Heartbreak in Boulder: Finding Meaning in the Wake of Tragedy

Mark Fischler Emotional, Ethical, Integral Justice Warrior, Moral, Perspectives, Values, Video, World Affairs 4 Comments

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n March 22nd, a mass shooting took place at the King Soopers grocery store in Boulder, Colorado which claimed the lives of 10 people, including one on-duty police officer.

It is so hard to know how to respond when tragedies like this happen in your own back yard. We’ve grown sadly accustomed to these headlines in recent years, to the point where they have become part of the background noise of modern American society — until it takes place in your own community.

Mark and I wanted to do a special heart-centered show in order to help us make sense of this recent tragedy, and to create a space where we can begin to process some of the strong emotions that we are all feeling in its aftermath — anger, grief, sadness, fear, frustration, etc.

Which is why we invited two of our closest friends from Boulder, Jeff Salzman and Nomali Perera, in order to share their own personal reflections.

What follows is a tremendously helpful and heart-full conversation that invites all of us to bring more awareness to the full spectrum of emotion that is likely moving through all of us right now, to make enough space for such strong and often conflicting feelings, and to make ourselves available to our own communities and support systems so that we can share our pain and hold our grief together. It is a much-needed reminder that the integral heart is big enough for all of this, because it is a heart that is both utterly unbreakable, as well as always-already broken.

For a deeper dive into a more comprehensive approach to gun violence, we invite you to check out this series of discussions with Ken Wilber. In the meantime, we hope that this discussion with Nomali, Jeff, Mark, and myself helps you to more fully wrap your most integral heart around these painful events in our own community.

Transcript Excerpt

Jeff: You know, my partner’s family was affected, and that’s pretty much all I want to say specifically because they’re private people and I want to respect that. I will say that there was just the fog of war where there’s so much happening, it’s hard to take in hour by hour, there’s circumstantial evidence accumulating. But what was — I hate to say “beautiful” — but the family immediately came together in one home, literally three generations, and they have been there essentially ever since. And there is a vigil that is going on that is deeply human.

And if you think of every culture, people want to be in a we-space in their grief, as at the same time they’re acknowledging that the center of their we-space, the person who was the center of everything, is gone suddenly and violently and all of that. From what I can see, there’s just a wonderful humanness — we can talk about how we relate to it and how we can feel into it and so forth — these people have no choice. And what is beautiful about it is that they’re allowing it, they’re witnessing it with each other, they’re coming, they’re going, the waves swell and crest and recede and come back. And I can’t imagine anything healthier than that in response to this.

Nomali and I were talking this morning, we did a little mini-segment on this and grief and so forth. And we talked about Elizabeth Kubler Ross’s [stages of grief], denial and bargaining and depression and acceptance and all of that. Acceptance isn’t enough, there has to be something that’s more alive than ever, there’s something that’s more enchanted than ever. There’s some ripping of the veil between this world and the other world that people step into and create meaning.

Nomali: [That’s] the sixth stage that her academic partner David Kessler introduced, which is after “acceptance”, called “finding meaning.”

Corey: One of the things that strikes me as I hear you talk is just how sort of typical this is for the human condition. When we’re standing in the wake of some of the worst acts of humanity, that’s often when we see the clearest examples of the best of humanity. Oftentimes it seems to require the evil to draw out the goodness, which I think is an unfortunate reality of our time, that the only time we really I think have an opportunity to take inventory, to take stock, to count our blessings and our gratitudes, and to feel any amount of abundance in our life is when something gets violently taken away from us or from someone we know, or from our community. Not that we want to, you know, bypass all the more uncomfortable emotions in order to get to that acceptance and that meaning-making, which is maybe something we can talk about here.

Nomali: Speaking of the actual on-the-ground Boulder experience, if you are in the Boulder Denver area, I highly encourage you also if possible, to go to the site. I went there this morning and it’s amazing to just be there and to see and to feel the pain, but also the support and the outpouring of love. That broken heart is an open heart. There was such a pure experiencing of that for me this morning, the witnessing and embodying and holding space for immense grief, as well as seeing the support and the love. So do it, if you can. It’s a little bit of a pilgrimage of sorts.

Mark: [One aspect] of spiritual awareness is that nothing is ever the same, so it is an opportunity to really, truly be one with spirit and its always-changing nature. And these moments are so powerful because they are deep reminders and invitations to truly waking up. And it sounds Jeff like your partner’s family, I’m struck by their awareness, their love, their ability to gather. And then I wonder about the other families that are in ta similar position, and how we’re able to talk about stages of grief and loss — but some of these other folks, do they have those spiritual tools at their disposal and familial support?

Corey: I think that your encouragement to make this pilgrimage is actually so important, because part of what we’re doing is we’re reclaiming those fears. We’re not allowing this to sort of slip into some sort of aversion. Because you’re right, every time you go through that neighborhood, something is going to feel different, because something IS different. But we can sort of purify our own relationships from our upper left quadrant, together as a community in the lower left, and in the lower right quadrant actually going to the scene itself and sort of reclaiming it with your heart — “I am going to push fear out of this supermarket and out of this parking lot. I’m not going to let this place sit in my shadow.” It’s almost to me like, you know, we obviously have our individual memories; and collectively, culturally, in terms of a community we have a memory. There’s a part of me that sometimes thinks that the spaces themselves have a memory. And when a particular place has bad memories associated with it, it starts to feel haunted. That’s literally a haunted house, there’s a haunting that takes place. And I think that making the pilgrimage, confronting this, being brave enough, courageous enough to take this in is, is sort of an exorcism in all four quadrants, really.

And to me, it goes all the way back to that meaning-making part, and how unfortunate it is that when it comes time to make meaning, that’s for the victims to do in the wake of something as horribly tragic as this. If we were front-loading that a little bit more in our culture, if we were actually doing things together in our culture to generate meaning in the first place, we might not have people falling through the gaps like this. But it’s only in the wake of tragedy that we tend to spend so much time making meaning for ourselves. My heart is aching for more cultural meaning in general, so that people didn’t have to feel so isolated, so alienated to the point where they feel like their only solution here, the only thing that makes meaning for them, is to show up in a public space with a gun and start pulling the trigger.

If you enjoy this episode, be sure to check out more episodes of Integral Justice Warrior. Watch them all for only $1!

Written and produced by Corey deVos


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Mark Fischler

About Mark Fischler

Mark Fischler is a Professor of Criminal justice and current program coordinator for the criminal justice and criminology programs at Plymouth State University. Prior to joining the Plymouth State faculty, he practiced law, representing poor criminal defendants for the New Hampshire Public Defender’s Office. Mark has worked extensively with alternative theoretical models in law, constitutional law, and higher education, and has published on integral applications to teaching, being a lawyer, and legal theory. His focus in the classroom is ethics and criminal procedure, and is well respected for a teaching philosophy that emphasizes recognizing the humanity and dignity of each student. Professor Fischler was awarded the outstanding teaching award at his university in 2014. He currently offers a weekly Spiritual Inquiry class through Satya Yoga Studio.

Jeff Salzman

About Jeff Salzman

Jeff Salzman worked with Ken Wilber for several years in building the Integral Institute. He is a co-founder of Boulder Integral, the first bricks-and-mortar venue dedicated to the development of integral consciousness. These days Jeff provides integrally-inspired commentary on politics and culture on Integral Life and The Daily Evolver.

Nomali Perera

About Nomali Perera

Nomali Perera, MA, PCC, has been in the field of leadership development coaching, facilitation and teaching since 2007. Nomali is a trained facilitator of the Immunity to Change™ process, a Master Coach at Life XT and a certified Integral Master Coach through Integral Coaching Canada. Nomali has also been a professional consultant in people development and training in Brazil and Mexico. She currently lives in Boulder, Colorado.

Corey deVos

About Corey deVos

Corey W. deVos is Editor-in-Chief of Integral Life, as well as Managing Editor of KenWilber.com. He has worked for Integral Institute/Integal Life since Spring of 2003, and has been a student of integral theory and practice since 1996. Corey is also a professional woodworker, and many of his artworks can be found in his VisionLogix art gallery.

Notable Replies

  1. It’s very common human desire to try and find meaning in the world around us.
    But in situations like this I wonder which is stronger: the urge to take time to find meaning or the urge to take time to experience being, either individually or shared?

  2. “Love until it hurts.” This is one of my favorite Ken Wilber quotes. I first heard him use these words in referencing a “traditional” female/feminine spiritual development generally favoring the path of descent and immanence. I resonated, even though my own path has been near-equal parts descent/ascent, immanence/transcendence.

    While I have a full share of faults, increasingly I have this experience of loving until it hurts; I think it surely is a part of any spiritual progression. The loving, healing, merciful, forgiving, relational energy is not just a feminine or female thing, as autonomy/sovereignty, power, agency, and mindfulness are not just masculine or male things. Culture much of the time seems excessively focused on the latter. We all need better balance and integration of the two.

    Ken and others also point out that non-dual realization is marked by fullness and love. So if that is the “ultimate” in spiritual development, then leaning into loving more, through intention and remembering and practice, seems warranted, now, by anyone who professes a spiritual orientation in life, or spiritual interests or inclinations.

    When I first read about the Boulder shooting and saw the earliest pictures, which were of the officer killed and the young killer, tears came to my eyes. I didn’t see evil anywhere; I saw suffering everywhere. Spontaneously silently repeating “I’m so sorry,” I realized I was not just speaking to or about these two people or the other victims and their loved ones, but was expressing an ontological sorrow on behalf of and about collective humanity. Existence for so many is one long enduring illusion that we are separate from one another, and separated from our own true natures or “God/dess” or Spirit. This had to be true for the young gunman and that is a tragedy in itself, perhaps the paramount tragedy of our time, or any time.

    For several years now, I sometimes find myself impulsively belting out a few verses from “Bohemian Rhapsody.” I don’t know why I just spontaneously start singing that song, but it happened again a couple of days after the Boulder event. I think there’s something about an adult calling out for their “mama” that deeply touches me, even more so when that adult is a male typically socialized to hide vulnerability and emotion, and even more so when that adult male is full of both hurt and hurtful behavior:

    “Mama, just killed a man
    Put a gun against his head
    Pulled my trigger, now he’s dead
    Mama, life had just begun
    And now I’ve gone and thrown it all away
    Mama, oooh
    Didn’t mean to make you cry
    If I’m not back again this time tomorrow
    Carry on, carry on
    as if nothing really matters…”

  3. LaWanna, I just love, LOVE, what you wrote here. Thank you for your words. Plus, Freddie is my spirit animal :slight_smile:

  4. Gracias, Nomali, to you and your wild and wonderful spirit animal!

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