We can’t really truly, fairly, and in dignity, comment on the suffering of another human being. It is impossible to know the unique and detailed experience of another, and to speculate about it is, in the grand scheme of things, counterproductive. So what can we do when we hear about a tragic event that moves us in intensely emotional ways that can help us to reclaim our joy and make sense of it all?
When there is a loss of a human being, sadness naturally arises among those who knew and cared about the person. When that individual is someone who brings so much joy to the world such as Robin Williams, a greater portion of humanity collectively experiences this sense of loss, which can invoke the very normal reactions of sadness, grieving, and even fear. This is especially true among those who perceive themselves as having some type of connection to the person’s story, as they have come to understand it.
When we are affected in this way, we personalize the circumstances. We see with greater awareness the fragility of human life. The key to not becoming enmeshed with the collective suffering to the point of great distress and to convert that energy into something meaningful and healing is to get in touch with your own internal peace and joy. It may seem odd to make this leap in such circumstances, but doing so is actually what can help us to transform an opportunity created from sadness to another opportunity to be present in and actually enjoy the moment again. In this choice and in this practice, we find our strength.
But, how do we find and reclaim our peace and joy? We can begin by connecting with our ability to tap into the creative part of ourselves, which is always present. All too often this sacred and essential part of our being hasn’t been supported, validated, or nurtured. We can start by providing these things to ourselves. Finding those who will also provide that support, validation, and nurturing and spending our time with them can immensely and positively impact our experience. With these people, we can share something positive and joyful.
All of us try to find ways to work through the distractions and suffering we experience. In this time of contemplation, some have experienced intense emotions. The tendency is often to retreat and withdraw in the face of the intense emotional reactions we experience, but when we choose to instead reach out, we create opportunity for change. Our story can be very different from the stories we hear around us.
We do not need to live in fear, prisoner to the thought of, “If it happened to him, it can happen to me.” As closely as we may identify with another’s story, the truth is that it is their story and journey – not ours. This is the key to healthy separation from the story with which we are identifying.
While it is human to be empathetic, it is essential to our well-being that we also take care of ourselves. If you’re feeling affected and want to get back in touch with your inner joy, here is a simple, quick, practical exercise that you can try right now. It will not erase all of what you are feeling, and it is not intended to do so. Your feelings and reactions are valid. The purpose is to get you grounded back to your inner self where, despite outside circumstances (and sometimes because of them), your strength can be found.
After you’ve finished this article, consider getting off of the computer or other electronic device for a while to feel the sun on your skin or the cool evening air for a few minutes.
Return to a comfortable place and sit down.
Take a deep, slow, measured breath.
Close your eyes for a moment.
Visualize something dear to you – something that makes you smile, such as a pet.
Hold this image in your mind as you continue to take some slow, mindful breaths, focusing on the entirety of your experience: your thoughts, what you feel in your body, the fact that you are present in the here and now. Feel the interconnectedness between yourself, the object of your affection, and every other thing.
Sit with this experience for a few minutes, continuing to breathe mindfully.
When you’re ready, open your eyes, and take this image in your mind with you throughout the rest of the day. Remind yourself that you can connect to the same internal experience you had during this exercise at any time you wish.
Let’s collectively make the choice to start within and to reach out so as to transform our experience in meaningful, positive, ways that release fear and bring us back to our strength.
Dr. Robert Fischer
Co-Founder /Executive Director
Optimum Performance Institute / OPI Intensive
Assistant Clinical Professor of Psychiatry, UCLA, School Of Medicine
Dept. Of Psychoneuroimmunology, Mindful Awareness Research Center