“This will be our reply to violence: to make music more intensely, more beautifully, more devotedly than ever before.”
~ Leonard Bernstein
As a gay man, the events of June 12th, 2016 hit me like a knife in the heart. It is unspeakable, unfathomable, unbelievable - the grief, the anger, and the horror acknowledging that someone could contain within themselves the desire, let alone the ability, to wreak such incomprehensible violence.
One man murdering forty-nine people and gunning down countless others is a devastating and abhorrent event, no matter the community affected, but it feels more personal for me being my LGTBQ brothers and sisters who died.
A good night out, something our community has appreciated since the hushed days of closeted life, should never be met with anything other than joy, and yet on June 12th, a place of freedom became a symbol of hate.
In witnessing the mainstream news coverage, however, we do not see the real issue of hate represented as it should be, but rather the hate is sidelined and subsumed under the banner of “terrorism”.
Couching this tragedy in the terms of a globalized terrorism ideology is inappropriate, ignorant and harmful, as it distracts and obstructs us from acknowledging that this was an act of hate against a still-marginalized segment of the population. This is not and should not be discussed as a symptom of “Islamic terrorism” versus the West, and thereby have this night of horror be anesthetized of its specificity: which is that it happened to LGBTQ people.
Yes, Omar Mateen was a Muslim, but why does that matter beyond perhaps giving us a glimpse into one of the factors (among many) that shaped his psychology? Unstable individuals plagued by hate is a phenomenon not unique to any one religion, race, nationality or socio-demographic. Furthermore, for those quick to make sweeping judgments, as the below video shows from Huffington Post, Muslims (like everyone) are saddened and horrified by the events in Orlando.
Of course, we shouldn't need a video to remind us that Muslims are also humans with hearts full of love, but apparently we do, as our pervasive and embarrassing rate of Islamophobia in this country is currently manipulating a hate crime into a "terrorist act".
The next video lays out the details better than I can.
By extracting from Omar’s Muslim identity a general criticism of Islam and global terrorism, besides being racist, abstracts the conversation away from what is, in fact, much more specific -- that, in our culture, violent hatred persists in certain unstable members of society, period. And that the LGBTQ community is still an easy target for this misdirected anger and hatred -- anger and hatred that, in our country of troubled and backward priorities, has no trouble finding firearms to express itself.
I grant that it would not be entirely appropriate for me to assume that I know Omar was a closet case, but when images of him were paraded through the media, my gaydar had a moment. What I saw wasn’t a radical muslim terrorist, but an internally conflicted human being who is battling the deepest disavowed part of himself by battling the reflection of that part that he sees mirrored in the world around him.
And even if he wasn't a closet case, the man was at least severely mentally ill, a fact testified to by his ex-wife, who has shared publicly that he beat her and held her hostage from her family.
But Omar did pledge his allegiance to ISIS, so we're told, and of course this means we’re expected to start pointing our finger at ISIS and tacitly invited to mobilize our hatred and fears around an inhuman epidemic of terrorism in the world - an epidemic that (according to the Trumps and the warmongers) apparently needs MORE violence to smite it out.
Call me crazy, but I just don’t think we're gaining anything by seeing Omar as an “evil, inhuman terrorist”. I want to see a human, just like me, who somehow got contracted -- so contracted that his “suicide” caused the death and harm of over a hundred people; indeed, it was the deadliest in US history.
So the question, for me, is not “How do we deal with terrorism?”, but “How and when does a human being become like an atom bomb? How does a human being begin to vibrate so densely that he has no perceived avenue but to explode, taking down everything and everyone in his wake? And even more, how can we help people like this?
As a person who seeks understanding, I choose not to look to fear-induced and fear-mongering reactions for my information (like Trump’s claim that this is “just the beginning” and that he was “right all along”), but I choose to look rather to the life-affirming wisdom of the Eastern traditions, especially that of Saivism and the Tantrik teachings of Kashmir.
In this tradition, everything is considered vibration, or spanda. All is layers upon layers of vibration, and the name for that primordial vibration is Para Vak, or the supreme word. Speech, therefore, and ideas, are not just banal realities, for this tradition, for in fact they reflect and frame the very fabric of existence.
From the trees to the birds to the stars to my thoughts and my physical body, all emanates a certain frequency of vibration that causes phenomena to appear and manifest in a particular way -- an observation of reality, by the way, that is almost perfectly aligned with modern scientific discussions around string theory and quantum physics.
What distinguishes one vibration from another is its degree of contraction or expansion, and so to be operating according to limiting beliefs, beliefs that inspire hatred and aggression, is to be severely contracted: to be vibrating at a frequency so high in pitch that it's bound to break glass.
To expand is to vibrate anew, to be a different song. Indeed, it isn't a wonder why, according to this philosophy, sacred sound, chanting and mantra become so significant. They aren't just cute, arcane rituals; they literally carry within themselves seeds that will ripen and reshape material reality.
But what does all this talk of vibration have to do with the events at Orlando?
In the Shaiva Tantra tradition, there are said to be suddha and asuddha vikalpas. A vikalpa is a construction or a concept that organizes the activity of the mind and therefore behavior. It is essentially a story or a narrative that drives the world to appear in a particular way, due to the matrix of understanding that a vikalpa supports. Vikalpas can be contractive or expansive.
An asuddha vikalpa is a construction that limits your own self-understanding. It is a conceptual straightjacket that shapes one’s worldview around a sense of separateness from others and the rest of life.
A suddha vikalpa is, alternatively, a construction that expands your own self-understanding. This conception or story is a guidepost pointing toward a sense of expansiveness and a higher, more encompassing vibration.
Everything that contracts must expand, according to the meditative observations of this tradition. Or, from another angle, every contraction, however much violence it produces, contains within itself an opportunity for expansion.
Whether that opportunity is taken up is up to us. Whether we shut down and contract or we use this tragedy as an opportunity for awakening lies in our habituated modes of reactivity, which are in turn shaped by how many asuddha vikalpas have begun to take root in our awareness.
Every tragic event is undecided in how it will ripple out historically. For example, a wiser government, informed by a more expansive understanding, might have responded differently to the events of September 11th.
Our grief at the June events could easily morph into anger and then be fodder for the ideological agenda of a demagogue. Or we could respond with an understanding that, sadly and maddeningly, in some individuals, energy contracts to the point of explosion…
The ideology of terrorism asks us to react with more contraction, with more limiting ideas of “good” and “evil”. But armed with our suddha vikalpas, we respond with a new song, knowing that the only path to healing is to vibrate expansively and inclusively.
Hatred must stop, but it can't be stopped with more hatred, which is contraction battling contraction. Some of us call this expansion love, and in this moment, we must recruit and call forth every arsenal of love we have available to us. Love for the victims, love for each other… and yes, even love for those who, deadened inside by limiting thoughts and beliefs, know not who they are or what they do.
As emotions run high and grief boils the soul, what hangs in the balance is the choice between responding with wisdom or reacting with ignorance.
Which will be our path?