changed and feel compelled to be part of a greater movement and solution. Other times, we feel called to help in less-involved ways, or maybe we just don’t have the time to dedicate to a large movement. Either way, the question usually arises naturally in our minds. We ask, “How can I help? What can I do to help with this horrible thing that has happened?”
Whatever you feel called to do, regardless of how big or how small, do it. Even if it’s a random act of kindness you do for a stranger who has nothing to do with the tragedy, it counts. Your energetic contribution to this planet counts. Your kindness on this planet counts. You never know how far-reaching your one small act of kindness can ripple outwards. You have no idea how many other people it can positively impact. Your act of kindness means less violence in the world, not only for you, but for the person you help and maybe every person they come across that day. You have no way of knowing, but your one small act of kindness could prevent someone else from doing something harmful – to themselves or others.
I hope the steps I have shared above have helped you. They can’t erase what happened or make everything better overnight. But if you put them into practice, you may be able to process these kind of events a little better, and even make the world a better place.
Some final words…
This latest shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School has stoked the flames of a strong intention I’ve had to be part of the solution – not just the solution to the recent trend of mass shootings in the U.S., and specifically Florida, but violence in general, on a global scale.
I truly believe that most of the violence plaguing our planet today would dissolve and disappear entirely if human beings knew how to process their emotions, deal with traumatic events, and had higher levels of empathy. Unfortunately, at least in the United States, we are not teaching our children the skills they need to be emotionally and socially intelligent. Our primary focus is on developing their intellectual intelligence, and the ramifications of that severely lacking initiative have been showing up in horrific ways for years, including these mass shootings.
But enough is enough. It’s time for that to change. It’s time to slow down, zoom out, and look at what we’re doing – to look at what’s happening as a result of us offering our children a fraction of the education that is needed in order to be a healthy adult. It’s time for progress. It’s time to see our children as complete human beings and educate them as complete human beings, empowering them with knowledge and skills that will help them win their own inner conflicts, and prevent them from becoming adults who commit violent, external conflicts.