Empty Bucket

“Nuts.” (General Anthony MacAuliffe)

This response to a request to surrender at the Battle of the Bulge typifies a military valuation of the concept. Death before surrender, and there is good reason for it.

“The harder you work, the harder it is to surrender.” (Vince Lombardi)

Surrender is not seen as a winning strategy. Americans are winners. We do not surrender. And, yet, surrender is the path to serenity. Confused?

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.

It is okay to be confused. Confusion is next to enlightenment.

“I couldn’t fight the tide, so I decided to float along.” (David Levithan)

Here is a clue. Surrender is not only an option; it is the only option. Power is the choice of what shall be surrendered and to whom. You may surrender your will to the tide, or you may surrender your life to the fight against the tide.

In Vietnam, I took some comfort in the notion that I had a choice: surrender my freedom to my captors, or surrender my life to, uhm, my captors. It was a choice I pondered but never had to make.

A thirsty man walks miles across the desert looking for water and finally comes upon a well near a dry wash with Mesquite trees. He finds a fine open well with water at the bottom, lined with sturdy rocks and capped with a sturdy roof and a sturdy windlass and rope; but, alas, there is no sturdy bucket.

Looking about, he finds a frail old-timer sitting quietly in the shallow shade of a Honey Mesquite.

“Excuse me, sir, but do you have a bucket for the well?”

The old-timer asks, “What do you have in that satchel you hold so dearly?”

The thirsty man stares, blinks, and looks at the satchel he clutches. After some time of apparently painful thought, the man replies, “My stuff.”

“Your stuff, eh,” the old-timer says and pulls an old bucket from behind his stool. “Tell you what, young feller. I’ll trade you my good bucket for your satchel of stuff you cling to so desperately.”

The thirsty man licks his lips and clutches the satchel even tighter, for it holds the sum of all his Earthly treasures.

Surrender your treasure or die of thirst. Where will your tracks in the desert lead? Will they end with you clutching your treasures in your bony dead hands?

Happy Tracking!

Accepting Fit

“You are truly home only when you find your tribe.” (Srividya Srinivasan)

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.

A Native American student invited me to a local Pow Wow and Nancy and I decided to view the Grand Entry. We love the drums, the regalia, the dancing. We love fry bread. But I had a sense of loss, a feeling of something lacking in my life. I have no tribe.

The next class, I mentioned this to my student, a mature man, Army Veteran, and father. He told me to go back to my people. That is my tribe. That would be Wales and Cornwall, and I have no connection to that land.

Ah, connection. We have separated ourselves from our ancestors. We have separated ourselves from others who do not share our ancestors. Well, biologically, we all share ancestors, but we separate ourselves anyway.

“A tribe is a group of people connected to one another, connected to a leader, and connected to an idea. For millions of years, human beings have been part of one tribe or another. A group needs only two things to be a tribe: a shared interest and a way to communicate.” (Seth Godin)

I need a tribe, a group of people connected to one another, a group with whom I connect, all connected to one single idea. And I need a leader.

Gangs come to mind. Humans are pack animals establishing status in the mirror of our pack or tribe. Often, our status becomes our identity as a member of a tribe, our group which is separated from other tribes by some discrimination of genes, heritage, and/or ideas. Individual identity is a subset of tribal identity.

You don’t think so? Who is your favorite team in March Madness? Super Bowl? NASCAR?

Do you have a political identity? Geographic? Ethnic? Socioeconomic?

Oh, where, oh, where is this unselfishness we seek (from last week’s blog) that might liberate us from our troubles and free us to find serenity and power?

There it is, in the tribe. Serve the members of your tribe.

I had never desired to be a soldier. It was a duty of grave inconvenience to me, and I was happy to leave the Army early and return to the University of Wisconsin where I felt at home. Except…once I got there in 1971, I no longer felt really at home. So, I joined the Wisconsin Army National Guard—my tribe. I had combat medals and patches. I had status. But, more importantly, I belonged.

Until I didn’t. I lost the leadership I had respected. I no longer found a common idea to serve, and so I abandoned that tribe and went back to school. Except for a few intermissions, I have been in school ever since. School is a place I fit.

Life is a dance. Finding a tribe in which I fit is a futile challenge. Adapting to fit into a group is a dangerous endeavor. To find my tribe without losing my self AND to find my self without losing my tribe, that is my wish.

I have abandoned many groups because I could not believe in their ideas or their leadership, and in the abandoning, I lost myself.

I have found some groups accepting of me as I accept others. Working toward an important common purpose transcends trivial differences like race, language, political party, or team loyalty. Veterans’ organizations allow me to serve. Teaching allows me to serve. Serving allows me to think of others besides myself, to see our similarities rather than differences, to find unity rather than division.

When I seek ways to serve, I find myself surrounded by a tribe of others doing the same. When I stop seeking the tribe to save me from myself, I find myself accepted by a tribe.

My you find the tracks of service in your heart so that your tribe may find you.

Happy Tracking!

Profound Power

The path to serenity is through the power of unselfishness.

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.

The state of being calm, peaceful, untroubled. Have you known it? When all is right with the world—even though things are not the way you think you think they should be? There is profound power in such a state, power to create and tolerate, power to abide, to endure, to be sure.

Care to know how to get there?

“When we become hollow bones there is no limit to what the Higher Powers can do in and through us in spiritual things.” (Frank Fools Crow)

The hollow bone was the Lakota medicine man’s metaphor for himself as an empty vessel open to Power to serve others. His description of his methods for clearing himself, of emptying himself, to become ready to help heal someone who had come to him for help, shows us the path to serenity.

His is an old, familiar story. Contrary to the habits of a busy, competitive culture, this is how the universe works, and there is good reason for that.

“Nearly all men can stand adversity, but if you want to test a man’s character, give him power.” (Abraham Lincoln)

Selfish men cannot be trusted with power. Bad things happen. Power feeds their egos and their egos thirst for more power in a positive feedback loop of addiction. The more power they get, the thirstier for power they become.

Selfish people are spiritually constipated, so the power does not pass through them. They get drunk upon it, and it destroys them.

That is a familiar story, isn’t it?

Yes, you can have power without serenity, but it is not conducive to health.

Yes, you can have serenity without power, but not for long, because…if you open a window to your soul, light will enter. If you open a window from your soul to others, light will pass through you.

The light is Profound Power, and that really is all there is to it.

Oh, one more thing. If your purpose is to seek power for yourself, you are in danger of spiritual constipation.

If you seek serenity, if you choose to become a hollow bone, power will pass through you to bless others. And, it all starts with the unselfishness of emptying your ego of wants, needs, fears, and resentments, emptying yourself even of the wish for serenity—except as a state of power to serve others.

Next week we will seek this unselfishness within us. It is there.

Happy Tracking!

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!