Let It Rain

Acceptance is the key that unlocks Faith.

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. April aspires to Faith.

Recovery is a grieving process, for we have lost something of ourselves in the traumas of our experiences. We have left something of our youthful exuberance, even innocence, and joy for living. The person we were no longer exists. The world we knew before our trauma no longer exists, and that is the hard truth of it.

The wife I lost because of that truth told me she always thought I had lost my soul in Vietnam. There is an irritating grain of truth in that observation.

It was not my soul that was lost in combat. It was Faith. I no longer had the faith that the world works the way I had thought, the way I had believed it should.

The subconscious response to that faith-shattering conclusion is to fix it. Change it. Change the world.

So, we go through some stages of grief. We continue to negotiate the past in the sub consciousness of our nightmares, in our feelings, in the part of our minds (yes, brains, too) that process information irrationally.

This time it will turn out different. This time they won’t die. This time I will see it coming. This time, this time, this time….

I am a problem solver. It is what I do. Drives my wife crazy. Whenever she tells me about something she finds unacceptable, I fix it—or, I try. No, that is not a consequence of combat trauma, but it is an exaggerated development of a pre-trauma tendency. I had studied science because it is a problem solving enterprise.

I cannot fix Vietnam. I cannot save the two million Cambodians lost in the “Killing Fields.” And, I cannot regain my zeal for Cytogenetics that I had in 1968. Not ever.

But, I can accept it.

Yes, I know that feels, somehow, as abandoning those who were lost. Yes, I know that sounds like surrender. I know. I know.

When I feel myself sinking into despair deep in the chasm between the grief stages of anger and acceptance, when I forget acceptance is on the other side of that rift of depression, I find myself wandering to the arms of Nature. There I find acceptance, and Faith begins to grow, again.
During my first Vision Quest on our land in northern Wisconsin, it rained. It rained all night (8 inches), washing out roads, flooding my stream valley, sinking boats. It was wonderful.

“For after all, the best thing one can do when it is raining is let it rain.” (Henry Wadsworth Longfellow)

Some of my thinking will never change. That is real as rain. My thinker is broken. Now, what?

The moment I accept the reality of my condition, it ceases to be an active addiction. I can learn ways of compensating. I can learn new ways of thinking. I can remember that Faith is free, over there on the other side of depression, holding hands with Acceptance.

From Vision Quests I have learned that I can gain acceptance in four days.

Of course, I can lose it in four seconds. My answer is to make life one Great Vision Quest.

Recovery is a quest for Vision. It is a process of seeing the tracks of our pre-trauma selves, deep down inside, in places we have thought dead.

Happy Tracking!

V Is for Vulnerability

Wait, what? I thought “V” was for Valor?

There is no valor without vulnerability. True, vulnerability does not produce valor, but it is a prerequisite condition for the expression of it. Valor is a courageous behavioral response to trauma. Vulnerability is the escape from denial of trauma.

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. April aspires to Faith.

Many months ago, I hit a pickup truck with my motorcycle. I was riding along a two-lane street at 40 mph on a December Sunday morning in Yuma, just living life, and I saw this older pickup begin to pull out from a stop sign on my right. I saw the front wheels turning and a young woman behind the wheel.

I recall hearing myself think, “She’s not going to pull out in front of me.” Yes, she was.

I braked and swerved to the right to go behind her. I thought I was going to make it all the way up to the time I was bouncing off her truck and muttering something profane, probably quite aloud.

The next thing I knew I was up walking around and a jogger I had just passed was asking me if I was alright. He looked at my chin and said that I might need stitches.

“Am I bleeding?” I asked.

“My hand hurts,” I said, and pulled off my left glove to find a laceration, actually a tear, on the inside of my ring finger, right where a ring might have been.

Another motorist stopped and used my phone to call the police while the jogger checked on the young lady. She was unhurt but shaken and sitting in a bunch of broken glass. I deduced that I had smacked her mirror, on that foldable aluminum frame pickups used to have, through her door window.

I had some bruises on my left hand, a couple of raspberries on my chin, and that little tear in my finger. That was all. My bike took the worst of it, but it is all better now, too.

I have pieced together what happened. There is a lot of traffic on 40th Street in the Yuma Foothills, particularly because I had just passed two large churches and was approaching two more small ones. The young lady, who did not have a license, was looking for a break in the traffic to her right and pulled out, but when she saw me, she stopped—otherwise I could have gotten around her. I still might have made it had I not hit her mirror with the shoulder armor in my jacket. That jerked me left into the side of her truck.

Of course I knew that riding motorcycle is a vulnerable act. It is a risk element activity. Combat veterans like that. But, until that day, I had only known it in my head, logically. Now I know it in my bones, emotionally.

I feel the vulnerability every time I ride. I watch all movements, especially front wheels. I am always expecting people to pull out in front of me or, worse, turn left across my lane.

There is one particularly bad road right by my house on the way home from work. I have to make a left turn onto four lanes at a light. So far, so good. There is an immediate Walmart entrance and exit on my right. I have to change into the right lane (and lots of people here turn left directly into that lane, as behind me). One block ahead is another Walmart street entrance and exit where vehicles pull out in front of me from the right. Other oncoming traffic turns left across in front of me.

That is more vulnerability than I am willing to endure, especially during winter when I come home in the dark. I seldom ride my bike to work anymore during the Snowbird season, November to March, and, yes, it makes me feel rather cowardly.

It is a terrible thing for a man who has faced the fire with diligence and something approaching valor to have to face his own vulnerability, but it happens to all of us. We get old, our eyesight fades, our reactions slow, and we get a lot smarter, smart enough to recognize the dangers.

We generally have two ways to face those realities:
1. We get depressed; or,
2. We get angry.

Sometimes we vacillate between the two.

Perhaps you can find tracks of vulnerability in your heart, but don’t dwell on them long.

We will soon address the cure: Acceptance.

Shades of Anger

Sometimes we have to be angry. We HAVE to be angry. Sometimes.

Still, anger is always a painful alternative to Faith.

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. April aspires to Faith.

Anger is a feeling, an intense, unpleasant, often painful feeling.

So, why do we have to be angry, sometimes?

Because the alternative to individuals with Post Traumatic Stress symptoms is depression, and depression kills.

Anger swallowed is guilt—which leads to depression.

Anger accepted from others is shame—which leads to depression.

Anger blamed on others is resentment—which is poison to the mind, body, and soul, but it may avoid depression, temporarily.

Anger fueled becomes rage—which leads to loss of control and prison (or worse).

Lest I rouse anger, allow me to remind you that I am neither psychologist nor sociologist. I’m just an old soldier trying to claw his way back to mental and spiritual health who has done a little research.

Okay, now, resentment fueled becomes war—which leads to anger, guilt, shame, resentment, rage, and more war. That is a positive feedback loop that defines disease.

Oh, and anger turned sideways is comedy (of a sort), especially satire and sarcasm.

Getting depressed? Time to bring in the experts, a group of kindergarteners addressing the pain and remedy for anger in a short video called, “Just Breathe.”

Yes, I know, it is not that simple for those who have survived traumatic experiences, but it is good advice on two counts:
1. Anger does hurt; and,
2. Mindful breathing does help.

Here is the problem as I see it. The beast is chasing us toward the cliff and great chasm, a less than gorgeous gorge. If we leap, we will surely die. If we surrender to the beast, we will surely die. If we focus all of our energy by turning and fighting the beast, we just might survive for a little while—maybe.

Ah, but there is a bridge, flimsy ropes with a few rotting boards on the bottom, swinging in the wind; but, it crosses the chasm.

Are you afraid of heights?

Running across that bridge requires an act of faith, faith in the materials, the engineers, yourself, and maybe God Almighty.

And, there is our problem, a lack of Faith. It is hard to have faith in engineers you have never met (or, people at all) and a God that seems to have let you down, you know, back there in that ungodly experience of trauma.

No, I am not suggesting a leap of Faith. Your vulnerability is real and it can kill you. We will discuss that next week before we get to a way of escaping the beast.

In the meantime, you might take a brief look at the tracks of your anger, but be good to yourself.

Happy Tracking!

V is for Valor

“Valor is a gift. Those having it never know for sure whether they have it till the test comes. And those having it in one test never know for sure if they will have it when the next test comes.” (Carl Sandburg)

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. April aspires to Faith.

Every defect of my character that I have had the courage to face has had the stench of fear. Every moral indecision, every ethical dilemma, every regretted omission or transgression, has always been traceable back to a hidden fear, a fear I had kept even from myself.

Every shadow of resentment, every rick of rage, every shock of angst or anger, has always left tracks back to some fear.

Fear is not the culprit; my choice in each and every case, that is the culprit. Fear is not the cause, but it is the impetus. To yield to fear is the coward’s surrender.

“Doubt is a pain too lonely to know that faith is his twin brother.” (Kahil Gibran)

The pain of doubt is the great fear of the human heart. We ignore it, poison it, deny it, hide it and from it, but we seldom face it. For the sincere heart, this is a great dilemma: Shall I admit the frailties of my doubt and concede cowardice, or shall I deny my pain and concede conceit of the false hero?

No. Dichotomies are the false reasoning of a fearful heart. There is another way. What is it?

Perhaps valor is a gift I do not deserve.

No. Life is not a contest we win or lose. Competitive culture is the false affect of a fearful heart. There are enough gifts for all of us and deserving is not a factor. Willingness is.

Am I willing to accept valor? Am I willing to accept the consequences of valor?

I wonder this: Where shall I carry this gift called valor if my satchel is full of the treasures of my fears and resentments? How shall I accept a gift of valor if my hands are full of the denials of my doubts?

Would you like freedom from doubt?

“Out of the Indian approach to life there came a great freedom, an intense and absorbing respect for life, enriching faith in a Supreme Power, and principles of truth, honesty, generosity, equity, and brotherhood as a guide to mundane relations.” (Luther Standing Bear Oglala Sioux)

It is a culmination of my observations of humanity past and present that all human demise, including the collapse of great cultures before history, has always been a direct result of man relying on the magic of man, the technologies of the times and the illusions of power in those technologies.

Life is no illusion. The Native American way of life, like so many aboriginal peoples’, remains faithful to the laws governing water and air, light and darkness, bear and cricket, and the Faith and fear of human existence. I find comfort in these laws for no person or group has the power to change them. The laws of Nature are immutable and unavoidable. All else is illusion.

Inside you, deep down at the bottom of your satchel of treasures, beneath your collection of fears and resentments, do you find tracks of valor rooted in Faith?

Happy Tracking!

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!