In the wake of the tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary I have witnessed every conceivable reaction. Some want to rage about gun control and security; others want to discuss mental illness. Many want to promote peace and focus on the good. Countless are putting their energy into prayer and espousing religion while others get busy with donations. There are even a few who want retaliation against the NRA. All if it… every. single. last. thing. we are doing is a feeble attempt at making ourselves feel better. They are our personal ways of grieving, coping, looking for answers, explanations, somewhere to place the blame and something to apply a balm for our worst fears come true. All are attempts at control.
I can understand the urge to climb, stand, and die on each of these mountains. I ache to make sense of this random senseless act because I know as humans, if we can contextualize it, if we can fit it neatly inside a label in our heads we can go back to feeling safe again. We can relax a little and cuddle up with a nice, reasonable explanation of why it won’t happen to me.
And then we can all go on ignoring the real issue at hand– the condition of humanity.
Why do we hurt each other, and ourselves? This basic question of self-inflicted human suffering swirls around in my thoughts daily. I ruminate to sleeplessness over human behavior, motivations and masochistic tendencies. My friends frequently implore, “Shannon, stop analyzing everything?!” My reply is always, “Damn it! I wish I could.” These thoughts are second nature to me and it is the fuel for why I write. I know that stories of humanity hold enough power and weight to change the world… hopefully like the one I’m going to tell you now.
My marriage is struggling. I don’t know what’s going to happen. I’m in therapy. A close relative is falling down the hole of addiction tethered to a spouse and three precious, young children. My 60-something parents lie awake at night, knotted with worry. This was the pain and suffering in my personal life before twenty children and six women were mercilessly murdered by a man whose been described as, “just a kid” an,”ordinary guy” and “seemed normal.”
I’m not saying Adam Lanza was “normal.” For sure there is a degree of mental illness involved, the extent of which has yet to be revealed, but please keep two things in mind: 1) Research suggests that most perpetrators of “rage killings” do not appear to have active psychotic symptoms at the time of the event, and very few have histories of prior contact with mental health services. It would appear that Adam Lanza did not. And 2) Mass “rage killings” are a relatively recent phenomenon in human history.
Mental illness aside, doesn’t it make sense to look at what is happening in our society through a much broader lens than mental illness, gun control and/or the prevalence of religion? Aren’t there truths about the human condition that are universal? Things that lead to a collective nodding of heads instead of more battle lines being drawn? Shouldn’t we start by asking the hard questions about our own human condition, first? Maybe, instead of what makes Adam Lanza different from us, we should ask what makes us all like Adam Lanza?
There are parallels in all human suffering. No one is free of heart ache and pain and right now, RIGHT NOW it feels paramount to dig as deep into the root of these things and investigate all possible causes and solutions so that no one else has to die… on mountains, in schools or otherwise.
I’m not talking about the families of the victims. They are victims themselves. I hurt for them physically and emotionally. I am talking about the “painfully shy” Adam Lanza’s, the alcoholic relative insistent upon destroying their life, and yes me, the anger addict struggling to connect with my spouse.
The writing of this essay started before December 14th. It started with this picture of a meth addict. I was compelled to use all my faculties of left-brain creativity and right-brained analytics to discuss what could possibly make a person do something like this to themselves:
This is a progression picture of a meth addict over six years. It is part of a campaign to create awareness of the physical effects of meth use over time. When I saw these pictures, I did not see the drastic deterioration of a physical person. I saw the drastic deterioration of a human soul.
But then Sandy Hook Elementary happened and I couldn’t help but draw the parallels between what this young woman has done to herself, and what Adam Lanza did to helpless children.
Humanity suffers from the same affliction in varying degrees. Not all of us will commit heinous crimes, be alcoholics, meth-heads or anger addicts; but the same affliction lies at the root of our self-inflicted pain and the urge to self-destruct. The affliction is disconnection.
I have written many times of the light and dark, ups and downs, the yin and yang of life. There is a balance to nature and energy in this world. It is an ancient spiritual wisdom correlated by the laws of science.
In our world today our ability to numb, distract, disconnect and ignore has never been so easy. With the swipe of a finger across the screen of a smartphone we can avoid our lives, have an illusion of connection, while sitting comfortably alone. This ease at which we are able to keep the world at arm’s length behind a screen has had an equal and opposite effect of desperate disconnection from each other and our inner lives and of whatever one calls God.
Sounds almost counter-intuitive right? How have we become so disconnected in a world where it is so easy to connect?
The answer is shame. Shame is a powerful and painful emotion. Shame is what makes us hide, duck, shirk, defer and numb. Never has there been so much to be shameful about when connected to a world that is so big, so glossy, that has so much to desire and so much to compare ourselves to. It’s quite easy to feel hopelessly insignificant and ordinary in this world. Shame is the by-product of one central, core belief we all have in varying degrees about a variety of ideas:
I am not enough.
The reason we feel that we are not enough? We look at this big glossy world and we feel inferior and alone. Lonely. We do not see past what we want to see. We do not recognize the divinity that lies within ALL of us. That divinity that makes us the same; connects us to each other; the part that tells us that we are not alone, never alone; that we are not so different, that we are all basically the same and that we are all loved no matter our flaws. The divinity that tells us that we need to be nothing other than who and what we already are. In a word (that means so may different things to so many people) we are disconnected from God.
This human condition of shame and disconnection is a vicious cycle. It is one that I have traced and re-traced a million times in my life. The more I disconnect, the more I feel alone. The more I feel alone, the more I self-destruct.
In light of what is happening in my own life, and now, in darkness of the events in Newtown, Connecticut, my hyper-active analytic right/left brain kicked into overdrive. I sat down one day, when I should have been doing something else, and what poured out of me was the following flow chart of The Human Condition. It was my attempt to understand my own disconnection and the cycle of toxic thinking that plagues my life, my relatives, the meth-addict you see above, and perhaps, too, the painful shy (i.e. painfully alone) Adam Lanza.
It has taken me years to come to these conclusions. I could provide a bibliography along with the number of hours spent analyzing human behavior, but would that make this any more, or less true? The true test of its validity does not lie in a text-book but if you can see yourself on this treadmill of pain. If you do, then I welcome you here. I welcome you to connect with me to explore our humanity together. I have worn path after path along these lines and I am trying, with stories, awareness, yoga and seeking a God-centered life to stay connected to my life; to heal my own pain and if I am so honored, help others do the same.
This isn’t about religion. Religion can be a road map to God but it is not the same as God. It’s a road map that has been helpful in my life. But religion does not own the only connections to divinity and anyone who insists their religion is the only way, is continuing to draw lines that divide and disconnect humanity. I’m not interested in that, but I will respect you all the same.
I am also not a professional. I do not have a list of letters behind my name. I am just a person who thinks a lot about people and is willing to share my stories.
I also read a lot of books on the human condition. Lately, I must give credit to someone with an impressive resume whom I’ve been connecting to; the incomparable Brene Brown, Ph.D. I have watched her Ted talks and I am reading her book, “Daring Greatly.” This woman, she is brilliance. She is the perfect mix of left-brained, creative, compassionate wisdom, and right-brained, structured analysis. This happens to be the exact dialect I speak.
If you are reading this and you can hear me; if you can connect with anything I have written, then know you are one less lonely person and now, so am I. If we can create a collective web of less lonely people, no matter their dialect, no matter their religion, perhaps no one will slip through the cracks again.
You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye. ~Matthew 7:5
Pain removes the veil; it plants the flag of truth within the fortress of a rebel soul. ~C.S. Lewis
All that we are is a result of what we have thought. The mind is everything. What we think, we become. ~Buddha
Grief can be the garden of compassion. If you keep your heart open through everything, your pain can become your greatest ally in your life’s search for love and wisdom. ~Rumi
And we say Namaste: the divine in me honors the divine in you.