How to Make A Difference in a Culture that Rewards Violence

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In the wake of unrelenting grief, anger and gun violence, I invite you to consider how we can make a meaningful difference today, tomorrow, and the day after that.  Like it or not, we need to move forward together, here and throughout the rest of the world.  I am referring to the latest act of senseless gun violence that may have occurred in your town.  I cannot imagine what it is like for those directly involved, especially for those who lost a loved one through an act of senseless violence.

We cannot physically be everywhere at all times to lend a hand, comfort one another, or provide education to lift the consciousness of those who suffer from the disease of hatred, ignorance, malcontent, or popularly accepted ideologies that divide instead of unite.  And before you separate yourself as one who does not divide (as so many of us would like to believe about ourselves), I ask you to reflect further.  Have you ever divided without awareness or compassion as part of a cultural, religious or political ideology that justifies separating others, making them wrong, because their ideology is different from yours?  Have you swiftly denied catastrophic events in developing nations because you don’t think they have anything to do with you?  It can seem a lot easier to claim that “we can’t do anything to support others,” yet there is something we can do to make a meaningful difference right now.

When I lived in a remote area of India, a major earthquake devastated significant parts of Nepal, and as you may be able to relate, I felt helpless (along with many others) while we mourned the devastation that took place just a few hundred miles away.  My initial instinct may be the same as yours when you heard about the latest shooting, “What can I do?”  Sometimes, we try to forget quickly because we feel so incredibly helpless and the pain feels unbearable, so we deny the humanity of our emotions.  This may seem like the only thing we can do when we don’t have a mature emotional IQ to effectively sort through and process such traumatic events that actually do affect every one of us on the planet, just by simply knowing about it.

I learned something powerful on the morning of that particular earthquake.  My teacher in India boldly invited me and others to make a difference through our morning meditation and yoga practice.  I did not understand.  How could my meditation and yoga practice make a difference for people suffering in Nepal, just as you may be wondering how your practice of mindfulness can make a difference for those affected by violence in your town or a city near you?  My teacher explained the power of becoming mindfully aware of everything we do, and devoting our daily tasks, big and small, spectacular and mundane, to those who are suffering.  I still didn’t understand, yet I tried it, and the impact of this mindfulness practice continues to pump through every beat of my heart today, making a significant difference in my life, and in the lives of those around me.  

You may have noticed that when you’re feeling up, your mood impacts those around you.  When I’m feeling cheery and upbeat my husband is influenced by this and mirrors it back to me.  I’ve also noticed that when I’m feeling doubtful or low spirited, this can also impact my husband and the way he feels when he’s around me.  Some say that the way we feel and show up in any given situation will either “add to” or “detract from” the space and the people surrounding us.  

Whether we’re aware of it or not, our energy and intentions are ALWAYS impacting those around us.  When we become conscious of showing up with expanded awareness, we may cut out complaining, comparing or judging our partner, child, parent, boss, coworker or political candidate, and take responsibility for how our energy is impacting those around us. With the power of our attention, we get to notice profoundly subtle and obvious effects that we have on one another.  

And it does take a commitment to be mindful, let’s face it, it doesn’t take much thought, skill, or awareness to toss around thoughtless stink bombs that spread ripples of emotional toxins throughout the air and rooms that we live, work and breathe in.  Before I discovered mindfulness, I was an offender myself (and still can be when I slip into old patterns of unaware thoughtlessness, whether it be complaining, judging myself or another, or making senseless comparisons that do not uplift or inspire anyone in the room).   As I write this, I am writing to myself as well as to you.

I can tell you with certainty, that every time you knowingly or unknowingly bring another person down, they may be likely to bring the people around them down too.  The ripple effect isn’t anything new to those who are in recovery programs, and research shows that a minimum of 40 people are impacted by every one person who abuses a substance.

Those who take meditation or yoga classes with me, know that at the beginning of every session I invite participants to be mindful and dedicate their practice.  I ask every participant to create a silent intention that has purpose and meaning for them.  Then, I ask each participant to dedicate their practice of meditation or yoga to a particular individual or group.  Some examples might be to devote your practice to those impacted by a recent shooting who are grieving, in pain, and suffering.  Or perhaps to those who live in your community or around the world, who are hungry, thirsty, homeless, enslaved, struggling with addiction, issues of control, feelings of unworthiness, fear, being unloved, feeling like they don’t belong, racism, sexism, ageism, lacking compassion, living in bondage or an experience of profound loss.  Or, you can simply devote your practice to ALL those who are suffering (which in some ways is all of us, isn’t it?).

Today, I extend that bold invitation that was offered to me in India, to you.  I invite you to “dedicate” and “commit” everything that you “get to do” today, tomorrow, the next day, and so on, to someone or to a group of sentient beings who may be in need.

Consider increasing awareness around all that you do and experience.  See what it’s like to infuse every action with mindfulness and an intention to uplift yourself and others.  The list of possibilities is a long one, and you can sincerely dedicate anything that you “get to do,” eating, brushing your teeth, making your bed, driving your car, riding the bus, walking the dog, dialing your phone, brushing your hair, getting dressed, reading this post… 

Like many things I share with my clients, I ask that you do not take my word on this practice.  I invite you to consider doing this practice for yourself and notice firsthand the effects over the next 21 days.  If you forget to be mindful, start this practice all over again for another 21 days, and so on.  No complaining, judging, or comparing–become conscious of expressing appreciation for all of the things that “you get to do” in life, even when you’re asked to pay an unexpected bill; talk with a former partner who doesn’t exactly make your heart sing; or bump into someone who you believe intentionally mistreated you.  Remember those who you are devoting your practice to, and that you “get to do this” of your own free will.    

The power of this practice exceeds words and only you will discover how adding daily mindfulness will uplift, inspire, encourage, you and others.  And after all, isn’t that we all want at the end of the day, is to know that we made a meaningful difference?  You may never know how your acts of mindfulness inspire someone else, or gets paid forward in the scope of daily life.  

Your energy is not contained by time or space and has the ability to either pierce the great veil of dismal despair, uplift those around you, or weigh yourself and others down.  Just like currents of water that smooth away sharp edges of stone, so does spreading gratitude, smiles and appreciation eventually whittle away pointy edges of sharp religious, cultural, and political ideologies that divide us instead of unite us.  Becoming mindful of dedicating the many things that you “get to do” throughout the course of a day to those who are suffering, can lift your awareness, your spirit, and the spirit of all those around you.  Chances are, you may never know how your refreshed awareness will ripple through the fabric of humanity, uplifting others through simple acts of mindfulness and devotion, for all of the little things we “get to do” every day.  

May you experience upliftment and inspiration from this practice of mindfully devoting your daily actions towards others. 

With love,
Denise Dolan
Cofounder, LOVE. LIFE. WISDOM. LLC
Live the Life You Want & The Love You Deserve

This article was originally written in June 2016, in response to the Orlando Shooting. Since then, gun violence has become more “normalized”, and this article was edited to reflect upon all violence in our local communities.

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