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How to maintain mental health and humanity during the war

Peace and tranquility during the war?

These days, we all seem to be facing a huge challenge – how to deal with the flood of emotions that is coming at us in connection with the horrors and suffering of our neighbor – Ukraine. In the media we get “good advice” – in the sense – mainly to keep calm; possibly guidelines such as the need to develop internal peace and to spread it to the environment.

Peace and tranquility in us during the war, is it even possible? And, of course, if we don’t find it in ourselves – we can’t even spread it, because we can’t give others what we don’t have. 

We are at war. Not only are the Ukrainian people at war, we are at war. Maybe we are at war every time any nation is at war, because at a certain deep level, humanity is one family. But when it’s far away in Afghanistan, Yemen or Nagorno-Karabakh, it’s easier to ignore. This war is taking place on our border, against the Slavs like us. The range of their missiles and aircraft covers the whole of Slovakia. It’s crazy and paralyzing right now, because there’s nothing we can do about it. 

Maybe there is no way to be calm inside when there is war outside near you. It may be an unrealistic pious desire, a desire for the world we live in to be a different place than it really is. Sometimes we want to live inside us separately from the reality in which we find ourselves. So what is the right response in this situation? How can we do it healthily?

An unhealthy response to danger

I will start with a more responsible question: what is NOT a correct and healthy response in time of war 

I’m pretty sure what doesn’t help: avoiding your feelings, depression and fear – the three most common reactions to a dangerous and disturbing bad news you can’t do anything about. All three are the most natural response to a war situation – and the least healthy. The usual response to danger is to defend or flee. However, you have nothing to defend here and you cannot escape it.

Avoiding the realization of a dangerous reality reduces us to less than we are, dulls and degenerates our thinking; Depression destroys all our mental strength, vitality and meaning. Living in fear paralyzes the will and destroys the body. All of these reactions will have a direct impact on us and our body, no matter what artificial facade of self-confidence and pretense we apply to our surface.

How to do it differently?

But a dangerous, destructive, deeply worrying situation requires the absolute opposite of avoidance, depression and fear: we need more self-awareness, no less, and a stronger spirit present in the soul, no weakness of the soul. And a stronger, more mobilized will – not paralysis. All this becomes almost impossiblewhen there is nothing we can do about this dangerous, disturbing situation! But we still have to do it.

So what can we actually do about the destruction of Ukraine when our own country is not (yet) directly involved in the fighting?

VAvoidance must be confronted with awareness; depression – with compassion; fear with courage and truth. And we have to endure. I was involved in the war directly, at the front, in my youth, when I was in active service defending my country when it was attacked. I had to be fully present. But it was easier than now, because my will was fully engaged in action. I can’t be fully active right now. I’m very frustrated, just like you.

What can we do practically?

The will of our civilian population now – will be mostly frustrated. But if there is somethingwe can do, we should do it. About 10,000 Ukrainians live in eastern Slovakia. I’m sure everyone is doing something for their people abroad. Maybe we can ask them how we can help them. Let’s invite them to our homes now. Or at least we will send them material support. Many Slovaks are already doing so. Let’s join them! We don’t have to wait until we meet them and become personal friends. We will become their friends and we will know them – when we do. This is the time for active brotherhood and sisterhood.

This is the way to face the current war with higher consciousness, courage and action. And then we can sleep better at night and wake up better in the morning. The healthiest human reaction is to experience it to the fullest, to face it and to do something about it.

 And this is the most honest answer I can give to this question as a person, as a member of the Slovak community and as the son of Ukrainian immigrants from my mother’s side. My family comes from Uman.

Yehuda Tagar