Beyond gun control, inner peace

America needs to reconnect with divine presence

The author is a member of the Order of Interbeing, the core community of Vietnamese Zen master Thich Nhat Hanh. She is one of the organizers of Slowly Ripening Sangha, where she has practiced for more than 10 years, and is a member of the Chico New Thought Center for Spiritual Living. She lives in Chico with her partner and their three children.

Recent horrific events have rocked our nation. Innocent people have died in close-to-home places like Connecticut and Colorado. What can be done? While I’m pleased that the White House is talking about stricter gun control, it’s not the entire solution to America’s dilemma. America needs spirituality, a return to our connection with divine presence.

One has but to look around the world to see that gun control saves lives. The United States, without gun control, loses 9.2 of 100,000 people each year to firearm-related deaths. In countries with gun control, this number drops to 0.25 (United Kingdom) and 0.07 (Japan). But the story is not complete without looking at the role of individuals. The guns don’t pull their own triggers.

There are sad, common threads among the perpetrators. All appeared to have repressed extreme anger, anxiety and more. The analogy to volcanoes is helpful for understanding that powerful, intensely difficult emotions had been smoldering for a long while and that the events themselves were the eruption. While most of us, thankfully, don’t routinely experience this level of despair, virtually everyone feels anger and anxiety from time to time. Negative emotions are an undeniable part of the human experience.

Spirituality offers peace that we can access right here, right now. We can sit quietly, perhaps with our morning tea, listening to the songs of the birds. We can meditate in silence in the shadow of a flickering candle, or nestle ourselves in the comfort of a heartfelt prayer. These offer blessed relief from the hurry and worry of contemporary life, a break from the chatter of the human mind. But there’s more, for it is from this place of stillness that we can begin to transform our own negative emotions.

Spiritual teachers encourage us to sit quietly and hold our anger in an awareness of compassion. Yet the teachings don’t stop there, in that we are advised to look deeply at the roots of anger in order to heal deep-seated emotional wounds. Buddhism teaches that healing such wounds is spiritual work of the utmost importance. The fruit of this work is peace, insight, and the ability to support others in their work. This is how our own personal peace translates to peace in the world.

America needs spirituality. We need the inner peace, the healing of emotional wounds, and more compassion. What are we waiting for? It’s all right here, right now.