• Posted in December 2013
  • Article written by Michael Carroll

Into Tacloban and the heart of storm

Michael Carroll's blog from his trip to the Philippines

Tacloban and the surrounding region suffered terrible carnage and loss as a consequence of Yolanda. The ‘official’ death toll is 6,057 dead and 1,779 missing.  The local people consider this figure rigged and believe the real loss to be significantly higher.  The NLP Action team went to Tacloban, in this blog I share my personal experience of the visit and the people I met.

Saturday 14th December , From Manila to Tacloban

The flight time from Manila to Tacloban is just over an hour, there were 6 people in our team,  I choose the widow seat because I wanted a good view of these islands. I must say, I was not disappointed, the sky was so clear as was the sea I could see the reflection of the plane on the sea. As I began pondering on the metaphor of reflections,  I marvelled at the beauty below me, lush green tropical islands sprinkled our across the Pacific Ocean.  Each island was a little different, some were flat, others slightly mountainous, some hosting forestry, others with golden beaches, some more populated than others.  I found myself so absorbed in the beauty of nature below me,  the reason why I was there went completely from my mind. Nice trance

My attention was brought back to the present with ‘prepare for landing’ announcement, the plane began its descent and as it lowered, I the destruction beneath me became more apparent.  However being in the plane and up in the air,  I was still disconnected from the real tragedy, it felt like a bit of a timeline (the NLP technique as opposed the facebook version). On disembarking the plane, we were met with an airport doing its best to be an airport. Walls were down, parts of the roof missing, normal systems we take for granted such as baggage conveyor belts tore to pieces by the sheer strength of nature.  In the chaos around us, workers were doing their very best to unload the baggage manually and wheel it into was left of the baggage collection hall.

With all our team and supplies in the van we had hired, the driver took us to Tacloban City Central School to do a session with a group of teachers. Immediately as you leave the airport, you see how Yolanda has hit ordinary people who live right on the sea front. There are no rich beach houses here, the wealthy underhand the risks of living in a low pressure area and live higher up. The poor have shanty housing right on the sea front. It’s 37 days after Yolanda, and many people are living in tents donated by organisations such as the Red Cross and UNICEF. You can see the efforts people have made to rebuild their homes, and you see outright destruction such as car positioned at a 45 degree angle against a building.  One thing that stood out to me was how the churches had weathered the storm better than many other buildings, including commercial concrete buildings.  Many religious people believe God spared the churches, I was left wondering if somehow the church leaders, the government and corporations could have used their collective wealth to build small concrete houses each with a foundation . With such collaboration, the death toll would be so much lower.

When we arrived at the School , the teachers were waiting for us in a cramped classroom. This was one of the few classrooms that remained relatively intact after the storm. Other classrooms were without a roof and once again the UNICEF had been generous in donating large tents for classrooms.  I had no specific plan of what to cover with this group, I had several loose plans, I had less time than I would have liked and the room was so cramped there was no room for group work. I began with an elicitation- “what are you currently experiences with respect to Yolanda?” It took a while for the people to open up, but once again I noted a disparity in many people’s verbal response and non- verbal response.  I could also see in people visual recall eye accessing cues followed by kinaesthetic access.  The same was true on the auditory system (recall) quickly linked to kinaesthetic.  Synaesthesia patterns were also present evidenced by recall in the visual and auditory system and significant shifts in physiology. For those not experienced in NLP an example of a synaesthesia is when someone experiences a very strong feeling at the same time as an image or sound.

From an NLP perspective the above is obvious, the recall in the visual and auditory system will be very graphic and loud   when the nervous system has been exposed recently to such intense stimuli. Of course with vivid visual/auditory recall strong kinaesthetic will be present.  Can you imagine the images and sounds associated with a storm,  which has circular or spiral system of violent winds of up to 150 mph capable of carrying a car and knocking concrete buildings?  Those winds coming across the seas carry huge waves which can engulf a house. Add to this,  the sounds and of violent rain and people screaming for help. I met people who had spent hours up to their neck in water, thinking they were going to die. I met people who watched others die.  You and I can only imagine the extreme stimuli of these events,  yet unless we experienced it in our own nervous system, we have no real sense of what people have or are experiencing as result of living through such extreme (VAK) stimuli present in the horrendous conditions of Yolanda

I think NLP is very effective in these conditions because NLP works at the sensory level in the nervous system.  Talk therapy from more traditional psychological models is absolutely useless in these conditions. There is no way that by talking about the experience is going to change the intensity of the visual,  auditory and kinaesthetic stimuli and break the synaesthesia present in the survivor’s nervous system. There is little chance, that analysis of emotions such as ‘fear, anger, sadness, guilt’  and so on will change the sensory experience of the trauma in a positive manner.  If anything talk therapy and emotional analysis could add to the sensory experience, i.e. the intensity of the kinaesthetic sensations in the body that occur either as result of recalled sounds and or images, repressed sounds and images or immediate sensory experience such rain that is a trigger for the nervous system.

So I had a group of teachers in front of me all showing me their ‘how’, that is how they are navigating their world at sensory level in the 38 days since Yolanda. The Filipinos by nature are survivors, the very geography of this beautiful part of the world creates the typhoons, the Filipino people deal with adversity with humour, singing and as a religious nation, prayer.  Like any form of change work, the skilled operator deals with layers, so the group(s)  I met presented themselves on one layer as a smiling group, ready to sing and act as if everything is totally normal. It was as if any individual explicit expression of grief would be a community let down. On the other hand they may have just had enough of explicit expressions of emotions in the previous 38 days. The psychologists, many whom operate on layers so far from primary experience call this ‘denial’. I think the people using every day symbols of life as a way of grounding themselves in the present day and as a way of jamming the nervous system from the stimuli associated with Yolanda.

The layers below the outward expression, revealed to me the reality of their experience through their non- verbal behaviour.  Their eye movements indicated a recall of the Yolanda images and sounds and then kinaesthetic access cues eyes in the body, which these people were desperately trying to jam with singing and outward expressions of happiness. I had the utmost respect their resilience , courage and spirit. I had a very short period to some group work to help them at sensory level have a different experience.

Over and out

Michael Carroll


For those readers not familiar with eye accessing cues, the chart below shows what is occurring for (most) right handed people when they move their eyes to certain positions. The chart is based on you looking at another, so far example when a right handed person looks up to their left, (your right) if you are looking at them) It is likely they are recalling images. They may not be consciously aware of the image.

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About The Author

Michael Carroll is the founder and course director of the NLP Academy and co-founder with John Grinder and Carmen Bostic St Clair of the International Trainers Academy of NLP.

He is the only NLP Master Trainer in the world certified by John Grinder and Carmen Bostic St Clair and he works closely with them in developing and delivering high quality NLP training.



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