In the first few weeks following 9/11, I remember how many of us at the Institute kept up with the news specifically to stay informed on how we could help. We gathered items needed by relief workers and collected donations for the families that lost loved ones. It felt like the whole city rallied together to support the recovery from this tragedy. Now, years later, the question, “How can we help?” has largely faded from our minds, but is in reality equally important. While most of us are not in a position to fight terrorism or negotiate peace in the world, we are all responsible for our own little corner of this planet and the significance of what we can do every day to give birth to peace is a point that has been hammered home in a very violent way. Peace in the world is dependent upon nothing more than our own combined ability to know peace in ourselves and express it in how we live.
One important aspect of coping with any crisis in life is acceptance. While it may be impossible for us to grasp why events like 9/11 occur, we can learn to accept them. It is natural for grief or anger to arise in response to tragedy. But to become wild with rage or lost in bitterness will simply drain our energy and prevent us from staying present and doing anything truly helpful. When we accept what comes as a part of a Divine plan or the natural laws governed by a higher power, our own suffering eases, our hearts can breath and we can begin healing or being useful to others.
One of the most powerful things we learned to do in response to 9/11 was to pray. Our spiritual teacher, Sri Swami Satchidananda, reminded us that very evening that we can send our prayerful thoughts to those who passed away and to those who lost loved ones. In doing so, we open our hearts and express our compassion on a spiritual level where we truly are connected with everyone. We found praying this way to be a tremendous comfort for ourselves and the efficacy of prayer to comfort and bring healing to others has recently been documented in numerous scientific studies. Sri Swamiji suggested that we use whatever form of prayer comes naturally in our hearts and put our whole being into it. I have probably led at least a dozen or so gatherings of people in prayer this way and found it to be without fail a tremendous healing experience for those praying, and I feel certain, for those being prayed for as well.
Another important aspect of living in a time of crisis is to maintain practices that keep us in good shape–that relieve tension and bring stability to body and mind. Under the stress of trauma or thrown off balance by the unexpected, we can easily be swept away with fear and abandon habits that keep us strong and healthy. It can certainly be difficult to discipline ourselves in such moments, but we can recognize the value of caring for ourselves properly and spend even small amounts of time doing deep relaxation, restorative asanas, or deep breathing. Practicing Yoga or praying with others can be especially helpful, feeling the strength and support of the group. Restoring our physical and mental balance enables us to make good decisions and be of service to others. Any practice that quiets our minds–meditation, Hatha Yoga, or even prayer, helps us to let go of conflicting thoughts and feelings, and open our hearts and minds to be guided by the spiritual wisdom that lies always within us.
When we can keep alive even a small flame of peace and equanimity in ourselves, we will have already contributed to world peace. Establishing peace in ourselves is the only way we can expect to have the clarity to then express it in our daily lives, in the difficult interactions we have, where peace is sorely needed. Our ability to embody nonviolence and compassion will bring those values more powerfully into the world than any speech we can make. We have literally hundreds of opportunities every day to make a choice to be loving, to listen and understand others, to give without expecting something. If we can open our hearts to even a few people we encounter, we begin to live as a light for peace, one step at a time. I think there is nothing more important for us to do and nothing more fulfilling.