While our “Good Neighbor City” was reeling from a senseless grocery store massacre, I was in the middle of a six-week mindfulness course. During class, we reflected on what happened at Jefferson Avenue Tops and lit candles as a sign of remembrance and support.
Throughout these weeks I explored meditation, gentle yoga, and loving kindness. I learned how science proves the psychological and physiological value of these ancient techniques. The benefits, as I have experienced them, go far beyond relaxation and stress reduction.
My stated intention was to try to find a way forward in my life, a new direction for my soul. But when the tragic reality of mass murder hit home, I found more questions than answers. Yes, we need broad societal changes to combat outrageous acts of cowardice. But as debates continue over gun control and new laws to combat domestic terrorism, I have to ask, “What else can we do?”
I have come to believe that mindfulness can be a key tool to help stem the tide of brutality and hatred. If social media and violent games are powerful enough to inspire evil, what about the constructive force of self-care? What about the lasting impact of a compassionate heart?
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When I read about people who had just come from shopping or working at Tops that day, I saw how vulnerable they were. How could this random group of people going about their daily business pose a threat? Of the 10 people who died, more than half were women; six were over 60 years old.
I read moving tributes reminiscent of the victims’ acts of kindness: the wife visiting her husband every day in a nursing home, the father buying a birthday cake for his three-year-old child, the protector facing the ultimate tyrant. Many were caregivers, teachers, advocates and dear friends.
These Buffalonians may or may not have practiced mindfulness, but I think they held the values that meditation seeks to remind us of and reinforce. We can consciously work to establish peaceful connections with ourselves and, by extension, with others in our lives, our community, and our world.
I can’t begin to understand the inner workings of a mind that thought – and then acted – on such an atrocity.
Yet many – myself included – need a way to deepen human relationships. Just as cruelty and fear are conditioned and taught, so is giving, contentment and commitment to others.
Mindfulness offers a way to look within, focus and forgive, then go out and live with care and attention.
Without a doubt, we would have a more peaceful and tolerant world if all of us 7.9 billion learned and practiced these techniques from an early age. It is therefore important to expose children to these positive ways of being and thinking. I was delighted to learn that some local libraries and YMCAs offer yoga classes for children as young as three years old. Books and videos for preschoolers introduce toddlers to the general concepts of meditation.
Young brains are flexible, but studies show that older brains can be rewired through the hard work of mindfulness practice. Can I rewire my 60 year old brain? I am not sure. But I already feel more centered, more present, and more willing to let things go.
I know the process is not easy. It takes effort. But in a world where darkness so often seems to trump hope, perhaps mindful living can bring some light. One person at a time.
This may be a starting point.
Suzanne Kashuba believes that everyone can benefit from mindfulness.