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How do we Approach the Sandy Hook Tragedy Spiritually?


Praying is not enough.

When I picked up my twin first-graders from elementary school of Friday, the energy of the children was beautiful – they had spent the last hours before the holiday break having a “Winter Celebration.”  The noise level at dismissal time was twice what is usually is – a playground full of kids couldn’t contain their joy from having had a day of celebration, hugging their classmates goodbye and gleefully yelling “see you next year!”

I thought to myself how beautiful it was that they had no idea about the day’s headlines.  That they didn’t have the images of the crying children at Sandy Hook being escorted out of their elementary school by law enforcement officials replaying in their heads.  They were innocent and joyful, as life should be for them.   The faces of the parents, however, told a very different story.  Many parents had tears in their eyes and spoke quietly to each other about the news, exchanging common stories, that they had left work early to pick up their kids instead of sending them to an after school program because the reality that Sandy Hook could happen anywhere is very real.  Every parent hugged his or her child with a little more presence than we did yesterday.

Personally, I also turned my focus to trying to find the best spiritual approach to dealing with this tragedy. I prayed for the children. I thought about how many hundreds of thousands of people of all religions and backgrounds will do the same, and what a beautiful thing that is. But I also know that is not enough.

This tragedy deserves a deeper contemplation, and action on the part of all us who are compassionate, and spiritual, who believe that good can overcome evil.

If we look at this tragedy under through some basic tenets of the Buddhist tradition we might find some small morsel of understanding, and a more progressive spiritual way to deal with another senseless school shooting.

I turned to Buddhism because Buddhism is grounded reason, which I felt necessary in facing my grief over terror of what these children experienced.  Buddhism teaches its followers to contemplate, rather than ignore, the reality and the meaning of death, and also provides the framework for grounding one’s spirituality in both optimism and realism.

Three Buddhist thoughts for dealing with death or tragedy:

1) Impermanence.

In Buddhism, it is considered a certainty that all of us will die one day and that we do not know the time or place of that occurrence. When we come to understand that life is impermanent and unpredictable, that everybody is going to die including ourselves, we can find some ground for developing greater wisdom about our fear of death, even when mourning the deaths of innocent children.

2) At the heart of Buddhism lies both realism and optimism.

Realism alone leads to despair. And optimism alone obscures the real work of a spiritual practice.

We can use realism as a conduit to an honest and unswerving recognition of the suffering and violence in our world.   We can use our optimism to recognize the potential for alleviating suffering and violence.  And we can use our practice to remove from our hearts the toxic forces of greed, hate, and delusion – replacing them with peace, loving-kindness, and compassion.  In the Buddhist tradition, it is important to be both realistic and optimistic.

3) Karma

In the face of unimaginable tragedy, violence and fear, Buddhists would look at Karma.  Not necessarily to analyze the karma of the children or others who lost their lives (there could be many Buddhist interpretations for this) but to look at the collective Karma of all of us witnessing this tragedy, and to contemplate how to turn what has happened into something that may be beneficial for our society.  Our life is related to our actions. Buddhists accept what happens –  but also know that how one works with a situation….what one does because of an event, is also important.

For the innocent children and all the victims of Sandy hook (including the shooter), we can help through arousing our compassion, while engaging in prayers and religious practices (from any tradition.) Our prayers should include a heartfelt wish that such a disaster would never again occur, and that all children could be shielded from evil. But, our life is related to our actions, and prayer alone will not prevent another school shooting.    It’s critical that we, as spiritual people, do get involved in politics, even if it is uncomfortable, or ‘feels toxic’ – because we are not here to be spiritual zombies, praying away the darkness. We are here to be forces of good. And who better to stand up against evil?

“What’s done to the children is done to society.”



It is a time for all of us to stand together, contemplate the meaning of life and death, arouse our love, compassion and sympathy, and send it to the 20 school children and 6 adults who departed today, to their loved ones and friends who are suffering, and even to the killer himself. And it’s a time for us to engage in the issues, to demand gun control laws and create awareness for mental health issues.

I believe in synchronicity.  And when I got home from picking up the kids from school on Friday, and opened my mailbox, I found a piece of mail addressed to the previous owner of my house. It was a yet another letter from the NRA, asking him to re-enroll.  As a marketing professional, I immediately wondered how many houses across the nation were hit by that direct mail ‘drop’ on Friday.  As a mother, I was furious that this mail came to my own home – a home with two kids the same age as the 20 that died from a gun just hours earlier.

It made me realize that this is exactly the right time to have real dialogue and address that the NRA is no longer a gun club, it’s a super fund for marketing guns. Legal retail sales of new guns have averaged about $3.5 billion a year since the mid-1990s.  The only way any of us talking about gun control can go up against these powerful interests is to:

1) Contact your local senator and demand gun control (the obvious)

2) Put our money where are mouths are.

Like most people demanding gun control, I said a prayer and shed tears, but did nothing after Columbine nor after Colorado.  But if our collective Karma IS created by how we respond to yet another school shooting, then let’s start to change our Karma, or at least our collective response.

If we all donated $26 to the Brady Fund – just $1 for every life lost on Friday, we would be taking a much more meaningful action than just talking about “demanding action” and “praying for the victims.”

Please join me in donating:

It’s also good to pause and remember that the world is good, and we are all connected – for more: