Soon after he became popular, the American humorist James Thurber found himself in front of an elderly socialite at a dinner party who asked, “Don’t you think things are getting worse?” Thurber quickly replied, “I don’t care about ‘things’, Madam, I care about people.”
Right now, after the perfect storm known as Hurricane Sandy, Thurber’s words couldn’t be more resonant. One after another, residents of shoreline communities devastated by Sandy’s unprecedented impact are sharing this same sentiment. The loss of ‘things’ hurts a lot, whether homes, personal property or a lifetime of treasures, photographs and memories that vanished in the tides or were irrevocably damaged. Yet hundreds of these same victims of our most recent climate disaster utter deeply held truths we all share — declaring, “we lost everything we owned, but things don’t matter – we have our families, our friends, our dreams, and for this we are thankful.”
The Emergency Phase of the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy will soon draw to a close. With power restored, survivors of this monumental catastrophe will soon be fed, clothed and housed — reconnected to life’s most basic needs. FEMA officials, insurance agents, community organizations, religious groups and neighborhood coalitions are collaborating with thousands of volunteers from all over the world to provide the ‘things’ necessary for survival. Food, water, blankets, clothing, diapers, toiletries, books, toys and virtually every material essential imaginable are all arriving daily, being collected and efficiently distributed, assuring a return to the “illusion of safety” within which we all continue to live.
Most onlookers assume that what comes next is rebuilding homes, schools and businesses; indeed, the debris, refuse, sand and waste is already being cleared — inviting opportunities for reconstruction of local schools, reopening businesses and revitalizing neighborhoods. But another step precedes the Reconstruction Phase of a disaster like this, and its importance should not be underestimated. What needs to happen must focus on the extraordinary resilience of children and safe ways to rekindle their boundless joy and natural playfulness.
With volunteers in Japan after a “Second Response” training
The Recovery Phase can bring disillusionment, when attention turns not to people’s ‘things’ but to their emotions, their inner landscapes severely impacted by the very real traumas of shock, loss, grief, fear, anger and worry. These potent, natural emotions will begin to become even more evident in the days and weeks ahead as survivors take stock of what has really happened, their lives forever changed as temperatures drop further and bands of volunteers retreat. The numbing effect of placing our attention on the outer world has a way of diminishing in the dark of winter. In the next sixty days, these same emotions will now be either safely released and externalized from the tissues of the body or repressed into the depths of despair, covered by artificial smiles and a dangerous denial.
When natural emotions are repressed over a period of just a few months, they become distorted, taking up residence in the physical body and manifesting later as classic symptoms of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. Skin eruptions, breathing problems, digestive issues, heart palpitations and a wide range of emotional disturbances like sleep problems or irrational fears begin to emerge. Psychosomatic illnesses like these are most common in populations of children impacted by natural disasters when effective interventions are not instituted in the Recovery Phase. Studies have shown that 90-92% of children have natural coping mechanisms to readjust without incidence, but 8-10% of children will suffer long-term consequences.
While the larger agencies provide emergency provisions in the immediate aftermath, few groups provide emotional support beyond palliative approaches, quiet counseling and minimally expressive therapies that are primarily cognitive in nature. While these efforts do carry value, they often do not reach the invisible wounds of a disaster that have become more somatic, body-centered, and latent imbalances – ones that later become physically systemic, frequently causing the symptoms described above. These problems – and P.T.S.D. — are preventable.
The Fortunate Blessings Foundation “Second Response” Trauma Teams have been active throughout the world for nearly a decade. As part of our work following natural disasters, we have developed a simple, body-centered, and proven therapeutic approach with two specific goals: our first aim is to prevent and reduce children’s post-traumatic stress-related symptoms, depression, somatic complaints, functional impairment, separation fears and generalized anxiety; secondly, we build capacity on the ground so that future events can be met with similar, effective responses by local caregivers.
We see remarkable changes in children within very short periods of time. Our work with tsunami-traumatized children in Sri Lanka is a testament to our success. Our methods have been applied cross-culturally to American, Palestinian, Sri Lankan, Israeli, Thai, Indonesian, Japanese and Chinese students with equal success. PTSD, characterized by stress-related conditions such as asthma, skin problems, irritable bowel, nightmares, insomnia, hyper-vigilance, anxiety attacks, etc., has been significantly minimized in the groups with whom we’ve worked following our protocols.
It is our intention to train caregivers, social workers, teachers, parents, health ministries, mental and physical health personnel, and others in order to help children before PTSD sets in. We can teach and demonstrate our methodologies and pass on this expertise to local teachers, parents, and health professionals as we’ve done all over the world. What we do is very simple, completely non-confrontational and deeply respectful. Our “work” occurs to children as playful fun and games.
We will organize trainings in the tri-state area beginning in the second week of December and will conduct our “playshops” throughout the following 10 days. We are available to go wherever our efforts are welcome, including any and all affected areas to “play” directly with those impacted.
Depending on funding and availability of staff, each team has 2-6 experienced Ph.D. psychologists, social workers, youth counselors, or others with vast experience working with children affected by trauma, loss, grief, fear, torture, and natural disasters. We also travel with celebrities, artists and other local notables who can attract a wider audience through their own contacts and recognition. A training session typically lasts from 2-3 hours and can include up to 50 caregivers. Sessions with children can be between 1-2 hours, depending upon the number and their age. We can conduct smaller sessions with affected children as well as larger groups of 200 children at one time.
We are extremely good at what we do, facilitating a natural release of fears, grief, anger, and other emotions and effectively demonstrating to volunteers and lay people ways to understand the nature of PTSD. We can identify special cases and the needs of children who are severely dissociated and help to coordinate vital follow-up with local agencies and mental health professionals. Our methodologies are safe, highly effective interventions that most children love and eagerly embrace.
“Second Response” builds resilience, restores hope, and focuses on recovering the original ability of children – the boundless joy of life itself. We welcome inquiry, donations, support and collaboration.
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Click on the Red Headline above to read the letter we’ve just sent to our mailing list. Please pass this on to others who you think may be able and interested to support our work in the areas impacted by Hurricane Sandy. As the Emergency Phase of this disaster begins to wind down, we will soon be partnering with a likeminded global disaster relief organization to start the Recovery Phase wherein our mental health teams will provide badly needed emotional support in the affected populations of children who were traumatized.
We welcome all donations, volunteers, and any form of support. Thank you for all you do.
How do we create holistic thought? More than just an assemblage of ideas, true holistic thinking emerges from a deep relationship with nature, our immediate environment and the food we consume. This short segment is taken from a longer lecture given in New York City in 2011.
Speaking on the invisible toxins in our environment, I tell the story of being fitted for shoes as a child and the accompanying exposure to hidden dangers that few people considered unsafe — until many years later.
The modern view of pregnancy focuses almost entirely on the physical; most traditional cultures understand that the whole child is developing – body, mind and spirit – and places great emphasis on the importance of emotions and spirit as well as physical development.
The two better known approaches to feng shui, the compass and form school, each have their benefits; however, a blind use of either without taking into consideration many other factors, can result in a dogmatic approach to solving simple problems.
Here’s a brief excerpt from a recent lecture I gave in New York that illustrates an example of how using compass feng shui may not always be the best approach.
Compassionate response from the global community has brought much attention to the needs of children affected by the tsunami and its aftermath. This basic manual is intended to provide support to caregivers who wish to address the specific needs of children during the six-month period following the event.
Much more can be said, and certainly much more has been written about trauma and children than is mentioned in this guide. Many resources are available to families and professionals, but few take into consideration the underlying cultural needs of this gentle nation.
After a great deal of time in discussion with community leaders, local teachers, parents and caregivers as well as considering the many different spiritual traditions of this ancient culture, this guide has been assembled as a prelude to an ongoing effort to support Japan in the months and years ahead.
With the deepest respect, I hope this guide will be of value to every child and caregiver now and in future generations.
Trauma is a wound to the energy of the body, either in physical or psychological terms. It is used to define an event which has cause harm or injury to the psyche, as in a “traumatic” event, disaster, disease or accident.
Most traumatic events are totally uncontrollable; their results shatter people’s personal sense of safety and security. Present in every episode that might be labeled traumatic is:
Extreme fear and helplessness
The possibility or threat of serious harm or death
Basic human nature makes it possible for most people to recover from a traumatic event with little or no counseling or support. Every individual knows instinctually how to protect his or her life and acts accordingly; moreover, the sensing and feeling nature inside each child has a remarkable capacity to reorient life after tragic events if given loving support.
A very small percentage of children will need more intensive interventions as a result of many factors, i.e. the nature of personal loss, the history of family and social interaction, the degree of personal bodily harm, etc. These special cases, too, can most often be returned to a happy childhood over time.
Normal coping mechanisms are available to children as well as to adults. While there is a reasonable concern for each child’s well being, most of them will recover from this event and go on to lead happy, productive lives.
The most common diagnosis of those who suffer ongoing problems of trauma is known as Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, or PTSD. This diagnosis is often misapplied to those experiencing normal coping symptoms and as a result exaggerated expectations will frequently exceed actual psychosocial need.
Three symptoms are present in a diagnosis of PTSD:
Reliving the experience of the event through haunting pictures, memories, flashbacks, nightmares or a sense that the event is not over; reliving the stress caused by the event when placed near or in settings where the event took place, i.e. the village near the ocean or places near the nuclear reactors.
Avoiding behaviors in an attempt not to be reminded or exposed to the associated stress. These include disinterest in things that are normally fun, introversion or shyness beyond normal cultural mannerism, no interest in planning the future, feelings of abandonment or isolation.
Physical Hyper-arousal leading to loss of sleep, outbursts, startling, hyper-vigilance or “jumpy” over alertness.
Often, these three symptoms are also accompanied by:
obsessive behaviors that recreate the context of the trauma,
dissociation and feelings of “disconnect” from others
a burden of guilt for surviving the event itself.
The second group of three symptoms may or may not be present in a diagnosed PTSD whereas the former three are thought to be necessary to confirm a diagnosis.
HELPING ALL CHILDREN
Five key points to keep in mind when working with children:
Reaffirm safety, protection and your own concern for the child’s overall well being.
Monitor your own real emotions and feelings as they relate to the event, and take care of yourself so you can take care of others who need you.
Return to and maintain a steady routine of activities upon which a child can come to depend.
Watch for small problems that might develop which an early intervention (a gentle, caring chat or hug) can resolve; validate children’s emotions rather than shutting them down.
Allow more time that usual forsimple activities, keeping in mind a slowed pace is easier to facilitate recovery.
Hope and meaning are the two essential components of resilience, the quality needed to recover our original ability. No one can speak the absolute truth and give meaning to these events, but surely all of us share a sincere and genuine hope for the future of this nation and its most precious asset, the children.
Add to that a profound faith, abundant humor, remarkable sensitivity, perseverance in the presence of hardship, amazing adaptability and enormous caring and support from others, Sri Lanka will undoubtedly recover its exquisite beauty and charm, and its people and children will soon return to life in this special island nation.
AGE SPECIFIC GUIDELINES
Infants and toddlers (up to 5 years old) may react with crying and clinging behavior, aware of the distress in their caregivers. Episodes of bedwetting, rocking, regressive thumb sucking, or new fears are normal.
Continual reassurances, physical contact and nurturing love are usually all that is needed for children of this age group in order to overcome the symptoms of trauma.
Middle childhood (up to 12 years old) often act out more symptoms, exhibiting aggressive behaviors or anger, avoidances and some challenge in returning to everyday routines such as school.
Slowing down the processes and taking more frequent fun breaks than would otherwise be scheduled helps children of this age to work through their stresses. Physical movement like playing sports, martial arts or simple running games are excellent releases of stagnant energies.
Adolescent’s responses vary greatly and can more quickly accelerate into serious avoidant behaviors like substance abuse. Some extreme risk taking can also be observed as children of this age group may harbor deep feelings of abandonment and thus carry a distorted value of life.
Soliciting help from these children to create their futures is a perfect response to this groups needs. Building projects which directly contribute to their future, creating new curtains, painting, carpentry skills and other things which allow them to be an accepted part of the adult community dramatically reduces symptoms.
For all children, it is important to keep in mind that their world is now completely different than before. Their sense of personal safety, both physical and emotional, has been forever altered.
Each caregiver must convey a new growing safety in his or her mannerisms, behaviors, language and unconditional presence.
Children are also dealing with feelings of abandonment. Having lost one or both parents, many friends and siblings together with their neighborhoods, possessions and communities having been swept away causes enormous stress.
Keep your word and rebuild trust. If you say, “I’ll be back tomorrow,” you must come back. If you say, “I’ll call you next week,” call. Children need to reconstruct their world through trusting caregivers’ actions. Make no promises you cannot keep.
Religious beliefs have been forever challenged. Whether discussions of the laws of karma or the will of God are offered as an explanation, children have great difficulty placing their experiences into a reliable context.
Help children to regain meaning in life by talking openly about what has happened – not “why” it happened. Trust that they can develop their own sense of why at an appropriate time later in their lives. Give them hope, and talk about the future.
HELPING CHILDREN DEAL WITH LOSS
Certain very simple skills are needed to help children deal with loss:
Patience. Don’t rush expressions of mourning or grief. Children may vacillate between outbursts of crying and ecstatic laughter. This is a normal coping mechanism and caregivers need to follow the lead of the child.
Listen. Let children know you care by engaging them in simple conversations, and then be prepared to truly listen. Sharing your own feelings briefly might “open up a dialogue with a child.
Remember. Support children in recalling their deceased parents or siblings. Talk about what they loved, what they miss, and what they might not miss!! It is unnecessary to react in any other way than your presence.
Remove all blame. Some children take responsibility for the death of a parent or sibling, thinking they could have acted in a different way to warn or protect, or done something more to help. This guilt requires your sensitivity. Do everything you can to reassure the child that he or she did the best they could.
Play. Remember, we are helping children, and children love to play games. Too much talking does little to help them deal with loss. Dance, play games, draw, sing – anything to express feelings or process energy in the body helps in a non verbal way as well as any talking.
Include. Many children can benefit from hearing other children express their feelings. Work in small groups of 3, 4 or 5 children that create safe spaces to open up. Sometimes, the silent child will gain a great deal through this mechanism.
SET A GOOD EXAMPLE
It is easy for caregivers to forget their own needs, but essential for them to take care of themselves. The degree to which you can truly be of value helping children is directly proportional to your own mental health.
Take time out when necessary. Don’t push. Relax, and trust the process of life to slow repair the damage of trauma.
Talk with your own family and friends to process your own feelings. You are having a real experience yourself; don’t disconnect from your emotions.
Find safe spaces to release and process your emotions.
Eat well and try to maintain your health.
Exercise and keep moving; don’t be too sedentary.
Do something to relax and “escape”; read a book, listen to music, meditate, etc. to recompose your energy.
Let go of judgments and resentments. Ultimately, everyone is doing the best they can. Appreciate each individual and his or her own offer of support.
Trust the process. Life goes on – every day can improve.
Breathe. Breathe again. Keep mindful of your breath.
Long before the disasters at Chernobyl or Three Mile Island, nutritional scientists, environmental groups and public health educators including proponents of the macrobiotic approach to diet and way of life sat down to discuss what actions one should take in the event of a nuclear attack or accident. It has long been known that certain foods and dietary approaches can actually be radio-protective, meaning that regular consumption and specific uses act to prevent radioactive pollutants and related contaminants from entering the body.
The Earthquake and Tsunami
On the afternoon of March 11, 2011, the 9.0 magnitude earthquake and subsequent tsunami it generated resulted in numerous environmental catastrophes. While the release of radiation from the meltdown of core rods in nuclear plants on Japan’s east coast captures the public’s attention, many other issues equally as devastating and harmful to human health are occurring. Radioactive pollutants are a grave concern but other issues are present as well.
Many of the earliest macrobiotic educators came to the U.S. from Japan in the late 1960’s, encouraging environmental awareness and ecological practices. Japanese communities are notoriously cautious about environmental waste, taking great care to separate contaminants into appropriate waste containers for storage and proper disposal; however, when the tsunami struck, virtually all such efforts proved to be futile, as massive waves of water churned every square inch of homes, plants, factories and businesses into an horrific toxic soup.
Battery acid from thousands of automobiles, gasoline, kerosene, mercury, arsenic, selenium, cadmium, hydrocarbons, lead, anionic detergents, fluorides, nitrates, sulphur, ammonia, diesel oil and other petroliferous agents have now been widely distributed through hundreds of square miles of farmland and urban areas. Even without the release of even more damaging radioactive isotopes, anyone in the area would be wise to learn about these protective measures people can take.
Following the atomic bombing of Nagasaki in 1945, a group of medical doctors led by Tatsuichiro Akizuki, M.D. used a traditional diet consisting of roasted brown rice, miso soup, Hokkaido pumpkin, sea salt and wakame and other sea vegetables to help save many lives. Since that time, much research has confirmed that sea vegetables contain a polysaccharide substance that selectively binds radioactive strontium and other elements that eliminate them naturally from the body.
Many types of marine algae present a significant protection from the absorption of radioactive particles that may be released because of the naturally occurring iodine. Kombu (common kelp) can be used when cooking beans or vegetables and more familiar seaweeds like nori (commonly used to make sushi rolls) can also be eaten.
Macrobiotic nutritionists often recommend a few tablespoons daily of a sea vegetable like kombu, hiziki, wakame, arame or mekabu is all that is needed; however, “more” is not better — these foods are concentrated minerals and there is a point of diminishing returns. Nearly all natural foods stores carry these products and most are also available mail order from U.S. sea vegetable grower Larch Hanson through his site. Sea vegetables should be a part of everyone’s daily diet no matter what the circumstances.
Dr. Akizuki and others have also verified the remarkable healing quality of traditionally aged miso paste used as a bouillon in soup broth. Again, part of a macrobiotic approach includes preparing these soups using root vegetables — carrots, onions, turnips and radishes — helps not only to stimulate good digestive enzymes but also eliminates harmful pollutants from the bloodstream. Miso soup is typically made with wakame, a leafy sea vegetable that is widely available. Our friend Meg Wolff has a basic miso soup recipe on her recent Huffington Post piece.
Drs. Lidia Yamchuk and Hanif Sharimardanov in the Russian city of Chelyabinsk (which I visited immediately after the fall of communism) demonstrated their use of miso soup broth when served to patients suffering from various forms of leukemia. The patients’ improvement was markedly better than in patients who followed more modern diets.
Short term, quick miso pastes have little efficacy in this regard, so it is best to use long time, fermented miso pastes. Like seaweeds, they are commonly available at many natural food stores. Some of exceptional quality are available through traditional miso-maker Christian Elwell through his site.
Beware of lesser quality misos that use chemicals, sugar or genetically modified soybeans. The ideal types are misos made from all soybeans (called Hatcho) or with barley added (called Mugi). Note: Barley miso contains gluten, so for those who are sensitive, please use Hatcho which is gluten-free.
In a standard macrobiotic approach in temperate climates, perhaps no single food is considered to be more important in cleansing the body and maintaining a proper acid/alkaline balance than short grain, organically grown brown rice. Now widely available and accepted as a principal food, brown rice should be lightly roasted when used in this radio-protective application, allowing the rice to be eaten “raw” if necessary (when one cannot find cooking facilities). Doing so also adds a slightly nutty flavor. All whole grains like brown rice must be chewed extremely well to be effective, releasing the protective elements and making good digestion and absorption possible.
According to traditional Chinese medicine, small red beans called adzuki (grown in midwestern U.S.) are also powerful foods that stimulate and improve kidney function — necessary to remove toxins. Adzuki beans can be cooked with pumpkins, squash and carrots to make a delicious dish and can also be used as a part of soups and stews; however, they take a long time to cook and usually need to be soaked first.
Other Foods and Staples
A good quality sea salt is an important component of the macrobiotic approach, using it regularly in the cooking process rather than at the table. The Japanese plum called umeboshi also helps to maintain the blood’s alkalinity as well as adding flavor to many dishes. Additional grains like buckwheat, millet, quinoa and medium grain brown rice as well as various root vegetables and wild edible plants can be consumed to further strengthen the blood and create lasting vitality.
Foods to Avoid
Macrobiotic teachers often caution people to reduce or avoid certain foods, particularly under specific circumstances like this current environmental crisis. For protection against the release of radioactive isotopes into the environment, it may also be helpful to avoid all simple sugars, fruits and their juices, and most acidic, tropical vegetables like tomatoes, potatoes and eggplant.
Not only do these vegetables contain high amounts of oxalic acid, they also add to the acidic burden of the bloodstream during stressful periods.
Coffee, sodas and dairy products are also best avoided when trying to eliminate pollutants from the body — they add more of a burden and provide little benefit when compared to many other rich sources of nutrients. For example, sea vegetables provide more than the daily recommended amounts of calcium — and soybeans, aduki beans and other legumes provide superior proteins without the saturated fats found in animal products.
Finally, it is worth noting that Charles Darwin did not say “only the strong survive.” What he intimated, was that we must find ways to adapt in order to survive. Modifying our diet in times of crisis is among the most important action we can take. Now is clearly such a time to learn more about local, seasonal foods and to consider dietary changes that are preventative as well as potentially curative.
Fortunate Blessings, together with macrobiotic friends throughout the world who are familiar with these dietary and way of life recommendations, will continue to offer our experience and expertise as our heartfelt concern goes out to all those in Japan and elsewhere who suffer. In the coming weeks, we will consider organizing a team of mental health care experts in the same manner we did following tsunami and earthquake disasters in Indonesia, Samoa and elsewhere in order to support children and families who are facing massive traumas. For those interested in learning more, other articles I’ve posted here remain available as well as accessing our global outreach page through the foundation’s website.
While prophets and pundits weigh in with various predictions for the coming election, no one I’ve heard has spoken of what goes on inside our hearts. We’ve all been shattered by the seemingly endless collapse of modern society and an acceptance of insanity as the new norm. I can be as optimistic as the next guy if I’m willing to overlook the immense suffering all over the planet – until I remember there’s really nothing going “out there. “ It is no more than my own suffering and again I am called upon to open my heart further to embrace the reality of hunger, poverty, social injustice and environmental degradation on every continent.
I am clear that no one will ever know my truth but me, and I am as unlikely to know yours as I am to predict the exact moment the first crocus pokes through the ground when Spring approaches in 2013. Fortunately, I do maintain a pretty solid faith that a new batch of dandelions will appear on my lawn at that time, and I feel equally confident that the long Winter ahead will finally give way to Spring with a blazing, hot Summer arriving not far behind. The cycles of Nature are endless, eternal, guaranteed. Though I find solace in the fact that many of my friends have come to sense those cycles in their bones and the rhythm of their own pulse, sadly as many have little contact with such matters without logging on to some website that instantly tells them the weather forecast or the next moon phase.
It wasn’t that long ago that nearly everyone in any community could point to the East in a split second and could tell you if the moon was new or full. Urban life has all but destroyed that awareness as entire generations witness the connection with the center of our solar system become ever more tenuous. Twinkling stars are a luxury reserved for those without bright city lights; drinkable water that isn’t in a bottle or the hoot of a snowy white owl are the stuff of days gone past for all but those in remote rural towns.
Should 2011 have anything to offer from the vast menu of possibilities, one of the best choices might be to make a commitment to reawaken the truth inside by making a concerted effort to reconnect in some way with the natural world. Eating clean, local food is a good starting point; indeed, it’s the first note in the grand symphony that affirms that everything is connected and we’re all in this together. I know of no teacher wiser than Nature, no lesson plan better suited to bring light to the dark corners of human consciousness than one that reveals the inescapable truth of our interdependency with all life on this planet.
I am thankful today for my teachers and friends, my parents and ancestors, my children and siblings. The gratitude I have for this collection of co-conspirators –others with whom I breathe — is surpassed only by my appreciation for the opposite side of the coin. The greatest growth continues to emerge from the shadows of consciousness, populated by demons and enemies that manifest as difficulty. I count my blessings for both parts of this whole thing called life.
May the days ahead allow the kindness inside every heart to bring inner peace and touch every sentient being with love and light.
This three-minute video that is a powerful rallying cry to inspire an awareness of the urgency to shift our consciousness before it’s too late. We join with thousands of other individuals and organizations to set and reach goals that will cause a positive global tipping point by 2014, resetting humanity on a new path toward a socially just, environmentally sustainable, and spiritually fulfilling future for everyone.