The pandemic saw an alarming rise in gun violence in North America. What could be at the root of it? What could be the trigger that impacted someone’s mental and emotional well-being so drastically for him or her to pull the trigger on others? A gun cannot kill by itself. Someone needs to pull the trigger on it. How do we help someone who is compelled by a personal trigger to kill?
Aristotle said that the “Mind is in a sense potentially whatever is thinkable, though actually it is nothing until it has thought? What it thinks must be in it just as characters may be said to be on a writing-tablet on which as yet nothing stands written: this is exactly what happens with mind.” On the other hand, the French philosopher Jean Jacques Rousseau explained in his Tabula Rasa (blank slate) theory that people were born naturally innocent and at their best. Their minds were imprinted by ideas based on the experiences they had. That brings me to the question of our role as responsible adults, as parents, guardians, teachers, celebrities, and role models, in nurturing the next generation. Who are we being or what experiences are we creating for the children we are responsible for?
As a mother of four and having a background in teaching, I often think of how they might be dealing with strong emotions like fear, jealousy, anger, and despair. There is a rapid increase in violent virtual experiences that our children are exposed to. I am concerned that the next generation is becoming a social if not anti-social because of the way they are hooked on to the internet via phones and computers.
Children these days are adept at handling virtual realities more than they can handle real-time human interactions. Playground experiences demand real-time skills of team spirit, problem solving, inclusiveness, compassion, acceptance, appreciation, and the opportunity to develop the muscles of forgiveness and gratitude. There is no pause button and restart mode available to give just one child full control and the experience of having it one way only. The home scenario is also impacted. The acts of living room conversations are becoming popular on YouTube video shows and the idea of family time might be something like having a movie night or watching a favorite television show together. Where is the opportunity for healthy interactions that would perhaps come from cooking a meal together or cleaning a room together or gardening together or even playing a board game together? I often wonder if our children are being raised as social individuals by us, human beings, or if electronics are taking over their lives.
Why are mental health issues rising so rapidly? Why are children and youths not happy? Why do they need guns and violence to feel safe and powerful? Why are they living in survival mode?
After life is lost, punitive measures cannot undo any permanent loss. So instead of a cure, what could we do to prevent gun violence? How do we fortify the minds of our younger generations so that the existence of guns does not allow them to contemplate violence and destruction? What if that was not an option to deal with their struggles and insecurities?
Having searched for answers to these questions to raise and nurture a peaceful and harmonious generation, I realized the significance of nurturing a peaceful and healthy mind and spirit in ourselves first. As parents, teachers, guardians, caregivers, celebrities, and role models in any capacity, there is an urgency for us to cultivate a personal culture of practicing peace and tolerance too. Children can sense the stress of parents who are not getting along and heading toward a divorce. Children can sense the stress of a teacher who is overwhelmed with her problems. The onus is on us, responsible adults. To take on the challenge of eradicating gun violence, we need to first learn to deal with our own strong negative emotions and learn to consciously embody peace in ourselves first. Only then can we spread that peace in our families and immediate surroundings.
How do we practice peace?
Plug into You
The first step towards practicing peaceful existence is to learn to be alone, in solitude and silence. We need to learn to stay with the initial discomfort, restlessness, or fear of being alone. Be aware of the “monkey chatter” in the brain and just learn to be with ourselves however we may be. This is the first lesson in acceptance. If we are not aware of ourselves and in acceptance of ourselves, we will not be able to master being in acceptance of others. We need to relax our minds and body and find strength in that relaxation.
Emotions are impermanent. When intense emotions bother us, one way to deal with them is to put our focus on our breathing. I try to teach this to my children. One day, as I was feeling stressed about dealing with a challenging situation, I was re-centered and realigned to my natural state of being in a simple sentence from my then-eight-year-old daughter. She happened to observe my stress in just the way I was breathing. She stood in front of me and led me to reset by just saying, “Turtle breathing mommy” while she demonstrated it for me.
By walking I mean walking consciously and mindfully, connecting with every step and walking to slow down and take a break from our daily hustle and create an opportunity of connecting to the beauty of Mother Earth, choosing to be present to the flowers in full bloom or the chirping of birds or the fallen autumn leaves. We can ground our bodies and feel a sense of belonging to this planet. I have often caught myself smiling when I go walking in nature. It is a blissful experience.
Sitting in Meditation
I begin my day by sitting in meditation. The magical time of 4 am works for me. I have closed accounts for the previous day and had a restful sleep. My mind is blank; what could be a better time to be mindful and connect my body, mind, and spirit in alignment? A peaceful and composed start to a very abundant day for a solo mompreneur.
I close my eyes and focus on my breath and chant. Sometimes I visualize. My heart expands and I experience my spirit soften. My mind becomes fluid. Often, I have found myself getting into a state of creative flow and writing some of my best poetry right after meditation.
Children don’t learn from what we preach and speak. They learn from what we do and learn to participate by bringing in their versions of uniqueness. To impact violence and eventually overcome it, passing on the practice of peace to the younger generation is more important than ever.
Once we have acquired the habit of practicing peace, we could then share it with our family and friends and make it a part of our family culture. Incorporating family time in our routine to include nature walks or a few minutes of sitting meditation, yoga, and breathwork will help ground our younger generations in the practice of peace. Playdates could include a choice of mindful nature walks, yoga, storytelling, or even a few minutes of sitting meditation.
Going back to Aristotle and Rousseau’s philosophies, to harness violence of any kind, we cannot fill our minds with thoughts of resisting violence because we would still be thinking of violence. Instead, we could choose to surrender our minds to peace; we could choose to train them to think with peace. We could choose to fill it with experiences of peace. The choice is a conscious effort. It is doable, one person at a time. Each one of us needs to first take responsibility and practice peace in our everyday lives.