You and the Terrorist: A Shared Humanity

Yesterday morning, as I prepared to leave my apartment to teach a class, I read the news of the tragedy in Nice, France.

I had a dharma talk planned for class already.  I was going to discuss the ego’s attachment to plans and read inspiring quotes from Pema Chodron about going with the flow in the face of uncertainty.  New York has driven me to become a more rigorous calendar planner than ever for fear of precious time wasted, and when things go awry, my anxiety peaks.

But reading that piece of news immediately brought so much sadness, and discussing any of my personal issues seemed far beyond insignificant, like minor inconveniences.

Only one month ago did I read the tragic news of the Orlando shooting right before heading to teach a class, and again, feeling like my planned dharma talk was too far removed from the present circumstances, I heavily contemplated what I could possibly share, what I could say to inspire anyone coming to a yoga class to recharge his or her mind, body, and soul.

Then it became clear that yoga has everything to do with terrorist tragedy.

I’m completely aware that terrorism is a big picture issue requiring a systemic political and cultural solution that I couldn’t begin to understand.  But thinking about terrorism, and many other world issues, only in this way can leave us feeling helpless, removed and unresponsible.  

I believe there’s a ground level perspective to terrorism, and it’s this: You and I have something in common with the man that drove that van.  You and I have something in common with every terrorist.  It’s frightening, but it’s enlightening at the same time, that we share a very basic need for human connection.  Every terrorist acts from a place of emptiness, a place of desperation to feel connected to someone, to something, a place where the seed of love that we all shelter has not been nurtured and grown.

You and I as individuals may not be able to create a systemic change that will save the world, but you and I as individuals can so powerfully affect other individuals in our lives every single day.  We can cultivate that human connection with every single person we meet, whether we come across friends or strangers, the elderly or children, those who share our race and ethnicity or those who are different, those whom we already love or those whom we feel we hate.  Especially toward those who are so different from us, people to whom we assume we cannot relate, if we remember that we all have something so fundamental in common, maybe we can start growing that intimacy, allowing a compassion to become infectious and spread beyond the few people in our lives to whom we already feel close, to people we don’t even know or understand.

But how do we cultivate this connection without first being connected to ourselves?  WIthout first being connected to the only truth we know, that which is our own?

It’s why we practice Yoga.  It’s why we come to our mats day after day.  It’s why we work so diligently to apply what we’ve found on the mat to our lives beyond the mat.  That fuzzy warmth, that calm, that momentary peace we cultivate after a practice or a meditation, can we hold onto that, and as we take it out into the world with us, can we offer it to someone else?  Like a gift, a wordless exchange that acknowledges our shared secret: we are the same, and we want to feel connected.

Keep practicing.