Confusion into Compassion: Supporting Teens in the Wake of Tragedy

July 26, 2011

When unfathomable events occur, like the horrific tragedies in Norway, many of us look for ways to cope with our feelings of anger, sadness and helplessness. We need to find a way of thinking that helps to make sense of the senseless. Teens and children naturally feel especially vulnerable when terror strikes in their domain.

Here are a few guiding thoughts to support those of us who work with youth.

~Offer Grounding Practices: When the world seems to turn upside down, it is helpful to focus on poses and practices that bring stability. Supported seated poses like Hero Pose (Virasana) with blocks or Easy Pose (Sukhasana) using the wall as a support can help bring a sense of place. Simple breathing techniques that foster full body awareness are helpful.

Sitting upright, hearts open, breathing in: feel the feet. Breathing out: release tailbone into Earth.

Breathing in: fill the belly. Breathing out: sitting bones press into floor.

Breathing in: fill the middle back. Breathing out: release front ribcage.

Breathing in: fill the chest. Breathing out: soften shoulders.

Breathing in: lengthen through crown. Breathing out: relax facial muscles.

~Look at the Big Picture, Rather than the Details: Mass media news sources will report on every detail possible about the events and participants. Rather than getting into the life situation of the perpetrator, focus on the big issues of racism, fear and confusion. I once asked a master meditation teacher, Tsoknyi Rinpoche, how to cope with feelings of anger toward people who commit horrific acts. His advice was so wise. “Don’t focus on the individual,” he said. “Focus on the overall confusion.” Rinpoche said it’s the cloud of confusion hanging over us all that leads people to act violently. The overall confusion of racism is something we can each actually have an impact on. As we each become more clear, the cloud diminishes a little bit.

Finding compassion for a mass murderer may be an extremely difficult concept for youth. Yet, the generational confusion of fear and racism is something we all have direct experience with, whether we are cognizant of it or not. So we can “meditate on the confusion” in a sense.

See all of the fear and hatred that mankind has as a cloud of confusion.

See that beyond the cloud, there is a possibility for clarity; clear blue skies on the horizon.

Sitting peacefully, let your mind be clear. Let the confusion dissolve. Being clear, the world becomes more clear.

~Provide Opportunities for Expression: As teachers, we do not need to know the answers to the impossible question, “why?” Just giving students a chance to write, journal or dialogue about their feelings can be healing. Engaging in grounding exercises before and after expression can help to soften anger and prevent feeling out of control.

How do you feel when you think about the tragic events?

What would you want to say or share with the families of the victims, or even the victims themselves?

What do people need in order to feel safe enough that we do not need to threaten others?

Can I commit  to creating more peace in myself and my family?

How do these tragedies remind me of the preciousness of human life?

My heart weeps continually for the youth whose lives were taken. In their name, my commitment to youth health is strengthened. All blessings of peace to each and every one.

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2 Responses to “Confusion into Compassion: Supporting Teens in the Wake of Tragedy”

  1. Lisa Flynn Says:

    Beautifully written Abby! Will share.

  2. Lori Says:

    Amen! Such a lovely insight into a topic that is veiled in fear. Thank you.


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