King and Porky

Who am I, really? Introspection is but one feeble method for seeking an answer. Tracing of tracks on the ground known as personal history is another. I shall attempt to combine the two with a spirit of the Quest to generate some answers. Join me if and when you may be so inclined.

NOTE: This blog series is dedicated to the quest for understanding who I am and how I came to be me.

My mind is a mosaic of memories, snapshots of experiences—or, more honestly, homemade records of perceived experiences. Early memories and memories of traumatic times are especially suspect of fidelity; but they are all the memories I have of these times.

I remember my fourth birthday party. Well, specifically, I remember that there was a party, that it was a celebration of my becoming four years old, and that I got some small red trucks as presents.

One particular toy tractor is a clearer memory, a plastic scale model of a Farmall H with real rubber tires and a rubber steering wheel. It was one of my favorite toys of all time. I cannot remember receiving it but I remember it being taken away once.

It seems I got angry at my sister and threw a fork at her. My dad didn’t seem to think that was appropriate behavior and took my tractor away and set it up high, on the cook stove I believe, where I couldn’t reach it. I learned early that I had a volatile temper.

My older brother had a metal scale model of an Allis Chalmers C, but it was not to the same scale as my H. So, even though a Farmall H is bigger than an Allis C, his toy was bigger than mine. Even so, I played with both. I liked my H best.

In the 1970s, I owned a real H for awhile. My brother has owned lots of tractors on the farm including about a hundred accurate scale models, some in original boxes. I never have, although I gave a true scale model of an Allis Chalmers 190XT to my oldest daughter.

I learned to drive our real Farmall H when I was about four. More specifically, I learned how to start it in low gear and steer it straight while somebody loaded a wagon behind, then kick the switch off to stop.

Our neighbor’s Ford 8N or 9Nwas more fun for me to drive. I could use the clutch because it was horizontal so I could step on it. This one I could really drive like the big boys. I now own a Ford 9N which I use on our land and road in Wisconsin.

I never owned working horses or even learned how to drive them the way my dad did. He farmed with horses until I was about four. That’s when he bought the Farmall H and, I expect, my toy model of it.

Not all important memories are primary, meaning some were told to me. One story is how my dad got started farming with horses after being a hired hand. The only team he could afford was one so rank that nobody wanted them. He had very specific training methods that, in his words, would not break a horse’s spirit. To convince these horses that he was boss without beating them, he threw them each to the ground with a rope (a technique I never learned) and sat on their heads. Horses cannot get up without throwing their head up first. It is basically the same thing as the puppy submission training hold.

I can still remember our two working horses, draft horses we called them, King and Porky. They were huge, filling their stalls near the front of our barn, but I do not remember ever being afraid of them. I’ll have to check with my brothers to see how accurate my memory might be.

King being appropriately regal was a tall and lean golden chestnut with a blaze of some sort on his forehead. Porky was darker, bay I believe, with dark mane, tail and feet. In my mind, the memory created when I was three to four years old, King was sort of the boss, the serious one, but Porky was the steady muscle with a sense of humor.

I do not know who I was before these memories, but I am certain such early experiences contributed to the person I have become. I still have a powerful connection to the land, love animals, and would often rather drive tractor or garden than fish. Perhaps more importantly, I still admire my dad. I was a lucky boy.

Dance of Essence

“Those who live for one another learn that love is the bond of perfect unity.” (Frank Fools Crow)

Note: We have been exploring twelve attributes I see as conducive to recovery from PTSD and other past stress. August contemplates Vision.

I wish I could tell you enough about Vision that you might understand and use it. Probably not, but maybe I can invite you to seek for yourself. Frank Fools Crow was a powerful Lakota Medicine Man, a man whose power to help others came from his Vision and his personal commitment to live that Vision faithfully. We can begin to sense the power of Vision from the stories of others. But our power, yours and mine, can come only from seeking and living our own Vision. Fools Crow also referred to this power as a kind of special knowledge and a form of unselfishness. He was a very wise man.

“If you do at least one good thing for yourself and at least one good thing for someone else every day, you will become a happier person. We are all connected so both of these things are of equal importance. If you do too much for yourself or you do too much for others you will be unhappy. Balance is the key.” (Evan Coats)

Before you go too far looking for other wisdom from Evan, know that his mother’s maiden name is Barnes. Evan is my grandson and this was published today as a Facebook post.

I wonder how he became so wise before his twenty-first birthday.

He asks questions, really hard questions, and he looks for the answers. Sometimes he finds them.

Pain has a way of provoking us to ask questions. Unfortunately, it also has a way of provoking us to turn away from both pain and answers. Ours is the burden of constant choice. That is life.

I wish I could tell you how to cure PTSD. I wish I could tell you how to help someone else cure his or her own PTSD. Nope.

We are never going to cure our pain by reading books or blogs. Nope.

We are never going to cure our pain by listening to people. No way.

We are never going to be healed by medicine. PTSD is not like that.

So, where is the hope?

Each of these things will help us, whatever our pain may be. They are all useful and valuable, but not necessarily essential.

So, what is the essence? What is indispensable in the management of this kind of pain?

My grandson knows. He is teaching us.

You will not be cured by reading books and blogs, but you just might be relieved by writing them. You will not be cured by listening to people, but you just might be relieved by talking to people. You will not be cured by taking medical care, but you just might be relieved by giving some.

It’s a balance thing as Evan said. We have to take care of ourselves AND take care of each other.

Deep down inside, what are the questions you have been afraid to ask? If you dare to ask them, answers will come, and they have the darnedest way of showing up while you are taking care of someone else.

“Your vision will become clear only when you look into your heart. Who looks outside, dreams. Who looks inside awakens.” (Carl Jung)

The search for your way to fit into your community and culture, to find your essence, IS the way to do something for yourself and someone else. Vision Quest is the dance to seek that essence.

Happy Tracking!

Who You Are

“We choose the right to be who we are.” (THUNDERHEART)

Note: We have been exploring twelve attributes I see as conducive to recovery from PTSD and other past stress. August contemplates Vision.

Yesterday, I had a discussion in a meeting with a couple of other Veterans on campus. As I explained that I still didn’t know why I chose the path that took me to Vietnam, one of my friends said, “It made you who you are.”

I do not know which came first–who I am or the choices I made–but I know the two are intimately related, and it really doesn’t matter which came first. What matters is that I chose to be who I am.

One of my Officer Candidate School classmates came through our Special Forces camp on the Cambodian border in the Spring of 1970. After seven months in Vietnam as an Infantry platoon leader, he was still humping the boonies most every day. As he visited our team house and saw the way we lived, he told me, “Barnes, you really have it made.”

It made me smile because several months earlier some of my classmates laughed at me when a jump school student hung from his parachute on the tower across the road from our barracks. “That’s where you will be next week, Barnes.”

Maybe our choices make us who we are. Maybe when we choose to be who we are, we make lucky choices. Like Forrest Gump, I think it both might be happening at the same time. Maybe that is how Vision works.

In the movie, THUNDERHEART, which is grounded in some real events of the 1970s, an Oglalla Sioux named Jimmy Looks Twice explained to an Indian descendant FBI agent, Ray Levoi, why people were getting murdered on the reservation. “Sometimes they have to kill us. They have to kill us, because they can’t break our spirit.”

Jimmy Looks Twice is played by John Trudell, a man who lived the experiences of indigenous protests and losing his entire family to violence. He continues the explanation, “We choose the right to be who we are. We know the difference between the reality of freedom and the illusion of freedom. There is a way to live with the earth and a way not to live with the earth. We choose the way of earth. It’s about power, Ray.”

It is about power.

There is no greater personal power than living one’s Vision. But, sometimes they have to kill us. And, sometimes, like John Trudell, we have to go on after they killed our families.

Our power lies in our Intention to be who we are–and our commitment to that intention.

In my view of the universe, Vision is the way we see ourselves in relationship to the rest of our world, and specifically, how we see ourselves fitting into the world around us. I’m pretty sure another way of saying this is that Vision is our view of who we are.

Where do we get that Vision? Are we born with it?

For this sometimes cowardly human, it is a very good thing that my Vision is limited in clarity and scope, that I cannot see too far down the road of my future lest I lose my commitment to being who I am. So, my Vision becomes clear to me only like the road in my headlights on a dark night, a little at a time.

Sometimes it is foggy, dusty, snowy, or rainy. I have even driven into a mud storm, a dust storm with rain, but I survived because I could still see the tail lights of the truck ahead of me. Maybe I survived because I had had the good sense to be following a truck.

How have you survived? Have you been “lucky” because of some good sense, because of who you are?

Happy Tracking!

Passion of Purpose

Who are you?

It’s a serious question. Beneath the façade of style and guile, what is your name? Do you have a spirit name? Do you have a spirit identity?

Note: We have been exploring twelve attributes I see as conducive to recovery from PTSD and other past stress. August contemplates Vision.

Vision as an indigenous cosmology is a complex concept with purpose at its core.

When we find ourselves devoid of passion and purpose, the first thing we need to do is stop. But that’s not easy. The rest of the world is zooming by at full speed. Left alone with ourselves, without a project to occupy us, we can become nervous and self-critical about what we should be doing and feeling. This can be so uncomfortable that we look for any distraction rather than allowing ourselves the space to be as we are. (Dawna Markova)

I am a teacher and Nancy is a nurse. We are blessed to be people who have found careers of purpose matching our passions. We have lived our identities. We are lucky.

But, luck needs help. Neither of us found our way accidentally. We wandered. We made choices. I found I enjoyed teaching in graduate school and as an Academic Staff Specialist at UW-Madison. Nancy found she enjoyed taking care of people as an Army medic and a nursing aid. Still, each of us needed a personal crisis to push us to a decision and we needed family to coach that decision. Sooner or later, we all need coaching.

Some of us make major life decisions as children and adolescents that steer our lives by passion. Many of us begin a life of purpose and developing identity. Too many of us experience trauma that disrupts that development.

In 1968 I was a science student accepted into graduate school to study genetics at UW-Madison. I had a research assistantship offer. In three or four years I could be a PhD geneticist and maybe a professor.

In 1969 I went to Vietnam.

Trauma has a way of changing who we are—or, at least, who we think we are. It has a way of changing what we believe about purpose, and it discolors passion.

That’s all I have to say about that.

Oh, I came back to finish my Bachelors and Masters degrees in Genetics, but the passion was gone. I had lost my Vision (although I didn’t know about Vision at the time). That life no longer fit my perception of myself, had I actually faced a perception of myself.

I found my way to a new passion, a purpose that continues to grow and develop even now.

How did I find my way?

I looked.

How I changed over the past forty-five years is still a mystery to me, a mystery I intend to pursue in the next year, but I know it all began with my searching for a purpose. I stopped and let the world race by me. I caught my breath and saw a glimmer of distant hope. Somebody loved me and believed in me. Answers came.

Have you stopped, I mean really stopped, to look at the tracks in your heart that show you who you are?

Happy Tracking!

Rites of Vision

Where are you going? And how will you know when you are on your way?

Note: We have been exploring twelve attributes I see as conducive to recovery from PTSD and other past stress. August contemplates Vision.

When my oldest daughter was very young, perhaps three or four, she asked her mother and me, “What do you want me to be when I grow up?” To our credit I believe, we both answered, “Happy.”

Children want to know. Adolescents need to know. We all search for our fit in this world and Vision is the answer.

Several years ago I was sitting in a quiet spot outside a family party talking with a young relative, probably about six years of age. I asked him what he wanted to be when he grew up. He looked at me with an expression of serious thought. “I don’t know. Something easy. Maybe I’ll drive a dump truck. How hard could that be?”

He is not yet of age to drive a dump truck on the highway, but he does like driving farm equipment. But, he also likes playing music. Very soon, however, he will be making decisions, choices of forks in his road, that will take him in some direction. Who will guide him?

Most indigenous cultures practice some form of adolescent rite of passage into adulthood that involves introspective searching for one’s place in culture. The concept is quite foreign to America–to European descendants. Pity.

The Native American rite is the “Little Death” known as the Vision Quest. Unfortunately, I didn’t do my first Vision Quest until I was already middle-aged, a teacher, and in graduate school. Still, it guided my research and teaching.

But back to my adolescence, I did search for answers to questions unspoken. I did look to my future to see what my life may become. In my early teens I decided that making money was not important to me, that I only wanted to be modestly comfortable. In my late teens, I committed my life to learning how the universe works. Everything else that has happened in my life has been a walk within those two decisions made before I graduated high school.

Scary? Well, the frightening aspect is that I made those choices with little to no adult guidance. Oh, sure, I was influenced by attitudes and enticements of home and school, but I discussed little of my future with adults.

Is that how you made life-determining choices? Is that how your children and grandchildren decide their futures?

Around 1978, I read a Reader’s Digest condensed book called THE TRACKER about Tom Brown, Jr. I went out and bought a copy to read the whole version. I talked about the book with anybody who would listen. Nancy listened. When she found another book authored by Tom, she gave it to me for Christmas in 1989. That book was THE VISION. If you have any interest in understanding the concept of developing a vision for your future as a part of our culture, I highly recommend reading it, discussing it, and rereading it.

I believe I was lucky. I grew up in a kind and hard-working family. I grew up running the fields and forests, encouraged to become who I would choose to be, to make my own choices, to live my own life. I grew up sharing and caring. I chose my Vision with mostly unselfish motives.

Deep down inside you, in that joyous and free pre-trauma self, what are your unselfish motives?

It’s a big question, but if it is an important one for you, there are methods of finding your way. Those methods will be our topics for the rest of this month.

Happy Tracking!

Momentous Journey

“You’ve come far, Pilgrim,” the old mountain man said to Jeremiah Johnson.

“Feels like far,” Robert Redford (Johnson) replied.

This week is a slight digression from our study of character traits conducive to recovery from PTSD and other past stress. Or, maybe not. August will focus upon the twelfth and last trait: Vision.

Have we come far? Well, we didn’t do it in a day.

Journey is a term originally referring to the work done in a day or how far we could go in one day. Just for today.

In the jungle of Vietnam, we could walk about one click an hour. One kilometer. So a day’s travel might be five or ten kilometers or five miles give or take a couple.

It is roughly twenty-two miles across the Grand Canyon, and people can do that in a day. Not me, but other people. My plan is to do it in four days.

Twenty miles was a journey for a wagon train.

Yesterday I drove nearly three hundred miles, but I have done many more in a single day. Today I hope to fly a couple of thousand. Quite a journey.

Our culture has twisted the meaning of journey far from the original meaning of marche du jour.

As I wait to go to the airport, I am pondering just today, this hour, this moment–while I think about the future.

Much of my life is wasted weighting events of yesterday or waiting for events of tomorrow rather than savoring my walk today.

My parents were married during the Depression, living on squirrels Dad hunted, day old bread they sold door to door, and what they could grow in a garden. “Those were the good old days,” Dad told Mom fifty years later.

“I think we’re livin’ in the good old days,” (Merle Haggard). I hope we don’t miss it.

Psychologically, we can never experience more than a moment, a fraction of one second. Everything else is memory, an illusion created by the mind to record the experience of a moment. Yesterdays are all illusions. Yes, they happened, just not quite like we remember.

Tomorrow is illusion. Yes, it may happen the way we imagine, more or less, but maybe not.

Today is all we have. Let’s make it momentous, grander than the tomorrow we dreamed, yesterday, grander than the memory we create. Let’s live in the good days.

We made a lot of tracks, you and me, some deep, some barely noticeable. Some we regret.

Tomorrow we will make more tracks, God willing.

Have you ever watched a track being made? Have you ever taken note of the Earth beneath your feet as you made a track?

I participated in a blindfold swamp walk in the Pine Barrens of New Jersey. We were led in a group, one person behind another, along a string through the swamp as were blindfolded. It was fun and comfortable, slipping into holes, feeling my way around roots, finding footing. After some time, we were stopped and told to remove our blindfolds. Quickening the pace, I took three steps and cut my foot. I forget to feel my track being made.

Momentous is another word our culture has twisted, originally meaning of one moment. Well, maybe that is not twisted. Maybe making note of a single moment is huge.

A funny thing happens when you face the probability of dying soon. You find each present moment precious, momentous.

One morning this week I went to my spot along the stream valley and noticed the activity of Chickadees. One flitted in a tag alder but three feet from my face, eyeball to eyeball, leaving a visual track in my mind.

Today, will you take a few moments to notice your breathing? Will you admire another part of life sharing this moment with you? Will you take a slow, deliberate walk and feel your tracks being made?

Happy Tracking!

Core Choice

Every moment of every day there is precisely one choice to make, the Core Choice. All other choices serve this one.

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.

Light invaded as neurons transmitted perceptions to my mind and consciousness emerged from wherever it sleeps.

“Morning,” I affirmed. My bedroom in the north woods RV is less than 8 ft wide with a window on each side. Judging sunlit treetops out the south window, I concluded it was about 7am.

It does not take long for our minds to attach and reattach to man-made constructs like time.

“What do I have to do today? What day is it? Wednesday.” I looked out the north window at my garden that needs to be put to bed before Monday. “I have to do my blog!”

What to do first? That is the question easily answered by discipline.

For much of my life, personal discipline was replaced by obligation, by rules and rote behavior, on most Wednesdays. On others, when I was not working, the burden of choosing was mine.

Hobbies replace work for structuring time. We have created this advanced technology of time, the invention of tiny parcels of life, and this creation becomes our master. We fritter away our lives on meer man-made minutia of rules and rote lest we face…what?

The Great Reality. We structure our lives with addictions of habits that fill our time, distractions from The Great Reality.

You do not want me to tell you about The Great Reality. Do you?

“And I disagree with the way I’ve been living
But I can’t hold myself in line…” (Merle Haggard)

I wasted much of my life disagreeing with the way I was living. I lacked discipline, organization, and attention to detail. And in my disillusionment with myself, I became willing to face My Great Reality. So, this morning after most parts of my mind, body, and spirit seemed awake, I made my Core Choice. I dressed my body for the cool morning and my mind with disciplined willingness, and I followed my spirit outside. I mentally turned to feel the call to one of my small special places. I walked down to the edge of the stream valley where the sun kisses the shore and stood. There, The Great Reality is perceivable by mind, body, and spirit.

I witness Creation. It is happening. The stream valley I walked yesterday is changing, growing shrubs and trees, becoming an alder swamp, a swamp forest, a bottomland, and a fertile valley. My view where I saw the cougar is gone. My deer hunting firing lanes are gone. My world is changing and soon I will be gone. But the land will still be changing. The best I can do is to bequeath claim to this land to one who will belong to the land.

My choice this morning, my Core Choice, is to touch The Great Reality. I cannot tell you how that feels. Oh, I can say it is joy and sorrow, strength and weakness, brief and eternal, warm and cool, pleasure and pain. I can tell you it is the most important thing I can do, today, that I will endeavor to do it more than once today, that everything else I will do today will follow. I can share with you that my goal is to take every breath and step within The Great Reality…someday. I can report that days when I dwell within my Core Choice are good beyond comprehension–and that other days are wasted.

Deep, deep down inside you, do you feel a longing and a willingness to touch your Great Reality? The choice is yours.

Happy Tracking!