The horrific event on November 13 in Paris has a familiar tone to it, an energetic signature much like a terrible earthquake and tsunami or a hurricane with devastating flooding. Prediction and prevention are just as imprecise and impotent as in the face of a huge “natural” disaster. The victims are struck with random cruelty. We feel helpless in the aftermath.
True, the attacks in Paris were planned and carried out by people, acting out of a story they fervently believe. As such, we may tell ourselves that acts of terror or riots of unrest are preventable—if only we have better intelligence, stronger police response, more proactive targeted drone strikes—in short, we push back. Better. Harder. First.
All of this speculation keeps us in an unending cycle of repression, Othering, rewriting history, attempts to control, to own the story. Which prevents other ways of engaging with creativity, compassion and imagination. It keeps us stuck in asking why and positing theories that drive an attitude of “never again.”
Some see this as a wakeup call for Westerners to face at last the legacy of centuries of brutal imperialism and oppression in service to our stories of superiority. Is this the darkest of the darkness at the heart of modern “civilization” revealing itself in our worst nightmares? Conjecture and analysis, much as we draw comfort from their promise of understanding, aren’t much help after events like this.
Maybe this moment of utter incomprehension is drawing attention to our incapacity ever to make sense of it from a rational perspective. “Senseless” is a term reporters invoke in situations like this. But I am not “senseless.” I have a body, and senses, and I feel emotion. When situations so loaded and confusing as this confound rational understanding, I can come back to my body. I can realign energy and tap into spaciousness through physical practices like yoga and breathing.
This isn’t self-indulgence; it’s a critical step to increase my ability and willingness to tolerate complexity. I can simply be with my confusion and questions, and my need to analyze and find answers lessens. What happens when I bring my body’s senses to a senseless event? If I turn not to the news stories and analysts, but inward to my own heart and breath and sensations? What can I possibly influence or effect from this, the only tool at my disposal, this miraculous nexus of matter and spirit?
I do not have a rational basis for feeling that this event is on par with extreme weather, with drought and flood and wildfire. My intuition tells me it is interconnected with economic meltdown and famine, with displacement and migration of refugees. There are strange, dark energies swirling around the globe at this time in the human experience.
Some suggest we are being called to awaken to something bigger than ourselves. The enigma here is that we cannot tackle it on a world stage. We can barely address it within our own communities and closest relationships. This something is within each of us, and we can befriend it only by befriending our own bodies and senses.
What we see as hateful and violent out in the world is contained within us. Likewise what is loving and generous. We contain it all. The great Buddhist teacher Thich Nhat Hahn imagines how he can relate to all the beauty and evil in the world, to say, “I am that,” in the face of the most horrendous acts of cruelty and devastation. He invites us to feel a jihadist’s pain, not to understand it but to recognize it as our own.
The stories are breaking down. The center seems not to be holding, but maybe it’s the edges that are crumbling. The layers of story upon story are falling away, consumed by fire, turning to ash, revealing hints and glimpses of a steady sleeping core of light. What we thought was real and true turns into dust and slips away. And there is more to see. Always more.