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October 2001
Where Do We Go From Here?

By Lawrence Carter-Long



“The world community must show as much its capacity for compassion as for force. The critics will say: ‘But how can the world be a community? Nations act in their own self-interest.’ Of course they do. But what is the lesson of the financial markets, climate change, international terrorism, nuclear proliferation or world trade? It is that our self-interest and our mutual interests are today inextricably woven together.”
—From British Prime Minister Tony Blair’s speech to the Labor Party conference on October 3, 2001

Just over a week before the events of September 11th I sat in an auditorium in Berkeley, CA studying the teachings given to Tibetan Yogini Matrick Lobron. Little did I know at the time how the opportunity to apply those teachings would manifest. The teachings suggest techniques for knowing your own mind: Confess Your Hidden Faults; Approach What You Find Repulsive; Help Those You Think You Cannot Help; Anything You Are Attached To, Let That Go; and Go To the Places That Scare You.

Following the terrorist attacks at the World Trade Center and in Washington, DC they also provided me with a means to examine my reactions to violence, and even access the foundations of violence inside me. Violence that, until September 11th, I could comfortably deny existed.

My initial reaction to the attacks was one of shock, of a surreal sense that it could not be quite real. Dreamlike. As the hours turned into days, my reaction shifted to include intense anger and outrage. “I don’t care if they vaporize bin Laden!” I heard myself say before my self-censor could step in. It was raw, unfiltered emotion fueled by the horror brought to me by CNN. Like it or not, I was getting in touch with my inner General Patton—and was quite shocked to see my idealistic nonviolent self happy to take a passive, oddly inactive backseat.

Where were the nonviolent ideals I’d embraced so long ago? Somewhere among the dust and rubble of the WTC? Asphyxiated within the crumbling walls of the Pentagon? In too much shock to compete with the anger that had been born from my initial sadness in witnessing such death and destruction? In the midst of my shockingly violent fantasies, I had to admit that I, too, harbored thoughts of vengeance and hatred. That there was a small part of what fueled the attacks on the U.S. within me as well. Ouch. Was this what was meant by confessing my hidden faults? If so, I wasn’t particularly thrilled about the process thus far.

Which led me to the second exercise: Approach What You Find Repulsive. As is the case with most Buddhist teachings, while seemingly simple on the surface, the lesson itself has many layers. In addition to my violent reactions, I found myself also experiencing aversion to news of the attacks—to the non-stop flood of images and stories coming at me via television, newsprint and computer. “Enough already!” I wanted to scream. “Can’t we just get back to Michael Jackson’s self-congratulatory birthday bash and the Emmy Awards?” Instead of retreating, I pressed myself to read a little more, watch a little while longer, to pass on—rather than delete—Deepak Chopra’s email message of peace.

After a while, this process in and of itself seemed to alter my relationship to the madness going on around me. As I grudgingly embraced my aversions, I wondered… “Are there solutions to this chaos that won’t fuel its root causes?” There were no easy answers, but the question seemed important. My attention bounced from the U.S. citizens who lost their lives in the attacks, to the courageous NYC firefighters and policeman who died as the buildings around them either flamed or collapsed, to the victims from other nations in the Trade Center towers, to those oppressed in Afghanistan, to the children dying of starvation in Iraq, to the Palestinians and the Israelis—and back again.

I was pained that despite pleas for tolerance from President George W. Bush and others, California State Attorney General Bill Lockyer’s office is investigating 70 possible hate crimes against Muslims, Arab Americans and others that have allegedly occurred since September 11th. In other states, Arab Americans (or those perceived to be) have been killed. Killed for being different; ironically, tragically killed after having left an oppressive nation to join the “land of the free, and home of the brave….” Despite the freedoms that supposedly made the U.S. a target for attack, how would we, as a nation, address the problems within our own borders? Since the deeds listed above were already done, what could I do for them—those I was seemingly too late to assist? Those I could not help. I kept the intention close—lit candles, wore ribbons, participated in prayer and remembrance vigils, inquired about giving blood, donated money. For now, it seemed, that would have to do. I was heartened to see people coming together, to help selflessly. But clearly, the acute need was being taken care of and California was far from Ground Zero. The feeling of powerlessness in the midst of chaos was difficult to face, and much more so to admit.

Ironically, this filtered directly into the flip-side of the same equation, not wanting to give up my attachments. Excuses were made, resistance was met—whatever my attachments were, the instruction was to let them go. But just how much could I do? How much was I willing to do? Sometimes I just wanted to hide, to grasp what I perceived as mine and hang on with all my might. After all, it might not be there tomorrow. As more obstacles and issues arose, I became more stingy with my time. To the degree I was able, I forced myself to admit, somewhat painfully, my resistance to acknowledging and releasing my pesky attachments—but to also work through them whenever possible. I was beginning to understand why Buddhists call this practice.

As a fiercely independent person, the feeling that I wanted to connect, to belong, was perhaps what scared me most. Working with this sense of—dare I say it—need has perhaps been my most difficult test in the course of the tragedy. U.S. citizens are born and raised with the notion of individual power and possibility. From John Wayne “taming” the west, to Rambo overcoming overwhelming odds to defeat the bad guy, we are led to believe that if our will is strong, anything is possible.

But something has shifted in the course of the last few weeks. In a way beyond just intellectual, I have realized that we are not alone, and that we cannot afford the illusion that we are alone ever again. Every action must be weighed with the possible consequences to every nation, to every citizen of the entire planet. The question “where do we go from here?” transcends the Taliban, Osama bin Laden and the attacks of September 11th. It goes beyond nationality, ethnicity and the labels we use to divide ourselves. It goes to the heart of what we were and what we will become, as a nation and as individuals.

We may not like what we see. But that’s all the more reason to travel the tough terrain of examining what frightens us. We are at a crossroads; things have changed and will never be the same—“normal”—again. I’ve heard it said that in the aftermath of September 11th, we need to redefine what we understand “normal” to be.

If we can use this tragedy to awaken us to the potential of what we’ve feared to face, yet need to see—then seek a better way—the tragedy may not be in vain.

Lawrence Carter-Long has over a decade of experience in activism. A former “poster child” for the United Fund, Lawrence has made dozens of media appearances in support of animal rights, and is also recognized as an authority on disability and public health concerns. He currently works as the Communications Coordinator for the Sacramento-based Animal Protection Institute (


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