“This will be our reply to violence: to make music more intensely, more beautifully, more devotedly than ever before.”
— Leonard Bernstein
— Leonard Bernstein
My mother sent this quotation along today. Said she and her music teacher colleagues had been sharing it.
It struck me as appropriate. We all try to make sense of how to respond to tragedy in our own ways, our own languages, our own modalities. You can see that in the outpouring of "struggling-to-make-sense-of-this" articles in the national media.
I've been hesitant to write anything since Friday's tragic Newtown school shooting. Social media was immediately flooded with thoughtful sentiments, stories of heartbreak and the like. But I felt weirdly quiet. Was tempted to rant about Buddhism and suffering and how there's so damn much of it in the world, and isn't this just yet another reminder, here in the midst of so much glitter. Feeling the heaviness and all-pervasive quality of that suffering. But even that observation felt trite, and pathetic, and inadequate, and small.
So I shut up, and just read, and listened.
Was strangely hungry for news updates as the story unfolded. Listened to the live press conference with the Governor and the police department as I drove home. Kept checking my few go-to news sites for more ghoulish details all day. And even as we headed out the door to a holiday gathering Friday evening, the shooting was foremost on my mind.
But, as I drove to Oakland to teach this morning, I thought to myself, well, shit; what do I do to mark this tragedy in a way that feels at once mindful and respectful and aware but also refrains from slipping into the neurotic or the hamhanded, the clichéd, the patronizing? Because what the hell do I know about this massive experience of suffering and loss, and haven't I been sitting here going to holiday parties and baking cookies and making small talk and drinking wine and generally going on and about with my usual routine even though 28 souls are absent from their own daily routines?
I sat in that grey space for a bit, feeling inadequate and hopeless and unprepared. I listened to Sharon Salzberg teach on equanimity. And my mind went to metta (loving-kindness) meditation. And I knew that that simple boundless-heart practice, interwoven with song and breath and the unitive power of the chant, was all I needed to offer.
I'd read the Bernstein quote right before I left the house. And I felt Leonard's words beat in me as I moved through the morning.
Sensed the rhythm of the practice especially deeply, that driving, solid Ashtanga beat that echoes the metronome of a heartbeat, and we sang, and I felt the music of it all, and I bowed to all those hearts pumping at the same time in that sweaty room, and heard the silence echo after the last note rang out, and it was all we could do, this morning, that is, there in the wild and cold and bizarre juxtaposition of so much light and celebration and normalcy with so much suffering and shadow and pain.
That, and ban guns. There is no fucking need for gun ownership in this country. Amend the Constitution already. End of story.
Ahimsa. We do less harm.
Satya. We speak the truth we can no longer avoid.
Asana. We sit, we yoke the mind to the breath, and we find ease, sukha, even for a fleeting moment, for all those who suffer dis-ease, those sitting in dukkha, in suffering.
And then we sing out.
We turn to the arts. Because there are those moments of life for which the rational is simply not enough.
This is Bernstein's. It's one that I've loved for a long time — decades, really. Dear to my heart. And one which sends me straight to that place of poignant complexity, wherein suffering and ease and sweetness and pain all intermingle to speak to that ultimate beautiful mind-fuck of being alive.