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MAY 2007

Time to Reconnect In a world filled with Violence

(A candlight vigil at Virginia Tech following the tragic shootings)

Kavita Chhibber

The past few weeks have left me numb and emotionally exhausted as media frenzy over the Virginia Tech shooting, had all kinds of coverage being blasted from every possible media.

As the story started sinking in my head, the deep sorrow I felt at the loss of innocent lives, ( whom I got to know through the profiles of each victim being posted by CNN, as they became available) was only increased by this thought-Why? Why did this have to happen? Statistics say it happens most frequently in the US? Is it just about inadequate gun laws or inadequate security? Or does it go much deeper than that?

Since January this was not the first story of unwarranted violence that had shaken me. My close friend Uma’s cousin Geeta and her husband had been brutally shot, their lifeless bodies discovered by their thirteen and twelve year old sons on returning from school. It’s been more than three months and they haven’t found the killers.

Another friend talked about her dad killing her mom in a homicide-suicide attempt last June. He had been diagnosed with schizophrenia for years and had still been released from the hospital because they “needed the bed” temporarily. The temporary lapse in the medical system in Canada cost an innocent woman her life and a mentally ill man jail term that his daughter is fighting against.

Cho’s profile was that of a man crying for help.. What was sad was that for the longest time-from the grand aunt in Korea, to his parents, to his Professors and college mates, every one had seen the signs that he needed help loud and clear-and yet not one person took it as seriously as they should have. What one of his room-mates said made me think how isolated and self absorbed we have become as people. Karan Grewal said that the others including him had given up long ago to try and make small talk with Cho, because he was monosyllabic and never responded. "He never spoke," Grewal said to CNN. "I never saw him with anybody else. Ever. I just thought he was very lonely."

I remember seeing an interview with a Psychiatrist and an FBI agent-both wanted to make sure that everything that had happened wasn’t just attributed to mental illness: they said that over 90 percent of people who commit crimes of passion are not mentally ill. They are just angry at something or the other and the resentment builds over the years and finally explodes.

Many people get angry and even take weapons to school, or public places, but they don’t use them because some how better judgment prevails in that case. I strongly feel that the gun laws may be lax, but if someone is determined to kill, they will find ways and means to do so. Of course if guns are harder to get to, that moment of extreme anger may pass and many may not act upon it.

I also remember seeing the interview with a neighbor of Cho’s family. The neighbor was really sad when he talked about how the family was simple and hard working, always kind and helpful, and that made me think how horrible it would be for them for the rest of their lives. They will always be known as the parents of that horrible guy who took so many innocent lives, and how they may became targets of hate crimes and violence themselves. They will be haunted by not just their son’s death but also the manner in which he died.

Another point that was made was the media frenzy, and the big headlines that constantly kept repeating the fact that this was the biggest number of people shot in US history on a campus. The next thing you heard was a man threatening to kill a 100 people and break that record. NBC has already come in for a lot of flack for showing excerpts of the videos of Cho talking about why he did what he did. NBC can say what they want, but the fact remains that the only obvious intention was to be ahead in the numbers game, for they had the scoop of the year. It was the biggest piece of terrible journalism that I have seen in recent times.

I finally met him last October-the man I now call the mystic scientist-Sadhguru Jaggi Vasudev, the founder of the Isha foundation. I connect with him totally on an intellectual level because whatever he says makes a lot of sense. I think there are only a handful of enlightened beings that can make the complex look as simple as he does. I have since then had a series of conversations with him on a variety of topics, and always found his explanations hit the mark. And so after the shooting we spoke about  the violence we see these days and so much of it in the US.

Sadhguru had some very thought provoking points. He said that a short while ago, he happened to be at a meeting where top brass from different industries and an ex US President were present. One of the men there was asking the former head about Iran and then said”Why don’t we just knock of all these Ayatollahs-these are just few guys, instead of getting in to this business of threatening war and dire consequences?

“I found it strange that they were having this kind of a discussion in an open meeting,” said Sadhguru. “I said-there was a time that US was seen as a generous and kind nation-today the world perceives it as a bully and that reputation has been well earned. Look at the 600 plus billion dollars that have been spent on the Iraq war. If a fraction had been spent on human health, education and well being, you could have fed the whole world and the world would have fallen in love with you. Instead I see the US leadership and community leaders always talking about knocking someone off.” His comment was much appreciated and people calmed down.

 The fact remains, says Sadhguru that the leadership at the top in every nation, and what it preaches is very crucial, because it’s the leadership that trains and persuades the common man.

“Violence happens with regular frequency in this country, “ said Sadhguru. ”The question is not whether 2 people got killed or 32 or 100. The numbers are decided simply by what kind of weapons someone gets their hands on and how many people are in the vicinity. The death toll at Virginia Tech was shocking but what was even more shocking was that someone could have such an attitude, such a need  to go out and do something like that.

“ As a culture and as a nation we have developed this attitude that violence is the way to deal with the world. Who is the bad guy also depends on who you are yourself. It is based on your own need, your own suffering and your problems. Then once you decide who the bad guy is, you then feel you must eliminate him. When many leaders talk of eliminating others and encourage violence then I don’t see why children will not follow what their elders preach. Every other TV channel you surf, every other movie you watch, who do you see as the real hero? It is always the guy who shoots down the maximum number of people. With violence being idolized and easy access to weapons, it’s a double whammy. Violent emotions and thoughts-that itself is violence right there.”

It is true I thought-we do see people as good and bad depending on our state of mind, and the other guy may be looking at us and thinking the same about us. Sadhguru said to me that there would be no ending to this process unless we bring in a culture of peace, and yet peace is not something you can safeguard by military  and guns. You have to create a civilization and a culture of peace, which we have not strived to do so far.

“If society does not embrace a culture of peace these aberrations will continue. Then the question will become what will you consider normal? Will it be normal if it happens once in three years, or one year or 6 months or 5 weeks? Something like this should have never happened in an academic system. Instead of trying to find quick fixes like changing gun laws, beefing up security, we need to root out violence from the social structure itself. Only when we change the way we think, will the major shift occur.”

I said to Sadhguru that often it is said that the more materialistic the society the more dysfunction there is. He replied-“ Why should advancement turn you into a mess? Why should affluence not free up some time for you to work on your inner well being?” His take was unless we work on each area of our life and create inner and outer balance, things will not work harmoniously.

 “If we bring the simple process of meditation into the lives of both adults and children, you will see a marked decline in violence. We introduced meditation in jails in India with very positive results. In schools yoga and meditation should be offered as a choice and it should become everyone’s choice. It should never be made compulsory because forced meditation is not going to work.” 

Sadhguru also said something else that got me thinking. He found the phrase “terrible teens” in common use in the US.

“The teenagers are going through hormonal changes which cause havoc in the body and it takes time to stabilize all the body chemistry. It is the upheaval within that makes a teenager behave in a certain way. We have not made any arrangements in this country to help create that emotional and physical balance and harmony. We have left it to time and hope he will be alright. If he continues to behave beyond the acceptable time frame what do you do here?  You dose him with a chemical in the form of a medication that makes him dull and slows him down and that too is not the solution. 

The other day I was talking to a bunch of youngsters who regularly smoked marijuana and said that smoking pot was a better solution as it stopped them from indulging in violence or the teenage stuff. So should one smoke pot to stop the wars? In the 60s and 70s that was considered the solution and that’s how the flower children happened to come about and we know the outcome of that. If the society as a whole does not invest in its inner well being just as it invests in its outer well being it will always face  situations like what happened in Virginia Tech.”

I see how peaceful I feel when I do my yogic breathing and exercises. I actually feel the stress toxins leave my body and feel more focused, rested and connected. I also discover such beauty in most strangers I take the time to get to know. In a country that is considered the most advanced, multi cultured nation in the world-there are still things that technology and material success cannot replace. Its time to go back and reconnect with nature and humanity.

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