Mass Shootings, A Memo

On February 14th, 2018, seventeen people were killed in a mass shooting at a high school in Parkland, Florida.   Seventeen students and adults.  Students, at the beginning of their lives – going to a place that should be a safe haven for their minds AND bodies.  Adults who have dedicated their lives to these students – to help them learn, grow, and contribute meaningfully to their own communities one day.   Seventeen of them, gone.   All mass shootings are tragic regardless of who, where, or how many.  They all waste innocent lives.  This one has inspired me to say something.

I am an educator.  I work at a high school on an open campus (students walk outside between buildings, not in hallways within buildings).  Today, two days after this travesty, we had a drill.  This was not a planned drill and the staff didn’t know what was happening.  Students and staffed gossiped nervously about what was going on as we walked toward the football field, many of us looking around us for clues.  Several colleagues made statements such as, “this is scary” given the events of the days earlier.    I was scared too.  I still am.  Our students felt similarly.  After we were cleared to return to our respective spaces, an announcement indicated that an alarm was set off  after one of the water pipes had a leak.  Our assistant principal thanked all students and staff for remaining calm and shared that counselors were available in the front office for any students who may need to debrief given the tension and fear already in many of us from the event in Florida.  A memo was sent to worried parents.

People – this is is unacceptable.  There is no reason families, adults, or students should feel fear in a place where the purpose is to learn.  I have seen suggestions that police officers be stationed on school campuses.  A student’s ‘full time job’ is to get an education – how would you feel going to your full time job and needing to walk by a group of officers everyday, several times a day?  Additionally, would we station officers in other public spaces to prevent mass shootings?  How would we predict which cities, schools, and spaces require officers?  For both scenarios, where would the funding come from? Couldn’t this very funding go to creating policy and action for stricter gun access?

I have also seen posts on social media indicating that some schools will consider allowing their staff to be armed in the case of an emergency.  Would you feel safe if your son or daughters teacher was carrying a gun?  I certainly wouldn’t if it was my colleague and I happen to know and trust my colleagues more than the average parent will know their childrens’ educators.  If some of you say yes, I do not want to minimize your opinion but we need to consider who we are arming and the potential risks, such as the possibility of students accessing these on-campus guns.  Additionally, will the average person or teacher be trained to react in an emergency situation?  Police officers and the military go through extensive training to be effective in high-risk scenarios and there are still mistakes.  Are we willing to put our teachers in this position and, in general, to expect the same degree of responsibility from a civilian?  I am not saying that a brave individual cannot step up and lives, but this is not a tactic that we should be relying on to keep people safe.  What statistics exist suggesting that an individual with a consealed weapon has been able to prevent a mass shooting or decrease a death toll?

Next, as a school psychologist, I work with students who are diagnosed with or are being evaluated for Autism Spectrum Disorders, Learning Disabilities, ADHD, Anxiety, Panic Disorder, Depression, Oppositional Defiance Disorder, you name it.   As a trained mental health professional, there is no screening to say someone is likely to commit a crime or not.  We often use both formal (normed and standardized tests and rating scales) and informal (interviews, observations, clinical judgement) sources of data to inform our decisions to conclude that a person has this or that going on. But social and emotional functioning is not a hard science, it is an area with a lot of gray.  When we do identify a threat to self or others, it is our legal duty to report and act.  Please don’t ever think that school-based staff or mental health professionals already do not take these issues seriously.   Additionally, while I encourage our government to make mental health a priority, lets be careful not to conflate mental health with the availability and usage of guns.  According to a research article published by the NCBI, the percentage of crimes committed by mentally ill people account for less than 3-5% of all crimes, and accounts for even less of the percentage of crimes involving guns.  This means that we do not have evidence that those with mental illness are more likely to commit a crime, especially with a gun, than any other person. Moreover, a second article, states that “evidence overwhelmingly demonstrates that suicide, not homicide, is the most significant public health concern in terms of guns and mental illness,” meaning that those with mental illness are much more likely to hurt themselves than someone else.  So while this argument about mental illness and guns has some validity (in terms of it being considered as part of a process for gun access), we need to be more mindful about how we are continuing to stigmatize mental illness more than it already is.  We need to support each other instead of pointing fingers, blaming, or making excuses.

I often hear gun supporters saying “Well if someone wants a gun they’ll find a way to get it.”  You’re right.  As the old adage goes, where there’s a will there’s a way.   I have also heard people say, “the increase in mass shootings seems related with the decreased parental discipline of current generations.”  I would like to address these statements and any other similar statements with the following:  1) correlation or a relationship does not imply causation, ie. x and y might be related but it does not mean x causes y 2) there is no retroactive way to change the home life and discipline that a person experienced growing up, instead we can focus on the present day problem – use and access of guns – and make sure we consider these different areas (mental health, moral character, personal history, history of infractions) when establishing regulations for access 3) it should not be the job of individuals, schools, or mental health agencies to protect the general population from gun violence when protection of the masses is the responsibility of the government and 4) it should not be the job of individuals, schools, or mental health agencies to supervise or regulate gun access when it is the responsibility of the government – just the same as how regulating food and drugs is the responsibility of the government.  Again, it is the governments job to protect its’ people.  It is the governments job to protect its’ people from forces outside of our country as much as it is to protect from forces inside of our country.  It is the governments’ job to protect our rights, but it is also their job to protect our livelihood.    Will we (mental health professionals and anyone else) help? OF COURSE.   But this is a top-down decision – create the legislation to restrict access, establish a screening and background check process and we will be there for you to do the grunt work.

So this is the question I am asking you all today:  At what point is our right to bear arms killing more people than it is protecting them?  Is it not possible for a citizens right to bear arms to coexist with gun laws restricting access to guns?

Comment your thoughts.

Advertisements

100 Miles to Joy

Have you heard this analogy before?

“Imagine there is a bank account that credits your account each morning with $86,400.  It carries over no balance from day to day.  Every evening the bank deletes whatever part of the balance you failed to use during the day.  What would you do do?  Draw out every cent, of course?  Each of us has such a bank.  Its name is time.  Every morning, it credits you with 86,400 seconds.  Eery night it writes off as lost, whatever of this you have failed to invest to a good purpose.  It carries over no balance.  It allows no over draft.  Each day it opens a new account for you.  Each night it burns the remains of the day.  If you fail to use the day’s deposits, the loss is yours.  There is no drawing against “tomorrow.”  You must live in the present on today’s deposits.  Invest it so as to get from it the upmost in health, happiness and success.  The clock is running.  Make the most of today.”

Source – Unknown.

Pretty good right?  When you make time an easily accessible idea like money, suddenly how you use it and how you want to use it becomes much more clear.

What if we applied this concept to human energy?  Let’s pretend you get 100 miles on your car everyday.  The tank refills automatically every night, and that is the only time it can be refilled, so you can only go your 100 miles.  If you didn’t use any of your miles one day, you have a full tank ready to go for tomorrow.  If you run out of gas on the road, the amount of miles you had to use to make it back to your destination will be deducted from your miles for the next day.   You get equal milage on highways, traffic, backroads, etc (bear with me!) – so the only thing that matters is your 100 miles.

Now imagine all of the activities in your life that require energy whether mental energy, physical energy, emotional energy, or other.  The more energy that an activity requires, the more mileage it requires.

Here is a sample list:  Work – 70 miles, exercise – 10 miles, cooking/cleaning – 15 miles, taking care of pets – 5 miles.  Uh oh – no miles for a relationship today.  Should you minus 5 for tomorrow?  Or wait and configure your miles for the next day differently?

Here is a different example:  Work – 20 miles, children – 60 miles, spouse – 5 miles, housework – 10 miles, reading/self-care – 5 miles.  You decided your partner needed 10 miles to spice things up recently, where will that fit?  What about the online class you’re taking?  Or blog you were trying to keep up with?  How will the miles get used?  Today or tomorrow, or the next day?

Eventually, if you keep “borrowing” miles from the next day, you will be left with a day with only a few miles on it, and you might even need to take a break from behind the wheel.   So the big question is, are you satisfied with how you are using your miles?  If you are, that’s fantastic!  If you aren’t, where can you make some changes?  What patterns are you noticing in where your miles go and how it leaves “miles” for other activities?  Where is there room for miles to get used differently?

What if you had $86,400 in your bank account daily and 100 miles you could drive?  How would you use it?  How would you spend your time and energy?

 

From Indifference to Make a Difference

Last night I watched the 1970’s film “Big Little Man,” a socially conscious movie highlighting the differences between lives of early Americans and Native Americans, and the injustices to the latter.  After the movie ended, I felt deeply saddened and angry at the state of the world and at the historical and current injustices against certain groups both inside and outside of America.   I felt scared about the increasing tensions between the United States and North Korea and about the threat of nuclear war.  I felt gridlocked in my ability to change what seems to be a repetitive historical narrative of oppression, the power of power (the ability to influence others, especially tied to social status and ranking) and privilege (advantages granted to certain groups or individuals over others). The movie even made me feel gratitude for my family, the love in my life, and even for my privilege – that I am not in a group where most of these issues impact me directly.

Now, don’t misunderstand me – I am not discounting the great progresses that have been made in the world and in America over the years.   I recognize that change also requires a catalyst.  But I am frustrated at what can be done, at what can do.  What contributions can individuals make to make this planet better and more equitable for each of us?  How can we harness our goodness, our privilege, our power to do so?  It is so easy to get wrapped up in the day-to-day of our lives.  It is easy to turn the other cheek because an issue is not affecting us.  It’s easy to not know what to do.  But let me tell you:

323427deacd2f213ec71f2d56bd1b82f---beds-make-a-difference

(Photo credit: poster hung in a room for Malaria awareness)

So now, I’m asking you, dear Internet… What do we do to help?   If you think you’re too small to make a difference, remember that one becomes 2 and 2 becomes 3 and suddenly we have a caucus!   We can be vocal with our thoughts.  We can engage in thought-provoking conversations (not arguments) with others.  We can donate to organizations and not-for-profits?  What else can we do?  I want to know.  I want to know because I want to be a doer and not just a thinker.

When we are in relationships we are often told, “Actions speak louder than words.”  Well, we are in a relationship with each of our fellow beings and with our planet.  What are actions we can take to show we care?  What are the ways in which we can contribute?  What are ways in which you are already contributing?

“Now, we must all fear evil men.  But, there is another kind of evil which we must fear… and that is the indifference of good men.”  Boondock Saints 1999

 

Practicing Presence

Recently, my mom asked me about meditation.  She said, “I just don’t understand how to do it.  How do you turn your mind off, how do you clear it?”  For a long time, I had no idea.  It was an elusive concept that seemed extremely easy to say, but much harder to put into practice.  How do you live in the moment? Do you let the moment guide you and your decisions? Live based off of your impulses?

Well, I’ve been exploring this concept and concentrating on applying it in my life.  Here are some practical tips I’ve practiced that have made this slippery concept more tangible:

  1. Focus on what is happening right now.  Who are you around?  Where are you?  What are the different stimuli your senses are taking in (what do you see, hear, feel, smell, or even taste?).
  2. Do not focus on what is not.  Let go of your hopes, expectations, or anything else your mind has created for wherever you are right now and get back to what is actually happening.  Accept that.  If you have a thought that creeps in, “Well I was hoping this potluck was going to have more vegetarian options,” tell yourself OH WELL!  Check out actuality instead and make your next move based on that.
  3. Catch yourself when you start drifting away from the moment.  Our thoughts and emotions are often developing so automatically, that this can be the most difficult step.  Recognize when you stopped taking in the outside world and when thoughts, often judgement, creep in (“I can’t believe she did that!”), or when emotion is building (stomach in knots).  When you recognize them, say hello, and then consciously focus back on the moment.  You may find yourself floating back to your thoughts and feelings, and that’s OKAY!  It takes practice.
  4. Be kind to yourself.  Practicing presence is like getting to know yourself all over again – you are re-wiring yourself to experience life differently.  It takes time and practice, be patient.

Overall, being present does not suggest abandonment of oneself.  It suggests staying in tune with the moment, in tune and in check with yourself, and taking it all one step at a time.  Yes, “Carpe Diem!,” seize the day, live (and love) now because tomorrow is not promised.  But don’t worry! You will not become a vagabond running rampant.  When letting go of your thoughts, judgments, expectations, fears, worries, doubts, etc, you are not letting go of you.  In fact, presence will likely bring you closer to your true self, while alloying you to shed all of the created conceptions of your identity.   You become the “I am,” and lose the, “I think I am,” “I should be,” and “I want to be.”

 
“Watch your thoughts, they become words.  Watch your words, they become actions.  Watch your actions, they become habits.  Watch your habits, they become your character.  Watch your character, it becomes your destiny.”  –Lao Tzu

Live Now or Forever Delay Your Peace

When my boyfriend in high school cheated on me with a long-time family friend, I thought a part of me died.   For a long time (five years) I didn’t dare let another man get close – in fact, it even impacted my friendships with other women.   A part of me had died – the trusting, forgiving, vulnerable being.  I felt violated, and thought of myself as a victim in a cold, cruel, unfair world that was love.

Trust, or distrust I should say, has continued to dominate aspects of my personal life.  It’s difficult to say whether I may take some twisted sort of pleasure in being the victim, or if the thought of my personal victimhood has been so pervasive in my self-narrative that it has become part of my identity.

In Eckhart Tolle’s book, The Power of Now, he discusses the following idea which forced me to question my created reality as victim:

“What you think of as the past is a memory trace, stored in the mind, of a former Now.  When you remember the past, you reactivate a memory trace… The future is an imagined Now, a projection of the mind… Past and future obviously have no reality of their own.  Just as the moon has no light of its own, but can only reflect the light of the sun, so are past and future only pale reflections of the light, power, and reality of the eternal present.  Their reality is “borrowed” from the Now.”

The idea here is that, all that exists in our lives is the current moment.  Each passing moment, is the only reality that is real, alive, and breathing.    The past is a memory and only exists in mind.  Similarly, the future has not yet been created and also only exists in mind.  Therefore, the present is all and everything that we have.

I speak specifically of the past when I say that yes our experiences shape who we are in the present.  But it is the existence and moreover the persistence of our thoughts that allow those experiences and the attached beliefs to live on.  If I continue to believe in and engage in my thoughts of victimhood, I allow this past to endure and to exist in my current reality, in my “Now.”   The fire burns because I fuel it.

In this sense, we are both the cause and the solution to our problems.  This can be terrifying but it is also empowering.  It suggests that while the world around us is largely outside of our control, our thoughts, beliefs, and reactions are within our control – that our very thoughts are what molds our realities, our “Now’s.”  While I could not control the actions of my ex-boyfriend or friend, I have the power to prevent the memory from poisoning my current reality.  We are the deciders of our happiness, our depression, our serenity, our anxiety, or any other emotion.  When we can control our thinking (instead of letting our thoughts run amuck), we become oriented to and connected to the present moment.  Despite what is without us, peace and joy can still be found within us if we choose them and allow them to be.

So, what would happen if we stopped feeding our fires?  Would they go out?  Would they cease to burn? Well, I’m ready to find out – but I believe that eventually, yes!

Kicking Into Gear

Hi friends,

After a long hiatus, I am excited to be writing again.  It’s surprising that it’s been two years since my last post – time really does fly!

I bring this post to you in light of one of the ebbs of the flow of life – one in which I have been feeling stuck, stagnant, and as if forward moving progress has been limited.  While reflecting on some of the sources of impact (both within and without) I came up with the following daily reminders to begin moving forward:

  1. Don’t compare.  What we see, or what most people show us, is just the tip of the iceberg of their lives.
  2. Be present.  Listen to listen, not to respond.  Try to take each moment the way it is; don’t let your thoughts, beliefs, impressions, or expectations get in the way of the experience.  Be aware when those distractors occur and wish them off promptly!
  3. Be positive.  Be mindful of the negative thoughts and words that you may say about yourself to yourself, to others, or about the circumstances of your life.  It is okay to experience the aforementioned, it is not okay to perseverate.  Engage in positive, fulfilling, self-caring and self-loving activities.

How do you get your mind back in gear after getting stuck?  What are some ways you practice non-comparison, being present, and being positive?

25itude

Two days ago, I turned 25.  About two weeks ago, I resolved that with the new year I would practice gratitude.  One week later, I happened to attend a seminar at work where the speaker discussed optimism and how it fosters vitality and hope.  She suggested the use of a “gratitude journal” where everyday, you are to write a couple of current happenings for which you are grateful for.  Evidently, habitually identifying gratitude worthy incidences eventually rewires the brain to automatically do it itself!  So, every night, I began jotting down 2-3 bullet points of moments for which I was grateful for that day.  So far, I was writing down moments that made me happy.  While I understood how I could train my brain to practice gratitude, the concept of gratitude itself still escaped me until this evening while watching a movie:

“…I guess I could be pretty pissed off about what happened to me.  But it’s hard to stay mad when there’s so much beauty in the world.  Sometimes I feel like I’m seeing it all at once and its too much.  My heart fills up like a balloon that’s about to burst… And then I remember to relax, and stop trying to hold on to it.  And then it flows through me like rain, and I can’t feel anything but gratitude. “

-Kevin Spacey, American Beauty

So, gratitude is a choice.  Gratitude is a lens that enables us to find joy in anything and everything.  Gratitude is knowing that all that we live and feel is fleeting.  Gratitude is finding the joy, accepting that it is transient, allowing ourselves to live and love it, and being thankful that we were able to experience it once it is has passed.

What does gratitude mean to you?