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When I woke up Monday morning, the first thing I saw was a BBC alert that 50 were dead in a mass shooting in Vegas.  I just cried.  It’s so hard to fathom that kind of hate and misery to inflict so much pain on so many people.

I think of what Sri Dharma Mittra (a great guru under whom I study yoga) would say: that that was their karma to live out (those who died, those whose family members are left) and that they’ll be reborn, and whether or not you believe that, it’s still like, “Okay, well what do I do with that?”

In the past, my reaction to such an event would have been one of anger, disgust, despair.  Now my first reaction was to think of the founder of a group called “Life After Hate” – a rehabilitation group for those who used to be in hate groups.  He said that the people that made him change his mind about what he was doing were the people who showed him love and compassion – even when he didn’t deserve it.  It wasn’t those who met him with hate that made him change but rather those who showed him there was nothing to hate. 

We live in a world that highlights our differences, sometimes in big, in-your-face situations like shootings (me vs. them) but also in subtle ways: e.g. “I’ve been to x, y, z country” or “I’ve accomplished x, y, and z” – when we say it in a way to elevate ourselves (we can only “elevate” ourselves relative to another if we’ve done something they haven’t).  

But we rarely look for the oneness in us all.  Really, how are you and I that different?

On a fundamental, humanistic level, we all:

  • want to be loved and accepted
  • have fears – and sometimes act from those fears
  • have things we regret (or at least things we know we should have/could have done better)
  • to some extent fear death – or fear for what happens to our loved ones left behind
  • have dreams and aspirations

If we make the differences between our hair color, body size, political views, religion, education level, etc. more important than our “oneness,” these things will continue to happen.  The first principle of yoga, ahimsa (which can be translated as non-violence or, on a subtler level, compassion for all living beings) asks us to look at where we can cultivate understanding, empathy and one-mindedness over division, separation and hate.  

Learn to look for yourself in others and for others in yourself.  The next time someone’s an asshole to you at the bank, rather than thinking, “What a [insert whatever divisive adjectives come to mind] piece of sh*t,” think back to a time where you acted like an asshole to someone (maybe because you had a fight with your spouse, or your kid got into trouble or one of your parents was sick).  Look for yourself in others.  Have compassion.  

You’ve probably heard me say it before and you’ll hear me say it again but in times like these I always go back to my favorite quote by the Buddha:  “Hate never yet dispelled hate.  Only love dispels hate.  This is the law, ancient and inexhaustible.” 

Be the change, people.