Spirit, to me, falls between the mind (thinking) and the soul (the undying part of a person) and encompasses the emotions as well as the mood (or view) of life. Since all of these things can vary from positive through neutral to negative, stimulation can reinforce the existing state of the spirit or change it to another state. I'm going to stick to positive stimulation, since that is usually harder for people to achieve than the negative sort. People tend to be born with the ability to crush another person's spirit; being a positive influence has to be taught, or at least learned.
The human spirit is a very elastic thing - it can bend and stretch to some fairly extreme limits before it breaks, but it can still break. Once a person's spirit is broken they have a long, hard path to travel to rebuild it, and many fail. These “broken” people are likely to be numb, or even hostile, to their emotions and may not recognize that others have emotions or needs. I'm not talking about the teenager who has had their heart broken; that is usually (but not always) a temporary situation that will work itself out when another love-interest is found. A person who has had their spirit truly broken has lost a part of what makes them human. They are damaged, and may be dangerous to themselves or others because they lack the ability to care any more.
Long periods of hardship can (but do not always) leave a person in permanent turmoil. The survivors of the WW2 concentration camps are an interesting group to study, as are the groups of people who have survived civil wars around the world. Some people can rebuild their lives while others just give up; the levels of support before, during, and after the hard times tend be good indicators of which way they'll go.
Emotional stability is a goal that many strive for in normal situations. Throw a tornado-sized crisis into the mix, and a lot of folks are going to fall apart inside. If there is a short-term emergency followed by rapid signs of things returning to normal, the effects of falling apart may be short-lived - but they can leave permanent scars on the mind and the spirit. Any child who has lived through a house fire of any size will likely be apprehensive around fire for the rest of his life, and the smell of smoke can bring on a fight-or-flight reaction.
There is a small percentage of people who have given up on trying to strive for emotional stability. They either let their emotions rule their lives, or have given up any sign of control over themselves. These adult-sized two-year-olds are out there, making lifes in offices and factories miserable for everyone around them. Without years of counseling, or repeated application of a “clue-by-four”, these people are far beyond any help you or I can offer. How you treat these people is going to be a choice you'll have to make.
In order to stimulate the human spirit in a positive manner, we need to realize that it is a lot easier to stimulate another person's spirit than it is your own. Lifting another is easier than dragging yourself out of a hole in more than just the literal sense.
Methods of positive stimulation are actually fairly simple. The trick is figuring out which will work on which people.
- Humor: Laughter is good for the spirit; it lifts the mood and breaks the tension. I have rarely ever seen anyone come out of a comedy show with a scowl on their face, so long as the show was actually funny. Senses of humor vary from person to person, so be prepared for some off-the-wall humor. If you've ever spent time around police, military, EMT, hospital staff, farmers, or anyone else who deals with hard things on a regular basis, you'll notice that they have a “dark” sense of humor. Bodily functions, death, gore, and personal insults are normal subjects among these groups, and their humor might be perceived as “over the line” to someone outside the group.
- Know your limits within your group and be prepared to take as much as you give.
- You should also be prepared to apologize in case you do cross a line.
- For the perpetually offended, my only advice is, “Grow some skin”. Normalcy left the situation along with the electricity, so you'll need to harden up if you don't want to live in a permanent sulk.
- Companionship: Just being near another person can help lift your spirits. We are all social animals to varying degrees; some of us need to be surrounded by people, while others need their personal space.
- Be capable of providing whichever kind of companionship another person may need.
- Understand that if they need to be left alone, it's not about you.
- Touch: If you're with an intimate partner, a simple touch can reestablish your relationship and provide assurance that the world has not really ended. We gather a sense of security and mutual support from being able to touch those we love.
- A hug can lift a person's spirits in even the worst situation.
- Children in particular are very touch-sensitive, and usually need more physical contact than adults.
- Music: There is something about music that strikes the human spirit at a unique level. While tastes in music will vary, the impact it has on the listener is the same. Every crowd at every concert reacts to the music in similar ways: singing along with the songs they know, putting their hands in the air, moving their bodies to the music, etc. Music is a very basic part of being human and should be accounted for in your preparations through recordings, instruments, songbooks, or just learning how to make “a joyful noise”. Even a funeral dirge can provide a positive impact by creating a bond between the listeners.
- If you can sing or play music, you can lift the morale of an entire group.
- Learn the favorite songs of your friends and tribe-mates.
- Participating in a choir or a band can create a sense of unity.
- Sharing: Being able to share with others without putting yourself in a bind can lift your spirits. I personally enjoy feeding people; it's just something that makes me happy.
- Sharing a source of heat or water can potentially save a life and give you a chance to create deeper bonds.
- Being the recipient of a gift can also be a spirit booster, as long as you are capable of putting aside your pride and accept it as a sign of compassion.
- Being thankful should not mean feeling inferior, just accepting of the reality that someone is willing to give you something that you need.
- Religion: Most of us have religious leanings of one form or another. Having faith in something higher than ourselves can be comforting and help lift our spirits. Religions vary, but if you look at the list above you'll see elements of many religious ceremonies. Music (hymns), companionship (being around friends and family), and sharing (offerings/tithes) are common to a lot of religions.
- Having a source of religious backing, whatever your religious leanings, should get some consideration in your plans.
- Remember than many priests, rabbis, and pastors are also counselors of some degree.
It is my goal to get you to think of things beyond your gear and location. Being able to take care of each other, and being aware of potential problems before they appear, is just as important as being fully stocked with beans, bullets, and band-aids.