Q: I have family close to Pondicherry, India, where the tsunami hit. Although there was some damage to their home and city, they remained safe. They are slowly rebuilding with much help from family and other aid. I live in California, where people are dying in landslides. With all these catastrophes, I am feeling scared about what other horrible things will happen to me and others. I even have dreams of big waves crashing and taking everything. What can I do to make myself feel less threatened?
A: I am glad to hear that your family survived and that you are safe in California. Death and disaster are very scary, especially by such powerful, unstoppable natural forces. The threats that our families, and even others, face are actually felt as personal threats because we realize our own vulnerability as human beings. So, your fears are actually founded in a reality—this could happen anywhere, to anyone.
Nobody can stop an earthquake. We are rather small and powerless on this earth. As you explore your vulnerabilities, you may find that your feelings of unsafety may precede the tsunami. Look at the other fears you feel underneath. Some deep breathing and sensing your body will help access your unconscious feelings and bring calmness. Dreams of floods often symbolize overwhelming emotions. As you deal with your inner turmoil, you will begin to find your strength. It is not a strength that is based on controlling everything around you, so nothing bad happens to you. That is an obsession. Rather, it is a strength of being connected to yourself, and perhaps, something larger than yourself.
Q: I am noticing that many people are giving money to aid the tsunami victims. I feel really bad about what happened, yet I haven’t done anything about it. I feel guilty that I have material comforts that the victims don’t have. Even though I have some money I could donate, it’s hard for me to part with it. I start thinking about my own needs and just stop there. I wish I could be different.
A: It is not uncommon to be conflicted within yourself about how to respond to this event. Anytime we recognize a need, whether it is one homeless person or thousands of orphans, we have a variety of reactions. We become afraid that it could happen to us and start feeling weak and anxious. We also feel guilty because we have more and have survived. We feel angry at such a tragedy and that we are helpless. Life then seems very cruel and even meaningless. Some people lose faith in the possibility of a benevolent universe and begin to despair. Inquire into these reactions to become clearer within yourself.
There are numerous ways to give. Your positive intentions and thoughts help as well. What do you feel you lose when you give away your money? Have you really given to yourself what you really want? Even though you have more material resources externally, you may feel equally deprived internally. This makes you resistant and resentful to have to give to another. Thus, you use guilt to punish yourself or to experience a form or caring. Giving from the heart requires a trust that you will be okay. This engenders well-being in the people to whom you give.
Alzak Amlani, Ph.D., is a counseling psychologist in Palo Alto and San Francisco. (415) 205-4666. www.wholenesstherapy.com