14 February 2008

when loving-kindness is needed

(Photo for the Tribune by Patrick Yeagle)

About 5 hours ago I had to deal with students whose friends witnessed a massacre.

7 dead in NIU shooting; 4 identified; Ex-graduate student slays 6 before killing himself

I teach at a community college that is less than 40 minutes from Northern Illinois University. I was starting my 4:45 yoga class when students walked in late and told me there was a shooting at NIU, that they were waiting for news about their friends. Two girls were crying because they did not know if their friends were dead or alive.

I had to make some announcements before I started to teach, but I knew that metta -- loving-kindness -- meditation was in order. So I asked them to come to a comfortable seat and just breath, to watch the breath, and not to run from whatever physical or emotional sensations come up. and then I started to teach them about loving-kindness meditation.

I told them to step outside themselves and see themselves and repeat "may I be well, happy, peaceful, may I be safe." I said that if they preferred they need only say "may I be safe." after awhile I told them to visualize the NIU campus, to visualize anyone that they knew was in that killing hall, or to visualize the friends, parents, and loved ones of those who died, and to send them loving kindness and peace.

then I told them that what they are about to do will be the hardest of all: to send loving-kindness to the killer. I told them that when I was in the Dalai Lama's teachings, His Holiness said that the highest compassion of all was to have compassion for your enemies, or someone like a terrorist or a murderer. I told them if they did not want to do that, that's fine, but keep sending loving-kindness first to themselves, then out to others.

I told them that thoughts are energy, so they should send out love and peace, even to people who they think don't deserve it, like the killer. I told them about my Buddhist prayer that I end all my classes with (however, not at the school -- it's a public school, tax-payer supported, you know how that goes), the prayer about the Four Immeasureables:

may all beings have happiness and the causes of happiness
may all beings be free from suffering and the causes of suffering
may all beings never be parted from freedom's true Joy
may all beings dwell in equanimity, free from attachment and aversion

I told them that "all beings" meant just that: everyone, not just "good" people, but even killers.

Tomorrow will bring more news about what happened. next week I will deal with the aftermath of this on my students. I hope for the coming week they will remember what I taught them today, for themselves, to ease their suffering.

I thank all my teachers, and my teachers' teachers, for all that I have learned about yoga, meditation, and Buddhism.

and I bow to Buddha, for the Dharma and for showing me the way out of suffering.

salaam aleikum
so shall it be


Anonymous said...


It is a gift that you were able to be there for these students, practicing metta with them. (And what a beautiful prayer.)

Linda-Sama said...

as Buddha taught, death is certain, but the time of death is uncertain.

so we should live each day as if it will be our last, don't sweat the small stuff, and go with the flow. most of the stuff we think is important, really isn't....and how much time do we waste regretting the past or anticipating a future that may not happen?

be here now.

lilalia said...

my prayers to you for giving such kindness at a time of distress and to those at the college who are in need of consolation.

Mary Ellen said...

I was rather taken aback today when I read on another blog that the solution to this kind of thing is to have a conceal and carry law for guns because that way the students could have shot the guy. I couldn't believe it! Could you imagine having over a hundred kids with guns in that room...all shooting...bullets flying?

More guns aren't the answer. We need society to start waking up and realizing that our youth are suffering and finding themselves in such despair that they are killing innocent people for no reason. I don't know why this kid did this, but I think we're going to find out he has been troubled for a long time. Who was there for him? And why wasn't anyone there for him?

Unfortunately, the more this happens, the more likely it is that another troubled youth will look to this kid as an example to be followed.

Angie said...

How wonderful that you could be there for your yoga students. I loved the meditation you lead them through. All beings should receive love and peace. Perhaps, we would see less tragedies like these if more of us ceased drawing lines between those who deserve and those who don't.

Fran said...

My heart breaks over this and other acts of violence.

Your infusion of metta and your expression of loving kindness to those who do harm is the best healing balm for any soul.

Thank you for this moving post.