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!

Breakfast Call

Discipline, like charity, may only count when it is done with humility.

Without apparent humility, I shall proceed to brag about my adolescent discipline.

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

I ate breakfast every morning as a boy, almost always a bowl of Wheaties with farm fresh milk and plenty of sugar. I marveled over the champions featured on the front of the box and the important reading on the back. As my testosterone levels began to increase, I became interested in growing into a champion.

One morning, I read a government physical fitness plan on the box that gave expectations for different ages. It said at my age (7th grad I believe), I should be able to do 13 push ups. Being a budding scientist, I tested that hypothesis. I did 13.

That’s fine, but champions do not aspire to mediocrity, so I did some more the next day and the next. I did push ups every day. By the time I was a high school freshman, I could do 75 push ups. Now, that is not the only reason I was a successful wrestler, but having the ability to push myself off the mat with an opponent on top of me helped make me become an escape artist. That is what wrestling is all about, to wrest, meaning to twist and pull away.

Wheaties really was the breakfast of champions, even though it was the words on the back of the box that produced the results

My point?

Discipline yields results. Reading the Wheaties box or eating the cereal did not make me a champion. Hard work did.

When I was a freshman, I was having trouble with an escape or reversal move called the switch. Coach sent a JV sophomore over to teach me. We worked and worked on it.

I worked on it myself. I practiced it at home. I practiced it right-handed and left-handed. Then I invented (re-invented) a move I learned was called the inside switched where I started the move in one direction then quickly changed to the other directions. I practiced it over and over, alone and with teammates. I used it in matches. It worked all the way through high school and into the Big Ten.

Today, I frequently lose patience with myself for what seems a lack of discipline. Yet, here I am again today, working on a blog when I could be walking in the woods, wrestling with a mini keyboard on my pad and trying to outwit a sluggish MiFi, getting impatient because I only got half the quack grass out of the garden this morning. I’ve been letting it grow.

That is another form of discipline, watching that stuff grow in my garden. But, it was necessary. Now it is strong enough so that I can dig it up and pull the roots out rather than breaking them off. So, even what felt like a lack of discipline, watching that stuff grow in my garden, was a form of discipline in patience.

Fasting requires the discipline of patience. Procrastination may be a simple form of fasting from familiar things, time to allow the conscious and subconscious minds to communicate. But, don’t forget to break that fast. Heed the call to breakfast.

Have you been hard on yourself for procrastination when it might really be the discipline of patience? Is it time for breakfast?

Happy Tracking!

My Way

It occurs to me that discipline is really fidelity to a way of life.

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.

When I think of discipline as rigorous obedience to rules, particularly as daily routine, I judge myself undisciplined. Oh, sure, I was sometimes a disciplined athlete and soldier, but I really dislike routine–even though I accept the value of routine in stress management. Routine is not my way.

What is my way?

I still have some materials from a greenhouse I bought forty years ago. I save stuff. For years I have been viewing this as a shortcoming, a lack of discipline in organization. Lately I have seen it differently.

I grew up poor, even though I didn’t really know it until I was in high school. My parents married during the depression and had five kids before Pearl Harbor followed by this early Baby Boomer. Waste was a sin although they didn’t call it that. We just didn’t do it.

I am a disciplined eater. There is very seldom anything left on my plate. “Take all you can eat, but eat all you take.” We were poor but not hungry because we lived on a farm. We grew and hunted our food. Somehow, when you produce your own food through sweat and discipline, it becomes too valuable to waste. That is the way my family lived and a way I call mine.

I am embarrassed to throw out food. It shames me.

I give things away. From time to time I force myself to go through the anguish of choosing what to keep, what to discard, what to sell, and what to donate. I hate those decisions even though the process is liberating.

In reflection this week, I admitted I learned this from my father. If we needed a board, we went to a stack of boards between the chicken house and the tractor shed. If we needed a link of chain, we searched the tractor shed or the garage. If we wanted worms for fishing, we dug them. When I needed training halters for my show calves, I braided them from used baler twine from our hay or straw. When my mother wanted to make me a bat boy uniform for my uncle’s softball team, she searched scraps of material and discarded clothes, cut them down, and sewed it.

A few weeks ago, I pulled a beautiful rock out of the woods to make a rock garden for Nancy. I found out a length of pipe I had bought for a project and not used. It was along side a shed waiting. I also made a stone boat of sorts with a plastic sheet I bought to drag deer but never used. I had them because I saved them, you know, just in case I might need them someday. That is my way and I am true to it.

It is not hoarding; it is recognizing potential utility in things and refusing to discard them. It is not organized; it is messy. But, it is ultimately pragmatic, and I am tired of being apologetic. I am not undisciplined. I am true to my way, and my way works for me just as it worked for my family.

My mother was disciplined in the garden, and I share that way. I like a productive garden, and I prefer to keep it free of weeds. It is a sense of pride, accomplishment, and independence to harvest my own food, but I also plant for the utility of beauty. I cannot garden without fond memories of my mother.

My father took care of both crops and livestock. While he did not fuss over appearances, he took great lengths to keep them healthy, and he never allowed animals to suffer. In animal husbandry, he was devoted and disciplined. Whenever I get to help on my brother’s farm where we grew up, I remember my father’s way. It is my way, now.

What is your way? Deep down inside, back to your pre-trauma self, do you find tracks of fidelity to a way of life that is disciplined in your own way?

Happy Tracking!

Free Safety

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Do you have a way of life? A playbook?

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

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

Happy Tracking!

Be Longing

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Happy Tracking!

Quiet Love

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Happy Father’s Day.

Happy Tracking.

Philanthropy Lost

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

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

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

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

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

Then we learn to judge.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

But I am prejudiced.

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

Happy Tracking!