Trayvon Martin: A case for pain management

Trayvon Martin: A case for pain management
Like a lot of people, I’ve been reading this week about Trayvon Martin, a young man gunned down on a street in Sanford, Florida.
And as I try to breathe through the anger and overwhelming sadness that this case brings up for me, I recognize another prominent feeling: frustration.
How is it that the man who killed him, George Zimmerman, wasn’t even arrested? How can it be that witnesses weren’t gathered and questioned? How can it be that Zimmerman can just walk around with a gun? How can it be that this family, these friends, these classmates and teachers, this community, this world, has lost this young man in a moment of apparent madness that hasn’t been reconciled in any way?
How can we live with each other like this?
Trayvon Martin’s parents Tracy Martin and Sabrina Fulton talk about their son’s killing. photo by David Shankbone.
The entire situation is reminiscent of a child’s puzzle in which the goal is to find all the crazy or out-of-place things. There are so many things that don’t make sense in this situation. It can’t be that a young black man, talking to his girlfriend, carrying nothing more than Skittles and iced tea could be threatening enough to kill. Surely, this man who was out of line will have to account for his behavior?
It’s easy to spiral into despondency or despair when we consider a loss like this and what it means not only for the immediate loved ones of Trayvon Martin, but also for the world as a whole.
Years ago, a situation like this would take me down for days. I would become paralyzed by the grief. These didn’t have to be my crises particularly. They simply had to involve human weakness. The start of another war, the shootings at Columbine, the indecency of the Catholic Church. I fumbled for a way to live in the same world next to these realities.  
But during a crisis of my very own, I learned of the power of sitting with the pain and then systemically processing it. Suffering can morph into compassion.
What I learned about is an ancient Tibetan Buddhist process called tonglen. This practice is closely associated with loving-kindness, a systematic practice of sending people love and kindness and wishes for ease.   
In tonglen, we learn to use our breath: on the in-breath, we receive the suffering of another, on the out-breath, we send them peace and happiness. We picture the ones who are suffering, we attempt to alleviate their suffering by carrying and taking some of their pain.
Mettā, or loving-kindness, is a meditation that sends love and ease to an ever-expanding list of people:  ourselves, a loved one, an acquaintance, an enemy, and finally to everyone everywhere.  
These practices have been around for thousands of years and practiced by millions of people. More people are discovering them today as many modern teachers are showing people how they work. People resonate with their simple, true, and practical way of coping.
You don’t have to be a particular kind of person to meditate. You don’t have to be a Buddhist. You don’t have to “be” anything, just a human being dealing with suffering. Cultivating a loving-kindness for ourselves and others is the work of all people, everywhere. Some of us just don’t know it yet.
We all struggle with the pain of living. These two practices give us an effective tool for helping ourselves through the pain. We can turn to these simple and powerful tools when a situation threatens to overwhelm us. A situation like Trayvon Martin’s.
Do we know that these meditations help the people that we are considering? Ah, the mysterious ways of the universe. Who has that answer?
One thing for certain is that by using these things, the people using them become better able to bring peace and love to the world. For themselves and their part of the world. That counts. When we send loving-kindness to Trayvon’s parents, when we take some of the pain in and send it back out into the world as compassion. Bit by bit, we transform the sorrow.  
A young man is dead. The failure of the police to fully investigate that death is a flagrant betrayal of justice.  
When we look at the faces of Trayvon Martin’s mother and father, we can see the pain over the loss of their boy. 
We can push for a proper investigation. We can continue to consider our gun laws. We can work to educate people about the damage of fear: between different races, between different generations. We can do many practical and useful things in this situation to transform this reckless waste into a moment of learning how to do things differently. Using loving-kindness and tonglen can be an effective part of the work.

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