It makes people look at the country and want to change it from within, not let corruption and carelessness create more tragedies; not let politicians mold it after their own interests but make it better for everyone. It makes us want to change safety rules, laws, mayors, ministers and governments and the idea that it’s not a problem to bend the rules and bribe somebody to let you get away with it. Street protests have shown that, and hopefully will continue to do so. People want the rule-bending-bribe-giving-and-taking system to stop; they want authorities to take responsibility for their actions. And all that is very good.
A tragedy like this also makes us see what is really important in our lives. We are turning to each other and seeking our loved ones; we are looking at our lives and realizing that many of the things we do – many of the things we put our energy and attention into – are simply meaningless. People are helping other people, bringing food to doctors and the families of the injured or donating blood. This is wonderful.
A tragedy like this also creates enormous amounts of anger. People are furious with everyone they think let this tragedy happen – the owners of club, the authorities, the law makers, the politicians; they are also angry with the ones showing no compassion, like some people saying that those in Colectiv died because they were worshiping Satan or that young people should go to church instead of going to clubs and so on.
Of course it’s quite natural to be very angry when a tragedy like this happens, and this anger may have some very good effects, like bringing people to the streets to ask for what is so obviously needed. But if we only stay in that anger and go no further, if that anger is all we can see, it may take us away – it may blind us – from another not so obvious thing we also miss: our connection to truth.
How is it possible for something like this to happen at all? My point of view on life is that the essence of all our suffering, the essence of all the injustice, of all the tyranny and unfairness and intolerance and wrongness and atrocities we see and experience and create ourselves is our disconnection from truth, our profound disconnection from ourselves, other people and the world.
The people deemed responsible for this tragedy did the things that led to it because – like most of us – they feel a sense of profound emptiness and lack in their selves, in their lives, which they try to fulfill with externals like money or power or pleasure.
In this case, they felt that having more money (by receiving bribes, or by choosing the non-fire repellant foam for the walls of the club, which was cheaper, or by giving bribes so that in the end they would make more money) would help them buy more things which in turn would help them somehow cover that inner sense of emptiness.
We do not need to go to such an extreme to find the same kind of mechanism at play. A large part of our lives is based on that search for fulfillment and satisfaction at the cost of more real and truthful and essential things. We may not bribe other people, but we may go against our body, ourselves and our family by, for example, working 15 hours a day (I am not talking here about the very rare cases where the whole survival depends on how many hours one works but on the majority of people working very busy schedules simply because of the lack of connection with what is essential and truthful) or spending large amounts of time on the computer or watching movies, or getting upset with our love ones etc.
The reason why we may work 15-hour days, or waste our time with cheap entertainment is that we experience that inner sense of lack and emptiness in our hearts and hope that our activities will manage to cover and conceal that experience.
And so, by focusing only on the anger, by believing that the anger and the possible change that the anger may bring is the only possible response to such an event – however cathartic it may feel – we will miss something fundamental: we will miss the possibility to actually look at death.
Death is something most of us don’t want to look at and are actually running away from. Rage and discontent and trying to change things absolutely have their place, but by doing only that and not going further we miss the opportunity to actually look at death in the eye and see that life is death.
Yes, sometimes death happens the way we think it should happen: at the end of a great and wonderful journey. But from the very beginning of time we know – we clearly know – that death does not follow our ideas. Death has always – and will always – happen when IT wants it to happen, and not when we believe it should happen. (Being able to look at this and see this fact is already a great movement towards truth.)
There cannot be life unless there is death, but we love life and are very scared of death. And one of the main reasons for this fear is that death connects us to the very unpleasant experience of emptiness. Death is complete, absolute emptiness, and that emptiness is what we cannot look at, what we continuously want to run away from. We never stop – we plan, we work, we move, we get upset, drunk or high, we watch movies, look at Facebook or talk-talk-talk – mostly to cover that profound (and invisible) sense of emptiness. But we are actually surrounded with emptiness; the essence of life, the essence of everything is emptiness and so trying to get away from it is simply impossible.
And when we are confronted by death we cannot help but see emptiness. In Argentina, when you go to a funeral, what you say to the grieving family is the phrase “no somos nada” – we are nothing. Over time it has become mostly an empty phrase that people repeat without much thought, but of course the meaning is that death makes us realize that most of our plans and ideas and hopes – most all our life – has no substance. And it is precisely this lack of substance what we don’t want to see, to encounter or to face. We live so disconnected from the reality of our life that we don’t want to see that most of it is sustained by emptiness.
But if we allow ourselves not to run away from death (and grief 2) and to look at it – to stay with it – in time we may be able to see and discover that actually there is light in that emptiness; that emptiness is not empty at all, but that it is full to the brim. We are lost in the material, in what we can touch and see and grasp, but that is only the very surface of life. We try to find truth and meaning in the material world, but that will not happen. We need to look beyond and discover that essence, that non-material world that sustains life. It seems to be empty, but it is actually fullness itself.
For me, that’s what a brush with death can do. It creates a crack in the material world and, if we are open enough, we may look through it to ‘see’ the immaterial world, what cannot be touched or seen or grasped but can be felt as presence, as aliveness, as truth. For emptiness to exist, presence – the awareness that perceives that emptiness – has to exist. Emptiness proves that there is no emptiness, but presence. Meaning can only be found there.
But it doesn’t have to be death. We can experience the same thing if we stop our thinking even for a moment, if we stop our strategies for the future and our regrets of the past, if we stop our plans and ideas and problems and worries and really allow the experience of silence.
Silence and emptiness are scary, but they are also a doorway to truth.
1 This note is not really about the tragedy nor is it intended as a way to soften the pain of the many people that have been so deeply marked by it. Its intention is only to offer a different door of perception to the people that have been affected by what happened but were not directly touched by it.
2 Another feeling that occurs after a tragedy like this is grief. Grief and sadness are a natural response to loss and it is a very important step in accepting something as painful as the death of a loved one or just the idea of death. Grief is something we shouldn’t run away from but instead allow it to be. Grief, as a form of acceptance of what is, beyond opposition (and the tension that comes with that) is a step in approaching truth. Grief and sadness, even in our darkest and most painful moments, if completely accepted, bring us to peace. That peace is the awareness, the space within ourselves where we can experience silence and the ability to see beyond form.
I would like to thank Maria, Ioana, Marius, Irina, Adi and Alina for their help in writing this note.