A Note on the Columbia Tragedy

Once again, most of the world is united in mourning. This time it is for the brave astronauts who perished on the space shuttle Columbia. The Americans among them were an ethnically diverse crew, reflecting the diversity of America, a country that prides itself in its multiethnic makeup, where national origin is no barrier to 'belonging here.' To all Americans, this was a personal loss. To Israelis, their first astronaut in space was a similar source of national pride, as such has been to countries throughout the world who have, one by one, begun participating in the international space program. Astronauts symbolize the best qualities that civilization can produce: brilliance, discipline, a willingness to submit to brutally hard work, an ability to dream of the stars, and, in the end, a spirit of self-sacrifice for the aspirations of humanity. Loss of the Columbia has been an immense tragedy for all of us.

The space program as a whole has been a source of hope and inspiration, particularly in these troubled times. It is a grand adventure that unites nations. All of humanity work together. We share technologies, labor, dedication, and risks, to learn about our universe, in the interests of all. The task and the adventure unite us.

Each of us deals with tragedy in our own way. We stay glued to CNN, we pray, we talk to others, we spend time with our families, we lose ourselves in our work, we meditate, we offer our help to others. A NASA engineering spokesman said: We'll find out what went wrong, we'll fix it, and we'll continue with our mission. (That's the spirit!) Psychological research shows no single cure for the experience of tragedy. (We should keep this in mind when we are called upon to offer help in such times.) I would have profound distrust for anyone who claimed to have the universally appropriate response.

In our own discipline, we work on regulation within our bodies and minds, rather than outward to the stars (although psychophysiology has played an important role in understanding how humans function in space). Our work also takes ability, discipline, and, at times, courage. It also is an international enterprise, exploring the human potential for self-control of the body, thereby fighting illness and improving performance.

Applied psychophysiology also unites people from many lands and cultures. We learn from each other and respect each other. This is civilization at its best. Our upcoming annual meeting will have more international participation than ever, reflecting the various perspectives we bring with us: the scientific tradition of psychophysiology will be applied to yoga, qi gong, and Sufi healing as well as to the more traditionally 'western' approaches of biofeedback, hypnosis, and relaxation training. Perhaps in Jacksonville, in our own ways, we can work to create an answer to today's tragedy and tomorrow's uncertainties.

Paul Lehrer, AAPB President In memory of the Columbia crew - Rick Husband, Bill McCool, Mike Anderson, Dave Brown, Kalpana Chawla, Laurel Clark, and Ilan Ramon: 'Every generation has the obligation to free men's minds for a look at new worlds, to look out from a higher plateau than the last generation. Your vision is not limited by what your eye can see, but by what your mind can imagine. Make your life count and the world will be a better place because you tried.' Astronaut Ellison Onizuka
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