In A Mad World

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I’m caught between two strange things. The overwhelming love I have experienced in those around me in these recent weeks, and an act of great violence committed in my hometown.

On this side of the world, I’ve the fortune to welcome Kunzig Shamar Rinpoche–the lineage holder of the Karma Kagyu tradition, numerous translators, teachers, artists, center coordinators, and even friends from back home in California to today-home in Dhagpo. I had a kitchen so crowded it was easier to walk out the front door, around the house, and in the back door to get something on the other side than just to cross the kitchen. It felt like how I always imagined Christmas would feel when I was small and still believed Santa Claus was a person and not an idea and a love you have to create.

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I had help from all corners to prepare the house, welcome the guests, and make the food. This is the one shot I managed to take and I can’t even take credit for the aethetic awesomeness of this plate. I can, however, thank my lucky stars for having such a rad team. What could have felt like an insane catering event instead felt like an epic family reunion.

So there’s that.

And then there’s the fact that a young man, a kid really, killed six people and himself about a week ago in Isla Vista, the college town near Santa Barbara.

When I heard, my first thought was, “Ow.” And immediately after, “Again?”

I think I’m pretty much stuck there.

Killing is bad. I get this. But I can’t bring myself to feel horror at some one like Elliot Rodger. A lot of that ow is for him. People who feel loss and grief have at least enough joy and love in their experience of the world that they have something to mourn for. I can only fathom that people who take life have an experience of the world so bleak and anguished that the taking of life is conceivable because life is a hateful and valueless wretch. I wouldn’t want that existence for anything, not least because of harm that comes out of its confusion.

After the initial pain wears off, for victims, and perpetrator, and society as a whole, my own confusion sets in. Why does this keep happening? Gun control, media, pharmaceuticals, antiquated gender roles. The list is long and the issues are complex.

One person in the room said this: “Population control; somebody’s gotta do it.” The blackest of humor in a rather dark moment, but it points to deeper questions. Is the violence of modern times really new? Or have the methods for violence simply changed? In what way is violence societal and in what way is it human and individual? At what level do we address violence juridically, scientifically, or sociologically? And at what level do we choose to take responsibility for our own violence?

I held a handgun once for the purpose of sport, but couldn’t bring myself to lift my arm, the thing felt so treacherous in my grasp. I’ve never taken a human life, but I’ve considered taking my own. I have felt terrible pain and wished for others to feel pain. I have tried to do good and wound up causing harm.

My point is that the domino topple from plain human experience to outward violence is not simple and not external to any of us. Some of us have better tools and better luck but even when we’re not committing the violence, we are subject to it. Coordoning off those who seem dangerous in order to feel safe only maximizes the risk. The deeper our sense of self and other, the easier it is to harm. If something feels foreign enough, it no longer feels real or valuable, and that makes it easy to destroy. I don’t deny that the world is mad, but I do think we’re in this together. Working on that understanding, as individuals and as a society, is the only thing I can think of right now to improve our current conditions.

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