Why do I feel such immense amounts of anxiety when traumatic world events occur?  Japan is half way around the globe?  Why I am so deeply affected?

Friday Morning I was in Southern California.  I woke to bright sunshine, warm winds, palm trees and a docile beach. The seemingly peaceful space of what was going to be a day of rest and relaxation wasn’t, however, what I felt.  A sense of free-floating anxiety lay dormant within my belly.  I couldn’t name its source, but I was quite conscious of it.

After fixing my coffee and a few deep breaths in my daily meditation, I turned on the T.V.  The images were powerful, disruptive and painful.  The tsunami had struck the shores of Japan and people were dying en masse.

I can’t help but believe that the air shifts when so many last breaths occur.  The sheer numbers of people who died in such a short span of time…the immense amount of energy moved from within to without…the united expulsion of air, the finality of its sound as the remnants of it exit the lungs.

The body of a young boy pulled from rubble.

The body of a young boy pulled from the rubble.

I know I’m not alone.  The levels of anxiety I have witnessed in my children, friends and colleagues is palpable.  The helplessness we feel and the reminder of how small we are…the recognition for those things, priorities and people who are important to us comes crashing down around us as the ground beneath our usually balanced lives shakes and shifts.

I find myself needing to meditate more, breathe more deeply and slow myself down to accommodate the neuron overload after such a devastating and earth-changing event.

Not everyone is affected in this way.  I realize that. I’ve been a feeler since I was a child.  I can remember feeling the pain of those around me…an immense need to stand up for the bullied, scapegoated and “picked on” of my peers.  I would struggle with the apparent lack of fairness life brought to the starving children in Africa, visions of their bloated bellies and round wide eyes would haunt me.  I felt a tremendous desire to do something, even then, and yet felt helpless, frustrated and at times completely without power.

This ability to “feel” others pain, empathize, is deeply entrenched in the DNA of my children.  I see how these events shake them to their core…and I am keenly aware of how this sensitivity to pain is both a gift and a burden.  For years, I used a variety of methods to honor it and to not feel it…two ends of the same continuum, one empowered me the other numbed me out.  There’s probably a healthy balance in there somewhere.  I’d like to find it.

But in the meantime, today I will choose to feel the anxiety and see it as a gift.   I will tap into what power I do have to help the pained and sorrowed people of Japan.  I will pray, meditate, contribute, write, hold my children tight, and cry…cry from the depths and despair of my aching soul with no intention other than to just be in it…be in it with them…until we are in it no longer.

How do you cope with global tragedies such as this?