Mindfulness, Heartache and Horror: Reflections on the Sandy Hook Tragedy

The news of the horrific tragedy that occurred at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut yesterday has been an earthquake... shaking and cracking the very foundation of what we thought we knew and believed. It is a call to awaken to this day, this moment and look life and love and loss and pain squarely in the face.

I had been providing professional supervision to a group of play therapists in training yesterday morning before any of us heard the news.  We had watched a video clip of one of the therapists providing play therapy for a four year old child who had experienced terrible domestic violence and was traumatized as a result.  Together we observed and discussed how powerful it is to provide a space for a traumatized child to feel heard, accepted and valued without having to do or fix anything.

When I went home for lunch, I heard the news.  I had another supervision group session at another location afterward.  I felt the initial reaction that so many of us did in my body.  Breath hard to catch.  Tears stinging eyes.  Heart ache.  I sat with those sensations and all the thoughts that began jumping about in my thinking brain, the question most all of us asked: "Why?!"

I took a few minutes to mindfully observe all these sensations and feelings and thoughts.... I caught my breath and found my center of balance and went on with the day because people were counting on me.

We addressed the tragedy in the next supervision group in terms of how there will be a ripple effect and we will be needed to help children and parents experiencing vicarious trauma and high levels of anxiety.  I was amazed and so proud of how strong the therapists in this group responded. We are human but we are trained to help and we are here and ready.

Right after I completed that two hour supervision session my daughter had an outdoor winter choral concert. As I was driving her to the concert there was a news story that came on the radio about the shooting. This was the first she had heard.  I turned off the radio and gave her a brief explanation but encouraged her to focus on her songs, friends and performance. We would talk more about it later.

I continued to notice my heart was heavy. My husband and fellow parents arrived and we gathered to listen to the concert. Despite our heavy hearts, the good company of friends and the sounds of those children singing never felt so good or sounded so sweet as they did last night. I observed a palpable sense of deep gratitude for my children, my husband, our friends.

After the concert we arrived home and my husband and I nestled into the sofa together and watched the CNN coverage.  He reached over and squeezed my hand close to his chest. We both had tears.  I felt his heart ache as much as mine.

Sometimes there are not adequate words and there is not a thing we can do to erase the horror or fix the damage.  It is understandable we all want to know what we can do.  Somehow in the practice of gentle observation and loving presence there is a soft space that allows for healing to begin to occur.  Sometimes the most powerful thing we can DO is to fully BE.

BE present to listen with compassion to people's pain (or your own) without rushing to answer and fix and correct.

BE cautious not to rush to political action out of anger that turns into another level of war among us.

Grief is a process that can not be rushed.  It is so important to practice mindfulness at times of tragedy and great sorrow. Noticing, observing without rushing to judgment and action.

Sometimes our very presence is enough.

With a mindfully heavy heart,
Lynn Louise Wonders

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