Supporting Victims in the Aftermath of COS Shootings

On Saturday, I was approached by a community leader wanting to know victim and community impact after a shooting. As a shooting survivor, I have an intimate view on victim support after a mass shooting. And in light of both of the recent shootings here in Colorado Springs, I wanted to let the community know how victims are impacted, and how to move forward.

This is a long post in Q&A format. I kept it long because I feel these ideas are important.

How do secondary victims get help despite being secondary?
First, let’s define what a so-called “secondary” victim is. Victims can often be people you aren’t even aware of. They’re of course the people we quickly think of – friends and family of those who were killed (primary). But there are many others – “secondary”.

For instance: there were people that watched either shooter kill his victims. There were people that heard the gunfire of either event. There were people that lived on the streets where the Halloween shooter began or enacted his rampage (I happen to live on that street myself). There were the hundreds of people who had to shelter in place in the Centennial shopping center on Friday afternoon for 5 hours. There were the hostages that were trapped inside Planned Parenthood until the police were able to extricate them.

In other words, there are a LOT of victims. And it’s easy for them to go under the radar, because unless the news media exploits their story (and I do mean exploit, I’ll explain later) they are unknown to the public.

If you are friends with either a primary or secondary victim, it’s important to know that the experience most likely changed their life forever in some way shape or form. Right now is a time for you to know some mental health first aid:

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If you don’t know what to say – don’t say anything. The BEST thing you can do is to be present, gentle and supportive. Cliched statements such as “well, everything happened for a reason” are much more harmful than helpful.

If you or someone you know was a victim and need more professional help, there is a Community Crisis Recovery Center set up right now to provide resources. If the victim is in the police report, they could be eligible to have mental health costs covered by the 4th Judicial District Victims Assistance Fund (also present at the Community Crisis Recovery Center).

If not covered, many therapists work on a sliding scale – I am putting together a list of COS Trauma Therapists here. AspenPointe also has a 24/7 Community Crisis unit. And if you are on the UCCS campus, utilize the Counseling Center. They have many quality LPCs and PhDs that can provide effective counseling or mental health services.

Also, of great service to me has been the Rebels Project online Facebook group. It is a group for victims of mass shootings and traumatic events to share their experiences with people who understand. This has given me personally a lot of support when I am triggered or processing something.

If you are a secondary victim, your experience is no less important or impactful than if you were a primary victim. If you are feeling fragile and jumpy, it’s okay to get help. If you are feeling frozen or numb, it’s okay to get help. Tell close family and friends what is going on. Ask for support. Find a good therapist. The better support you have, the more likely you will be to emotionally recover.

 

How can the community engage with this somewhat new reality?

It’s important to be aware of mental health first aid, especially knowing that there are many people impacted that you’re unaware of. Be aware that people will have a variety of triggers.

Mine, for instance, are screaming, loud bangs, and men who are behaving in a erratic way. I can also get triggered by news of new mass shootings, if I read the news too much. Sometimes I have to stay off social media after news of mass shootings. I used to also be triggered by sirens, emergency vehicles, and car accidents as well. Other people will have different triggers.

If you know a victim (primary or secondary) be very aware of this. Don’t shut them down for reacting in certain ways. If they literally run away from situations, if they hide from certain things, if they freak out for no reason, this is ALL normal. Those are ALL things that I have done.

Be very cognizant of what you say. For instance, there is a lot of talk right now about how college campuses utilize trigger warnings. It helped me immensely to have trigger warnings. I went to college after my sisters were murdered, and it was by far the place I felt most unsafe. I had a professor who warned the class about a video interview with a serial killer. I was extremely grateful because then I could choose to leave class before sitting there in shock.

I also experienced one of my worst triggers in a class in which a professor made an extremely inappropriate joke about the Aurora shootings. I was dissociated and couldn’t pay attention at all for about 20 minutes. So be sensitive to survivor experience.

Another huge thing is to realize that we will be dealing with this for years to come. It’s been 8 years and I still have triggers, albeit fewer than I did even 2 years ago. As a community, it’s important to ensure that supports remain in place on a continual basis.

We often forget the massive impact of traumatic events because of the media’s short cycle. Realize the victims are probably still processing in some way, shape, or form, even years later. Churches, community organizations, businesses, and schools should be especially aware of this as they endeavor to support their members.

And for the general population – if someone shares with you that they were affected by these events and are still processing, suspend judgment and just be present to their story. Listening and providing your emotional support (without having to say much beyond “I’m here”) is the best thing you can do. But, don’t be afraid to ask what happened! It helps after the media spotlight goes away to know people still care. A good way to ask is, “Do you feel comfortable sharing what happened?

 

While many people have an experience of losing a loved one, how is this different when it is in the public eye?

This changes the experience drastically. There is a whole set of expectations that comes with your tragedy being seen by the whole world (or your whole town, state, etc). Here are some expectations I’ve had placed on me, and my responses.

People (especially the media) expecting victims to tell their storyNo one is constrained to tell their story publicly, even if the media covered the event. It’s up to the person involved. We as victims make the final call on whether we share or not. But, DO feel free to ask us as victims about what happened. A good way to ask is, “Do you feel comfortable sharing what happened?” This leaves it open for us to say yes or no. Often the “yes” or “no” depends upon how safe we feel sharing with you.

People expecting victims to react a certain way emotionally when telling their story (crying, being very upset, etc). – Everyone deals with things differently, and trauma can further distort that. Just because I’m not crying doesn’t mean I’m not upset. But if I’m crying that doesn’t mean I’m falling apart, either. Maybe I’m just having a rough day. Suspend judgment about reactions and realize all of our stories are different.

People having certain ideas about what victims are going through, based on media reports.As victims, we may or may not be shattered by what happened. We may or may not be “over it and stronger as a result.” The media does not reflect our personal feelings most of the time.

People having assumptions about victims beliefs/politics based on media reports or where the event occurred.In my shooting, just because it was at a church doesn’t mean I’m still a Christian. Just because an armed guard took down the shooter doesn’t mean I’m pro/anti concealed carry. Victim beliefs and politics are not necessarily in line with public assumption. Just because a victim’s shooting happened at Planned Parenthood, or as a result of open carry, doesn’t mean their specific beliefs/politics align with the popular assumptions carried around those places or ideas. Be careful to not assume stories based on media representation or current political climate. Let victims tell the stories. Our beliefs are not a way to further a political platform, unless we choose to use them that way ourselves.

People seeing the fact that victims do sometimes choose to tell their story publicly, and telling them that “they’re so strong” for being able to do so.What you see in a victim may not be strength or peace. It may be shock. My repetition of the story immediately afterwards looked like strength, because I didn’t break down and cry. As a matter of fact, it was not strength or peace, it was shock.

Not being able to have your private grief, because the media is looking at you – but then when media moves away, feeling abandoned – When the media is around, the public is completely involved in victim’s private grief. But conversely, when the media turns away, it can feel like the whole world has forgotten about you. Both suck. When it’s public, I felt like I couldn’t grieve the way I wanted. When the media turned away, I felt like my grief didn’t matter. It’s a catch 22. In this situation as a community, we can make sure we continue to support all victims of these tragedies months and YEARS to come (recovery takes years, my friends).

 

 

With the sharing of information at our fingertips, entities are constantly trying to beat each other to this “social equity” , up to the point of obtaining it within minutes of an incident or positive ID.  Have you experienced the feeling of someone using your experience for their gain in social capital? 

Yes. The media especially is skilled with this. I’ve recently chosen to begun sharing my experiences more in the media, in the interest of shutting down the “sides” mentality we have around gun issues and encouraging more dialogue. (This is my position, not necessarily the position of other victims of shootings) When I share, I find my words get skewed. I am often made to sound more traumatized than I actually am. People love disaster stories; I call it disaster porn.

An example: I have widely shared the Gazette article I was recently in because it maintains my greater point, but some of the material was skewed. For instance, I did not hear sirens when I delivered food to the Penrose ER on Saturday morning. [Editthe Gazette has since edited the article]

People often use victim’s stories to further their own aims or viewership. I implore you, local media – please do not exploit victim’s stories to improve your ratings. Be compassionate and aware. And as a community, we all need to be careful that we don’t exploit victims for our own ideas or political platforms.

Are victims of gun violence also a victim of the current politics of gun violence?  Can it be a double whammy (victimized from all sides)? Is there additional impact when the violence speaks from other political arenas?

In a word, yes. This is a huge area where the media can take advantage of victims. Currently, the media tends to portray sides within the politics of gun violence – pro-gun or ban guns. I personally have expressed a middle view of dialogue first, action or possible reform second. I have to be extremely careful how I word this, because if I don’t word it correctly, the media will portray me as being on one side or the other.

After I wrote my letter to Congress, many responses were revictimizing. The worst were people asking me about the armed guard Jeanne Assam that took down Matthew Murray in my shooting. Several people asked me why she didn’t play into what I wrote.

Their questions were indicative of wanting to convert me for one side or the other in the debate (in this case, pro/anti concealed carry). Problem being, they were not at New Life Church that day, and I was. Their attempt to tell me what to believe/write about was revictimizing. It was an attempt to steal my voice as a victim and to use me to further their own politics.

I can’t speak for the victims in these past two shootings. However, my experience has been that victims have a variety of political views, just like the general public does. Therefore:

It is not up to the public to assume any victim’s stance by seeing their status (i.e. police officer), situation (i.e. shooter openly carrying rifle) or where they were on that day (i.e. Planned Parenthood clinic). None of these things give us any real insight on victims’ political views or beliefs, and to assume and place labels on them is to revictimize them.

It is up to the victims of these shootings to state their political beliefs if they so choose. Until then, no assumption should be made about where they stand on any issues. All assumptions made are an act of re-victimization and the public stealing the victim’s voices for their own aims.

 

I want to end with this: Most importantly, we are a community and we need to step forward and support our victims. We need to be sensitive to what they need right now, and careful to not re-traumatize or re-victimize. Between Halloween and the Planned Parenthood shooting, there are hundreds of victims who need us right now. These are just some simple ways that we as a community can support them for the months and years to come.


 

If there are any other questions that anyone is interested in, I am willing to write a follow up post. Please leave your questions in the comments. Commenters from Colorado Springs will have priority.

I’m also interested to hear any other thoughts or in put on this – please share!

 

 

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Tarot Tuesday

Welcome to the very first Tarot Tuesday on my blog! This is a new feature in which I’ll draw one card and then talk about how its major archetypes may be playing in your life right now.

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Major Arcana Ace – The Master

This is a major arcana card unique to this deck. And what a fitting card for this week! As you can see, there is a full moon pictured above the Master on the card. We have a full moon tomorrow in Gemini.

The card very much speaks to the archetype brought up by this moon. There is a lot of movement going on, especially of the mind. Gemini is a sign ruled by Mercury, and has the archetype of the Witness (source: Virgo Magic). Wowee! A full moon in Gemini, ruled by Mercury, on Wednesday, ALSO ruled by Mercury! That means big energetics, chickadees! Mental obsessiveness, anxiety, and rumination are stirred up a lot right now. You might find yourself pulled this way and that with all the thoughts fluttering through you.

How can you stay steady? Tap into the archetype of The Master. The Master is the Higher Self, the Witness consciousness, the mastery of self that happens when one pays attention and becomes mindful of what is happening within and without.

Remember: The Master is not something outside of you – it is the still point within yourself where you are steady and unshakeable. It is the open-hearted place where you can see with compassion all your own machinations, yet not get tricked into believing their stories. It’s that place in you that pats all those crazy thoughts on the head with laugh and a “there, there“, without getting on their rollercoaster ride.

This card called up in me as well a yoga sutra that was the theme of my teacher training: “Abhyasa, the practice, is the effort to remain firmly established in one’s own true Self; it is cultivated over a long time, through earnest and reverent energy, and with great love.” (PYS I.14)

The practice this week is: to remain firmly established in the true Self, to maintain the quiet center of equanimity at the heart of it all, and to listen to our own inner silence over the voices that want to invade.

Courage, dear hearts! With the help of the Master within, we will be able to ride the tides without being shaken.

With heart,

Laurie


Want more? I also do full tarot readings! I am running a special right now for Christmas. If you buy a tarot reading for a friend, you will receive a tarot reading of your own for 50% off! That is, buy one reading, and get another for 50% off. Input Christmas2015 in the form if you’d like to take advantage of this offer!

Tell me what you thought of this week’s reading in the comments! I’d love to hear your thoughts, reflections, and how you’ll be working with the energy this week.

Let’s Talk… About Gun Control

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For the last couple of weeks since I wrote my letter to Congress, I’ve been trying to foster dialogue with the people of the Internet and the people of my city (hello, Colorado Springs!).

This has not been easy.

A lot of the replies that I’ve received via my blog or Twitter account have been painful. Painful is a strange word to use, but that is what comes up when I transcend the flash of anger that appears when I first hear certain things: pain.

When people ask me, “What do you think about the armed citizen that stopped the shooter in your shooting?” As if I didn’t realize she was a part of my story.
When people assert that people are the problems, not guns. As if it were not bullets that killed my sisters.
When people say that laws don’t dissuade criminals. As if they don’t set norms in society of what violence equates to, as if they didn’t set the norm that the shooter adhered to.

The list goes on. Each of these replies first pierces my heart and honestly? I want to lash out.

I want to be the same exact person I see all over Twitter. Insulting, and raging, and cursing at people I disagree with. Sometimes, I admit it, I degrade to being that exact person because it hurts so damn much.

But if I can take a step back and look at it for a second, if I get curious, something happens that changes everything.

I meet people.

I’ve heard so many stories in the past 2 weeks. Stories that I am honored to carry, and that you can go read in the comments of my blog. I’ve had amazing conversations with people I would have called “the enemy”, had I continued to react out of pain.

At this point, that means much more to me than being right. I don’t want to be on the “right” side of this discussion. I want to truly meet people and hear their heart.

So while I’m now going to tell you about some of my personal beliefs about gun violence, I want to ask that you do the same. Tell me your stories. And tell me WHY you have them. What beliefs are behind your stories? I’ll trade you, okay? But let’s be people first, and issues secondary to that. Meet me here – I promise to hold your story in a safe place in my heart.

1) What about the “armed citizen” who stopped your shooting?

Several people have asked why I didn’t mention her in my letter. Here’s the simple truth: she didn’t factor into my letter. My letter was about me, what I saw and experienced. I wasn’t her. I didn’t take the shooter down. Am I grateful to her?

Here’s my story. I remember clearly when someone came and told me that the shooter had been stopped. I instantly felt weak with relief. I never wanted him dead. I just wanted him stopped. So yes. I am grateful to her. I’m grateful she was trained enough to stop him.

The follow up question to that is, what DO I think about armed civilians?

This is tricky for me. And I think there is two parts to this, because I live in a state that allows open carry as well as concealed. So I’ll address both.

a) Are you against conceal carry?

My short answer: no. I think I speak to that in my letter. I asked people to think about their responsibility if they chose to carry, and here’s what I mean by that. Imagine your daughter, son, sister, brother, friend laying dead on the ground from a gunshot. Think about the horror and pain that would cause you. And then think about whether you could inflict that harm on someone else. If you can then I think you know the responsibility of carrying and should be allowed to do so. I know there are people who can do this, because I’ve talked to them in my blog comments.

Another thing I want people who conceal carry for protection to think about. Adrenaline. I promise you, you have no idea what adrenaline will add to the situation until you are actually smack dab in the middle of it. Adrenaline also does weird things to your body. When my sisters were killed, I thought I heard shots coming from one direction. It turns out that the shots were coming from the exact opposite direction as I had supposed. Don’t underestimate the role of adrenaline. If you want to carry and you want to carry for self-protection, train in situations where you are guaranteed to feel adrenaline.

b) Do you think open carry should be allowed?

No.

Why? Here’s one simple reason. As a gun violence survivor, it is extremely triggering for me to see someone carrying their gun in public. Just a few weeks ago, I saw a man open carrying at my laundromat. It was terrifying.

Honestly, I am wracking my brain to think of a reason to carry openly what you could easily conceal under your jacket or shirt. And seriously, if you think of one, please let me know in the comments. I’ll gladly consider a good argument.

2) Is it the person, or the gun?

I think it’s both. I wrote about what I think goes on behind violence here. So yes, I think violent people are violent. BUT, I also think it’s the gun, because a gun provides an ease in killing other that no other easily-owned weapon provides. (so, I’m not talking tanks, bombs, drones, etc) There is no other weapon that makes it just THAT easy to kill someone, and that is why I think it’s the gun, too.

3) What about regulation?

So, here’s where things get tricky and where I hear a LOT of contention. The very second I mention regulation, we all get angry (me included). I have lots of thoughts on regulation, and I’ll describe them in terms of my personal thoughts and feelings.

Here’s why I think universal background checks (UBCs) are a good idea: I feel safer knowing that we are aware of who is purchasing firearms and whether they are mentally or physically able. I can feel secure knowing that if someone owns a firearm, it’s for a good reason, and I will trust that person if they ever need to defend me.

[On this subject, can someone explain to me in the comments the issue that some of you have with form 4473 on the UBCs? Still trying to learn about this]

Here’s why I think and feel licensing firearms is a good idea: If firearms are licensed, I can safely know where the firearm has come from. I can know that the person legally acquired that firearm, and again, presumably is fit to use it. Therefore I feel safe around that person knowing that they have what it takes to own that firearm. THAT BEING SAID I also have some fear around it being used as surveillance, because things tend to get twisted like that in the US.

Here’s why I think and feel laws around gun use are a good idea: I don’t feel like laws are great at stopping criminals. But having a law about what gun use is legal makes me feel safe, because it establishes that certain kinds of violence are not okay in our society. If I know that the government thinks certain violence is not okay, I feel more secure because I feel the government takes that seriously, and will protect me and any citizen who is in a situation that goes against that law.

Here’s why I think Congress should get involved: From my understanding of things, through a variety of ways Congress is blocked from allowing research funding to go to the CDC for mass shootings. I want to know more about mass shootings so we can see predicates to them – what personality markers are indicators? What are common denominators? We know none of this, and it would make me feel much safer to base any legislation off of solid research.

And now, it’s your turn, because this is about dialogue.

I want to hear from you. But I want to hear from a different perspective. What I want to know is your WHY. Tell me about YOU – Why do you think and feel that background checks aren’t helpful? Why do you feel afraid, upset, angry about licensing firearms in general? What do you think the role of laws are in our society, and why do you feel strongly about not passing laws? YOU. Not just political ideologies here. Mainly – your stories and your heart.

I look forward to hearing and learning from you.

Dear Congress – Sincerely, A Mass Shooting Survivor

Dear Congress,

I write you today upon hearing the grave news that another heinous mass shooting has happened, this time in Roseburg, Oregon. We learned today that at least 10 people have lost their lives, and at least 7 have been injured.

I write you this letter so that you can see the face of a survivor.  I write you this letter as someone who saw with my own eyes the horror of a mass shooting, a shooting that took the lives of my twin and younger sister and injured my father at New Life Church in December 2007. And most importantly I write this letter to open a dialogue about the role that gun violence has played in our country.

I say specifically to open a dialogue, because I am not strictly anti-gun. I feel that I am in a unique place to address this issue. About 3 years ago, I took a class to obtain a conceal-carry permit. After having been a victim of gun violence once, I was terrified to face it again. I still have nightmares about shootings about once a month. The need to protect myself was strong. At the time I felt that a conceal carry permit was the only way to sufficiently do so.

However, once I finished the class, a thought began to pervade my mind. What if I had to actually do it, actually pull the trigger? What then? Could I? Should I?

I thought about seeing my twin Stephanie’s face just moments after she was shot. I thought about my sister Rachel who was gray when I passed her just outside our family car that day. And I knew in that moment I could never pull a trigger against another human. The human might be someone who did something horrific. Some think I might have been able to even stop the shooter who killed my sisters. But when it came down to it, I realized it didn’t matter how horrible the person was. They were human. They had a family – a brother or sister, parents, cousins. In retaliating with a gun, I would be inflicting the same violence on the shooter and his family, that the shooter inflicted on me the day he killed my sisters.

This changed my mind about getting a conceal carry permit. Since I could not personally take on the responsibility of another’s life, I chose not to carry at all. Many have argued that I don’t necessarily have to “kill” someone, or that I could use this permit while out on one of my many hikes to defend myself from animals. However to me, the potentiality is there for me to commit harm against a human, so I refuse to carry.

I do not share this story as a censure against conceal carry but rather to share my thought process. I am not against conceal carry as a whole. What I am against is the lack of foresight that goes into it, both from those who carry, and from our government. Our government in many instances does not background check either those who conceal carry or those who purchase guns.

Why? We know that these atrocities are committed on a regular basis. We know that guns especially can be used to commit violent and heinous crimes. And yet we have little system of checks and balances to prevent these crimes from occurring. Many who argue against gun control say that it is not the gun that is the problem, it is the person. But if we have no way of checking who the person is, the gun becomes the problem.

I must say again clearly, Congress, that too many people have not sufficiently thought through what gun ownership in this country entails. I address you as well as those people. You have not sufficiently thought about what the responsibility of owning a gun means. Therefore you do not regulate it sufficiently in our government system. Because you do not regulate it, others do not either. And we come to where we are today, where people have clearly said to me, “I conceal carry because I am afraid to be in a mass shooting and I need to protect myself.”

The role of a country is to protect its citizens. You have failed to do so and now citizens feel the need to protect themselves, not realizing that the cost of this may be in human lives.

I am appealing to you today not to repeal the 2nd amendment, not to take people’s guns, but to consider within yourselves your responsibility to your people. As I considered my own responsibility towards human dignity when I chose not to carry, I ask you now to consider your responsibility towards human dignity when it comes to guns in the United States. I ask you to bear the grave burden of human life on your shoulders and decide in yourselves what checks and balances can be made to sufficiently uphold its dignity.

I ask you to open a dialogue – to see the human faces of this issue. To see my face as a survivor. To see the faces of gun owners who feel the need to protect themselves. As the tradition of my childhood says in the Scriptures, “Come, let us reason together.” Let’s make this discussion human again.

Please, consider me, and all those who have survived. I ask you, please consider how to prevent these atrocities so that others will never have to say, “I survived seeing my friend, parent, sister, shot and killed.” Put yourself in my shoes, feel what it would be like to survive such terror. And ask yourselves what you can to do prevent this madness from continuing.

Sincerely,
A Mass Shooting Survivor


I would love to hear your thoughts and dialogue in the comments. Let’s start a conversation about this. And if you agree and want to add your voice, please share this post via social media. 

EDIT: I’ve begun a dialogue post here, come join!

The thing about plants

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There are so many days that I look to my plants in my sun-room to prove that I am actually growing beautiful things.

Some days, I look at myself – my thought processes, emotional state, ease with which I can re-center myself – and feel like I’ve made zero progress. I still worry to the point of obsessiveness. I equate living with heart to living with loss, which spins me out into the stratosphere. Want to make me freak out and panic? Throw a little dash of “you’re going to lose this” or “you’re not doing the right thing” into my mental state and I’m there.

Hannah Brencher wrote a beautiful post recently about growing into “hell yes.” For me, I know that this applies to almost all areas of my life.

For a year now I’ve been craving a feeling of deep rooted-ness in my life. I was the wanderlust girl, the gypsy soul… but so much of it was just running away from myself, and I knew it. Last year I got hit with the worst depression I’ve ever experienced, and I didn’t even want to move off my couch. I stopped running and that was what barreled into me.

But along with that depression was a craving to feel the soil of my life, to really know my life by tending to it as I would a plant.

That was when the plants started showing up.

First, I bought an English ivy and a pretty little succulent. My kitten murdered the succulent right off after tasting the delicious leaves. But the ivy thrived. Then a friend gave me a creeping Charlie that I kept out on the porch all last summer until I realized it was dying out there. I brought it inside and put it on my altar and started watering it every day. I put my ivy next to it so it had a friend.

Somewhere in there I bought a basil plant so I could have my own basil. As a artisan chef of caprese salad (I could bathe in caprese, haha) I needed my own basil. So I got a basil plant, too.

Then I got a philodendron for my kitchen. I felt my little kitchen needed a spot of green, so I hung it from the roof there. But I kept forgetting to water it, so I finally transferred her to a spot in my sunroom, where she’s blissfully wrapped her vines around my reading chair.

My boyfriend gave me an orchid as one of his first gifts to me. It had a few beautiful blossoms, but part of the stem broke off because I was a little rough. I felt remorseful for my ways and so I patiently fed it water and watched in amazement as I saw it sprout a new leaf. I thought I’d killed it by breaking that part of the stem. Not so. Turns out it just needed some TLC.

Soon into my yoga teacher training (quite aptly named RootEd – obviously) I brought that same orchid to the communal altar. That weekend when I left, my teacher gifted me an amaryllis plant that she had that looked like it needed love.

I kept care of little Missy ‘Rillis and on the Spring Equinox, a green shoot popped up gloriously. I love synchronicity like that.

At this point I was catching the planting bug. I added in an African violet, a plant that I’ve had notorious issues with growing in the past. I almost killed her by putting her in direct sunlight. Now she’s slowly coming back from the grave after I set her a bit further away and stopped watering her so much. I’ll get her yet.

There’s a tender consistency that comes from growing things. You have to be patient. You’re training a new way of being, you’re coaxing a seed or a plant out of its shell. You need to give them just the right amount of water, just the right amount of sunlight. And when they burst up out of the ground, there’s a profound sense of satisfaction that you kept something alive.

Sometimes things die, too, but I’m mostly finding it’s for lack of care rather than from some mistake I made. I had a thyme plant that I killed 2 months ago because I didn’t water it enough. Poor baby. I just didn’t care enough to keep her watered.

My petunia right now is laying dormant after blooming all winter. She looks dead, but I know she just needs a rest. She had her growing season and now she’s a bit quiet. She’s an annual, so she’ll come back. I’m not worried.

I was sitting during my morning quiet a few weeks ago, asking myself what I really wanted (a question that haunts me, and that I’ve recently let go of to make more space). What came was that I wanted rootedness. And tomato plants on my balcony.

I am now the proud owner of 2 tomato plants that are lapping up sun on my porch. One has produced a few tomatoes already – it’s a yellow cherry tomato plant that’s more like a vine. Not surprising, I have an affinity for vines, there’s something about the way they twine around things like they just want to stay forever. The other plant I’m carefully tending to – water, fish fertilizer, sunshine – and hope-fully waiting for a harvest come August or September.

I’m learning a lot from my plants. About how to be consistent. To water gently every day, to pay attention to what they need, to care lovingly on a regular basis. It’s amazing how much grows in that environment.

It’s teaching me to be the same way to myself.

Violence Doesn’t Solve Fear

Today in the news we again have violence against black people, in McKinney TX at a teenage pool party, of all places. I have held my peace on my blog about this but today is the last straw for me. If you follow me on Twitter, you know I’m passionate about social justice, and in my offline life I’m a board member for the Pikes Peak Justice and Peace Commission. So honestly it’s really high time I use my blog as a platform for what I want to say about this.

First of all, I am a gun violence survivor. I watched my sisters get murdered in front of me. And because of that, I went through an entire personal evolution of how I approached gun safety in this country. At first I was fully supportive of the lack of regulation on the right to bear arms. I even went through the entire class to get a conceal carry permit. And then I thought about it.

I could not, EVER, inflict upon ANY person irregardless of how “evil” they were, the same thing that I saw kill my sisters. I couldn’t. It would break me. And I knew that if I conceal carried a weapon, that would be the responsibility on my shoulders.

So at that moment I decided that for myself, I would never conceal carry. Not ever.

Let me be clear. I am not anti conceal carry. I am not about taking away anyone’s 2nd amendment rights. But what I do think is that they should be regulated, and I have several reasons why. Today was one of them.

Why do I bring this up in conjunction with McKinney?

Because we have a country that promotes systemic violence across all platforms, to the war in Iraq to police brutality on the streets of our cities. If there is a problem, welp, we swagger on in and solve it. How? Stark Industries style: “I’ve got a bigger weapon than you.” Our entire mindset on how to feel in control (when we feel out of control) is to use violence.

And in McKinney, the police officer pulled a gun in a situation which did not warrant violence.

My dad taught me to NEVER EVER point a gun at someone I didn’t intend to shoot. My dad only ever used shotguns for pheasant hunting, but he had been given a thorough lesson in gun safety and passed that on to us. I can imagine the kind of training that officer was given, and I am 100% sure that officer was told the same thing.

Pulling a gun and pointing it at someone in a situation, because you are afraid, is never okay. Pulling a gun as a policeman, who is an officer meant to sustain peace, is even less okay.

I watched the video. I don’t normally watch these kinds of videos because they are highly triggering for me. But I watched this one. And what I saw was a man who was terrified and out of control. Cursing constantly, running back and forth, and pulling a gun on kids who had never even made out as if they were going to hurt him. The kids all just wanted answers. The cop was freaking out and trying to gain control.

I know this reaction intimately because this is exactly how my dad used to react when he was afraid. He would yell and scream and act erratic. It’s familiar to me. It’s also how I react when I’m afraid.

Furthermore, I know fear. Intimately. I would say that fear and anxiety is the number one thing I’ve been working with for the past year. And here are some things that I know. When I become aggressive, either against myself or other, this doesn’t solve my fear or make me feel more in control. It actually stirs it up further. The more I try to be “in control”, the less in control I am. I am reacting to the feeling of fear within me by trying to gain control.

On the basic, most simple level, when I am reacting to fear within myself by trying to regulate, self-police, and control myself, I am acting with aggression towards myself, and my body responds accordingly. It tenses up, becomes rigid, and my mind runs around trying frantically to generate solutions to stave off what it is I fear.

On a macro level, I see it in the United States. What we do in this country is react. Fear comes up, and we strike out. It may not even be clear what we are afraid of, but perhaps it’s the simplest and most common thing – death. We don’t want to die, so we react by trying to be in control. And in the United States (as in myself), it seems that control equals aggression.

Today in McKinney, a man meant to bring peace instead lost control and became an instigator of aggression. He wrestled a 14 year old teenage girl to the ground, then pulled a gun on teenagers who were just trying to figure out what was going on. In my mind, pulling a gun marks his intention, which sickens me. And as a gun violence survivor I need to tell you. This has got to stop.

The ways in which we approach our fear has got to change.

It is so very very easy to approach fear with the mindset of wiping it off the face of the map, whether it be with drone strikes or with pointing a gun at innocent teenagers. It’s so very very easy for me to approach fear with self-policing, obsessive thinking, and trying to eradicate it from my mind. Do they seem disconnected to you? They are very related. Outer change never comes without inner change, first.

We react to fear as a country with aggression, because we react to our own inner fear with aggression, either against ourselves or by lashing out at those closest to us. Until we begin to learn on a personal level how to respond to fear instead of react, the problem will never be solved. The problem of violence. The problem of systemic injustice – whether that be race, gender, class, or anything else.

Why? Because fear is blinding. You and I both have had the experience of fear blinding us to what the reality is. And until we can learn to respond, we will never see the truth: Black lives matter. What is more, we will never see an even deeper, more profound truth:

I matter.

So I will not self aggress, nor will I aggress against those I love or anyone else. I will not treat my shadow as though it is the enemy.

Until we can stop reacting to our shadows instead of responding in love, this issue will never be solved. So this is what I am challenging you. Are you wondering what you can do as a white person to change the systemic violence in the United States? Are you wondering how to show the public at large that black lives indeed DO matter?

Start with yourself.

Address the shadow within yourself. Stop running from it. Stop trying to fight, fade, or fix it – which are all acts of self aggression. Listen deeply to yourself. Stop reacting to your shadow by yelling at or otherwise hurting the person who triggered it. As you stop inflicting violence on yourself, you’ll naturally stop inflicting violence on others. As you start listening deeply to yourself, you’ll naturally start listening to others. You’ll naturally be moved to get involved with movements for peace and justice.

The buck starts with you. It starts with me. No one said this is easy work. But are you willing to pay the cost for change?

If so – join me.

Footnote:
First, I address this solution to white people as I am a white person and can’t pretend to know how black people need to work to solve this systemic violence. I will not speak on their behalf. But I will give other white people like myself a mode of true, heart led action.
Second, I point out black lives because of the systemic violence so obviously inflicted against them. Life in general matters, certainly, but the egregious violence against black people in our country needs to be addressed head on.

Just Keep Following (the heartlines on your hands)

Photo by https://www.flickr.com/photos/zionfiction/
Photo by https://www.flickr.com/photos/zionfiction/

Oh the river, oh the river, it’s running free.
And oh the joy, oh the joy it brings to me.
But I know it’ll have to drown me,
Before I can breathe easy.
And I’ve seen it in the flights of birds,
I’ve seen it in you.
The entrails of the animals,
The blood running through.
But in order to get to the heart,
I think sometimes you’ll have to cut through.
But you can’t…

We will carry…
We will carry you there…

Just keep following!
The heartlines on your hand!
-Florence and the Machine

I’m now down to the last couple of weeks of my yoga teacher training (say it isn’t so!). We’ve just moved into learning through the lens of the heart chakra. Each time we move to a new chakra, I’m surprised to learn the deep ways in which it is applying to me right now.

For the last couple of weeks I’ve been seeking more silence to let my heart arise, as I spoke about in my last post. My mind has this little habit of getting in the way. A lot. It chatters all day long, just nonsense. Or whatever I happen to be worrying about at the time, it chews on over and over. It reminds me of how they talk about the locusts in the Little House series, the constant chewing that Laura heard all day every day, eating up all the plants. It gives me a crawly feeling.

There’s a sutra by Patanjali that is translated by Nischala Joy Devi to mean “Yoga is the uniting of consciousness at the heart.” It is elsewhere known as “Yoga is the state of cessation of the whirling of the mind.” I like Nischala Devi’s version. Instead of focusing on what Yoga ceases to do (what I need to cease doing), it focuses on the outcome – uniting of consciousness in the heart.

This focus is helpful for me, too. I can focus on ceasing the constant chewing fluctuations of my mind, OR, I can focus on uniting my consciousness at my heart.

To those not in the Yoga world, that language is high falutin and heavy. I’m not one to want to always use the language of the group I find myself in at the time; I think it’s limiting to other’s understanding. Instead, here’s what I’d like to tell you about uniting consciousness in the heart, based on my own experience.

I have struggled with anxiety for years. It came to the forefront when I stopped drinking, but it was there beforehand. I just had no awareness of it. When I stopped drinking, I got to see my anxiety front and center. I’ve had the chance to observe it the past almost 3 years. And as I do I realize it’s plagued me since I was a small child. I grew up in an atmosphere where I was only allowed to do things if they followed “the family rules” which were inconsistent and hard to determine. As a result I developed a ridiculously sensitive conscience and what I think is the origin of my anxiety.

Doing things in a self-empowered, heart-centered way is extremely foreign to me. Beginning last year in May/June, I started switching to this mode of life. It’s the reason I stopped going to 12 step recovery, stopped my love addiction recovery, started my yoga teacher training. I selected this teacher training mainly due to the empowerment aspect of it. I’m not seeking another person to tell me what to do. I’m seeking an empowered life.

It’s not easy. Because it requires finding the “still point in the turning world” (as e.e. cummings says) and rising out of the dark of that silence to quietly pursue what my heart prompts of me.

I have a different view of the heart, also. There’s millions of life coaches on the internet right now preaching following your desires, finding work you love, that kind of thing. While this has its merit, I think it can get a little skewed. Because in many ways I think you first have to reveal the heart. Which is another reason I took up Yoga. Yoga is all about learning to reveal the heart that lies beneath.

So yes, follow your bliss. But first – clear the mirror so you know what your bliss IS. That’s the message for me. Follow the bliss, from the True Self and the true heart center. Easy? Not necessarily

(maybe it is for you, each person is different in their journey). But worth it… most likely. I don’t know yet, honestly. I’m still learning. I just know that I’m really tired of living by the dictates of other people and I want to empower myself.

Maybe that means walking in the dark for awhile before I find myself, but maybe the unknown, silent, dark is where it’s at. As one of my favorite poems says,

 There is in God (some say)
A deep, but dazzling darkness; As men here   50
Say it is late and dusky, because they
        See not all clear;
    O for that night! where I in him
    Might live invisible and dim.

– Henry Vaughan

Sometimes God/the Divine/my Higher Self is found in the dark. So I’ll just keep following these heartlines on my hands.