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Responding to Violence and Insanity (one Buddhist’s perspective)

January 7, 2015   |   85 Comments









Perhaps you have seen the news today that gunmen opened fire on the offices of the “satirical magazine” Charlie Hebdo, a publication in Paris, France that has in the past angered Islamist extremists. Up to 12 people, including famous French cartoonists, were killed. I thought it was a joke. It is not.

Nothing can make this okay. There is no explanation that helps. Hearing about such violence and insanity propels our minds into chaos and plunges us into turmoil. This is right. This is what heartbreak feels like and it is completely appropriate. We want to rage. We want to prevent this from ever happening again. We want to help. But what could we possibly do?

There is something you can do. It may not be what you think. In fact, it has nothing whatsoever to do with any thought, no matter how profoundly accurate or beautifully constructed.

To begin, please, please, I beg of you: Watch your mind right now. Is it thinking any of the following?

Islamic extremism is stealing our freedoms and we must destroy them or be destroyed.

Liberal views are stupid and will not protect us. We must veer to the right to save our lives.

Right wing views are stupid and actually lead to more of this. Holding to our liberal values has never been more important.

I refuse from this moment on to read the news because the world is insane and I can’t take it.

These are all conspiracies anyway. No one can prove that this (or Sandy Hook or 9-11 or the Holocaust) actually happened.

All right-thinking people must step out of their complacency and take a stand, fight, demand change. Those who do are heroes. Those who don’t are the problem.

At the root of this and other such tragedies is ___________. (Poverty, jobs, misogyny, education, Obama, Sarah Palin, the United Nations, unclean water, religions.)

Screw the Middle East. How did we even get here. Let them all kill each other.

Compassion for our enemies seems impossible yet we must attempt it.

Only utter morons think that acting kindly to people who want to behead you is a good idea.

I need to process my feelings before I react.

Feelings, shmeelings, arise yuppie scum and take action.

One could make a very powerful argument for each of these points. However, so what. At this exact moment, they are all equally unhelpful and have one thing in common that makes them so: Each is an effort to block pain. Each is meant to put something, anything, between you and the contents of your heart. Blaming fundamentalism, guns, or politicians may be entirely reasonable and valid, but right now, it doesn’t matter.

The brilliance or vehemence of your insight will not change your grief, rage, or numbness, it will only bury it. I posit that it is grief, rage, and numbness that are actually at the root of this and other tragedies. We can prevent ourselves from contributing to the vast pool of inchoate feelings that arise as pain inflicted rather than felt.

There is something you can do and it is not only powerful, it will invoke your basic human decency in the face of this inhuman act.


Allow yourself to be absolutely, irredeemably heartbroken. Weep, sob, rage. Weep, sob, rage. Every time your mind tries to tell you, “this is because of politics,” or “this world is rotten, terrible and I have to save it,” please ask it to wait. I’m not saying we shouldn’t act. WE SHOULD. But before we act, we should feel.

It turns out that this is helpful, and not only that, it is fucking fierce. Cowards seek to drown unbearable feelings in poorly thought-out action. Warriors open their hearts. They feel into the unthinkable and allow it to change them, strike them, tear at them, and, while it rages, the warrior waits. Watches. Feels. From within this state, not outside of it, the mind crafts its response, one that is rooted, not in theory, but in connection to the rage, misery, and terror that invoked it. This is what bravery looks like, my friends. Anyone who tries to tell you that this is some kind of Oprah Deepak girly new age bullshit has never done it.

There is strange redemption in heartbreak. Now your heart is prepared. Now you can help.

Drawing on the sorrow in your own heart, you could extend it to the suffering of all who have been directly involved. This is how to hold your mind, by turning your sorrow into fuel. This way prevents wallowing. It consumes rage. It actually subverts depression. Please try it.

Sit comfortably. Relax your mind and then think:

For all of you men and women who lost your lives in violence today and may now be wandering terrified and confused, I share your suffering with you. In return, I offer you my peace. 

Breathe in their suffering. Breathe out your peace.

For all of you who witnessed this horror, I share your unspeakable shock. May I take even the tiniest bit of your sorrow and rage into my own heart to relieve you of it. In return, I send you my strength. 

Breathe in their suffering. Breathe out your strength.

For all of our brothers and sisters in France who lived through this horrific day and now must make sense of it, I share your confusion with you. May I take in your fear, rage, and nightmares. In return, I send you my bravery. 

Breathe in their suffering. Breathe out your bravery.

For the French politicians, doctors, nurses, police, and first responders who have born witness and now must act, I share your despair with you. May I take in your shock and confusion. In return, I send you my confidence and open heartedness. 

Breathe in their suffering. Breathe out your confidence and open heartedness.

When you are ready to close, sit quietly for a few minutes (or a few lifetimes) before resuming your life.

We can’t leave out the perpetrators of this crime. We might hate the horrible monsters who did this. We might condemn and excoriate them. I’m not saying don’t do that. It’s not useful (especially to you), but it is human. The only thing we cannot do under any circumstance is imagine that we are any different from them. We are not.

It would take a very big person to offer compassion to the perpetrators and I for one am not capable of it today. But while I cannot feel kindhearted, nor will I permit myself to imagine that if I lived their lives, I would not be just like them. Today, this will have to be good enough.

In the meantime, wrap your arms around those you love, acknowledge the terrible beauty and trauma of being a human, and honor how fragile we all are. Vow to use your life for good as intelligently and powerfully as you can. Today, maybe that means crying. Tomorrow, it could mean saving all beings.


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  • Posted by:  Jen @ Fairy Much Fun

    Best. Post. Ever. However, it is incredibly difficult to not think of myself as different than them, but I see your point.

    • Posted by:  Susan Piver

      And I see yours. xo S

    • Posted by:  Sandra Goode

      I agree: Best. Post. Ever. Thank you.

    • Posted by:  Nadine Rugani

      Thank you so much for this, Susan.

      Elise forwarded this blog to Shambhala in France (and translated it). It is very powerful, and so good to be reminded of feeling first before anything else, especially when being hit by such unexpected and painful news.

      Most of us have been at the demonstrations yesterday throughout France, and my impression was that there were so many people naturally doing that: just feeling. No words. Quietly walking. And feeling.

      We will use Elise’s translation of your text to do a guided Tong-Len with it in our meditation group here in Avignon on Wednesday.
      Thank you!

      • Posted by:  Susan Piver

        Thank you, Nadine. Thank you, thank you. It is so good to hear that people were walking together and feeling. That is so empowering. Sending love.

      • Posted by:  Yvonne Hilmi

        Nadine , bonsoir; si possible peut-on avoir la traduction de ce texte magnifique en français???
        merci beaucoup, Yvonne

        • Posted by:  Susan Piver

          If this is a request for the French translation, here it is, Yvonne!

    • Posted by:  Christiaan Pothoven

      I reread this today, after the terrible attack in Brussels. Thank you for this. The message is still very much valid, even more now then a year ago, after Paris and probably before another attack somewere, somewere close.

  • Posted by:  Diana Shane

    Oh thank you, Susan, for so brilliantly and precisely articulating what’s bursting out of my heart right now…what you’ve pointed out about feeling first is so essential, especially now with such overwhelming insanity and pain taking place in the world…

    • Posted by:  Susan Piver

      Glad we are in this together, Diana.

      • Posted by:  Diana Shane

        Me too!

  • Posted by:  Elizabeth Bennett

    Thank you.

    • Posted by:  Susan Piver

      You are welcome.

  • Posted by:  Jeanne McKinnon

    Thank you for addressing this, and for writing so powerfully. I WAS feeling a little numb. I’m not any more.

    • Posted by:  Susan Piver

      Sending love.

  • Posted by:  Melissa

    Absolutely beautiful and profound. Just what my heart needed. Thank you.

    • Posted by:  Susan Piver

      So glad.

  • Posted by:  Philippe Joannis

    Thanks Susan. I deeply appreciate your words .. Let’s our heart be open …and broken …

    • Posted by:  Susan Piver

      Yes, Philippe. I look forward to talking soon.

  • Posted by:  Carol

    Beautifully expressed, Susan. I agree that we need to take into account all who suffer, as hateful actions are born of basic needs, unmet. When Sandy Hook happened, a local rabbi had his congregation pray for all except the shooter and his mother. It was, to me, such a glaring omission. Then as now and always, may we understand that we’re all capable of hate… and we’re all in need of compassion.

    • Posted by:  Susan Piver

      I understand what you are saying, Carol. Maybe the Rabbi knew people just were not capable of praying for the shooter and his mom so close to the event, who knows. But it would feel odd to chose sides in prayer… xoxo S

      • Posted by:  Carol

        We’re each blooming and growing at our own pace. I have compassion for clergy as well. None of us is without ‘flaw’ 🙂

        • Posted by:  Susan Piver


  • Posted by:  Monica

    That’s lovely – thank you, Susan.

    • Posted by:  Susan Piver

      you are so welcome.

  • Posted by:  Cat

    I am French, and all we could hear today was dismay and horror. Your voice brought wisdom and you showed us a path… Thank you Susan.

    • Posted by:  Susan Piver

      This means the world to me, Cat. Sending love.

  • Posted by:  ellen

    Thank you, Susan, this is beautiful indeed. But I wonder about the statement: “The only thing we cannot do under any circumstance is imagine that we are any different from them. We are not.” In the relative world, there is a difference between the action of murdering and not murdering, between harming and not harming. We want there to be a difference between doing tonglen and killing a living being. We want there to be a difference between reacting with numbness and reacting with rawness and openness. If we can accept there is a difference in our reactions, why can’t we accept that we are different in our actions? I’m just curious how’d you’d address this, since I run into the reaction all the time from my friends and family. Today I didn’t pick up a gun and shoot dozens of children or journalists. They didn’t either. How can all humans accept that we are identical to the murderers?

    • Posted by:  Susan Piver

      I guess I’m just saying that we all contain the seeds of such actions.

      • Posted by:  Debrah

        I liked your post until I got to that point–no we do not all have the seeds of such actions. But the good thing is that the majority of
        people do not either. It only takes a few though to cause such pain and suffering.

        • Posted by:  Susan Piver

          Interesting. You sound very certain–may I ask why?

  • Posted by:  Erin

    I wish everyone on the planet could read this, understand it, and take it to heart. I’m sure we would all experience far less violence and insanity. Thank you.

    • Posted by:  Susan Piver

      You are welcome.

  • Posted by:  Shari Hunt

    Right on Susan. Thank you.

    • Posted by:  Susan Piver

      Thank you, Shari.

  • Posted by:  Mary Montanye

    This is the wisest response I’ve read thus far, probably will ever read, to this horrendous occurrence and all the others the world has experienced recently. And, I also understand that what you are suggesting we do is so very hard. Feeling what we feel does take great courage, because it is so painful. I watch those around me whom I love so much doing everything they can not to feel, and I struggle not to fall into the same trap. Thank you for your guidance, for your wisdom, and for your example. I am grateful every single day that you are my teacher.

    • Posted by:  Susan Piver

      Sending love to you, Mary!

  • Posted by:

    Thank you Susan, thank you. /Susanne

    • Posted by:  Susan Piver

      You are very welcome, Susanne.

  • Posted by:  Irene

    I find it hard to not be offended by this quick blog here, about the tragedy.
    Wouldn’t it be more appropriate not to make use of the killing of 12 beautiful people in order to score here.

    Irene Gace

    • Posted by:  Susan Piver

      I believe you misunderstand my intention, Irene.

  • Posted by:  Terry Rudderham

    Thanks for this great article Susan.

    • Posted by:  Susan Piver

      You are so welcome, Terry. This comment means a lot to me.

  • Posted by:  astrid

    The road to freedom starts in you!

    • Posted by:  Susan Piver

      And you!

  • Posted by:  Mary Q

    Oh Susan, thank you…so grateful that you are in the world, and that you share your heart so beautifully.

    • Posted by:  Susan Piver

      Very appreciative of this, Mary. And ditto.

  • Posted by:  Brahmani

    Thank you so much for your clear powerful words, from the whole of my devastated weeping heart, and you know…….many many people particularly in France where I am, are just crying, just crying…..really…..

    • Posted by:  Susan Piver

      yes. there is no other way to respond, it is just so, so terrible. please know that the world stand with you and cries with you.

  • Posted by:  Nanette Kant

    Thank you so much Susan for your strong and courageous words and your clear view. This is what the world needs.

    • Posted by:  Susan Piver

      Thank you,Nanette.

  • Posted by:  Susan REES

    I just love your heart here… BRAVO, well done!

    • Posted by:  Susan Piver

      Thank you, Susan!

  • Posted by:  Claire Molinard

    Merci Susan for this beautiful letter, which so expresses what I have been feeling into since yesterday…. Yes, we must feel the pain, and we must hold it in Love for all involved ( and I am not there yet for the perpretators either) and hold the paradox in the space beyond thought. Outrageous pain can only be held in outrageous Love
    I live in Paris and I have been struck by how intuitively the people here and across the planet have responded with the slogan “I am Charlie” which – even if they re not practitioners, is actually going into the direction you’re pointing out. Moments like this remind us that indeed, we are One.

    • Posted by:  Susan Piver

      This is so lovely to read, Claire. Thank you so much for taking the time to make this comment. Sending love to you and all of Paris.

  • Posted by:  barbara born

    Great post Susan, thank you for sharing these words of wisdom. May we remain open, courageous and tolerant.

    • Posted by:  Susan Piver

      Sending love, BB.

  • Posted by:  Quito

    Thank you for these kind words. They are much needed, and apreciated.

    • Posted by:  Susan Piver

      You are so welcome

  • Posted by:  Travis Newbill

    This is quite a powerful offering, Susan. Thank you for doing what you do.

    • Posted by:  Susan Piver

      You are so welcome, and ditto.

  • Posted by:  Crystal Gandrud

    Thank you, Susan. I am delighted to see the support you are receiving this time for examining the way of things.

    We have only one offering to and for the world: our bloody broken hearts. When we offer that, Right Action arises and we will (perhaps slowly) collectively know what to do to help ourselves and others.

    I love you.

    • Posted by:  Susan Piver

      We see eye to eye, heart to heart. I love you too.

  • Posted by:  Jennifer Bellis

    This is so helpful! And the only thing that makes sense to me right now.
    Big hug for all of you!

    • Posted by:  Susan Piver

      And for you!

  • Posted by:  Cal

    I freaking love this!!!!!

    • Posted by:  Susan Piver


  • Posted by:  Laurent

    Merci Susan for your ever continuing way you take care of that human jigsaw that keeps on falling apart / sadness and sorrow // merci for your words – that time spent finding RIGHT WORDS for what happened here in Paris at thousands miles away from US / but still so close – ça fait chaud au coeur – many thanks to you and to o’pen heart people and sangha. Love.

    • Posted by:  Susan Piver

      Laurent, it means so much to read this from you, from Paris. Sending love and sangha…

  • Posted by:  Gaia Lina

    Thank you Susan, I hope a lot of people will share your comment.

    • Posted by:  Susan Piver

      You are so welcome, Gaia.

  • Posted by:  Julia

    Why does one think using the f…..word makes what they have to say
    more important? Personally I find it offensive and particularly at this
    time of monumental suffering.

    • Posted by:  Susan Piver

      It’s just the way I talk sometimes. No offense meant. This is the kind of situation in which there is much to be offended about. I hope my language will be low on the list.

  • Posted by:  Julia

    As a writer may I suggest to you that you examine other more
    colorful words that are not offensive. Surely you realize it is the very word that is used by people that have chosen to harm, murder, maime others in our world. Think about it.

    • Posted by:  Susan Piver

      Please believe me when I say that I think about everything I write! To me, those words are not offensive. I totally understand that they are to you and, again, please know that my intention was not to offend you or anyone or to align myself through their use with criminals, but simply to express myself in my own words.

  • Posted by:  debi

    I put a link to this on my blog. It is in my mind a perfect way to deal with what I am feeling. What I am finding exciting is the number of people coming to me privately saying I read it and I am not sure I understand or believe but I think it is a wonderful goal to have, or something similar. I also get those that disagree but mostly because they haven’t read it carefully. Thank-you You are the change we need in the world.

    • Posted by:  Susan Piver

      This is the perfect place to start…with contemplating whether or not it is true. Glad we are working this out together.

  • Posted by:  Barnaby Spring

    Dear Susan,

    The only thing that is truly profane and inappropriate when it comes to grief is to believe that any response to grief in our thoughts, speech or actions warrants causing harm to one’s self and others. That said, such a tall order is less an accomplishment that we can promote to others and more a reality that we can only surrender to…after so much has been thoroughly exhausted. Thank you for the reminder to feel and, equally, to remind us what we are all subject to when our attachments and aversions to feeling become greater than our liberation.

    • Posted by:  Susan Piver

      This is so beautifully said… Thank you, Barnaby. xo S

  • Posted by:  Melanie Prevost Shureih

    Unbelievably good. I keep coming back to this. Thank you, Susan. xx

  • Posted by:  Maria José

    Dear Susan,

    Your beautiful, wise, and powerful text touched me deeply. Living in France, I’ve been so overwhelmed that I could not reason about what happened. The feeling we practice in the OHP has been really helpful these days.
    But when yesterday I read about yet more suffering going on in Niger, I felt the need for some wisdom words. So I came to your blog to seek for something in the archives that could help, and found this wonderful article.
    The way you express the feelings and the mediation you suggested were so helpful and pacifing.
    Thank you.

    • Posted by:  Susan Piver

      Nothing could make me happier than this, Maria José. Sending love.

  • Posted by:  andrea

    Thank you. In the confusion, pain and horror of these types of events, this is a clear and concise honoring to those that have fallen and to ourselves. I thank you and appreciate your your wisdom.

  • Posted by:  Christiaan Pothoven

    I reread this post after Brussels. Thanks again for showing the way to compassion.

    • Posted by:  Susan Piver

      Sending love, Christiaan.

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“With wisdom, creativity and artistry, Susan Piver brings a Buddhist lens to the spiritual map of the Enneagram. The results are vibrant and nourishing; a banquet of insights that help us transmute our difficult emotions into pure expressions of our basic goodness.”

 – Tara Brach, author of Radical Acceptance