Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Worried Sick

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. 


  1. It seems like recently there have been a lot of things that have happen to this world. What happen to Japen is a horrible tragedy,and it's something that I wish would have never happen to any country. But just like Haiti If we pull together we can help those people that were in that horrible tragedy and help actually do something about it.

    I haven't read that article that you all speck of. But she is right at least I think,about the meditation point. I love to do meditation and always have since I have started doing yoga. I think every one should try to just relax and mediate. It's great for stress and to get off everything that you are thinking of that is going on in the world.

    My heart and prayers goes out to the people of Japen,in there time of need.

  2. I am on such overload. I miss the Japan I just visited and I wonder how all the people I met are doing in their beautiful country. I want the world to survive and we must take stock and set our axis on the right path. Thanks goodness my happy pills are working. I try and follow the stories of courage, bravery and love. Connections found are my favorite as people find their loved ones.

  3. Yes, peace begins within. It's like what they tell you on the airlines...put your own oxygen mask on first and then help others. We need to be centered and calm. We can't help anyone from a place of fear, panic, and exhaustion. Thank you for this piece today, beautiful ladies. I will share it.
    This is why I love you.

  4. Yes, we are all on overload -- especially lately. That's why I think it's so important -- and wonderful -- that we are finding ways to cope and to reach out to each other. Hollye, your airplane analogy is perfect!

  5. You know I haven't been able to put my finger on how I've been feeling in the wake of all this constant sadness in the world. You stated it beautifully....compassion fatigue!!!! Brilliant....exactly how to describe it. Bombarded with world tragedy, on a daily basis, for months....and you care so much but are helpless to do enough!

  6. There is a reason I avoid watching the news as much as possible - it seems selfish for me to be able to just turn it off and continue on but Ignorance is bliss as they say. It's definitely not the case that I don't care, I certainly do and I've done what I can by sending donations to various appeals, but I am helpless to much more, and torturing myself by watching the horrible images on TV doesn't help anyone and only makes me feel worse. It's just self-preservation I guess.

    I have had friends both in Christchurch and in Japan at the time of these disasters, and have been blessed enough that all of them are safe and well.

    I've never been able to meditate, I'm one of those people who just can't sit still for more than a few minutes, but I keep praying for everyone affected.


  7. Georgette and Elle, so affected by everyone's helplessness! But, Elle, I think prayer is a kind of meditation. And I think it's a healthy way to cope with this kind of impotent stress. I've been sending loving wishes of healing across the world. And to all you readers too! xo

  8. On a side note, anyone heard from Rigel lately? I notice she hasn't commented in a while, and I tried to visit her blog the other day and it said the blog had been removed...


  9. yes, this. this is a wonderful post.

    (can we meditate naked, then dance and video tape it?)

    (someone has to make us laugh. . . )

  10. Elle, sadly, Rigel is off-line. She's okay, but needed time off. I hope every day she'll come back. We miss her!!

    Gae, well, you suggested it so I think you should start it. (and, yes, laughter would DEFINITELY ensue) (er, I don't mean at you! I mean, all of us doing, you know what I mean...argh, shut up!)

  11. Fair enough, glad to hear she's ok :-)

    Gae: now THAT would be taking multi-tasking to whole new levels haha


  12. I am so with you in this. The first time I saw the footage of the destructive tsunami in Japan I couldn't take my eyes away. The second time it started getting to me how terrible the loss of lives must have been. The third time I hardly noticed.

    It is a fine balance we're all walking, really, no matter how close to disaster we are. How much should you care to not become entirely unconcerned or superficial, while at the same time not drown in despair on other people's problems? Impossible to say. Right now I almost feel more worried than I did before I left Japan, because I'm no longer in any danger, and thus all the tragedy sinks in.

    For the time being my plan is to rest and spending time with my family to recover. In way, that is a form of meditation too.

  13. Cruella, so glad you're safe and sound! Everyone, if you follow Cruella to her blog, she speaks about living through the disaster in Tokyo. Recently, she was able to leave.

    You bring up such a good point, Cruella, in that when you're in the thick of disaster, you go into survival mode. You do what you have to do. But away from it, you're helpless and can really examine the circumstances. Now you have to take care not to go into shock! Thinking of you xo


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