By Anna Bowness-Park
Emergency preparedness kits and websites are important for disaster planning, and with the recent earthquake rumblings that some felt, discussion about what to do is back on the front burner.
As important as these websites and kits are, few websites discuss the emotional and spiritual preparedness needed – preparedness that positively affects our responses and our health in times of crisis.
One website that broaches the subject is The Alberta Health Services. It has an interesting section about disasters, which asks: “How can I build emotional wellness?” Although not giving solutions, it does note that emotional preparedness is key to surviving a disaster. It states, “Being emotionally prepared for a disaster or emergency can help you reduce stress and anxiety. If you can manage stress every day, it will help you cope in challenging times. It can also help you recover from trauma faster and with fewer long-term effects.”
The question to ask then is, “Am I a responder or a reactor in difficult situations?” because that is key to dealing with them.
We’ve all heard or read about people or nations who have faced terrible disasters, yet found the strength to endure and come through them. In the heat of the moment many turned to a deeply rooted spiritual faith, finding hope and a divinely impelled strength and intelligence. This empowered them to respond rather than react to their situation, and to emerge safely, not only regaining their own well-being but also finding ways to help others.
In an article in the Huffington Post, Katherine Marshall looks at the spiritual response to the 2011 earthquake and tsunami in Japan, remarking on how people of all faiths or no faith came together to help. She points to the fact that the country has set an example in of how to respond to the terrible disasters with “courage, solidarity, compassion and diligence.” She added that what was also interesting, but less reported, was how people’s deeply embedded religious beliefs came to the fore. She writes:
“The active and constructive religious response to Japan’s 3/11 catastrophe caught some by surprise and it has received fairly scant attention. But what happened may well stand as an important landmark. It shows what one leader calls the unconscious religiosity of the Japanese: an amorphous sense of being connected to something transcending the self, a gratitude to the ancestors, divine beings, and people in general. It is alive, he says, even within those who say that they have no religion.”
Marshall concludes, “this religious story shows an important if often obscured face of Japan. It is part of Japan’s remarkable response to the disaster, part of the fortitude, community solidarity, and determination to rebuild that we must admire.”
In a very different scenario – Antoinette Tuff did not need an emergency preparedness bag, as she was not facing a natural disaster but rather an emergency that could have become a human tragedy. What she needed was clear thinking, courage and compassion. Her Christian roots enabled her to talk down a distraught and dangerous young man who was in a U.S. school threatening to shoot the students and teachers. She credits the “grace of God” with the way she lovingly and courageously talked with him, potentially saving many lives. She said, “My pastor, he just started this teaching on anchoring, and how you anchor yourself in the Lord. … I just sat there and started praying. I just remembered the teaching and how he taught us [church members] how to consult people when they’re bereaving.”
These stories about “spiritual responders” are inspiring. In times of great need, a deeply rooted spiritual consciousness, that connects all of us, can come forward to bless everyone, empowering not just ourselves but others too.
There are practical, daily steps we can take to discover and cultivate this spiritual rootedness. Whether facing the loss of a job, the end of a relationship or just a missed but important flight connection, we can decide to deal with it differently – with a spiritual perspective. For example, we need to watch that we are not reacting with fear or anger, but looking at a helpful response to the situation. It could involve not being as concerned with our own discomfort, but rather also considering the well-being of others.
Another step take now is to develop more of a community spirit where we live or work. Getting to know neighbours and co-workers furthers our ability to care for one another, increases trust and builds better communication.