Free Safety

Freedom and safety often seem to be opposites except for the fact that the key to both is discipline.

NOTE: This blog series investigates twelve attributes I see as conducive to recovery from PTSD and other past stress. We have looked at ten and leave one more for August. July is devoted to Discipline.

A Sandhill Crane wandered into our yard in the north woods this week and we watched it for an hour. It is not unusual to see them in the area, but we have never known one to walk into our camp, so it was a treat. I admire this creature’s freedom.

It moved slowly about, scratching and probing the ground for food. A little research revealed that they are opportunity eaters, feeding on plant and animal materials that are available. Our grounds seemed to offer ample fare to keep it occupied for so long; but there was no hurry. It sometimes paused for minutes, near motionless, perhaps attending to some shape or sound. Occasionally it stretched, flexed, groomed, and fluffed its feathers.

Alone in a forest glade with no demands on time, nowhere to go, no time to be there, and no tasks to complete. I love such freedom.

Could I wander alone, eating by opportunity and surviving by instinct and skill? I think I can.

Wilderness survival for humans requires skill. We will not live well on the food that feeds the crane. Our bodies have different requirements and vulnerabilities. We lack the protection of feathers or fur. We lack the sensory acuity of sight and sound, the physical prowess of fleet and flight, the instinct of eons of evolution. We have evolved to live by wit and skill, which is another way of saying discipline.

Yes, the Sandhill has discipline of watchfulness that offers safety, and that safety offers the freedom to roam, alone. Still, even cranes group together for dangerous activities such as migration. Like humans, they are social animals.

Society offers safety at the apparent expense of freedom. Peer pressure, cultural tradition, and laws provide a way to live in balance of freedom and safety–if we would have it.

The Green Bay Packers used a recent first round draft pick for a Free Safety, a position of apparent contradiction on the field. He provides some safety as a last resort while exercising the freedom of choice. Ah, but freedom of choice is an obligation that requires great discipline. He has rules. He reads the actions of the opposing offensive players and reacts, not instinctively, but by a doctrine of the playbook. If he fails to read correctly or his discipline breaks down, well, the other team scores.

If the crane’s discipline breaks down, well, it dies–and some coyote lives.

I love to wander in the woods. Sometimes I get a little lost. I might get really lost someday, but that is alright.

For many people, wandering alone in the great north woods would be foolish freedom. Indeed, most people do not have the freedom to wander in the woods as I do because, for them, it is unsafe. For me, it is an invigorating risk because I have studied and trained in wilderness survival. I know the discipline. I have studied the playbook. I can build shelter, find safe water, make fire, and gather food. Most importantly, I am comfortable in the woods so that I am unafraid. That discipline of basic survival attitude and skill provides both relative safety and freedom to enjoy.

Discipline is following rules. That is all. Basically, it means student as a disciple, one who follows.

Do you have a way of life? A playbook?

Discipline is not my strength, but I do work at it. For me, the most important freedom each day is the ability to choose my playbook, my way, my Master. Discipline is making that choice.

Deep down inside you, can you find tracks of the Master of your playbook?

Happy Tracking!

Be Longing

Life is the brief experience of separation from God, the durable discrimination of moments into experiences, the simultaneous celebration and lament for what we almost remember and fear we have lost. We spend our lives longing to belong. Relax. This is neither reality nor illusion; it is choice.

NOTE: This blog series addresses twelve attributes I see conducive to recovery from PTSD and other past stress. June embraces Love.

Erotic (eros) love is both fear and celebration of separation. Really? Without separation there is neither union nor reunion.

Yes, there are times when two lovers feel so close they lose sentience of the boundary between them–when they touch the mysterious oneness, when all desire has matured. But, alas, there are other times.

Brotherly love (philos) is a sharing of time or treasure beyond individuality that dimly reflects the oneness we almost remember. It is a real expansion of self to others we like and trust, those within some group we perceive as like us. But, alas, there are others.

Godly love (Agape) is a grace of charity for others like our children. “Our” children. But, alas, there are “other” children.

For Biology students I give this definition: “Life is self-controlled chemistry.” Define “self”. Tell me, if you will, precisely where you end and the rest of the universe begins.

Bullets and bombs help one define the boundary. Enemies are not brothers, not lovers, and certainly neither our children nor parents.

We enlarge our definition of self and other. We trust less, share less, love less.

Relax. Trauma is an experience, a durable, discriminate, momentous experience. It is not the loss of choice, although it does challenge it.

It is primal biological drive to maintain this separation of self. It is survival.

There is another drive within us, perhaps even more primal, to go home to the oneness we almost remember.

I am grateful for the experience of lovers’ oneness. I am grateful for the experience of love for brothers and sisters. I am grateful for the experience of something approaching Agape for my children and grandchildren. These are all gifts, I know; but they are gifts I requested.

Today, I would like to gaze upon a fourth kind of love I have also experienced, a love of oneness sometimes referred to as Henosis.

“The first peace, which is the most important, is that which comes within the souls of people when they realize their relationship, their oneness with the universe and all its powers, and when they realize that at the center of the universe dwells the Great Spirit, and that this center is really everywhere, it is within each of us.” (Black Elk)

I have sat in the forest and known that I belong. I belong to the forest and it belongs to me. I have sat in the desert and known that I belong. I do not need to be longing for something I almost remember because I feel it in this moment of belonging.

I am grateful for the experience of oneness I have found within the forest, within the desert, and within myself. This is the greatest gift of my life for it allows me to be grateful for all the other gifts. I know it is a gift, but it is a gift I requested.

Have you asked for gifts? Have you sought them? Have you prayed and Quested for them?

Deep down inside you, where you almost remember oneness with God, is there a tiny prayer for experiences of love? Have you sung that prayer, danced that prayer, or even whispered it to yourself?

Happy Tracking!

Quiet Love

If God is a Father, I can surmise that godly love is like pure parent love. Knowing little about godly love and more about parent love, I shall address the latter.

NOTE: This blog series investigates twelve attributes I see as conducive to recovery from PTSD and other past stress. June shares Love.

While I was in Bien Hoa, Vietnam, I bought a pair of ceramic elephants to be used as end tables or lamp stands. The Army crated and shipped them home for me. I still have one.

One arrived intact, but the other was broken, the elephant separated at feet and trunk from the base. At the time I really didn’t care. In the thrill of being home, it seemed insignificant.

My mother worked for hours, days I think, to repair that elephant. She found some glue that worked and chinked pieces into gaps like putting Humpty Dumpty together. It worked. I can still see her on her knees toiling away.

I wonder if she really knew, consciously, what she was doing.

When she grew feeble in her mid-nineties and had difficulty remembering names, she still recognized me, even though I only saw her a few times a year. Near the end she told me again that she loved me. She needn’t. I had always known.

I had not always known that my father loved me. Like me, he was not particularly verbal or demonstrative on his feelings. Until that day I signed away my little farm.

It had been on his recommendation that I bought it. I believe he said something like if I didn’t buy it, he would.

Then came divorce and I had to sell it, but that was during a real estate bust in the late seventies and it took two years.

I had to get a perk test and my dad came to fill the hole using what had been my D-17 bucket tractor. I was having a rebellious period and refused.

Then came that awful day when we stood in the little kitchen of that little ramshackle house and signed the papers. My dad stood there with me, silent as usual as I signed away my little dream.

I am sure he consciously knew exactly what he was doing. He taught me something really important about being a father that day, and I never doubted his love again.

It took me almost twenty years to get another piece of land and another sixteen to get a bucket tractor. And when I use it, I think of him.

I stopped grieving the loss of my father on Father’s Day of 1990, a little over two years after his death. I prayed aloud, that day in the Arizona Sonoran Desert, a prayer of gratitude for my father and for the privilege of being a father.

When I garden, I think of both my parents. Planting, cultivating, and harvesting is what we did.

Near the gate to my garden in the north woods stands a wounded ceramic elephant with a pot of flowers on its back. It symbolizes a few things for me, but most of all, it represents the healing power of Love, especially Agape Love.

Happy Father’s Day.

Happy Tracking.

Philanthropy Lost

“I can walk in those hills and no one is going to try to kill me, and I won’t have to try to kill anyone else,” I thought as I looked about Fort Lewis on my way home from Vietnam. Then, reality set in. Yes, part of me thought that, the conscious part, but another part clings to the belief that somebody out there is still trying to kill me, and I may have to kill, again.

I am compelled to judge. We all are, we sentient beings. It is programmed into our DNA.

Labrador Retrievers are programmed to believe that everybody loves them. Well, almost everybody. They still judge actions but are amazingly tolerant.

They also believe they can walk on water and almost do.

Are we born trusting our fellow humans? More or less, yes. We are born trusting smiling faces.

Then we learn to judge.

Note: On our journey to consider twelve attributes I see conducive to recovery from PTSD and other past stress, June embraces four kinds of Love.

Philanthropy is the love of mankind. We do that. Every one of us is willing to risk life and limb for another person in danger under certain conditions. Combat is such a condition. We risk our lives to defend and protect others. We willingly sacrifice our safety to help a brother or sister under threat. That is one example of a second form of love, a brotherly love called philos in Greek.

I have always known this. As the youngest of a family of six, I have always experienced it firsthand.

My sisters took care of me, fed me, clothed me, taught me colors, numbers, and letters, and loved me. They still do. They even gave me a perm fifty years ago. What hair I have left is wavy yet.

My brothers took care of me, too, in more ways than I can recount. They gave me jobs, lessons, and hope. I have always known that if I needed something, I mean really needed help, somebody would be there.

In the Army, I learned to trust some guys like brothers. I know of no bond as strong as the common experience of facing fire, of seeing the mettle of a friend in battle. It is philanthropy with the currency of self, of time and life rather than money. It is real brotherly love.

Who are my brothers? Who is worthy of such love, such sacrifice of safety?

We judge the other. We all do, based upon our education and experience. Some of us do it consciously. Most of us do it subconsciously.

Many of my Vietnam Veteran friends do not like the smell of nuoc mam, the sauce of fermented fish which is used like mustard on Coney Island, or the sound of tonal Asian languages.

I love Nature in part because it does not judge me. I am more secure with lions, tigers and bears in the north woods than with humans who would judge me, even kill me, because of the language I speak, the clothes I wear, the color of my skin, or the name of my god. It is my goal to be as civilized as my wild brothers.

But I am prejudiced.

Deep inside, we can all find tracks of prejudice that are consequences of experience. May we also find tracks of philanthropy that allow sentient management of our prejudices so that we may genuinely love one another, for philos is another doorway to greater love.

Happy Tracking!

Bower Power

June is Love month. Our exploration of twelve personal attributes I see contributing to recovery from PTSD and other past stresses continues with consideration of four kinds of love. Let’s begin with Eros.

It is no coincidence that the heart shape of our most common love symbol physically resembles buttocks.

Without the power of physical attraction, we would not…could not…exist. Besides, erotic love is a thrilling natural high. It is a good thing–an excellent thing. Eros is quite literally a portal to greater love.

Trauma sometimes damages this love, even if the trauma is not sexual. I don’t know why, but I know a bit of how.

Mentally wounded people are less attractive, or at least we feel less attractive. We are more guarded, self isolating, distant. Intimacy becomes more challenging.

We may appear to have lost something of our essence, our soul.

Then there is the anger thing–very unattractive, repulsive actually.

There is another issue: Trauma survivors gravitate toward addiction. Perhaps it is attempted relief from pain of mental obsession, but I am not a psychologist. I don’t even play one on TV.

Sex can become that addiction, that avenue of distraction and stress relief. Pornography raises its ugly head, a very real problem for some of our combat Veterans.

A doorway to greater love is closed. That is a great tragedy for all of us.

“Christianity gave Eros poison to drink; he did not die of it, certainly, but degenerated to Vice.” (Frederich Nietzsche)

I don’t know about the Christianity part of the quote, but I am certain this is often true of trauma.

I have spent the past few days hauling rocks to build a new rock garden for Nancy. She likes rock gardens. She likes most gardens, so I work to make them pretty for her. I am a Bowerbird, fixing up a pretty haven for her Bridal Bower in the north woods.

Isn’t that romantic? Our thirty-fifth year of marriage and I am still wooing her. Sure, there are ulterior motives; I want her to be happy in the north woods because I want to be here more, and I want her with me. Sure, I am happier when Nancy is happy.

Maybe recovery is really that simple: doing something for somebody else. Maybe that is the essence of erotic love, the drive to do something to make somebody else happy even if it is for ulterior motive.

I said it was a gateway to greater love, this Eros thing, not the greatest love. We will get to that later.

Erotic love is not a vice, but an addiction is. As with most addictions, recovery from PTSD requires first recovering from any sexual addiction, and the first step to that is admitting it has become a vice.

No, I am not going to ask you to look for tracks of erotic vice in your heart.

Please, look for the tracks of true romance in the young heart of your pre-trauma self. Remember it and cherish it.

Happy Tracking!

Questing

What boundary separates Hope from Love?

This is a transition week, a break between four May posts on Hope and four June posts on Love. So, I have been pondering this question.

But, as a teacher, I know that while my pondering is very powerful for my learning, it does little for the student. Learning is completely dependent upon what the learner does.

Are you pondering? Are you seeking?

Hope is a necessary, but insufficient, emotional attribute of healing and growth including recovery from trauma, stress, and post traumatic stress. Love is another. We will begin our discussion of four kinds of love next week with the familiar eros.

When you think of love, do you think of a noun, a verb, or maybe an adjective?

Do you think of yourself, other people, or something else?

All learning depends upon what we think we already know. Do you know enough about love to empower your learning? Do you know enough about love to impede your learning…because what we already know can do either.

If you know enough about love, you must be living it all the time. Right?

If not, why not?

Post traumatic stress challenges our ability to love and be loved. We often feel less than lovely and loveable.

Some experiences lead us to believe that some people need killing. We believe they are dangerous. That is why we killed them–or tried to.

The blood won’t come off our hands.

The hate won’t leave our hearts.

Will it?

A Quest is a form of inquiry to some power or wisdom beyond our own mind driven by an emotional need to know something.

What do you need to know about Love? Not what do you want to know. Need!

I do not have your answers. I have mine, the answers I discovered by Questing.

Since all learning depends upon what the learner does, and what the learner does depends upon the learner’s motivation, what is the role of the teacher?

I love teaching.

The root of “learn” is a Latin word that means furrow or track.

Happy Tracking!

Perfect World

We live in prisons of our own creation, trapped between two contrasting worlds of our imagination. The first is our utopia, the way we come to believe the world should be. The second is our dystopia, the way we come to believe the world might be. Both are false.

NOTE: This blog series investigates twelve attributes I see as conducive to recovery from PTSD and other past trauma. May aspires to Hope.

We spend our days and nights drowning in the cold dark sea of reality, desperately trying to climb the icebergs of our imagination, alternately trying to climb the iceberg of our fantasies where everything works out just right for us and trying to climb back on that iceberg of our past trauma just to, you know, fix things and make them right.

Like the icebergs, these worlds lie mostly below the surface of our awareness, in our subconscious. The rules we choose to govern our lives are those we accept without judgment, for judgment requires acknowledgement of their existence. We pretend these worlds are reality. We deny that they are our own creations.

We hold the visions in our heads, the dreams of our perfect world and the nightmare of our fears and traumas. We do not rule them for they rule us.

Now, that is depressing.

In a perfect world, our childish fantasies are cherished memories replaced in governance by the beautiful schema of reality. We come to know the way the world really works. We learn to negotiate reality, to manage our lives, to accept the way things are.

Many of us do not live in a perfect world. We fail to accept the rules of the universe, clinging to our fantasies. Things never seem to work out the way we believe they should. We live with high expectations and dashed hopes simply because we cling to the iceberg we created rather than to swim the reality we come to know through experience. We live in denial.

Some of us live in the darkness of dread, fears of terrible nightmares and repeated trauma. Our experiences have been too terrible to reconcile with our world views, especially if our world views are dream world fantasies.

Maybe I should get to the Hope, already.

The world is not falling apart. The world works perfectly according to immutable laws, principles we can discern with careful observation and honest reflection. Well, WE can as a community. Any one of us is unlikely to figure out very much on our own, but together we can understand reality. We can explain and predict, we can negotiate and manage, and we can appreciate and accept.

I am in da Nort’ Woods this day. My body is sharing time and space with my heart, that is, my passion.

I cannot cheat the woods. There are mosquitoes and ticks and bears here, and poison ivy, too. I cannot deny that, and I cannot change that. I wouldn’t if I could.

Who am I to disapprove of the woods? The woods does not disapprove of me. I am accepted here the same as the mosquitoes and ticks and bears. Nobody gets special treatment of favor or discrimination. There is a blessed egality in the woods, in all of Nature. I appreciate that. I accept that.

I cannot find egality at the mall, on cable news, or anywhere in manmade worlds. Here, in Nature, I cannot escape it.

So, why am I alone, here? No, I am not lonely. I just marvel that most people spend so little time in Nature. I surmise that most of us prefer to keep climbing the icebergs of our childhood fantasies or our traumas.

Do you want freedom from dread and depression? Do you want Hope?

Well, you are going to have to melt those icebergs, and that begins with acceptance. In my case, time in Nature always helps me to accept the way things are in reality, and that allows me to perceive and accept my imaginary worlds as that, imaginary. That helps me to see my dream as childish folly and my trauma as a reason to need Nature even more.

Yes, there is Hope if you will have it, and all you really have to do is put your childhood fantasies in the toy box, turn the light on the closet of your fears, and accept the world the way it is.

This is a Perfect World. Go wonder in Nature.

Happy Tracking!