For the first time in my 30-plus years of teaching on a university campus, I was part of an evacuation that was not just a drill. Three days after the tragic Boston Marathon explosions, I was teaching a class at California State University, Los Angeles when the flashing lights and loud sounds of the alarm led me to stop a video I was showing and make sure everyone got out of the classroom before I did. Although I figured we'd be coming back in from what was either a drill or minor incident, I decided to scoop up my belongings and head out right behind the students.
When we got outside, a security officer on a motorcycle rode through the pedestrian plaza, telling us all to go to our cars and leave the campus. While driving out at a snail's pace, I heard sirens and saw a police vehicle go by with "Bomb and K-9 Squad" on the side. It began to click in that this was not a drill. In order to stay calm, I started to "CLICK" -- a process that helped me shift from being disoriented and close to having a panic attack, to being centered and shifting into a better state of awareness.
Here are the keys to CLICK that I found myself using as this emergency unfolded. Any one or all of these processes can work in navigating the uncertainty and fear that an evacuation or any emergency can precipitate. Here's the "Bomb Threat 101" lesson for what goes into CLICK and how I used it to stay present in the crisis:
C is for Calm. As my breathing got shallow, I remembered how important deep breathing is. I take a deep breath into the nose, then release it through the mouth. Also known as "belly breathing," I picked this up in training from the Center for Mind-Body Medicine.
L is for Lovingkindness. Repeating a set of phrases, first for the self and then to others, is very centering. I practiced a variation of a lovingkindness meditation from Jack Kornfeld:
"May I be filled with lovingkindness.
May I be safe from inner and outer dangers.
May I be well in body and mind.
May I be at ease and happy."
I is for Inspiration. Thinking of someone who has managed to live through adversity helps give perspective in the face of the unknown. I immediately imagined how a friend who is a Holocaust survivor felt during the many times she was evacuated from buildings during World War II. My own fears of what could happen before I was safely away from campus were quelled by the thought that if she could survive the horrors of the Holocaust, I could envision myself managing the unknown I was facing.
C is for Connection. As I left campus, the next decision was... Where to go next? By the time I was beyond the swirl of cars all trying to exit at once, I knew I needed to eat and rather than go home, I went to a health food store that served lunch and was operated by an Israeli. Fortunately the owner was there and we had a chance to talk about terrorism and how Israelis live with it as a fact of life. I actually felt comforted being able to talk with someone who could relate to what I experienced.
K is for Kirtan. In my CD player I happened to be listening to a chant of a mantra for protection from a kundalini yoga festival earlier in the day, and put it on again. "Aad Guray Nameh," sung live by Gurunam Singh at a festival organized by Spirit Voyage, helped me feel that I was safe and not alone -- the chanting (kirtan, in the Sanskit language) was calming, enhancing my state of calm I had already established.
The good news is that there was no bomb, and I now know that I have an "inner plan" that works for me and I can share when facing fearful events like a bomb threat or natural disaster. Extending the lovingkindness meditation, "May we all be free from inner and outer dangers!"
Connie Corley, Ph.D. is a Professor at Fielding Graduate University. To learn more about her and sign up for her monthly newsletter, "Positive Living All Year" (PLAY), visit conniecorleyphd.com.
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