Barbara: Susan Sontag wrote a famous essay about “compassion fatigue” (I couldn’t find the essay itself, but this is an excellent article that discusses it). If you don’t know it, she talks about how there’s a real danger that we can become immune to the tragedies around us because we are so inundated with images depicting them. She calls this phenomenon “compassion fatigue”.
I don’t know about you, but I am not in danger of succumbing to compassion fatigue; I’m at risk of collapsing under the weight of fatigue brought on by my compassion.
I am virtually vibrating with my concerns and fears for Japan right now, never mind that those concerns are piling up on top of recent worries about New Zealand and renewed ones about Libya and Haiti, and on and on. I try to drown myself in my work, which helps in the moment, but I come out of it exhausted and inexplicably weepy. I feel powerless. I feel impotent.
Lori Landau posted an interesting article yesterday about her own thoughts on this. Lori suggests that in order to take care of the world, we need to take care of ourselves first. This is such a simple and powerful logic, I have to repeat it here. We’ve blogged a lot about personal trials and tribulations and how to lend a helping hand in times of need. But a unanimous consensus among us is that in terrible times, we are bound to “hit a wall”. This is when we most need a break to recuperate and heal. For each of us, this process will involve something different. Lori recommends meditation. Her point—and rightly so—is that through meditation, we can also increase our communal energy. And that communal energy can bind us together and give us an exponential healing power, even in the worst of times.
Now I am terrible at meditating. I’ve tried it to little avail. But I can see the beauty and truth in joining spiritual forces and BELIEVING. If there is one thing that exemplifies the best of the human spirit, it is our ability to prevail, adapt, and grow. We can’t give up now. We have to believe in ourselves, in each other, in good. Let’s not get so fatigued that we succumb to it, that we settle, that we give up. “Believing” might not be meditation in the classic sense, but it’s the kind of meditation I, for one, can grasp. It gives me energy when I most need it.
Deb: Barb, wonderful food for thought. I too have been struggling with this. I look at the photos and it looks exactly like a disaster movie. It looks unreal and surreal and as a result, it is hard to grasp. So I find myself instead focusing on the individuals.
I was struck by a photo in the newspaper of a little boy. He must have been around three or four. He was standing in front of a man in full radiation gear, as the man waved a wand over his tiny self. His eyes were wide and his little arms and legs were spread-eagle. He looked not terrified but aghast. At least as aghast as a tiny boy can look. And I sat staring at the picture of his sweet face and thinking that no matter what happens in the rest of his life, this is the defining moment. He will never ever ever forget this moment. It will shape who he is, and who he will become.
I have meditated since I was twenty. I kept it up for years and years. I picked it up during menopause and it was a great help, but since then I have strayed again.
So Barb, you have inspired me to slip into my Transcendental Meditation and send loving thoughts of peace and hope and healing to the Japanese people. And as I repeat my mantra, I will think of them, one human at a time, through the face of one tiny little boy.