Since I’ve been practicing psychotherapy, no other societal event has been so present in my clients’ sessions as the Sandy Hook Elementary school shooting in Newtown, Connecticut on December 14, 2012. For the weeks following, nearly every client came in wanting to talk about it to some extent. I was struck by the depth and breadth of this tragedy’s reach for people. Some expressing grief, others fear, and many exploring existential/spiritual questions. Many diving into the details of the news reports to try to make sense of it—even while admitting that nothing they could learn would really suffice. And others purposefully avoiding the media because it was just too painful.
Something in our collective consciousness seemed to have been breached. A line crossed. A “bottom” to use the language of recovery. What happened in Newtown seemed to be for so many an assault on Innocence itself. On a precious part of our humanity and consciousness that we all, regardless of background and creed, seem to have a tacit agreement about: that childhood innocence has inherent value and deserves protection and preserving.
As I continue to process the impact of this in my life and work, I return again and again to the Jungian concept of The Shadow—of looking to our outside world as a reflection of our inner world. While participating in dialogs and taking action to reduce these tragedies is critically needed to produce change in the outer world of our society, it is often difficult to believe that we, individually, can do anything. If we stay with Jung’s idea, though, and participate in dialog and action to reduce the tragedy of assaulting our own Innocent One within, we would not only feel more hopeful of having impact, we but could begin to see that change reflected in the world.
We can never obtain peace in the outer world until we make peace with ourselves.
Developing a Personal Practice
Consider that the innocent child who you once were lives within your mind and heart as a part of you. This Innocent: this precious one who has inherent value and deserves protection and preserving. This part of you who is full of wonder, creativity, joy, freedom, trust, and [insert one of your favorite childlike attributes here]. This part of you who also has mischievous curiosity, self-centered focus, a naïve sense of power, and [insert one of your least favorite childlike attributes here]. You don’t have to picture yourself as a child if you don’t want to (although it can be very powerful to do so), just pick the characteristics and focus there.
When you do, see how it feels to acknowledge this part of you. A part of you that over time, external instruction, and often shame-based experience has been silenced, dismissed, or cut short from participating fully in your life. How often do you criticize and shame yourself for being joyful, trusting, much less to focus on yourself and daring to wonder about how powerful you really are? Imagine if you let that part of you have a say, have a life inside you? No, not as the ultimate “decision maker,” but as a valid voice to be heard and taken into consideration instead of silenced.
Part of what pains us about the Sandy Hook tragedy is that young children’s lives were cut short. Allow yourself to feel the sorrow and compassion for them and their loved ones and send them the energy of love and healing. Then, imagine that energy of sorrow, compassion, love, and healing, making a circle back to you.
While feeling that, commit to valuing, protecting, and preserving the Innocent part of you each day. And when you fail, instead of shaming yourself with cutting criticism, try the following: 1) admit that you failed, 2) feel the regret, 3) forgive yourself—remembering it’s a shame-based defense that has become habit—and then 4) choose to re-commit. Allow the Innocent One Within to participate more with your daily life and you just might find that your life becomes more full of wonder, creativity, joy, freedom, trust, self-care, and empowerment.
And the world outside just might follow suit.
What we achieve inwardly will change outer reality.
My Moving Meditation: A Magical Carousel Ride
Before heading into the park for my midday run, I watched President Obama announce his plans to help reduce tragedies such as Newtown in the future. Standing behind him were four children who had written letters to the President asking him to help. Sitting in front of him were the parents of a girl named Grace who died that day in her classroom along with her classmates and teacher. The President shared that he placed Grace’s artwork in his private study in the White House. Feelings of sadness and anger surfaced in me anew as I watched and listened, but the stirrings of hope now swirled in with the mix.
As the President shook the children’s hands and began signing the paperwork, I took to the sidewalk and started jogging toward the park. The January day was gray and damp. That seemed alright and somehow fitting to me as I put in my earbuds and set my iPod to shuffle. I jogged along feeling grateful to be outside in the world moving free and breathing deep. On my exhales, I released the heaviness in my chest and upon inhale, I invited the shuffled songs to guide me to thoughts and feelings that would feel right to me on my “moving meditation” that my runs have become.
Toward the end of my run, an upbeat song began playing, instantly bringing thoughts, feelings, and images of my family—especially of my three children. The song’s beat brought the gift of a rush of gratitude and joy. That gift, though, was quickly threatened to be revoked by pained thoughts of the families who lost their children that December Friday in Newtown. I firmly held on to my gratitude, though, as Brene Brown teaches in her work on vulnerability and shame resilience. I then eased into a trust that somehow my love for my children somehow honored those lost at Sandy Hook.
As I rounded a bend in that moment, my eyes scanned the corner of the park looking for the carousel that had been set up for the holiday season. It was gone. Clearly, the season now over, it had been taken down. It seemed to have vanished into thin air, leaving an empty space at the foot of the hill with only an imprint in the grass.
My heart filled with the ache and loss of Newtown’s children again as I approached the empty space. But in a spinning rush of momentum and spontaneity, I turned off the paved path and leaped onto the carousel’s flattened grass imprint. Shaking off my self-consciousness that onlookers might consider me strange, I resolutely ran the circumference of where the carousel once stood.
While making the round, I imagined the carousel there with Newtown’s children aboard riding, laughing, and carrying on as kids do. At the moment I reached the point of completion of the carousel’s circle, it started to rain. Hard. As if the gray day could not hold its tears back any longer, the sky burst open above me.
The synchronicity of that timing stunned me so much that I stopped running and looked up. I have never particularly enjoyed getting caught in the rain, but this time I instinctually welcomed it. I slowly opened my hands toward the sky and then, with a child-like impulse, I leaned my head back to catch the rain in my mouth—just as the lyrics to the next song playing in my ears sang of catching tears.
Stunned again in the synchronistic mystery, I felt a profound connection to Mystery and Oneness with All That Is. My singular and symbolic experience felt beyond the bounds of me yet I also sensed my personal and particular participation provided a key ingredient. The synchronicity of sound, imagery, and elements served as a reminder of the interconnection between our individual and interconnected experience. A reminder of Belonging—to ourselves, each other, and to our world.
As we move forward in this world that does indeed break our hearts, I hope that we can more and more use that brokenness as an opening. An opening to more love than our heart could have held had it stayed together in the first place.
Daring Greatly by Brene Brown
The Shadow Effect by By Deepak Chopra, Marianne Williamson, and Debbie Ford