How to get above & beyond the unnatural...

Mental illness Myths


Crosshairs on America

Focus on Mass Shootings

A few days ago I watched President Obama’s tearful plea to the nation to take strong action to prevent another mass shooting and was reminded of a newspaper piece I wrote following the attack on Representative Gabrielle Giffords. I thought I would dig it out and share it, and so here it is:


Two days following the massacre in Tucson I am facing the blank page and picturing a nine-year-old girl being killed for no reason. My mood is one of deep sadness, the kind that makes a person feel like giving up. The gunman is reported to be mentally unstable. That’s within my realm of expertise, so I should have some informed thoughts.But I must confess I'm having trouble bringing them out. Michael Moore, always quick on the draw, points out that Sarah Palin had put cross hairs over a map of Arizona, indicating Representative Giffords as a proposed target, but, of course Sarah wasn’t really advocating her death, just her political defeat. I would agree that it was dumb of Sarah, but then Sarah is a person of limited intellect who likes guns and she probably didn’t waste a lot of time thinking before she chose the graphic. Another reporter brought Glenn Beck into the discussion and rightly so because Beck seems to thrive on violent rhetoric, but to bring those two to trial for this tragedy only focuses on a couple of blowhards who will one day mature to the place of reflective thought and feel really bad that they wasted their lives being cheerleaders for the lunatic fringe!

One of the people on their lunatic fringe team is Jared Loughner, the “suspected” shooter who was described by the sheriff as “mentally unstable.” Question – Has anyone who has just killed half a dozen strangers and wounded a dozen more been mentally stable? My opinion is that such an act can only be committed by a person existing many miles below the plateau of sanity

In the days and weeks before he took his place in the ranks of mass murderers, he gave the world around him several startling clues as to the nature of his mental and emotional state. How many of his associates read phrases such as “Wow, I’m glad I didn’t kill myself. I’ll see you on national TV,” and “I don’t feel good: I’m ready to kill a police officer.”?

Perhaps it is just my training as a mental health worker that causes me to think that statements like those warrant an immediate and focused response. Within the confines of facilities for the mentally ill, whenever a suicidal or homicidal idea is verbalized, the patient immediately becomes the primary focus of the entire facility. The team will maintain its focus on that patient until such time as all threat is removed. Apparently Jared’s remarks were noted by many people who did not respond. In the aforementioned facility for the mentally ill, the only people forgiven for not responding are the minority of patients already too lost in their own psychosis or dementia to appropriately respond to the world around them.

I guess if we as a sane society (and just how sane is open to question) are to round up Glenn Beck, Sarah Palin and other purveyors of intolerance and violence, we might as well round up all those who were aware of Jared’s mental state and did nothing and see what they have to say for themselves. I can’t resist the temptation to cast the net a bit further and capture all those who profit from the violent TV, movie and video games aimed at our children’s minds and emotions. Maybe I’m just getting old, but it seems to me that the violent images I encountered as a kid were like a comic pie-in-the-face compared to the graphic gore that passes for entertainment today. What effect is this having on our children?

A word about the mentally ill: I’ve worked intimately with hundreds of people diagnosed as being severely mentally ill, and I will say that as a population they were some of the most interesting, kindly-disposed, gentle people I’ve ever known. In one large group home I occasionally did a sleepover shift and never once worried about locking the staff bedroom door. It wasn’t just that the patients were medicated that warranted my trust; it was simply that there was no impulse in their hearts or minds to do harm! They may have been ill, but their moral, social and ethical senses were intact

I’m not at all shocked that Saturday’s events occurred. The random acts of violence in this nation have become almost commonplace. We are becoming more prone to acts of violence as the population increases, society speeds up, and the wars drone on, depleting our resources and compromising our sense of righteousness. It is difficult as a nation to wonder about violence as we rake in the revenues from our lofty position as weapons supplier to the world.

Forgive my rambling. This is just an attempt to make some sort of sense of all this. I can’t advise you, but I’ll share how I manage to keep on living a healthy, happy life in spite of the spiraling madness. I go back to the lessons I learned in India 37 years ago at the feet of the Master Osho. He said there is very little that can be done about the outside world, and that great mischief has been done by well-intentioned people attempting to help others. He suggested that instead of pointing the finger at others, to instead turn 180 degrees and shine the light on your own being. The process of meditation is to inwardly locate all areas of greed, envy, hatred, fear and anger and to bring in the light of awareness. The real miracle, he said, is that in simply creating within yourself a climate of love, peace, health and joy, you immediately, with no effort, infect others.

I’ll close by sharing a story he told of a “primitive” tribe that exists in a remote part of India, untouched by modern society. In this village, the people live in absolute harmony with nature and with each other. Their lives are quite ordinary. They work, hunt, prepare food, raise children, create art, celebrate special days, honor their elders and worship their idea of God. And, they sing! At sunrise each day, as they are waking and tidying up their individual living spaces, they begin to sing a particular song, an offering to the new day. Emerging from their individual spaces, they continue singing as they gather in a circle at the center of the village. When all are gathered, the song subsides and they share their dreams with each other. It is believed that in dreams they become more in touch with their inner beings and with the divine pulse of the world. They do not differentiate between the dream world and the waking world. In fact, if a person dreams that he has offended a neighbor, he goes to that neighbor, bringing a gift and asking for forgiveness. Following the morning gathering, each person goes about his or her daily duties. At sunset they gather again in a circle, share stories from the day, and begin singing another song. Still singing, they leave the circle and disappear for the night into their own space and into their own dream. In this village there is no sickness, no divorce, no theft, no murder, and no evil intent of any kind

I offer this story simply as a suggestion that perhaps these primitive people have something valuable to share with us. We certainly can’t return to that kind of primitive lifestyle, but perhaps we can create a modern version of the spirit of that village, a more honest, gentle way of living. Imagine a society based on music, introspection, sharing and honesty! There would be no need of guns, Glenn Beck or Sarah Palin, and someone like Jared would stand out against that gentle backdrop and would immediately be offered all the help he needed to purge himself of darkness and rejoin the human family.

Designed &