The killings in Arizona reminds us that there is no spiritual teaching of any depth that encourages us to avoid what’s really going on. In fact, authentic spiritual practice is always grounded in facing what is, and then responding from profound openness. Perhaps being silent is the perfect initial reaction to tragedy, where we take stock, surveying our interior landscape, and meeting what arises with total relaxation. However, it makes little or no sense for any of us to feel that an appropriately spiritual response to violence is to remain silent. Doing so can mask an attachment to our interpretation of non-attachment.
The recent tragedy is an opportunity for practitioners to move as long as it is done with care and attention. Doing so, as long as one is inspired by a free-functioning presence of grace, helps one to embody the enlightenment she seeks. And while this grace may show itself through us as something silent, it may also show up as some type of thoughtful exchange, welcoming the cooling of inflammatory speech. It also, we must realize, might sound like the full-throated roar of a lion. Whatever it’s form, it is our sacred duty, as people committed to staying on the path, that we respond to life in conscious ways. All of the time.
Perhaps this is why Jack Shafer’s response in Slate this morning offers each of us a chance to explore our experience. In his response to violence this past weekend, he concludes his argument by saying:
Our spirited political discourse, complete with name-calling, vilification—and, yes, violent imagery—is a good thing. Better that angry people unload their fury in public than let it fester and turn septic in private. The wicked direction the American debate often takes is not a sign of danger but of freedom. And I’ll punch out the lights of anybody who tries to take it away from me.
I have nothing against Mr. Shafer, nor do I feel any anger toward him or any one else, regardless of their view. But his words epitomize what helps continually reinforce unwholesome egoic displays.
So what’s the way out? The Dharma suggests an Eightfold Path as a way of keeping true to our deepest intention of living enlightened lives. One of the most significant elements of the path is Right Speech; an important gift that any of us can offer any person, in any situation at any moment. Right Speech is nothing other than a full expression of generosity. Right Speech is precisely what gets us past the very egoic clinging that Mr. Shafer and others use in order to inspire, perhaps unwittingly, others’ brutality in both word and deed.
For those of us who are concerned that the relationship that we have with our media can exacerbate harmful speech and action, it may appropriate to let a skillful and resonant roar of “Stop!” into the current circus of Samsara. But this is appropriate only so long as our mindful call is free from personal gain. Only as long as it is free of any trace of ill-will. Only as long, paradoxically, as our articulation is free of even the slightest attachment to things being any different than they are. Participating in this way allows the tragedy of Arizona to afford each of us an opportunity to awaken to what is beyond self and other, and move consciously into places of deep compassion and care.