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The Tragedy of Tuscon, An Integral Spiritual Perspective

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It's hard not to be stirred emotionally by the shooting of Gabrielle Giffords and tragic death of innocent bystanders in Arizona, and when tragedy of this sort strikes it's human nature to seek for both explanations and justice.

But there's another side of human nature to consider, a dimension that is spiritual in a way that most people don't think of as "spiritual." At the fullest dimensions of our humanity, we are no more separate from Jared Loughtner than we are Gabrielle Giffords. That's what my perspective, an Integral spiritual outlook, tells me.

To look away from senselessness, chaos, violence, selfishness, callousness, and ignorance is to refuse the call to love more fully and embrace most radically all that we can be. We can look at the tragedy as an exercise in understanding what it means to be fully human.

There are more dimensions to the tragedy than most people want to face, a sort of transpersonal darkness. It is easy to turn away from the disturbing eyes and plastered-on smile of Jared Loughtner's mugshot because we are terrified of the chaos-loving, rage-filled monsters within the darkest recesses of our own psyche. It is easy to turn away from the real consequences of government cutbacks in mental health ervices because of our own selfish desire to pay less in taxes than we get back in services.

We narrow our attention to the individual stories of heroism and heartbreak on the scene in Tucson in order to bypass the pain of looking at the horror we have created by turning a blind eye to the mentally ill until it's too late and supplying sidearms instead of psychiatrists. Who wants to acknowledge that we might have equally disturbed individuals in our own backyard right at this very minute? (Not to mention the lunatic lurking in our unconscious?)

We fixate on the rhetoric in the speeches and Facebook updates of politicians because it's easy for liberals to attack ring-wing media celebrities rather than acknowledge that they might be powerless to prevent the next assassination.

We hear talk about family values and community responsibility. But seldom do we hear calls for the mentally disturbed to get help, take their meds, and check themselves into hospitals if they're losing it. We seldom hear criticism of what the friends and family of the shooter might have done differently, had they been more awake.

And when we look to the realm of the shooter's personal responsibility, as the conservative politicians do, we dismiss Jared Loughtner as "The Other," and not a personification of the chaotic and violent force that pulses within Spirit itself, a strange and horrifying part of our own Big Self.

And then, once we've paused to reflect on the tragedy in a transpersonal and transpolitical way, we may turn to the more conventional discourse, which we can now see in a different light. On The Daily Beast, Jonathan Alter makes both of the points that strike me as most important to make. Firstly, he observes that:

Conservatives like to argue that these are isolated incidents carried out by lunatics and therefore carry no big lessons (unless the perpetrator is Muslim, in which case it's terrorism); liberals view them as opportunities to address various social ills.
With this, he identifies an enduring rift in the American political psyche between progressives who look for answers in social and cultural dynamics and conservatives who look for answers in individual morality, a tendency (I think) that was first pegged by Ken Wilber in Up from Eden.

The liberals are quick to leap to meta-commentary on the sad state of discourse on talk radio and the conservatives appear to be burying their heads in the sand to think that individual sins are entirely distinguishable from societal ills. Truly Integral perspectives must include both sides, because both are dimensions of our fullest Self: personal and transpersonal.

What's more, an Integral reaction must include a political side, because Integral politics is simply the art of being who we are in action at the widest possible sense of our identity, extending our love and compassion in the most pragmatic ways for the betterment of people at all stations of life.

Jonathan Alter's second point is as important as his first. He identifies a structural problem which receives startlingly little attention in the national discourse. He writes:

Any hard look at the Tucson case suggests that the real cause of the tragedy was untreated mental illness. When Loughner was thrown out of Pima Community College, officials there told his parents he needed mental evaluation. But state and federal mental health budgets are on the chopping block. Obama should ask whether that makes sense and seek more funding.
Of course it's possible that heated political rhetoric also contributed to the tragedy (we just don't know enough yet about the gunman's motivations). However, the talking heads on TV and the Web are fixated on a phenomenon probably peripheral to the tragedy.

Let us stop to wonder: why are we talking about Sarah Palin's Twitter updates and FoxNews when our society does a piss poor job at preventing the mentally disturbed from obtaining weapons capable of inflicting enormous damage? Instead of losing ourselves and our souls in titilating sideshows, we could look deeper into problems too complex to be mass digestible and which often have no easy solutions.

(There are also important topics to be discussed about the hate speech of politicians, which is why I think Phil Cooke's commentary on an Integral Life blog is worth a read. He spots features of the wider context of the debate where the non-Integral commentary fails. However, I'd rather we contain our enthusiasm for distracting ourselves with culture war sideshows until it's demonstrated that political rhetoric actually influenced the tragedy.)

My hope at this time is that we collectively avail ourselves of an opportunity to thoughtfully explore the actual causes of the shooting, rooted in tragic and shameful individual choices as well as our society's refusal to give mental health care the attention it deserves. Let us hope that our thought leaders and politicians look beyond distractions and scapegoats, and let us lead them by doing the same.

We can benefit by insiting on an Integral outlook inclusive of personal and social dimensions, because only such a comprehensive view does justice to the truth about human nature. That truth, I believe, which acknowledges that there is no ultimate separation  between our own individual self and the Self of our World, not even in this hour of our heartbreak, anger, and fear.

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I'm a Seattle-based writer exploring integral approaches to values, politics, culture, religion, spirituality, and contemporary life. My books include Soulfully Gay (Integral Books/Shambhala, 2007), the first published "how-i-found-my-faith" sort of memoir in the Integral Spirituality tradition. I am currently blogging at my eponymous blog, (more...)
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