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Tending to Our Resilience Now

Full Moon: Resilience in the Wake of the Boston Marathon Bombings

WOW! What a passage from the new moon to the full moon we have had. Our individual and collective psyches had been shocked, wrenched and battered by the Boston terrorist bombings, the Texas fertilizer plant explosion, the ricin letters to officials and now the Midwest spring floods. But something new is emerging in our collective response...resilience. Genuine resilience is not angry revenge.

Peter Levine, the founder of Somatic Experiencing (SE), writes in Healing Trauma “that we become traumatized when our ability to respond to a ‘perceived’ threat is in some way overwhelmed (page 8).” In the moments after the Boston bombings, the initial responses of shock and horror were quickly followed by first-responders jumping into action based on their training and by some individuals in the crowd running toward the site to participate in rescue efforts. Of course, each person had their own individual response. Those individual responses gathered together to give those of us receiving the news through the media a collective impression of the ‘rolling’ unfolding of response to the tragedy: shock, horror, disbelief, fear, grief, and anger. Then we watched this amazing response of determination to push back, not just in angry vengeance, as in an ‘eye for an eye’ mentality, but in a communities’ willingness to assert its’ values of support, empathy, and cooperation.

The body goes into overwhelm, freeze, when it can no longer tolerate the intensity of the activation that comes with a full-on ‘fight and flight’ response. Each of us has a different set point for how much sympathetic nervous system arousal we can tolerate before overwhelm occurs. According to SE theory, we come out of overwhelm, the freeze state, at the same level of activation that we went into it, thus one exits freeze and encounters the high activation state of the fight or flight. One can shake, rage, cheer, sob, or dance. The energy is strong and needs to be expressed and moved through the bodymind. Chronic traumatic symptoms set in when one do not feel safe enough to express the natural down-regulation of the system.

As the various law enforcement agencies responded, they seemed to be more cooperative and coordinated with one another. This was reflected in the absence of news stories about their lack of communication etc. Folks responded to requests for information and to ‘shelter in place’. Was there more trust in the authorities because they seemed more organized and competent? Did that display of competence offer a container to temporally hold the communities’ shock and grief? Something shifted. The community and law enforcement seemed to respect and assist each other in ways that we haven’t seen in awhile. The spontaneous applause by Watertown residents for law enforcement when the manhunt concluded in the live capture of the suspect seemed to be born of relief and genuine appreciation. The subsequent comments by assorted officials expressing their gratitude for the communities’ support and cooperation was moving. There seemed to be a healthy resonance, between the citizens and their officials. Each constituency seemed to take turns being vulnerable and competent. As that channel of expression opened, it grew to standing ovations and moments of silence in various venues. As the waves of intense release passed, Bostonians, and the rest of us by extension, asserted our values of empathy, cooperation, and determination to live our lives on our terms... to not be victims. This reaction is an excellent example of resilience on a collective level.

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