On Friday morning I got a text from my friend that made my heart race.
“Making sure you guys are safe…” it read.
Oh God, I thought. What happened now? My mind raced through the recent disasters we’ve been coping with in Colorado. I quickly searched the news.
My friend’s husband works close to that cinema. He was not there during the incident and nor was I, but I have friends of friends who knew someone in that theater – and their kids were with them.
This thought overwhelms me.
I don’t have a habit of checking the local news every day. It’s not because I don’t care about my community or the nation or the happenings of the world.
It’s because I’m protective.
I’m protective of my inner calm – a precious commodity in a world filled with senseless acts of violence.
The balancing act
I started Deepak Chopra’s 21-Day Meditation Challenge this week. The course’s theme is (appropriately) love.
Without fail, at the end of every meditation – right when I truly start to go inward – the bell rings. No, give me more time… I’m just making progress! I silently beg.
And isn’t that the truth. We cling to this notion of “just a little bit more,” whether it’s about understanding suffering or bliss. Just one more news article or photo about this tragedy. Just one more minute on my meditation cushion.
Just a little bit more and I’ll have it all figured out.
In this mental race, the goal continually moves out of our reach.
It reminds me of Greek philosopher Zeno’s dichotomy paradox, which implies that in order to walk out a door, you first have to travel half the distance from yourself to the door. Then half of that, and half of that, and so on.
Before you know it, you’re not moving anywhere because half of half of half has you at a standstill. Walking out the door cannot even begin. (This is all I remember from my high school philosophy class.)
Of course, we know this is not true in practice because we walk out doors every day. Some days the doors lead to our highest highs. Others, our lowest lows.
And it feels like we’re constantly trying to balance the two.
Life’s biggest question: Why?
When tragedy happens, some of us get consumed by information. We refresh news feeds, glue ourselves to the TV or obsessively check Twitter or Facebook. Before we know it, we’re slumped in our chairs with glum expressions on our faces.
“Why did this happen?” we ask. So we feed on facts because the emptiness of not-knowing is more uncomfortable than the knowing. Perhaps we think that the knowing will make us more compassionate or connected to the tragedy.
Others (read: me) distance themselves because this kind of news awakens a deep despair that cannot be easily hidden.
But it doesn’t matter if we’re information hoarders or information avoiders: Just as the smoke from a Colorado wildfire eventually blankets North Carolina, no human action is isolated. We feel the ripples long after the action is over.
What’s frustrating is that as life moves on, many of us never get an answer to “why?”
German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche wrote, “If we possess our why of life we can put up with almost any how.” The most extreme example I know of this is prisoners of Nazi concentration camps who held on to the hope of seeing their loved ones again – and persevered because of it.
To overcome the pain of not knowing why, we have to come up with our own whys.
Finding your great why
The flip side of tragedy and suffering is life’s abundance of love and happiness. Finding your great why – what helps you to persevere during tragedy – is just a matter of looking in the right place: your heart.
Life’s give and take is like my dog Willow on the search for her ball. Upon finding it, she brings it to me with the expectation that I will take it away, only for her to continually find it again. She plays the game until she gets tired and needs to take a break. And then the game resumes.
Happiness is a lot like this. We find it in ourselves, and then something (whether ourselves or others) takes it away.
With so many opportunities to lose happiness, we have a right to shield ourselves from our triggers – the local news, pessimistic people, anybody who takes our ball away.
We have a right to sit still and look into our hearts and ask, “Why?” before we chase after the ball again. The world needs more people who stop and ask why.
We also have a responsibility: to share the happiness that results from our mindfulness, and trust that when we give it freely, it will come back to us in ways we can’t even imagine.
As Louise Hay, author of You Can Heal Your Life, says, “show up and serve who is in front of you.” You may never know how or who your inner calm serves, but know that it does.
Spreading your inner happiness, even if you’re not especially happy in the moment, is one of the greatest whys of life. It’s this positive energy that makes people think twice about hurting others.
Every moment we breathe is an affirmation that we’re not done yet — that there’s life left to live. (click to tweet this)
How will you use your breath? Maybe it’s saying “I love you” more often, to yourself and others. Maybe it’s spending your time on your yoga mat by breathing first and moving second. Maybe it’s sitting still, listening to your breath and realizing that your love can change the world.
Bad things happen, but if we hold on just a little bit more we’ll realize that everything is going to be okay.
What helps you overcome the pain of not knowing why tragedy happens? Share in the comments.