Jonathan Bradley: Tragedy, Meditation, and Peace
by Jennifer Jones
In the late summer of 2001, Jonathan Bradley was a 27-year-old New Yorker working at a start-up Internet company. He took the train from his apartment in Brooklyn into lower Manhattan to go to work. The morning of September 11th started like any other – in meditation.
“The meditation that I was working on at the time was the third part of a four-part set of practices that we do in Diamond Way Karma Kagyu practice,” Jonathan tells Beliefnet. “The set of practices is called the Ngöbro. One receives a lot of incredibly positive impressions in the mind, but at the same time, without hitting attachment, without trying to hold on to them and keep them for one's self.”
After meditation, Jonathan left his apartment and hopped on the subway to Union Square. When he emerged from the station into the cool mid-September temperature, he says that he looked at the clear blue sky and thought, ‘My god, what a beautiful day.’
“My desk window literally looked right out at the World Trade Center,” he recounts. “It's a clear, perfect view of the two towers. I remember somebody coming over and telling me that somehow somebody or some plane had hit one of the towers. From the viewpoint that I had, it looked like it was a much smaller collision than it actually was. I think I was looking at the opposite side from where the plane hit.”
He thought it was a passenger plane and shrugged it off as an unfortunate accident. He went back to work. He didn’t realize anything had happened until people began to crowd around the window. From their angle, they could not see the second plane fly into the World Trade Center tower, but they knew something was very wrong.
“This is just too calculated. This couldn't possibly be an accident. This had to be something contrived and planned,” he recalls. “We watched and we put on the radio. As the story was developing, we started hearing things that there were other planes in the sky, that there might be missiles or something.”
Jonathan got on the phone with his mother who lived in Vermont. As he and his co-workers watched in horror, the tower began to sway and then collapsed. Instantly, all of their phones went dead because, as they later found out, that tower housed a telecommunications hub.
“People started freaking out,” he says. “I was staring at disbelief. It was something you never expected. It was so surreal, because it wasn't on a movie. It was actually something that happened.”
When the second tower collapsed, Jonathan was stunned and shocked. He scrambled to contact anyone he could, but making and receiving phone calls was difficult. His office closed, and he found himself out on 6th Avenue and 19th Street.
“At this time, all of the people who had been down by the World Trade Center had started to make their way up to 19th Street. So there were hordes of people in this very fine dust. There were all of these cars stopped on the street with doors open and all playing the news on the radio.
“I remember looking at the sky and looking at the people, and just…” He pauses. “So many things had significantly changed in a moment. You felt like, ‘After today, nothing is going to be the same.’ You really felt the power of the change that had occurred, and it's very hard to describe, but it was palpable and energetic.”
Jonathan met up with friends to spend the afternoon in an apartment nearby. They watched the news to get a feel for what was going on. With no way to get safely back home, he spent the night in the city. The next morning, he went back to the office, and as the lone employee, he ran the call center of his business. "If I'm not going to be there, no one else can make it in terms of Jersey, no one else can make it from the Bronx. If we don't open it up and try, then somehow, we've lost."
Jonathan describes his feelings over the next several days as being punched in the gut. The entire city was on edge. Yet, his faith helped him gain strength and perspective on the events around him.
“[Our Buddhist Center] received a call from a representative of the second-highest teacher in our tradition, Shamar Rinpoche, a very, very significant person in Tibetan Buddhism. We received a phone call from his secretary, saying that, ‘Shamar Rinpoche has come back to New York City; he would like to visit with your center’. We were a very small center at that time. There was only maybe about 10, 15 of us, and when Shamar Rinpoche appears from Asia, there's thousands of people there. He sat in a regular armchair with a Mala, which is the string of beads that one uses to count their mantras with. He did two pujas, which are like meditations that one recites. There was something about that moment that was so powerful. I couldn't really describe it any other way than the force of his wishes for us. He said, ‘When you meditate, your mind becomes strong. Because you have the strength from your meditations, now you need to go back to the city and be strong for others. Be solid for them. Contribute in some way from this benefit that you got from your practice.’"
Jonathan took the train home and recalls that constant traumatic feeling lifting off of him. “I wasn't trying to make it up in my head. I wasn't trying to think positive thoughts. The trauma was gone. I felt like all of a sudden I could do something again, and that there was a greater meaning and a greater purpose to what this Buddhist thing was about. It's being able to help people.”
He continues, “I think in every moment, even in the worst moments of trauma, there is always some aspect of wisdom, of truth. There is something that can be learned and given back that comes from some kind of strength.”
When he found himself battling thoughts of uncertainty about the future, he asked a teacher who responded, “You should contemplate impermanence more." He says that it helped him embrace uncertainty as a good thing.
“Things are not solid and real. Things are changing all the time. You can't really hold on to any moment and keep it as it is. There is a certain freedom that comes from knowing that things change, because you're less and less stuck on the idea of trying to manage the whole chessboard. You can be free within because you're not attached to outcomes. You're not seeing things as you would like them to be. You're seeing things as more of the way they are, and maybe there's a greater freedom in that.”
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