A Meditation on Violence

In the aftermath of so many mass shootings, there are practical political and social things we can do. But what do we do with what's going on in our hearts?

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The mass shooting yesterday in San Bernardino—at a center for people with disabilities, after a morning holiday party—piled pain on top of pain. Our collective heart is breaking.

This latest shooting, coming on the heels of one last week in Colorado, became the occasion for the New York Times to tally up the dead and wounded from mass shootings so far this year. To say that it is sobering and unsettling is a huge understatement: In 209 out of 336 days this year, at least one shooting left four or more people injured or dead in the United States. A total of 462 people have died and 1,314 have been wounded in such attacks. These grisly statistics do not even count the death toll from similar shootings abroad.

Who can know what to do, how to process this information? How do we feel something more than powerlessness in the face of something so horrific? There are practical things that can be done in the political and social realm, and those are not insignificant, but that still leaves us to deal with what’s going on in our hearts.

Affective neuroscientists—who study how emotion works within our mind and body—talk about…