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What is the mindful response to a school shooting?

posted by Jason Kottke   Feb 20, 2018

In the latest issue of the Mindful Resistance newsletter, Robert Wright, author of the great Why Buddhism is True, explores what a mindful response to a school shooting like the one in Parkland might look like and what benefits might accrue from such a response.

How do you deal mindfully with the emotions aroused by the shooting? For example: feelings like fear and anxiety (which you may feel if you have a school-aged child); or outrage (if you think politicians should offer better policy responses than they’re offering); or despair (if you believe politicians will never change, or you just feel that things are spinning out of control).

A meditation teacher, if asked this question, might say something like: you should experience these feelings mindfully, and this may give you a kind of critical distance from them, so they don’t dominate and distort your thinking.

And a meditation teacher trained in mindfulness-based cognitive therapy (MBCT) might add some facts to facilitate this perspective.

For example: There are more than 50 million public school students in America. So, to judge by the school shooting statistics of the past two years, the chances of a child of yours dying in a school shooting this year are less than one in a million.

And when you read about the “18 school shootings” that have occurred in 2018, remember that this statistic rests on a broad definition of a school shooting: the discharging of a firearm on school grounds. In about half of these “shootings,” no one was shot. Some of the others were either suicides or led to injuries but not deaths. If you define a mass shooting as a shooting that kills at least four people-as this Washington Post tally does-there have been two mass shootings at schools over the past three years (plus one at a college).

Wright’s explanation of what he means by mindful resistance is also worth reading.

When people hear “mindful,” they may think “Buddhism” or “meditation.” Which makes sense: “mindfulness” is the standard English translation of the ancient term sati, which refers to a kind of Buddhist meditation and to the frame of mind this meditation cultivates.

Still, the British scholar who settled on that translation more than a century ago-Thomas William Rhys Davids-was drawing on the simple, non-exotic meaning that the word “mindful” already had in English. And that meaning points to a frame of mind that even non-meditators can cultivate. Namely, a clear, alert, acutely aware mind. Rhys Davids said the Buddhist ideal of “right mindfulness” refers to “an active, watchful mind.”

So what does all this have to do with Donald Trump-and with fighting the dark forces he represents? For starters, an alert, attentive, watchful mind is, obviously, a good thing to go to battle with. But there’s more to it than that. If you delve into the mechanics of mindfulness meditation, you’ll see that the kind of alertness and attention it is meant to foster is a kind that’s unclouded by the sort of feelings that can lead to tactical blunders-such feelings as rage and hatred, and also subtler feelings that can distort our perceptions and color our thoughts.

One reason I started mindfulresistance.net is that I think the resistance to Trumpism is sometimes impaired by such feelings. To take one example: I think we sometimes react to Trump’s provocations with a level of outrage that, even if justified (as it often is), is tactically unwise because it winds up helping him. I’m not saying you have to meditate to avoid these overreactions (though I think meditation helps, and I do it myself). And I’m not saying I always avoid such overreactions myself. I just think it’s good for opponents of Trumpism — meditators and non-meditators alike — to be aware of this pitfall, and aware of how their feelings can lead them into it.