Together, We

“When through the woods and forest glades I wander
And hear the birds sing sweetly in the trees,
When I look down from lofty mountain grandeur,
And hear the brook and feel the gentle breeze:” (How Great Thou Art)

I sat alone in the woods for four days and nights without human contact—only, I was not alone. The woods was there, all one of it.

Note: This blog series investigates twelve attributes I see as conducive to recovery from PTSD (and other past stress) which has become part of our ethos or basic belief system. March seeks serenity.

I have done it more than once. On one occasion, it was a wandering Quest. I found a deer fawn, a floating frog, and a whippoorwill that found me, hovering in the dark right above my face. There were no other people, but I was never alone.

I am part of the woods. We are one.

Have you ever been lost in the woods? The desert? The mountains?

Tom Brown, Jr. tells us we are never lost unless we have someplace to go and some time to get there. Lost is a state of mind. It is a fear of being alone.

The first question I was asked at my dissertation defense was, “What is data?” The professor went on to ask, “If a tree falls in the forest and there is no one there, does it make a sound?” The point is that data is defined by the observation of it.

I didn’t think fast enough on that day, but I have pondered the question since. The answer is, “Yes.” The tree makes a sound and the forest hears it. In the woods are thousands of living beings that hear that tree fall. There are thousands more that sense it in other ways—light now reaching the forest floor, for example. The smell of wilting leaves. The vibrations of Earth generated by the crash to the ground. The feel of sunshine warming the Earth. The woods knows.

I know the woods knows because the woods responds with new growth, with decay of the tree, and with curious critters who come to investigate. I know the woods knows because the crashing tree leaves tracks, which are also data, so we can infer the reality of the event. I know the woods knows because the woods tells me.

From the womb we travel in fear of separation. In Vietnam, nothing was more frightening than the thought of being isolated from our unit in the jungle, just one against the rest.

But, the combat experience has taught us that people are more dangerous than lions, tigers, or bears. We are trapped between a rational fear of being alone and a rational fear of people.

I do not fear the woods. On one of those nights, eight inches of rain fell upon my head. A review of data informs me that less than 100 yards from my spot in the rain was a den in an old beaver bank lodge where a female cougar had her young. Certainly, she had to vacate that den in the rain. Certainly, she knew where I was. Certainly, I was not alone.

We are never alone. We are never separated from the rest of Creation—except as we choose to separate ourselves from Nature. If you doubt me, spend some time in the woods, the desert, or the mountains and just breathe. When you have no other people around you, Nature will communicate with you. It will leave data as tracks.

Happy Tracking!

Harmony Hair

Harmony of self,
Of mind, body, and soul,
Waits upon harmony of mind,
And waits…

Note: This blog series investigates twelve attributes I see as conducive to recovery from PTSD (and other past stress) which has become part of our ethos or basic belief system. February is a meditation on harmony.

Each day is a wrestling match between two minds in one self, a logical mind which guides my rational life, and a feeling mind which becomes my emotional life.

“Left brain, talk to right brain,” is a mantra for some of us in Dr. Hart’s Combat PTSD after care group. It works, usually along with other tools like controlled breathing and EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing). It works because the feeling mind knows no boundaries of space and time, conflates here and now with then and there, and rages hormonal response to threats long past and far away. It works because we deliberately apply the processes of cognition to our immediate life and quell the nagging dread before it flares to blinding rage. It works because we have learned that it works and we rely upon it.

But, it only takes us so far—back down to a socially acceptable edge of anger, to a sublimation of our fears and resentments.

To go further is dangerous, to dance with our demons at the edge of a cliff of despair, the brink of depression. We hold onto our edge, which is our tolerable anger, rather than dare the vulnerability of crossing the chasm on an ethereal bridge to an imaginary land of Serenity.

It is okay. You have earned the right to stay, to hold onto the sanity of the safe place you have found, the edge against the world that protects you, your family, and the innocents you respect. It is okay simply to know that there is a real place of Serenity and a real bridge to get there when you are ready.

When you are ready—what no other can tell you.

When you are ready, you will need a hair. A long, curly hair.

It is a metaphor for a job that can never be finished, that always demands further attention.

It is a metaphor Tom Brown, Jr. gave us in a story. The hair kept the insistent genie busy because each time he straightened it and let go, it curled up, again. The genie’s job was never done, so he never raged his demand for another job.
My logical mind is where I live. I think for a living. I think for fun. I think for survival. I think because I am.

That logical mind is like my desk, like my entire office (both, at home and at work), full of ideas and problems that demand my attention.

Sitting quietly and waiting for harmony twixt my two minds is futile for an impatient soul with so much important stuff to do. I need a hair—you know—to keep my logical mind busy while my emotional mind expresses feelings to me (so that my dreams might be less disturbing).

I need activity to enthrall my logical mind. It may be yard work, a repair project, or a walk in the woods. But, we can go further, find a hair we can use at work, in a crowd, at a party. We need a mantra or mandala upon which we focus our logical minds while listening to our rational minds.

Find yours.

I like slow music, Native American flute or light New Age. I like sounds of Nature. I like visions and memories of safe places, beautiful places, peaceful places, a clear space, my Sacred Place.

You have such a place, across the chasm. It does exist for you. And, you have the way to get there, to your own Sacred Place. When you are ready.

I hope you find it, and Happy Tracking!

Peace Full

Combat is exciting. We can say a lot of other things about it, but it certainly is an adrenaline rush, and it leaves a big, empty space when it is over—a hole inside us we cannot understand.

Note: This blog series investigates twelve attributes I see as conducive to recovery from PTSD (and other past stress) which has become part of our ethos or basic belief system. February is a meditation on harmony.

Football is exciting, too. And teaching. And trading stocks. We find meaningful ways to fill our days, ways that stimulate and excite us. Then, we stop. Whether in retirement of career or for the day, stopping the activity may leave us feeling drained of thrill, empty.

We find ways to fill the void. Many of us find unhealthy ways that fail to fill the emptiness, offering only illusion.

Still, the emptiness is real and growing, for even the activities that thrill us gradually diminish efficacy. They don’t work anymore.

In some ways, this is the message of The Hurt Locker and, I suppose, American Sniper. It might be one reason Nancy’s brother went back to Vietnam for a second tour even though he was not making a career out of the U. S. Marine Corps.

There is good news to the emptiness. The void provides an opportunity to be fulfilled. The Relaxation Response offers a way to find peace of harmony through body and mind relaxation. Progressive body relaxation following mindful breathing in relative comfort has the power to open us to light.

Sweat helps. A good workout prepares our muscles for relaxation. Purposeful sweat works best for me. A bit of time gardening, clearing brush, moving trees, or throwing hay bales gets my mind and body ready for relaxation. Being physically tired helps, but it is not necessary.

The process is simple although I suggest finding a teacher or partner to talk you through it a time or two. Once you are in relative comfort and aware of your restful body position, and once you have cleansed with deep, deliberate breathing, slowly tense and release body muscles in progression. I usually start with toes and up the legs in steps, then fingers and up the arms in steps, on to the abdomen and chest, and up to neck, face, and scalp. Tensing slightly may be sufficient. Cramps are not required.

Combining deep breaths with body tension followed by sudden release of both air and tension is very effective. I usually suggest one progression from toes and fingers through the body to head followed by a second, slow progression combined with breaths also held and released.

You will know when you have achieved some significant relaxation because your desire to do another thing, even to breathe, will lose urgency. The logical mind will likely search for something to do at this point. After all, we have trained it to take charge.

To sleep, perchance to dream…

Yes, our logical minds will begin to dream, to speak to us, to ramble. We might even hear things, see things, feel things. Yes, Hamlet, there is the rub.

We will perceive tracks through our minds, but fear not. We have ways of dealing with that, also—simple ways that are rather enjoyable, even amusing.

Next week we will talk about “Hair.” In the meantime, Happy Tracking!

Blessed Breathing

Time will come when all that matters is the next breath. In that moment we will comprehend need and, as the breath comes, gratitude. Imagine contemplating each breath as both a desperate need and as a blessing received. Now, imagine living life as a succession of those moments. That is living prayer.

Note: This blog series investigates twelve attributes I see as conducive to recovery from PTSD (and other past stress) which has become part of our ethos or basic belief system. February is a meditation on harmony.

The word, harmony, derives from a Greek root meaning joint as in the arm. Harmony is a state of being joined—and acceptance of that reality of being connected to other, to Earth, itself.

We all breathe the same air. What one exhales, another inhales. Twelve to twenty times each minute at rest or minimal exercise.

We take a breath every 5 seconds, more under stress.

Tom Brown, Jr. taught us “need” with an example something like this: Imagine holding your breath under water. Imagine the building urgency for your next breath. Hold it longer—until you must exhale and inhale. Hold it still. Now, slowly surface. Just before you reach the surface, you begin to comprehend need.

You might be wondering what this desperation has to do with meditation. Got you thinking about breathing, didn’t it?

“Feelings come and go like clouds in a windy sky. Conscious breathing is my anchor.” (Thích Nhất Hạnh)

The second requirement for meditation (after relative comfort) that Tom taught us was controlled breathing. As we walk, sit, or lie in relative comfort, we breathe deliberately. Some may call it a beginning of mindfulness as we take conscious control of an otherwise autonomic function.

I will leave the theories of mindfulness and deep breathing benefits to others, today, and focus on the benefits toward harmony. Deep, controlled breathing contributes to our meditation in three ways I understand. First, it deepens our physical and mental relaxation. Second, it gives our busy logical minds something to do while our emotional minds are free to express feelings. Third, it becomes a metaphoric contemplation on need and blessing.

Intentional breathing generates an internal harmony of mind, body, and spirit as it accepts external harmony with the rest of Creation.

Is there something more you need from life?

Each breath inhaled is a need satisfied. It is a deep prompt for gratitude, and gratitude is healthy. Gratitude is one of those beneficial qualities that slips away from us as we sink deeper into the vulnerable self. One of the first things we lose when we feel threatened is the ability to breathe. We thrust our tongues to the hard palette roof of our mouths and hold our breath. It is a natural response to fear, real or imagined.

Those with Post Traumatic Stress have twenty (20) seconds to intervene—to breathe—before our endocrine systems begin to dump flight/fright hormones into our blood streams. If we miss that deadline, we have twenty (20) minutes to consciously reduce our anxiety before a full-fledged “dinosaur dump” of noradrenergic dysregulation plunges us into three or four days of painful anguish, days in which we just might do some irreversible, regrettable things.

Breathe.

On the other hand, a few minutes of relative comfort, controlled breathing, and body relaxation each day offers the increase of serotonin levels that promises quality sleep at night. We NEED sleep, too.

Are you aware of your breathing? Happy Tracking!

Comfort and Joy

Life is a trip, so enjoy the journey.

Note: This blog series investigates twelve attributes I see as conducive to recovery from PTSD (and other past stress) which has become part of our ethos or basic belief system. February is a meditation on harmony.

No matter what else we may learn about Post Traumatic Stress, it is a disruption of harmony, a discordant cacophony, a disturbance of The Force, or “noise” in a quest for peace. When the disruption is great enough, behaviors follow that define “Disorder” in APA terms. Such behaviors not only define PTSD, but they also disrupt or destroy families, damage work relationships, and threaten social stability. On a personal level, disturbed behaviors leave the individual with feelings of anxiety, guilt, remorse, and oppressive confusion that demand relief.

Some combat Veterans seek comfort if not joy in arousal states induced by gambling, intoxicants, high risk behaviors, pornography, or even returning to combat. We seek the relative comfort of adrenaline rushes to the depressive muting of life without meaning. What we find is addiction, disease, and death.

“But what is happiness except the simple harmony between a man and the life he leads?” (Albert Camus)

So, just how do we find happiness? How do we learn to celebrate this journey of life?

One day at a time. A journey is one day’s travel. All we must do is navigate this day and enjoy the journey for a few hours.

Meditation helps.

I have learned four basic requirements for successful meditation. The first is relative comfort. Relative comfort.

“The moment will arrive when you are comfortable with who you are, and what you are– bald or old or fat or poor, successful or struggling- when you don’t feel the need to apologize for anything or to deny anything. To be comfortable in your own skin is the beginning of strength.” (Charles B. Handy)

I have meditated in the Pine Barrens of New Jersey in deep darkness of a winter night cold front rain that turned to ice, but I was comfortable. I wore raingear with warm clothes underneath, and I was with a group of students with a shared intention. And, we were led by very experienced people with a loud drum.

Sometimes the required comfort is not physical. Sometimes the distraction is the discomfort of one’s mind or soul. Since we are meditating to achieve harmony of mind, body, and soul, how do we first achieve the comfort necessary to meditate?

Practice.

Nothing, absolutely nothing, comforts me like walking and sitting in the woods. I am comfortable there, in the woods. Actually, I find comfort in many natural places, but I seem to need some camouflage and concealment, some trees, hills, cacti, or shrubs protecting me from the intrusion of thoughts of being observed. In a strange way, I am never less lonely than when I am alone in Nature.

I am blessed. My prayer for you is that you, too, can find your place of comfort—if only in your own mind. Sometimes in a crowd, I find my place of safety and power in my mind where my soul is comfortable. If you learn to meditate, you will find your clear space, also.

There is harmony in that place in your mind. You only need to seek.

Happy Tracking!

Awareness of Intention

I love blueberries. My mother used to make me a blueberry pie for my birthday instead of cake, but nothing exceeds wild blueberries plucked from the bush.

Note: This blog series investigates twelve attributes I see as conducive to recovery from PTSD (and other past stress) which has become part of our ethos or basic belief system. January reflects upon simplicity.

My Army Advanced Infantry training was at Fort Dix, NJ, and the machine gun training was at a range camp in the Pine Barrens. I found wild blueberries which I ate in joy to the dismay of some of my brothers who thought I was crazy for risking eating wild berries. Years later I spent time at Tom Brown’s Tracking, Nature, and Wilderness survival school and found the high bush blueberries standing ten to fifteen feet high, but I still preferred the wilder flavor of the smaller low bush species. But I ate both and some Huckleberries besides.

In 1998, we bought our acres of open forest in Florence County, WI, and I was intent on preparing an area for our camp. After selecting a beaver-cleared spot overlooking the stream valley, I set about plotting a path for a roadway connecting to the logging road that would be our driveway. I contacted a local man to come out and look at the job and I told him I hoped to find some blueberries, which are common in that neck of the woods.

He looked at me and said, “I think there are some right over there.”

Yes, right along a game trail from my camp to the stream was a patch of short blueberry bushes I had walked by dozens of times. Why had I not seen them?

Well, they had no blueberries—and they still haven’t. Oh, I have a patch elsewhere in the woods that produces berries, but this patch seems to drop the flowers or berries most of the time.

No, that is no excuse. I had not seen them because I had not been looking for them. The focus of my intention at that time was to get this road installed. To be fair, an eyeball to eyeball encounter with a large black bear earlier that season right in my camp spot had convinced me a road to get my truck back there was a priority. Yes, that’s my excuse.

“Our intention creates our reality.” (Wayne Dyer)

Any of us can Google this or other quotes on intention and find volumes written about their meanings. I prefer to keep it simple. I tend to attend to what I intend. When I set my intention to focus my attention on an object or phenomenon, I am looking for it. I am then more likely to see it, to become aware of its presence, even what it is doing.

How does that work?

I have a friend who quotes one of his teachers: “Prayer is the sincere desire of the heart.”

I have no person to whom I may ascribe this quote, but we can find similar sentiments. Whether we investigate philosophies of the East, the Native West, or the Middle East, we are sure to find something very similar expressed. I find credibility in that universality.

Meditation is safer and more effective when we are sentient of our intention before we begin. We live in a big world, an immense universe, too big to find what we may seek—unless we choose deliberate awareness of our intention to find. But don’t take my word for it. Try some significant research.

The effectiveness of our meditation is directly proportional to the sincerity of our intention, and the less selfish that intention, the safer our journey in meditation.

If you sincerely desire blueberries, look for blueberries; but, don’t hesitate to build your road to safety, first.

Seek the goodness at your center, and Happy Tracking.

Meditation by Attention

Focus all of your attention on everything.

Note: This blog series investigates twelve attributes I see as conducive to recovery from PTSD (and other past stress) which has become part of our ethos or basic belief system. January reflects upon simplicity.

One of my least favorite statements by young people is, “I’m bored.” Quite frankly, I do not understand it. In the first place, I had so much work to do, and so much playing to do, when I was a child and teen, I never had time to be bored. Perhaps it is a kind of dependency in the expectation that someone or something else is responsible for my entertainment. I grew up believing I was responsible for my own amusement and, I reckon as a corollary, my own education.

“When you pay attention to boredom it gets unbelievably interesting. (Jon Kabat-Zinn)

Perhaps you have had a psychology course or otherwise learned that the human brain can only attend to one thing at a time. Okay, so that leads you to believe that you cannot pay attention to everything, as meaning all things, at the same time. I have a challenge for you.

Go someplace where interesting things happen. I prefer Nature, but a mall or campus will do. Sit down. Quiet down. Look straight ahead, perhaps at some interesting object such as a tree, statue, or fountain. Keep you eyes pointed directly toward that object but change the focus of your attention.

How? Choose. Simply choose to pay attention to any and all happenings around that object all the way out to the limits of your peripheral vision. Tom Brown, Jr. calls this wide angle vision. You will soon notice movement of people or other animals, maybe plants in the wind, far away from the object your eyes appear to be focused upon. You will begin to notice any, and maybe even all, movements within the range of your vision.

You are paying attention to everything all at the same time. How is this possible? In my simple mind, it is a choice to view everything as one single thing, the whole thing. So, the next time you begin to entertain the idea that you might be bored, try this. It is free of cost or calorie, and it is good for the soul.

“How long do I have to sit there before something happens?” you might ask. There is a simple answer: Try it—more than once. We call this science. Instead of inventing an answer by reason and rhetoric, and instead of accepting an answer of some authority like Erv Barnes or Tom Brown, Jr., take your butt someplace happening and experiment.

I challenge you to sit through four days and nights in Nature, say the Nort’ Woods of my Lonesome Pines, without experiencing something interesting.

Meditation is just a term from Greek meaning to think about. Trust me or try it for yourself, but my conclusion is that thinking about stuff is a marvelous cure for boredom. Wide angle vision is certain to reveal tracks everywhere, tracks that you could not see while you focused your attention upon one tree, one statue, or one fountain. A little practice just might also reveal some really important tracks in your mind.

But maybe boredom is really a euphemism for your denial and avoidance of those tracks in your mind. That’s okay. You may not want to see all those tracks at once, so I recommend beginning your practice of this eyes open meditation the way you may eat an extra large pizza—one bite at a time. And, before you are ready, you may want to read next week’s blog on Intention.

Don’t forget to breathe, and Happy Tracking.