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