Healing from the Inside Out: Redefining the Meaning of 9/11

September 11 is soon approaching, and on this day, our nation will listen to the solemn toll of a bell and pause for a moment of silence commemorating the 14th anniversary of the 9/11 terror attacks. On this National Day of Service and Remembrance, our hearts will fill with sadness as we once again listen to the names being read of nearly 3,000 men, women, and children, friends and neighbors, sisters and brothers, mothers and fathers, sons and daughters who were taken from us on this tragic day in history.

September 11, 2001, our nation suffered a tragedy that has forever been etched into our nation’s heart. My own heart can hardly hold the pain I feel when I hear the names and imagine the faces of the interconnected web of lives around the world that was changed on this day 14 years ago.

I remember the day so well. I remember the closeness we felt as a nation and the kindness shared between strangers as we held each other in our pain. I remember an outpouring of love from the international community, and the sense of optimism that something beautiful could be born from all the pain.

Yet, I have noticed over these years that the sadness that normally wells up in my heart as I hear the names being read has over time been replaced by anger. So I welcome this unexpected visitor to my guest house and I look within and I ask myself, “Anger, what have you come here to teach me? What have you come here to teach the world?”

On this day we currently call Patriots’ Day, and the National Day of Service and Remembrance, I see the unmet needs that my anger so graciously illuminates. I have a need for peace. I have a need for mutual understanding and respect. I have a need for compassion. I have a need for forgiveness. I have a need for grace.

But these needs are not mine alone. I am speaking of the needs of the individual as well as the collective.

My heart has hardened to the point that it could crack into pieces, but with the soft acknowledgment of these needs I realize anger has come not to break my heart into pieces, but rather to break it open.

I’m angry because we’ve built a memorial with reflecting pools, yet 14 years later we are still looking out, but not within. I wonder if the architects who designed this beautiful memorial knew the lesson these waters were meant to teach us. Don’t be tricked into seeing the reflection of the recently completed Freedom Towers and believe that we truly have freedom. For true freedom comes from within.

We can’t simply look at a memorial with names inscribed around it and wait on the world to change. What is the point of remembering if we do not do the inner work needed to bring about true and lasting change?

These reflecting pools demand that we, as individuals and as a nation, do some deep inner reflection so that we can begin to transform this world from the inside out. These reflecting pools demand that we take a very honest and hard look at ourselves. These reflecting pools demand that we stop pointing the finger at those we call terrorists while ignoring our own inner terrorists.

When we look out, judge, label, and narrowly define the terrorist as the “others” who perpetrated this horrific act, we cut ourselves off from the vital opportunity brought about by exploring our own inner terrorist.

And as hard as that might be to hear, I ask you to take a breath, and look within. Listen closely not with your ears, but with your heart. Each and every time you cut yourself off from your natural state of compassion and love, how do you feel? Each time you judge someone, find yourself giving someone a dirty look, make a sarcastic jab, or exchange hurtful words, how do you feel?

There is an inner terrorist who lurks in the darkness of our fears, self-hatred, and self-doubt. It resides in each and every one of us. The terrorist within most often rears its ugly head in our most intimate of relationships. The terrorist within strikes inside the walls of our own homes and families. The terrorist within strikes in the relationship we have first and foremost with ourselves. It then sends ripples out into our communities. It begins with a judgment, a dirty look, a sarcastic jab, an exchange of hateful words and, at worst, with violent and murderous acts.

And soon enough we see it playing out on the world’s stage for all to see.

As human beings on this planet, we must acknowledge our inner terrorist in order to purify our hearts. And as we do the work of purifying our hearts, the ripples we send out into the world are that of love instead of hate. But to do that, we must learn to listen.

Most of my personal relationships have suffered because I failed to pause and listen. I was too busy fighting to be heard rather than seeking to hear. Fighting to be the center of attention, rather than simply placing my attention. Reacting rather than responding.

Holocaust survivor Viktor Frankl once said, “Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is the power to choose our response. In that space lies our growth and our freedom” In that space we must listen and allow the teacher within, rather than the terrorist within, to respond.

It is time we wake up!

This world is in desperate need of grace and humility. As President Obama remarked, “We don’t earn grace. We’re all sinners. We don’t deserve it. But God gives it to us anyway”.

Call it God, Allah, Buddha, Creator, The Universe, Consciousness, Nature, your Uncle Frank, or whatever name that opens your heart and allows you to listen to the teacher within. It would be a travesty if we missed this opportunity to acknowledge that, 14 years ago on September 11, God, too was working in mysterious ways.

The terrorists on 9/11 didn’t know that they were being used by God. Blinded by hatred, the 19 hijackers could not see the grace surrounding this great nation. We have done some growing and the world as we know it is changing. The time has come!

9/11 is a day we all hold as a deep national wound. But let’s use this moment of remembrance to breathe in a new way of thinking and being. Fourteen years ago, we immediately reacted instead of pausing to hold our pain. We asked over and over again why they did this to us. We immediately looked out to blame and punish instead of looking within. We as a nation allowed our inner terrorist to react, instead of allowing our inner teacher to respond.

Every moment that we are blessed to be here on this earth, we have the ability to make a new choice, and in that choice lies our freedom and our salvation. Fourteen years later we can still choose a different response. How gracious God is! Choosing a response connected to our natural state of love and compassion, we not only heal the heart of our great democracy, but we heal the world.

We can choose to broaden our view of what this day means by doing the necessary introspection that is required for this to truly be a Day of Remembrance and Service. May we use this day to remember who we really are so that we can be of true service to humanity.  

We can choose right now to respond to these acts of terror in the midst of our continued national grief with words of forgiveness. We have this moment right now to truly honor the nearly 3,000 victims of this tragedy by making a new choice. We as individuals and as a nation in this moment can choose love over hate, and forgiveness over punishment.

Can we as individuals and as a nation muster up the strength and courage to take an honest inventory of ourselves and admit that we too have been blinded by hate? That we, too, as individuals and as a nation have also committed acts of terror by cutting ourselves off from compassion and love? Can we begin to see that our strength as a nation does not reside in our military but in our own human hearts?

Let September 11, 2015 be the day our nation speaks these simple yet powerful words to the world. Let us have the courage to say, “We forgive you and we, too, seek your forgiveness.” Let this forgiveness give birth to love, peace, and harmony.

Let September 11, 2015 be the day that we can grow beyond seeing ourselves as mere patriots and instead recognize ourselves simply as humans, having human experiences and doing the best that we can.

Let September 11, 2015 be the day that our hearts break open, together so we may bathe in the flowing rivers of love, compassion, and joy.

And as we do, the phoenix of transformation will rise from the ashes and smoke of the fallen towers and this world will begin to live as one.

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About the Author | Dina Gregory

Dina Gregory is a teacher, writer, artist, and activist. Dina likes to blur the lines between her public and her private life and yearns to be as real and as honest as she can be in all of her interactions. She pushes boundaries to show that we are boundless and divine. When she isn't teaching or writing, you can find her sweating her prayers on the dance floor.

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6 comments to "Healing from the Inside Out: Redefining the Meaning of 9/11"

  • Brenda Johnson

    Beautifully written heartfelt reflections Dina!! I am grateful to call you friend!!

  • Such a beautiful and powerful expression of an invitation we’d all do well to say ‘yes’ to, Dina. To whatever extent we’re willing to step into this space, our world is forever changed. Thanks for posting the link in our CIrclesongs space so I could follow and read this!

  • Maryn

    Beautifully written Dina! I too feel the anger of which you speak. Reading this has helped me to soften around my broken heart. Thank you for sharing this! This year I forgive and asked to be forgiven in return. This year I change and hopefully see the world around me change in return. You are an inspiration.

  • Kristi

    So beautifully written. Powerful! Thank you for writing this for all to see!

  • Eva Geisler

    Such a beautiful, heartfelt expression, Dina! May it inspire!