I had spend a wonderful weekend with my colleagues, mentors, and MUIH cohort at the Symposium for Yoga Therapy and Research, emerging to find myself immersed into a local yoga festival right outside my hotel. The weather was perfect, I felt calm and focused, ready to rededicate myself to helping my clients feel the same energy I cultivate every time I set my feet firmly into my personal practice.
The first thing I heard when I turned on my car radio was the sad news about the Orlando shooting. One more deranged, mentally ill, fearful, hateful man somehow able to buy weapons and slaughter dozens of people just wanting to have a fun night on the town with friends. We can agonize (and have) for years over how often this happens in our "civilized" nation, about how to keep guns away from those who should not have them, hear endless commentary attempting to make sense of the killer's state of mind and whether those who knew him (and it always seems to be a "him") noticed anything alarming without ever wondering what we can do for ourselves; how can WE change ourselves to help build a better, saner, safer community?
I've been reading (finally) the groundbreaking book "The Body Keeps the Score" by Dr. Bessel Van Der Kolk that lays out in clear language how trauma affects the brain, how the conscious mind may not be able to make sense of traumatic events while the tissues of the body record the memories in every cell. Those at the Pulse may not remember what happened but their bodies will. It is my sincere wish that they all find some way to process this horrific event - talk therapy, somatic therapy, gentle massage, yoga - so they can find some measure of peace.
But what about the shooter? He died at the scene and so cannot tell us why he felt such hatred for gay people. Was he a victim of early trauma that perhaps he did not consciously remember? Was he gay and unable to accept himself as he was? As details emerge about his often violent relationships with others we could perhaps speculate that in the past he must have been abused in some fashion by someone he trusted.
This book also notes that mindful movement like yoga and tai chi can help a traumatized person process their experiences without having to relive them, that their brains gradually rewire themselves away from the fight/flight/freeze center towards the rest/digest/restore areas. While adults need to make the effort to heal it is increasingly possible to offer generalized yoga classes to children in their schools, to at-risk children in specially designed classes with trained teachers, and specialty classes in trauma-sensitive yoga for those who know they need help but haven't had much success with medication or other therapies.
We must do all we can to prevent acts of violence by helping create conditions that nurture and provide safety. The first step is cultivating peace in ourselves.