How a meditation on Taking away suffering and Giving love helped me process the Orlando shooting

I was still in bed on Sunday when I received a message from a CNN colleague asking if I could come into work to help cover the breaking news. A mass shooting, the message said. I clicked on CNN’s homepage, the headline read: 20 dead, toll expected to rise. By the time I finished breakfast, the death toll was 50.

That Sunday, I’d promised my family we’d go on a wilderness hike, so I spent the day with them instead. Not out of duty, but because I wanted to be surrounded by the ones I loved. I wanted to laugh with them, walk next to them and listen to their beautiful voices. I didn’t want to take a second of the day for granted. Once again we were reminded, life was so precious. In an instant, it was gone.

On Monday, I joined into the collective sense of grief on social media. The loss was unimaginable. Forty-nine lives cut short by someone consumed by their own hatred. Later I learned, one of the victims had moved from Puerto Rico to Florida, like I did in 2002. I expect we had shared memories of the home we left behind, and shared hopes for the future.  Hi family, like mine, still lived on the Island.

In the afternoon, my grief turned into deep sadness as I watched a major party’s Presidential nominee call for a ban on all Muslims immigrants and then encouraged both hatred and fear.

My heart ached for my friends—LGBTQ, Muslims and immigrants—and for the dimness of our present circumstance.

How do we begin to process such a hellish reality?

Taking and Giving—a 2,500 year old practice

I needed to do something. But what could I do from my desk in Atlanta? Or stuck in traffic on the way home? My answer came in the form of an age-old Buddhist practice called Taking and Giving. It’s been said that this practice is like a powerful crystal able to purify even the most unthinkable of sufferings. And it can be done on the go.

The result was an almost immediate sense of connection with everyone in Orlando and the world. A mental solidarity of sorts. It was a heart-felt wish to take away their pain and give them peace. And in the process, dissolve my own sense of helplessness.

To begin, with a mind of strong compassion, we “take” others suffering into our own heart in the form of black smoke. We imagine that the black smoke destroys our own sadness, anger and hatred. Only pure love is left. Through the power of our love, our heart transforms into pure light. Then we “give” this pure love in the form of radiant light to others—to everyone, even our so-called enemies. Eventually, we learn to combine this practice with breathing, so that every breath becomes meaningful.

My teacher, Geshe Kelsang Gyatso says “Love is the real nuclear bomb that destroys all our enemies, because when we love all living beings, we have no enemies.”

People who are peaceful and happy would never commit such heinous crimes, so why not wish everyone to be happy? For me, this is the very definition of universal love.

Tonight, as I pray for peace in our world, I will join my Buddhist community in reciting this special prayer, meant as a wish of immeasurable love:

May everyone be happy.

May everyone be free from misery.

May no one every be separated from their happiness.

May everyone have equanimity, free from hatred and attachment.

May everyone be free from hatred. #OnlyLove