I awoke today in the dark pre-dawn hours with the news of the Las Vegas shootings. A familiar and heavy pain in my heart deepened as I groaned, “Not again!” Over my morning coffee I scanned my social media accounts, scrolling through comments that have become heartbreakingly commonplace: “When will it be enough?” “What is wrong with this country?” “How bad does it have to get?”
Amid posts filled with heated debates over ineffectual gun laws and rampant hatred and mental illness are also the cries of hearts like mine that have grown weary of these all too familiar tragedies. We want something to be done. The ache of loss and grief has become too great. We long for it to stop.
Anger surfaces. We wonder why our leaders, while mouthing their regrets, do nothing to stem these terrible violent massacres of our brothers and sisters. Still, we summon the grace to offer up prayers of sympathy and support, to find deep compassion for all who are impacted by yet another horrific display of violence. I search my mind and heart for meaningful solutions but any answer that comes seem pitiful and inadequate.
Perhaps the violence we see on a daily basis is the result of many, many years of emotional suppression. There are few safe places where we can admit to our anger and hatred and desire for revenge. We may find little room to express our neediness and feelings of inadequacy. We may not have the courage to admit just how much we resent our demanding children, our indifferent partners, our needy parents. We may find little tolerance from others for our aching exhaustion or acrid bitterness or the bottomless grief we feel so we shove these unwelcome thoughts and feelings deep into our subconscious.
Though it frustrates me to no end, I must admit I do not have the answers to these complex, many-layered questions that have been centuries in the making. What causes violence is complex. Our mind, in an effort to soothe our ever-expanding fears, wants simple, straightforward answers, though our heart knows that none exist.
What I do know, however, is that in order to continue to put one foot in front of the other and continue to live a meaningful life, I must enter my inner landscape and to honestly confront all my feelings regarding any event that triggers a discomfiting reaction. This includes the dark emotions as well as the light ones. This means I must both find my joy, and confront my own violent thoughts. I must learn to embrace all of me. I must look to whatever this violence calls out in me.
We are emotional beings. Nothing happens in life without either an emotional impetus or a reaction, Yet we remain strangers to our inner landscape, one that is rich with feeling. Perhaps what we all need during these very trying times is to examine the ways we have both embraced our emotional selves, and where we have committed abandonment.
Here’s what I know about the dynamics of emotion:
All emotion calls for expression. Emotions by their nature demand movement (expression). We will express our emotions in either balanced or imbalanced ways, depending upon our relationship with them.
Suppression always causes imbalance. The minute we begin to suppress or judge or deny any emotion, we drive our feelings into the dark recesses of our fearful minds where they fester and become caustic.
Disavowing our suppressed emotions separates us from our power. When we cannot or will not own our dark thoughts–the ones where we carry a secret desire for revenge or hatred or punishment or indifference, we remain impotent in affecting a change. Since all emotion demands expression, these dark thoughts are destined to erupt with varying levels of intensity, the most extreme of which is violence. We often take out our suppressed feelings on those we love the most.
Expressing our emotions requires the courage to become vulnerable. We all need a sacred witness to our pain. The most courageous thing we will ever do is to admit to ourselves, to God, and to another human being the truth of our darkest feelings. This should never be done casually, however, or without assurance that who we reveal our failings to has the integrity to hold our confession in confidence, with a compassion that is free of judgement.
Having compassion does not condone action. We can find compassion for another soul whose heart has been crushed beneath the weight of their destructive behaviors without absolving them of the responsibility for their actions. One way of creating peace in our hearts is to offer a means for restoration for the harm we may have caused others. We can also do this for ourselves. We must learn to tenderly love our most wounded selves while being fully accountable for our words and actions.
Forgiveness is the key to compassion. Forgiveness is a deep letting go of our attachment to our pain. It is not the absolution of another’s hurtful actions. It does not mean that our pain was not valid or that our heart was not wounded. Forgiveness unties us from the belief that we are our painful past. To forgive ourselves is the most courageous and healing thing we will ever do.
We are not meant to heal alone. The weight of our shame, bitterness, rage, grief, and fear can be crushing, at times. Loneliness amplifies the burdens we carry. We can feel shunned and unloved, that we don’t belong. It may seem there is no way out of our darkness and we slip further into despair. Without others to offer compassion, encouragement or another perspective to our problems, it’s easier to entertain thoughts of harm to ourselves or others. One of the most courageous things we will ever do is to ask for help. The next most courageous thing we can do is to offer help to another in need, no matter how uncomfortable it might make us.
Perhaps the thing we need the most to quell the explosion of violence in our communities is the thing we need the most in ourselves: To be heard. To be seen. To be honored. To be understood. To be loved. To belong.
Spend a few moments today examining your heart space for all the thoughts and feelings this most recent tragedy has triggered. Try to do it with tenderness and compassion, and with utter honesty.
Melody A Scout is an author and Intuitive Spiritual Advisor. Her deep connection to the natural world has influenced her work as a Sacred Landscape Consultant and Plant Spirit Medicine practitioner. She is currently writing a book called Soul of the Seasons which explores the wisdom embedded within the seasonal cycles of the natural world and how to find balance and joy in both our inner and outer landscapes.