The Trouble with Trigger-Happy Gun Critics: An Op-Ed on Vox’s San Bernardino shooting article

The first time I met my abuser he told me the story of how he almost choked his ex-girlfriend to death.

Instead of feeling alarm I felt moved by his honesty. I saw beacons of potential instead of burning red flags. I trusted that because he made a mistake and disclosed it to me, I was safe.

Two years later, after continuous coercive control and psychological abuse, I saw the smoke and left the relationship. He threatened to stalk me at my house, harassed me with e-mails, and even pressed a false “attempt to commit fraud” charge against me (it was dismissed).

What I didn’t know then was that I was in the most danger of my abuser when I decided to leave him. According to statistics, an abused woman is 70x more likely to be murdered by her partner when she leaves him.

The Vox article “San Bernardino, California, elementary school shooting: what we know so far” describes a murder-suicide of a schoolteacher by her estranged husband as a “school shooting.” They emphasize the need for firmer gun control laws and cite the stream of school shootings occurring in the last few years. The article writes,

“The shooting is a devastating tragedy. But also the kind of event that Americans have become increasingly familiar with over the past several years. And as the country deals with a level of gun violence unmatched by other developed nations, the question has often turned to what restrictions on firearms could help reduce how many shootings happen year after year.”
School shootings are tragic. But an equally devastating tragedy is a misrepresentation of facts surrounding a silent epidemic where 1 in 4 women will experience domestic abuse in her lifetime and 1 in 3 female murder victims will die at the hands of their abusers. Painting this episode of domestic violence as another example of a senseless school shooting is reckless. Skewing the context to make another call for stricter gun laws is manipulation. Instead of grieving “another school shooting,” it is time we grieve for the quiet loss of another dead wife.

School shootings are a problem in this country.

Gun violence is a controversy that continues to be debated.

But one of the biggest epidemics in this country is shrouded by trigger-happy gun critics who skew facts to champion their cause. San Bernardino is not just one more senseless, sick citizen shooting up a school with access to generous gun laws.

San Bernardino is an example of what domestic violence looks like in our country: deadly and distorted.

Prayer for Difficult Times

I’m learning softness is a discipline in its own right- though more subjective and internally-oriented than the fierce idealism of right action- it is equally vital to the process of realizing my potential.

 

Imposing more standards and expectations doesn’t compel my will to action, to be swept up in the winds of idealism; it guts any semblance of assurance I have left and leaves my reservoirs of worthiness to bleed out beneath the knife of ‘not enough.’ It is so humbling to watch my mental faculties scramble to relieve themselves of sitting still with this experience. Limitations rally instincts and scoff at patience. Already I am planning loftier goals, enticing projects to incite me to launch into a new cause, more glamourous ambitions.

Why is the solution to “I cannot” always “I must?”

Why is the cure for the pain always the pain?

The delusion is circumvention-the freedom, staying where ego bids I leave, forgiving what is limited, base, and secondary; I am not who I would like to be and this fissure is the cradle where my Maker does his work.

 

God:

Hold my pain for me.

Help me find beauty and worthiness here; help me let go of deeming or rejecting; help me unfold your graces in the impasse of my expectations and where I stand.
Help me find the soft edges of what feels burdensome and unrelenting-help me to pause in what prompts my aversion, help me to let go of doing in what calls out to me for patience.
Let me know your forgiveness: for what requires staying, for what agitates me to run, for what doesn’t budge under my best efforts.
For you I lay down my lashing and surrender to seconds I swore were too long for you to find me. Anything that breaks me is yours: each crack, your foothold, every agitation, your steward; let me know your strength in my restoration, my strength in your beholding me as a rightful daughter and heir to the heavens I renounced in my insistence I do not deserve, I do not deserve, I do not deserve.

Self-abasement is a ruse. Brokenness, a translucent shroud. What breaks me is destined to bring me back to love. Only love is real, this mattering, the only truth: I am yours.

Amen.

On seeking, practice, & Manju Jois

I am a seeker never satisfied with answers. I have a mind programmed to probe, question, and analyze. My least favorite word is “no” and I despise simple answers to complex questions. Yet the greatest growth I have experienced as a human being and the greatest healing I have received as a yoga practitioner is in the forgoing of the territory of the intellect and stepping into the domain of experience.

A month ago I attended an intensive with the foremost authority of the lineage from which I began my studies, Manju Jois. Manju is the son of Guruji, the deceased “father” of ashtanga yoga, a very ancient system of yoga. I had not seen Manju in two years and was eager for my roots to re-grasp the soil from which my practice began.

Manju’s teaching style is very straightforward, hands-on, clear, and simple, with a touch of playful humor. His genius is not in the details, but in the world of experience. He has over sixty-five years of experience teaching, more than anyone else living today, and being in his presence effortlessly invites trust and surrender into the hearts of his students.

I am always tickled by other practitioners’ questions for Manju:

“Manju, how many Surya A’s and B’s?”

“How far away are the feet in Trikonasana?”

“What is Mula Bandha?”

Manju tells us that in no traditional yoga texts do they discuss physical minutiae so often emphasized by Western yoga teachers, but only the philosophy and sacred geometry of the asana.

“Yoga is a flow,” he reminds us when another practitioners asks about correcting hyper-extended elbows in Prasarita Padottanasana. “We don’t want to disrupt their flow. It is natural problem.” And without blinking an eye, he moves on to the next practitioner working on an adjustment with another student.

His words are both reminder and invitation: to not get lost in the details, to surrender to the greater cosmic current of divine knowledge by simply showing up, unrolling the mat, and making a beginning. Through steady, patient practice I provide the groundwork for these unseen forces to infiltrate my heart and my life. For me, yoga is not acquiring, attaining, or accomplishing. As Manju says: “ ‘Yug’ means unite, and yoga is to unite within.”

Yoga is the practice of uniting within, of shedding layers of who I think I am and what I think I know to effect a contact with the eternal self and coax her out of subtlety and into full expression. It is my intention to continue to practice with full measures, learn with an open mind, and cultivate reverence in my heart for the teachers that inspire such a process.

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God breaks our hearts to keep them open.

“We are not alone. We are privileged to carry in our blood and bone the wisdom of those who have gone before us. We carry their lives, even in the face of their deaths. In each of us there survive the lives of those who gave us life. In our children, and in our brain children, our own lives go forward. Faced with the loss of a human love, I turn to the divine love within me which can accept that loss, embrace that loss, and carry forward the beloved whom I feel to be beyond reach. God is in me and I am in God. All that ever was, still is. We are a divine energy, a divine life. In our dying, we live again. In our living, we die again. There is no loss which is not a gain carried forward. In my moments of greatest sorrow, I am touched by the joy of having loved. In my times of greatest loss, I am still loved. Love is not lost through loss. It is found more fully. I cherish the love my loss has helped me find.” -Julia  Cameron, The Blood of Life Flows Through Me p. 23

 

When I was seven years old, I was scolded in church for making fun of my aunt. My grandfather had just died, and as my family attended church services that week my aunt was visibly and audibly upset. My response was to laugh rather than comfort. I did not understand how someone could be so lost in their grief.

 

When I was eighteen years old, I visited my grandmother in a casket. I stared bleakly at the weeping and the mourning, the dramatic spectacle of individuals torn and alive in their grief, the reflections, payings-of-respect,  and comforting shoulders, and still stood very apart and un-feeling. There was no poking fun at, only a quiet numbness that muted any human need to reach or lash out. I still did not understand how someone could be lost in grief, and I hated myself for not feeling any.

 

I am twenty-one years old, and I have yet to encounter a death that has touched me deeply; a death that has made my heart ache and my skin feel too tight, a death that has made me feel empty, cold, or guarded.

 

The loss that I have encountered, however, is this “loss of a human love,” that Cameron describes. I have lost relationships, lost opportunities, lost dreams; lost my own love and appreciation for what was once a gift and joy in my life and I have had others lose their love and appreciation for me. I have lived through circumstances that forced me to confront hard, permanent facts, and the principal fact present in every single one of these circumstances is that I am completely powerless over everything in life.

 

When I experience a loss, I am forced to confront the most humbling reality of the human experience: my finiteness. In fully coming to grips with this finiteness, I come into contact with my extraordinary lack of power in not only dictating my life and the lives of people around me, but a lack of power so severe that it denies me the ability to both create life or take it away. The more I embrace this powerlessness is the more I embrace the power and the choices that I do have in my life today when I align my finite self with the infinite Creator, or the smaller part with the larger whole, or more plainly, me with God.

 

To live deeply means to experience both love and loss. There is a great bliss and terrible pain in choosing to “live deeply and suck all the marrow out of life, to live so sturdily and Spartan-like as to put to rout all that was not life…,” as Henry David Throeau writes in Walden. The more I choose to extend myself and love is also the more I choose to hurt, to encounter my lack of power, to touch the center of my sorrow and in this agonizing moment discover my humanness.

I once heard a speaker say, “God breaks our hearts to keep them open.” To overcome heartbreak means to feel this grief, transmute it, then celebrate it. There is a wild, vibrant ecstasy in birth and death, in triumph and failure, in beginning and end. Loss serves not to deplete us of our love, but to open ourselves to its resilience and strength.

The Love Equation

               “… in life, each person can take one of two attitudes: to build or to plant. The builders might take years over their tasks, but one day, they finish what they’re doing. Then they find they’re hemmed in by their own walls. Life loses its meaning when the building stops.

Then there are those who plant. They endure storms and all the many vicissitudes of the seasons, and they rarely rest. But, unlike a building, a garden never stops growing. And while it requires the gardener’s constant attention, it also allows life for the gardener to be a great adventure.

Gardeners always recognize one another, because they know that in the history of each plant lies the growth of the whole World.” –Brida, Paulo Coehlo (p. xiv)

            The relationship of God to the human being has been a mysterious question perplexing the world’s greatest mystics, seekers, and students.  In developing my own personal relationship, I have been introduced to amazing women with practical, active experiences with applying spiritual principles to their life to nurture this relationship further. I am reminded of one woman’s words: “A gardener doesn’t grow, he provides the conditions for plants to grow and God does the growing. A doctor doesn’t heal, he provides the conditions for the body to heal and God does the healing. And people never change. People provide the conditions for their character to change and God does the changing.”

             This idea of becoming an active channel and allowing God to work through me forces me into a humbling position. On one hand, I have to accept my inconsistencies and inabilities as a human being. I lack any power in deciding the course of my life. I never do for myself; the most I am capable of is becoming open to God’s grace and allowing it to flow through me, guiding my actions. On the other hand, I become empowered when I choose to accept this grace,  discovering choice and opportunity in all of my affairs. And if I were to accept this grace, allowing my Creator, a magical alchemist responding to the intentions of a physical environment, to work through me, then what of love? If I am not responsible for any kind of transformation and solely responsible for building the conditions for the transformation to occur, then what exactly is love but a reaction to conditions, an impartial, consistent result of an equation that occurs when I plug in the right variables? And how am I to build these conditions and then trust that their result is divinely-inspired, divinely-delivered, and divinely-ordained? Are my choices as limited as surrender to this system or defy the laws of God?