03/16/2011 02:17 pm ET | Updated Nov 17, 2011

When the Earth and the Heart Break Open

The earthquake in Japan moved the axis of the earth some 6.5 inches. In our sleep, maybe, we could feel it tearing, rending us beyond measure. "Enough," we want to shout, wanted to shout after September 11, Katrina, Indonesia, Haiti, Iceland, Chile and New Zealand. Earthquakes, tsunamis, volcanoes and now nuclear meltdowns. We are raw and hurting.

Despite what it looks like and what we've been told, we are not really separate and apart from each other. Einstein called that mistaken belief an "optical delusion," adding, "Our task must be to free ourselves from this prison by widening our circle of compassion to embrace all living creatures and the whole of nature in its beauty."

That child in the iconic picture with hands up and beautiful, frightened face being checked for radiation could be anyone's child, a child we love. In the book I co-authored, "Verbal First Aid: Help Your Kids Heal From Fear and Pain and Come Out Strong," we devote a chapter to preparing children for the unexpected. How can we talk to them about being ready for the worst without scaring or scarring them?

Studies show that in an emergency only 15 percent of us may remain clear-headed. That means 85 percent either panic or wander around, dazed and confused. Experts on fear and survival point out the two skills we need in an emergency:

  • The practical skill acquired by mental rehearsal
  • A solid and confident sense of intuition

The mental rehearsal part is literal. It is about making a "folder" in your mind about what to do in an emergency so that if fight, flight or freeze puts you on "automatic," you have a program to follow. When you look at the instructions card in an airplane, you are more likely to move to an exit in a crash landing. In "The Unthinkable," Amanda Ripley writes that many of those who survived the September 11 disaster had been given endless fire drills in advance and knew that the Tower roof doors were locked, and knew the best ways out. She says that who survives very often depends on this mental preparedness.

So take your children on a scheduled trip to the fire department. Talk to them about 911 calls and have them practice saying their address. Remind them that help is coming to someone who needs it when you hear a siren driving by. Tell them that if you're ever separated -- say, by a fire or flood, which most likely won't happen -- you should plan to meet at a designated spot. Use "fictional distancing" (making up stories in which your young child is the fictional hero and works with a favorite character to save other children). Have a Plan B that they can practice. There are many more ideas in our book about how to turn hurts into healings and potential traumas into memories of rescue and courage. And let them know that it's easier to feel carefree when you are prepared -- that's why we wear seat belts and helmets and knee pads, and that's just the way it is.

And if an emergency happens, you model calm, talk it over with them to allay fears and clear up misunderstandings, limit media exposure, let them sleep with you if they want to, and give them plenty of ways to use their creativity to cope (drawing, writing a different ending, play acting).

In 2008 I was brought to China after a devastating earthquake in Sichuan killed 80,000 people. I was training crisis counselors in Verbal First Aid when I discovered that I was learning something about this from the children there. So many children has lost their friends in the collapse of poorly built schools, and some of those who survived found solace in art. They began drawing pictures of buildings with wings on them, buildings that could just fly away in the face of danger. Others, more practical, wrote and told of wanting to become architects and build even stronger buildings that could face down any challenge. What I saw was that they were using their imaginations, dreams and hopes for the future to give them a sense of mastery over fear.

And since we all regress to helpless infancy in moments of terror, how can we talk to ourselves? How can we help others?

Yes, we can get into action, send money, write letters about the pitifully small usefulness versus the gigantic threat that is the danger of nuclear energy; we can write blogs, form committees and well we should.

Changing The Field, Non-Locally

The second skill we need in an emergency, intuition, means tuning inward to connect with your own inner wisdom and the larger whole of which we are a part. Let me add here that what we are feeling and thinking at such times can affect not only our own safety and our memory of the event, but it can affect outcomes beyond our heads and hearts.

Cell biologist Bruce Lipton speaks of actually being able to measure that we are not really separate and apart, that thoughts are things and that what we are thinking can affect the world. "Field influencing electromagnetic broadcasts from our hearts have been shown to entangle with the hearts of others in the field," he writes in "Spontaneous Evolution." He says that using magnetoencephalography, we can read the brain's neural energy patterns outside the body, providing, "physical proof that brain activity is broadcast into the environment."

And there's one more beautiful piece to this puzzle. When Victor Frankl wrote that "self-actualization is possible only as a side-effect of self-transcendence," he was suggesting thinking beyond yourself, which is a call to unconditional love.

So what can we do when the earth and our hearts break open? We can prepare and support our children, we can contribute time and money as we are able, and we can send outpourings from our hearts through the field to Japan and wherever there is hurt and injury, knowing that we are all connected as vessels of love, envisioning blessings and, as a bonus, receiving wisdom, compassion and, who knows, maybe even self-actualization in return.


Judith Simon Prager is co-author of "Verbal First Aid: Help Your Kids Heal From Fear and Pain and Come Out Strong," and author of "Owie-Cadabra's Verbal First Aid for Kids: A Somewhat Magical Way to Help Heal Yourself and Your Friends."