Thursday, July 10, 2008


Last Day This Trip

Yesterday’s meeting with the government officials is still on my mind. The officials are concerned that everything must follow government guidelines. Well, this is the city, Beijing, and the country that will momentarily (within three weeks) be the focus of the world. The Olympics are coming, the bird’s nest stadium is right near our hotel, and everywhere there are signs that remind the public to clean up for the games and take pride.

The television host whom I mentioned yesterday as the public official who is using her celebrity status to support our earthquake relief project is named Shen Bing, known as the “face of China Central Television (CCTV) programs. " She will emcee the Olympic games, because she can do it all: sports, finance, current affairs. Versatile, intelligent, graceful, she has won many awards including "Best TV Host for News Commentary and Business" in 2005. She was also honored as one of the Top 10 Most Influential Media Figures of the Year (2002) and Glamour 50 of the Year (2005).

But more than that, she is a philanthropist, donating much money to schools, libraries, and funds for needy children.

After I leave, I write her a thank you note for including me in this project. She answers immediately, inviting me to write her with my thoughts and ideas, asking for my continuing support, hoping to see me again, and also saying, “Your trip to China has been of great value to the Chinese people, and I really appreciate your efforts and contribution.” So gracious.

My friend Planaria is an expert in teaching English as a second language. She says there is a theory about conversations in different cultures—I hope I’ve got this right, on the web there’s something about this from The Seabright Group—that uses sports analogies to show the styles and who gets the conversational ball, so to speak. Some cultures are like Ping Pong, in that each person takes a turn hitting the ball when it comes his/her way. If you don’t have the ball, you have to wait until it’s your turn again. Some are like basketball, in that you have the conversational ball only as long as you can hold onto it, but someone can snap it up and then it’s their turn. And some are like soccer—you can hardly tell who’s got the ball at any given moment. The Middle East conversations are soccer. In the U.S., we’re kind of basketball. And China is definitely ping pong. So it involves waiting until it is your turn to speak. The more so when you don’t know the language.

Although the group I’m with is a little rowdy-er and there’s often so much laughter you can’t tell who’s got the ball.

We go to a vegetarian restaurant after the meeting, for my sake, and everyone finds the food delicious. Helena is certain she’s becoming a veggie, hanging out with me, and losing her taste for meat. The words for “I’m so full,” and “You are so wonderful” are almost the same, and there are apparently puns or jokes confusing the two. Can you see where they might cross over, with a feeling of being so content.

Which reminds me that after I did my demonstration of therapy at the university the other day, a beautiful young woman whose “English name” was Lotus came up to speak with me and try her language skills. I understood what she was saying easily, and was most moved when, in telling me how much she loved what I had done, she said, “My heart is so …com-fort-able.” She made it a juicy four syllables, and I felt full, myself.

The last day here, Helena and I awaken early and pack. Too much laundry. We stop for a quick breakfast and I don’t have my beloved morning coffee, hoping to be able to sleep on the plane. We say our good byes to the sweet Mr. Wei who gets us to the airport early, we check in and soon we’re on the 11-plus hour flight, which is cold and unpleasant enough to help me understand why the other Americans who left early all upgraded. Helena sleeps about three hours all together, I sleep about two.

We part in San Francisco—it has been so amenable and productive, we’re all hugs and plans. Which reminds me that she’s off to Seattle to see her daughter, who is there, and who has said to her ,“Mommy, I think I’m going to have to limit the number of kisses you can give me.” What did she decide the maximum number would be? “Twenty thousand.”

By the time Harry picks me up at the airport, his big warm hug is like a soft, favorite bed. We go home, catch a nap, and then head for UCLA where we teach our writing course from 7-10. Then home at 11 PM, I take a melatonin and am in bed by midnight. When I awaken at 9 AM, I’m back on Los Angeles time.

As always happens, once I’m back on familiar turf, doing what I always do, it’s as if I dreamed the whole trip. I’m grateful for this blog, so that I could preserve the memories and highlights and receive all your gorgeous feedback, support, and love.

Thank you. I am so full. You are so wonderful. Twenty thousand kisses.

Monday, July 7, 2008

Day Nine

This is another of our “official” days, really official in the China that most of us imagine. A senior government official and his assistants meet with our delegation, which is led by a very striking, extremely intelligent national television personality. She's one of the official announcers for the Olympics, on the popular level of, shall we say, a Katie Couric -- but brilliant, and socially active. She has led the way for the development of help for the earthquake area. We’d met and spent some time together last week, and I’m honored that she likes me a lot. She has insisted that "Judiss," which is my Chinese name, and the one everyone calls me, be at this meeting.

We sit around a very large round table. Tea is poured quietly and constantly. There are ministers from the Education Department, the Health Department, their version of the Red Cross. Many people. There is much changing around of seats before the high government official enters.

The television anchor, Shen Bing, is so elegant and impresive in her grasp of what we're offering. She has the book I co-authored with Judith Acosta and apparently has read it.
She is so charming and I am so, well, blonde that there is an air of all of this being less solemn than one might expect. She says we are focusing on the children because they are the future, that they have a 3 or 5 year plan and that they want to do everything according to scientific rules (not my favorite part, but so far I'm still under the radar!). She says that with Verbal First Aid, you can help people emotional not only in a doctor's office but in the schools and out in the world and that's why it's important.

The official is not only in agreement with the plan, but has set everything in motion already, so it looks as though it's a go. I’m not sure what that means, but it’s seems good. Now it's all on Helena's shoulders, and she speaks up at the end (not usually done after a minister speaks) to say that this looks like self-interest, but that is where larger things begin and that this project may ultimately help the world. He nods and smiles, shakes my hand. I say thank you in Chinese and he asks if I speak it. I say no, that's all I know and he says, then this must have been boring for you! Helena thinks he's wonderful.

Everything here now seems to be about heart. It’s as if the earth cracked open, and then hearts opened. Shin Bing has her hand on her heart as she speaks and I'm certain that's what she's saying. They're talking about sister schools, about training teachers to be counselors, and more.

And I will try to write more later, but everything right now is hectic. I’ll be traveling home to the U.S. very soon.

Day Eight

We meet with the counselors who will be going to Sichewan next week and experiment with a physical trauma-reducing program which causes people’s bodies physically to tremble as a means of relieving residual trauma that they hold in their bodies. A number of the counselors experience some relief from it, and, although we “brought them "back" too soon, they were impressed with its effects. I'd introduced it to Helena, who has spoken to the program's designer and she'll probably bring the developer of the procedure back with me to the earthquake area in the near future. Harry has suggested an improvement in it, which Helena tries and it seems to be quite effective.

It is somewhat difficult for me to be sitting around while everyone converses in very quick and animated Chinese. I spend much time feeling somewhat like a chair in the middle of the room until one bilingual person or another remembers to fill me in on the laughter or arguments. At least things are happening. Nobody seems to be bored or disinterested!

After a long day, we go out to a fascinating karioke place for dinner. It looks like a fancy Las Vegas casino, only without the gambling. Only singing. Marble staircases, chandeliers. On the second floor there is a festive buffet and myriad rooms, like a hotel, in each of which people are singing on mikes and eating abundant Chinese food. We are there with Mr. Wei's wife and 4 year old adorable daughter, as well as some people from the office. Everyone sings and dances and eats. It is Mrs. Wei’s birthday, and we have a cake with the tiniest knife for cutting it and an even tinier fork for eating it. The baby falls asleep and all of us can only dream of doing the same.

Saturday, July 5, 2008

Day Seven - A culmination

Today is the culmination of all the planning and work so far. More than 100 call center and crisis counselors meet at the Chemistry Industry University where we’d held our conference last week. In the morning Helena speaks about assessment for potential suicides. That is, as I said, a big issue here, especially after so many people have lost their only children and other loved ones in an instant.

We have a fancy lunch—the food has been so interesting all along, candied lotus root, bread textured differently than in the West, many colorful and delicious vegetables.

And then I am on. It is time to make it happen—to beam the light and love across language barriers and cultures. I stand up and begin talking from my heart. I tell them that no matter how much they learn, the way they can best help is to be present and surround the hurting person with care. And listen, really listen.

There is no way, as therapists, that they can bring back a lost family member, but we can bring our clients back to themselves when all feels lost. I tell them that we are talking to the person’s frightened inner child. That they are not in present time, but wandering somewhere where they can find no safety, where nothing makes sense. I bring up several Verbal First Aid techniques, from reminding them of their resources and strengths to taking care of others, to simply pacing, which means matching the patient’s tone and attitude, not trying to solve anything or cheer them up.

I have them find in their body where they hold their own sadness, anger, joy, so that they can see that those feelings are always there, regardless of how long ago they entered our lives. Then I teach them a Neuroliguistic program technique, some guided imagery.

And I do it all not from my head, but from my heart. Helena translates, and I make everyone laugh when I ask why I say two sentences and she says ten. She embellishes sometimes to help them understand across cultures.

And then the hard part. People come up, one at a time and pretend to be their patients, telling me stories of lost children, of grief, of not wanting to live. Each story is different, and with each, I do therapy of a different sort. But always I listen, pace, allow them their feelings. And as I do, they start to soften. I sit quietly while they play with what they’ve just said, revise it, and sometimes come up with different conclusions than those they started out with.

One beautiful woman comes on stage and sits with her back to me, saying she works by phone and can’t see her patient, so we have to work that way. She tells me of her tragedy and I repeat what she says with sadness. She nods, then she adds another thought, I repeat it, hear her and understand. I don’t try to solve it or make her feel better. I ask her to tell me about her daughter. She weeps. I explain to the audience that some people might be afraid to bring up the memory because it brings up the loss, but like an Irish wake, when we tell stories about how wonderful a person was, it is another way of grieving, which is the process she is in right now, and it allows her to connect with her daughter in a warm way. She tells me how her daughter loves to dance and sing. Helena explains to me that Chinese words don’t have tense, so I don’t know if she is saying it in the present tense. Finally I say, “you know, you have to be here to hold her in your heart. Her memory lives with you.” I have been explaining my method to the audience and now I turn to them and say that I wanted to give her a reason to live, not for herself but for her daughter.

We work until she says she feels different, and leaves the stage. Then, within moments, she wants to come up again. She says that she has worked with clients for a long time and never felt this feeling in her heart before. She says many beautiful things, which Helena leans over and whispers to me, and I know that they understand. This is the light, I can see it as sparks in everyone’s hearts.

This goes on over quite a few cases and finally we are done. The room explodes with love and joy. It is amazing and wonderful.

We go back to the hotel, have a very light dinner and go to bed. Suddenly I discover I have a bladder infection that keeps me awake and distressed into the night. I call my healer at home, the wonderful Melissa, half a world away, and she saves me over the phone, as she has many times before with her beautiful healings. Whatever would I have done without her here?

Life is many miracles in the midst of strife.

I fall asleep.

It has been a magical day.

Friday, July 4, 2008

Day Six

This is the end of the tourist part of our journey. Mr. Wei drives us to the Great Wall in the morning. It is overwhelming in scope and accomplishment. And it is quite vertical as it follows the mountains, so that one must hold onto bars to navigate it. Up is very up, and down is no easier: it’s just very down.

The amount of work that must have gone into assembling this Wall, hauling the stones of which it consists, over a period of 100 years more than 1,000 years ago, is incredible. It is very hot and humid, but the crowd on the wall seems not to notice. Little babies are nursed as they’re being carried.

After lunch, we go to the crisis center. There is a map of China on the wall, and if you look at it out of the corner of your eye, it kind of resembles the U.S. without most of California. About 12 call takers, Helena and Mr. Wei, and Tom and Becky and Susan from ICSI (International Critical Stress Incident Foundation) and I are there. We talk about how to handle suicide calls among other things. There is one of the highest suicide rates in the world here, especially among women in rural areas, who jump from buildings or take pesticides and complete the act more often than men, which makes this a unique situation. They have about 287,000 suicides annually. Nobody knows what this year will bring.

The Foundation people have some possible approaches, but they want to organize their thoughts before offering trainings, and they are leaving tomorrow. Helena and the president of the psychological organization are going to Tennessee in the middle of the month and will be able to engage in that discussion then. Only Helena and Mr. Wei can speak both languages, so everything takes twice as long as it would otherwise have to, as it’s expressed dramatically in Chinese first and then in English or vise versa. Often something is said that causes the whole room except for the American component to laugh. At least there is occasional laughter among them.

They have put out some food, wrapped candies, little tomatoes. Bottles of water. We talk for several hours and then go to dinner with government officials, the ones who had to approve our visit. It is fortunate for our project that the official we work with is nice and understands what we are trying to do. We eat at a very famous and beautiful duck restaurant. As with the shopping, I am out of my element. And then back to the hotel.

I have brought Helena a protocol developed by another person that has the potential to move trauma out of the body without words. It involves motion, a series of physical exercises. This has the potential of working on millions at once over TV or computer, within a matter of minutes. She is excited by this.

I do believe that what we are doing here is creating a much-needed model for emotional health during and after catastrophes, and that China will be able to offer this program to the world. It can be developed from scratch, built to utilize all aspects of trauma prevention, reduction, and release, and tested on hundreds of thousands of people so that what really works will be what lasts and becomes the protocol. It is exhilarating to be a part of it all.

The other Americans in our group of “experts” leave tomorrow. Then it will be just me, to continue working with the Chinese. I’ll be training hundreds of crisis call takers on Saturday and on Sunday, I will be working with the counselors going to Sichuan, the earthquake area.

Day Five

This is apparently our day off. We have breakfast and are driven by Mr. Wei, who is wise and wonderful, to the Forbidden City. It takes your breath away. It is horizontally tiered—that is you walk through one building and court yard after another to actually arrive at the emperor’s house. The recorded guided tour we wear in our ears tells us that the last little emperor-designate, who was three years old, was very upset about a ceremony that involved him. He cried and made something of a fuss. His father, to calm him, said to him: “It’s done. It’s over now.” And that was taken as a curse, which ended all the dynasties, after which Sun Yat Sen led the change from the ancient feudal system. Now THAT’s the power of words.

The garden that is filled with twisted trees is so mystical, it’s no wonder emperors went there to write their poetry. The fall of the petals of so many flowers, looking like brightly colored snow, often inspired them. The names of the various palaces and gardens are of the inscrutable variety, inspired and twisted too. My favorite might have been The Mountain of Accumulated Refinement. Once a year the Emperor and Empress would climb that rocky hill and view their domain from that powerful perspective.

We have been told again that, as experts, we are very special. Only experts can stay at the Foreign Expert Hotel (one presumes they have to be foreign, as well), and they have to qualify with the government at a very high level.

In the afternoon we “shop” -- a concept that has always been somewhat foreign to me. Here it is all about negotiation, haggling, bargaining. The only things that are non-negotiable are Olympic items. Otherwise, if they quote you a price of 80 RMB, you say 20. Actually, we don’t. Mr. Wei and Tina do. They say, in shocked and “offended” Chinese “What? You want to charge these experts who came here to help you that much for THAT?” And pretty soon, we’re paying 1/5 of what they originally asked. I suppose the merchants feel there’s no harm in asking. And after each encounter that looks so dramatic and confrontational to us—imagine trying that at Macy’s—everyone smiles and the deed is done.

As the day goes by, I can’t help thinking about all that still needs to be done. I’ve been searching my brain for ways to assist the emotional recoveries of the school principals and teachers in the earthquake region. They are in shock and trauma from losing so many of their students. The main tool I use in situations like this is the Emotional Freedom Technique that involves a client literally tapping on acupuncture points while repeating the very thing that is most upsetting. It has worked for clients of mine who have experienced the most dire of conditions: one who was incarcerated in an Iranian prison for months, one who accidentally killed a woman while driving, one who helplessly watched her daughter’s boyfriend commit suicide with a gun, among many more. The hard part is often finding the exact feeling, or series of feelings, wrapped around the trauma, and then peeling it back until it disappears. The final step is to fill the emptied space with what was and will be good.

I’m also considering Verbal First Aid techniques that can help to restore the lost part of the person, the part of the soul that “left” (in the parlance of the shaman) when things got too rough. In many traditions, the shaman goes through the veil to retrieve the piece of soul. I am not capable of that, but I have had clients reclaim it themselves when they return in their mind to the time it slipped out. Under my guidance, they grab it to put it back.

But the challenge here, the sheer volume of the problem, is daunting.

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Day Four

I speak last at this conference and have so many slides (doubled when translated consecutively into Chinese) and less than 2 hours to fit everything into. And our dutiful audience is tired, bullet-pointed out. I have been sent with the light of love, if I can believe Harry and Janis. So I am going to talk heart to heart and hope that I am guided by the divine to be helpful and illuminating.

My Chinese translator, Paul, lived in Burbank for years and is very fluent in English and psychology. He gets it, which means he’ll help me translate not just words but ideas for deeper understanding. We arrive early in the morning and are surrounded by people who ask to have their pictures taken with us and for our autographs.

At breaks, people come up to talk to speakers. Because I haven’t spoken yet, there is no feedback but I believe, mostly because of Helena’s good p.r. that the sponsors expect that my part is relatively important. A journalist from the Beijing Daily Mail wants to chat. I tell her what I’m going to talk about and she says, well in that case she’ll stay til the end. Which of course means to me that lots of people might be planning to leave, maybe to beat the incredible Beijing rush hour.

Helena is sitting in the front. She’s mc for the afternoon, but she’s falling asleep. I know why. So do you.

Finally I speak and it is very well received. At the end, Paul and I do trance work and give everyone a five minute guided imagery voyage to wellbeing. I am rushed by people who want to take their photographs with me.

And then we’re taken to a noodle place for dinner where we meet some school principals who are earthquake survivors. We go to, and meet around a conference table until 10 talking about how to help them. My brain is numb and even though I know I must have a thought about their stresses, I can barely hold my head erect.
It is now midnight, Helena’s finally asleep.

Tomorrow, at last, is respite day, before the real work begins. I’ll be able to collect my thoughts, and I’ll be taken sightseeing, to the Forbidden City and the Great Wall.

Day Three

We are at the International Symposium of Crisis Intervention in Beijing. The CEO of Centerstone, the largest provider of community-based behavioral healthcare in the US, David Guth, and the President of International Critical Incident Stress Foundation, Tom McSherry, speak through the morning and take questions. Helena pops up every once in a while to clarify in Chinese, which of course has nothing to do with clarity for us non-natives.

At lunch, Anthony Kuhn, Beijing correspondent for National Public Radio comes to interview me. He waits patiently as we have our photos taken behind the statue of Chairman Mao (who is not in the picture) and then interviews me and also speaks with David and Helena. He is charming and asks good questions and takes the time for the answers. I don’t know when the show will air.

I ask Helena about Chairman Mao when I see his statue in front of the university. She says he was an honorable leader. That he lived modestly and was devoted to the people’s well being. He was frustrated that, with good will and hard work, it didn’t turn out the way he expected and wanted. They think kindly of him, she said. However, when I ask someone else, he says Mao died in 1976, that he’s largely irrelevant, and no one but the older, poorer people miss him.

The afternoon consists of Tom again and Becky Stoll, from Centerstone, who speaks on suicide. It is long, as each sentence must be translated, but the time that the jokes should have gotten a laugh is saved, because they sometimes fall flat, although the audience is with us and appreciative and intent on learning.

I am a compulsive “God bless you” sayer at the slightest hint of a sneeze. Harry used to say that if we were hiding from the enemy and one of them sneezed, I’d pipe up and give us all away. When I ask how you say “God bless you” to a sneeze in Chinese, I am told that they don’t really acknowledge it. One might say, solicitously, “Oh, you’re getting a cold,” but no one wishes another health or whatever the blessing is. I’d heard that everything in your body stops when you sneeze and that’s why we bless people, that they may return to themselves again. But clearly that’s not a universal philosophy.

Photographers are everywhere, some on duty, most just members of the audience, snapping obtrusively. The photos of last night’s dinner with the bigwigs is on the screen as a placeholder. It’s a little like a hall of mirrors. Everyone takes pictures of everyone else doing everything. It’s a little like real life once removed. And we are treated like celebs.

I am listening to the strategies and goals of the CISM process and wondering where my presentation fits in. Light. I must remember it’s really only light I bring to offer.

We go to a Mongolian Muslim restaurant where there is abundant delicious food

There is abundant food, some non-meat alternatives for some of us, and our hosts are considerate, warm and wonderful, laughing at our attempts to speak Chinese.

I go back to the room which I share with Helena easily. She wears my silver earrings because she has come not from her home in Shanghai, but from Seattle, where she was on vacation with her daughter until the earthquake shook everything up and she had to arrange to get all of us back to Beijing for this conference. I wear her perfume.

She tiptoes back into the room late, after meeting conference administrators to plan the next activities. Then she wakes up at four. I am aware of all this and hardly sleep, myself.