911: Can We Do More Than Remember?

911: Are we selling ourselves short by just remembering?

Posted Sep 11, 2010

911 was a horrible and devastating disaster that heralded a change in consciousness for the average person living in America. No more safety. Always on the lookout. The "fear factor" was a horrible recreation that has since grown to mammoth proportions in the American psyche without anyone paying attention to many of its indirect manifestations: the fear index in the stock market; a distracted nation at large; even an obesity epidemic that heralds the need for comfort and a refusal to pay attention to quality of life in the face of subconscious dangers. When days like today are an anniversary of loss, how can we best use our lives if not just in the memory of this horror?

Studies in disaster situations show that debriefing is especially not helpful at times of crisis. In fact, going over situations can be harmful, if only because this cements the memory and keeps the suffering online. While there is a certain catharsis in this reliving experience, the more effortful things that we need to do may be less appealing, and so we don't do them. Remembering is not hard. Who can forget this immense tragedy? But what's the point of remembering without the following additions to make the experience more meaningful:

Focus on your own resilience: If you have experienced a personal loss from 911, the extent of your sadness will be great. But as the studies show, if you are to recover from this trauma, it is equally if not more important to focus on your resilience. How can this tragedy help you find your own strengths: whether this is a stronger connection with God or a stronger connection with yourself? Are you in touch with your survival skills as much as your losses? Do you use these skills to drive your life forward, to cherish those who are with you more, and to be grateful for what we have given to us in this limited life?

Do you give yourself credit for turning your sadness, anger and bitterness into a functional life? And have you used your survival advantage to your best capability? If you do in fact care for America, how can you bring together like-minded people to build the nation? Do you have an anniversary reminding you of how much you want to build the nation in addition to mourning its losses?


Have you asked yourself how you will give yourself time away from worry? Have you carved out time for things you deeply enjoy? Have you found a motivational significance for the death of loved ones? And do you remember them in the motivation and constructive building of a new life. Would this not be the highest honor that you can pay?

But how do you develop this emotional superglue when your psyche has been fragmented by your loss or regret? In my book, "Life Unlocked: 7 Revolutionary Lessons to Overcome Fear" I describe things that you can explicitly do when you have experienced a traumatic event. Some salient points here are: (1) Remember to focus on what you have; (2) Brain-imaging studies show that we are more likely to live more calmly if we meditate; (3) We know from brain imaging studies that worry is actually a way of avoiding deeper anxieties, especially when the cause of the worry is real. What deeper anxieties could you be avoiding? (4) Are there ways in which your losses continue to disappoint you? Action often dissipates worry. From exercise, to simply walking and setting small achievable goals, your worry can be significantly diminished.

I would advocate then that the deepest respect you can pay to the loss of spirit in our country is in the action of rebuilding it, and that if we all focus on this together, we will find our greatest individual strengths that can re-build the spirit of this nation.