Peace Like a River

big benRight now is all we have. That’s it, the sum of our existence.

Yes, we do plan for an expected future–probabilities certainly suggest that time will continue its trek. And we can’t ignore that the past once was. That is where learning occurred, how we each accrued personal encyclopedias of how to be or do in the world. But experiencing peaceful presence in day to day life, and achieving genuine connectedness with fellow human beings–that only happens in the now.

Now is as an ongoing flow, begging us to dip in our feet and appreciate its gentle currents. This is easier said than done in today’s world. Inner peace at times seems so evasive, so often dammed away somewhere upriver, leaving us to stew in our own juices. Judging, blaming, criticizing, uncertainties, fears, self-doubt–all prevent us from achieving the glow and peace of inner presence.

We do not purposely strive to be dysfunctional. If we did, our species would not have saber-toothed tigersurvived. On the contrary, roadblocks to peace are typically protective, standing guard for imminent threat or other forms of crisis. There is value in being constantly on the alert if the hostile tribe next door could attack anytime, or a saber-toothed tiger could be lurking around any corner. But most of us do not live in such a world. The adversities of modern society do not often require constant awareness of them in order to survive. But our neurochemistry does not know that.

Is it a lost cause, then? Are we slaves to the neurochemical dictates of trauma and survival? Continue reading

Why Are There Anniversary Reactions?

Another September 11th has come and gone. Remembrances were shared, stories told, honors given. We pick up, we move on.

Yet feelings may linger. Perhaps it is something you can’t exactly put a finger on–some timevague discomfort. Maybe it’s an unidentifiable sense of loss, anxiety, or anger. Whatever it is, it followed a crescendo as the date approached, and now slowly ebbs as time marches beyond.

Why do anniversary reactions happen? Not just on September 11th, but on any date marking an experience of trauma or loss? Continue reading

Once Again . . . The Charleston Shooting

It happened. Too many times, as President Obama and others point out. The weariness of it, perhaps even complacency forming over it, can lead to tuning out tragedies like the Charleston church shooting as redundant, something expectable of American society. Besides, there’s nothing to be gained by forcing ourselves to watch.

The impact on those affected will be there all the same, beyond the tragic deaths: trauma for the injured, for those who observed it or whose loved ones were killed or injured, and sometimes even for those who watch or hear about it from afar.

terror lurkingWe’ve heard it all before, the potential mental health effects of these experiences. Post-traumatic stress disorder gets the most press. But there are as many different potential reactions to trauma as there are people who experience it.

So what do we do about it? The authorities are always telling us to be prepared for disaster. How do you prepare for a mass casualty disaster? What do you do about this type of absurdity, the horrendous and unpredictable? Are we left only with looking for better ways to clean up whatever mess litters our psyches after the crisis passes? What can any one individual do in advance to fight the war on terrorism?

The answer: take back our vulnerability to terror. One person at a time.

Yes, tall words. Even taller-sounding expectations. Is it realistic to expect people to make themselves invulnerable to unpleasant emotions? Continue reading

Calming the Storm

gazelle running“Why do I always feel so worked up? Why can’t I just relax?”

Our bodies are blessed with a “fight, flight, or freeze” response system. It’s a chemical chain of events that kicks in during times of urgency. Animals in the wild most clearly demonstrate its value. Engaging a foe, running from a predator, and freezing to become invisible are all practices that increase longevity. They are essential to survival. Such physical activity also uses up the chemicals that pump up the response.

With human beings, how it might be funneled into survival is not always clear-cut, especially following disaster. At first a course of action may be obvious, like gathering up loved ones and/or possessions, getting out of harm’s way, or helping with sandbags or rescue efforts. At other times, it means a lot of sitting around: hunkering down in a shelter, anticipating news of what happened or if you can go home, and waiting for relief resources to move in.

After the storm passes, additional considerations emerge:

  • How widespread is the damage?
  • What happened to the rest of my family and friends?
  • How are our lives going to be affected by this?
  • Are we going to make it?
  • Is it really over?
  • Will it happen again?

Such worries pump up our bodies for action. It’s the same as a gazelle out on the savannah, running from a lion. During disaster there generally isn’t any lion for us to run from, perhaps not even an idea of what could be done at the moment. The result is that dealing with disaster can turn into sitting and stewing in our own juices. Doing so brings about a host of physical, mental, and behavioral ailments. Those of us who go through severe trauma during a disaster are especially at risk. Continue reading