Category Archives: Quest for Etymoken (Kinship and Kindness)

Dark Adventure

In America’s pre-dawn darkness on Friday, December 21st, 2012, our sun will reach its extreme southern position on our horizon—and people will die.
They will die because they are afraid.
They will die to avoid adventure.
For those of us living in the northern hemisphere, this is our longest night, our longest wait for the light of our sun. It is a dark season for us. For Christians, it is Advent. We wait.
This year we wait for the unknown. We wait for the change—maybe the end of the world as we know it—and we are afraid.
If the world does not immediately end on that day, we will face the cold. As my dad used to say, “When the days begin to lengthen, the cold begins to strengthen.”
But, the sun is coming back. The days are getting longer. Shouldn’t it be getting warmer?
All seasons lag. There is a delay as the long nights continue to take their toll. Winter follows the solstice,
February was always, ironically, my longest month. Spring still seemed so far away.
But it is coming, which is the meaning of advent, and our time between now and then is always an adventure. Because we do not know what comes, exactly, and we do not know what awaits us between now and then, between pain and salvation, between birth and death.
That is precisely what makes life an adventure.
In many ways, 2012 is no different from any other Advent season. We never know what the season brings or the new year (or, the new century, millennium, or age). Life is always adventure.
Earth will turn on Friday and the sun will rise over America as all other lands. The old adage, “It is always darkest before the dawn,” is figurative only. This year, our moon is in first quarter on Winter Solstice, so it will light our sky before sunrise, reflecting the sun’s light, foretelling its coming.
If we can but read the signs.
Pessimists among us decry change and adventure. They claim the world is ending, and fearing change, take their own lives. Sometimes they take the lives of others. Because they are afraid.
I watched a movie recently in which a young couple was stranded in the Grand Canyon. The husband lost his leg and suffered fever. As he lay near death, wolves approached. To save him from the wolves, his bride took his life—only moments before the sound of the approaching rescue helicopter.
Optimists see a Mayan prophecy of changing worlds, a grand spiritual shift from selfishness to cooperation among people. They see hope in adventure where others see despair.
Who is right?
Both. Seasons always lag. There will be more darkness. But seasons will change, light will return, Spring will come, and humans will evolve.
It will not be easy. It will be adventure.

Recipe for Joy

Science of Joy IV: Re Quest

I invented a great recipe for acorn squash. It may not be the best recipe in the world, but if you like squash, you will likely enjoy my recipe.

Several years ago, I created an acronym to teach an order of survival. I took the Sacred Order taught by Tom Brown’s Tracking, Nature, and Wilderness Survival School and added one thing up front. What I did not teach high school students is that this order is also a recipe for living joy.

First, a little aside: Life is not supposed to be easy. Comfort, abundance, and security are not requirements for joy; in fact, they may make it more difficult to experience joy. Trials, tribulations, and danger are opportunities for personal growth and success. There is joy in a lifeboat.  Okay, back to the recipe.

B. S.A.F.E. The term, SAFE, represents the Sacred Order: Shelter, Agua, Fire, and Eat. (Actually, I was taught shelter, water, fire, and food, but SWFF makes no sense to me.) I added the B to stand for Breathe, a rather obvious survival requirement. Let’s leave that for last as we apply the recipe to Joy.

Shelter – Protect yourself from all things that steal your joy. If Fox News or MSNBC causes stress, turn it off. If crowded rooms trigger hyper vigilance and irritability, avoid them-or, shield yourself with friends, focus, and planned avenues of escape. If caffeine causes or elevates anxiety and agitation, drink decaf. This takes a little diligence in recording experiences and a lot of honesty in evaluating consequences. Joy is worth it.

Agua – Okay, this may take some mental gymnastics. The majority of our bodies is water. The majority of the biosphere, the thin layer of Earth occupied by most life, is water. It is our connection to each other and to Earth. Moreover, water is literally shared as we recycle, drink, and urinate it. We also create and destroy water through respiration and photosynthesis. Earth is a water-based planet with carbon-based life. Life happens only in water (even in the desert) because our chemistry is occurring only in water. Using water as our metaphor, connect to others. I find two ways to do this: First, I touch nature (a sunrise, desert verbena, my dog’s humor, or a thunderstorm); Second, I touch people. Okay, this one is more difficult for me. Without Nancy, I would be a recluse. With Nancy, I enjoy time with family and friends.

Fire – Another metaphor, but common. Find your passion. There are volumes, maybe libraries of volumes, written about this subject. It comes down to admitting what lights your fire because, when on fire, little annoyances and very large obstacles diminish to insignificance. Life is an emotional sport. There are many pathways to enlightenment, but passion is the key to enjoying the journey.

Eat – We are what we eat, and that includes everything we take into this thing we call self. Sugar makes me feel yucky. Caffeine makes me grumpy. Self indulgence makes me pity myself. Basically, our joy depends upon what we do to feed our minds and souls. If we eat a diet heavy in conflict and discord, joy will evade us. Try a diet of charity. You might enjoy it.

Breathe – This reminds me to live in the moment. Breathe in and breathe out with intention. Focus on the moment. That is where joy lives. Fear lives in the future and resentment in the past. You go to either at your own peril (See Shelter, above). Sure, this is a reference to meditation. Have you ever considered living your entire life in meditation?

Some great recipes are this simple. Bake the squash as usual (inverted halves on a Pammed cookie sheet). Turn up and sprinkle with Sea salt, pepper medley, and pumpkin pie spice. Add butter or margarine. Warm in oven until hungry.

If you dare try either of my recipes, especially B SAFE, I really would like to read your comments.

Live in the moment, and enjoy the journey.

Seasons of Sorrow

Science of Joy III: Public Rug

How do we teach joy inside and outside of our institutions of learning?

I left for college in 1964 and never went back home other than short visits. I even worked during Christmas break cleaning dorm rooms. Still, I remember spending time with family during the holidays with a cloud over my head. The semester did not end until January, and I had final exams to take. While this insanity of school calendar seems to have passed for most college students, it remains in many public high schools. We place an academic damper on the joy of our students.

Winter holiday time is stressful; evidence abounds in suicide rates. I wonder why that might be. I have heard some speculations about seasonal affective disorder, expectations of failed expectations, people missing family, and so on. While all of these may be true, I suspect the root cause is much simpler. We do not teach our children how to be joyful. It is not part of the curriculum. I suppose schools are leaving that up to the family.

Our larger institutions seem to lack joy, as well. Especially when Christmas comes during campaign season—and that seems to be every year, recently—we are inundated with everything that is wrong with our country, real and imagined. News cycles focus on tragedy, conspiracy, and calamity.

Fear is not conducive to joy.

We seem to believe we can buy joy.

Science seems to indicate otherwise. The more stuff we accumulate, the more we seem to fear losing it, and the more we seem to believe we need. We teach our children by our actions. Gluttony of mammon is an inherited disease, and there is no joy in it.

Grim post, isn’t it? It doesn’t have to be. This is the season for giving. Giving without any thought of thanks or reward is a certain pathway to joy. There are other avenues, but all have one thing in common: humility in diminution of ego. Sorry, I don’t have scientific evidence at hand to validate this claim. Do you? I would love to read your comments.

Maybe we need only remind ourselves to enjoy what we have. Certainly, material security in air, water, food, and shelter is important. Joy, however, comes not from our security or other blessings, but in our opportunities to share. Isn’t that the real message of the Season of Joy? Let us teach this to ourselves, families, friends, and strangers through our actions.

All I want for Christmas is time to share a little joy.

Whatever your faith, I hope you enjoy the journey.

Joy, Sex, and Rage

Science of Joy II: Mind Wind

One story lead this week claims that brain chemistry during meditation is similar to brain chemistry during sex.

Note to self: Meditate more often.

Perhaps schools should be teaching meditation rather than abstinence.

Nah. This requires discipline because we lack a meditation drive. A quarter century of teaching teenagers has taught me a couple of things: 1) Many lack discipline (much like the rest of us); 2) Many are creative enough to try both at the same time (along with other joy-simulating stuff).

A quick look at the history of sex reveals that many cultures consider it a spiritual activity. Furthermore, a recent news story covered a therapy program teaching people how to avoid STDs and the complications of dating by using visualization (meditation) as an alternative. But, this post is not really about sex. It is about joy.

Science can and does study joy. We observe physical (electrical) and chemical (e.g. neurotransmitter) changes associated with feelings or states of joy. These can be identified, qualified, and even quantified in some cases.

The winds of my mind tell me we spend a great deal of our lives seeking joy through chocolate or cognac, success or fame, love or security, status or stuff. We are often deceived. Like the habitual body gyrations of a batter at the plate, we go through a dance of drink and song, food and fashion, job and hobby, all to recreate a feeling we had—that’s the key—had, in the past.

Perhaps we could apply some principles of science to establish causal relationships between our activities and our feelings. We can study them. Others have. We can learn from their joy and pain.

Follow your bliss. Find it. Seek it. It may be on the other side of effort or even pain. Do the work. There are no short-cuts.

Note to self: Hard physical work often is followed by a feeling of joy.

I cannot end this post without mentioning PTSD, post traumatic stress disorder. Stress can change our physical brain structures and our brain chemistry. Production of joy-stimulating chemicals is diminished so that a nagging feeling of dread is common. Furthermore, it becomes more challenging to find activities that produce the chemicals of joy.

Another complication is adrenalin. The ability to catabolize stress-response chemicals out of our system is also diminished. This leaves us with a prolonged stress response in the form of rage that can last acutely for days. It also persists in chronic low grade. Rage is not only a substitute for the high of battle, but it masks our feelings of vulnerability.

Rage becomes our substitute for joy.

Recovery from combat PTSD (www.ErvBarnes.com), and probably other forms, can be as simple as a journey of learning how to enjoy life, again. It becomes imperative that we learn how to follow our bliss. Science is beginning to help. Hurray for science.

Enjoy the journey.

Science of Joy I: God’s Art

This is the season of anticipation of joy. For the next four weeks, I would like to explore the possibility of abundance and joy as appropriate for our human experience. Even as our hemisphere endures the coming of our darkest hours and the austerity of winter’s demands, we can rely upon the bounty of our harvests just celebrated and prepare for spring. We can celebrate our blessings and rely upon hope.

What does Our Creator teach us about joy through His art of Nature?

Last summer I walked the trails of Florence County land with my new camera. High in the sky above the sugar maples I spotted a raven and decided to experiment with the automatic focus and fast-frame shooting on a setting for motion. To my surprise, I was able to catch the bird in flight with a few shots. Here is one picture blown up several times.

Diving Raven

Only when I looked at the enlarged photos did I realize what this bird was doing. He or she was playing. Ravens are not predators hunting by diving. They do not snatch prey from the air as falcons do. For some reason that sure looks like sheer joy, this probably young bird was flying aerobatics, soaring high and tumbling into a dive, then pulling up, again. We can learn a lot from ravens. Do we still play? Do we live our joy?

Puppies play—and coyotes, foxes, wolves, bears, cougars, otters. When is the last time we enjoyed watching them play?

Deer are curious. Several years ago, I cut many aspen saplings to clear an area, so I dragged them down by the edge of the open stream valley to make a hunting blind. I watched one doe walking across the valley on a trail in front of the blind. She took notice of my work and turned off her course, stepping right over my saplings and into the blind. For several moments, she looked around, smelling, as if to ponder the question about what this thing might be. Are we still curious? Do we wonder? Or, even notice something new?

Enjoyment might be simpler than this. One of the exercises I offered to students in Solar Starship was a quiet sit in Nature. Go to some natural place where you can enjoy peace and solitude. Walk into the area as slowly and quietly as you can. Sit, preferably right on the ground or log for half an hour or more—until time no longer matters. Clear your mind and simply observe God’s art. Walk back from your sit area taking at least twice as long as walking in. Write your reactions, especially how you feel.

Many students did this, and the reports they shared with me confirm that most enjoyed it. If you have never tried such a thing, give yourself a gift this season. If you have experienced this but it has been too long, give yourself a gift. You don’t need wilderness. Even your own back yard may suffice, but I prefer more animals and fewer people to observe. Animals seem to enjoy life more.

Observe the plants, the rocks and water, even the air. Feel a part of it. Be a part of it. Then, come back here and post your comments for others to share. I will give myself a gift and post my comment tomorrow.

Enjoy.

Miracle of Gratitude

Late in the year of 2008, I accepted two related ideas: 1) I was not as happy as I wanted to be; and, 2) I was not as grateful as I needed to be. With the counsel of happier and more grateful friends, I began 2009 with the commitment to write one small gratitude statement in a daily meditation book—a different gratitude each day. Perhaps I missed three days that year, but I made up all my late work.

2009 was a very good year. Something wonderful happened along the way. I found humility (I hadn’t even noticed it was lost). And, there, behind humility, gratitude was waiting for me.

For those of you familiar with the works of one Nazarene, I have a word: Beatitudes.

Misery is a blessing. Power is in paradox, although I do not believe it is at all paradoxical except at a superficial level. Misery is a condition from which we learn. It is humbling. What we learn from such experiences is the blessing. We learn gratitude—if, and only if, we are willing.

Gratitude feels good. It is practically impossible to do evil when grateful. In gratitude, we act from love—and love comes back to us. That is not a paradox. It is the way our universe works.

Okay. I am going way out on a limb here. We have the experiences we request. Prayers are answered. I’ll try to explain.

I watch a movie, To Hell and Back, and wonder, “Would I be brave?” I really want to know. It occupies my mind for years. Then, I get the answer.

Nobody tells me, “Erv, you are brave.” I’m a skeptic. I wouldn’t believe a statement like that. The answer comes in an opportunity to be brave. The opportunity is peril of war.

In 1968, under imminent threat of military draft, I signed a guaranteed enlistment contract with the U.S. Army to train and employ as a Chemical Staff Specialist. It was my attempt to control my own destiny. Within a few days of swearing in, however, I surrendered that guarantee for the opportunity to attend Infantry Officer Candidate School with only one guarantee: I would go to Vietnam.

To this day, November 21st, 2011, I have been confused about why I did that. Why did this peacenik agriculture student volunteer to do such a thing? My friend used my words this morning to answer my question: Go before show.

Permit me an aside. I have disliked yellow ribbons on cars because I felt it was all show and no go. I never wore one. Now that I have an opportunity to advocate for Veterans with combat PTSD through Beyond the Blood Chit (www.ErvBarnes.com) and related personal appearances, I feel entitled to wear a yellow ribbon because I am, indeed, supporting our troops through my actions.

I never had to prove my courage in the way of Audey Murphy, but I did do my duty under fire. Today, I am grateful to know that about myself. Even though many comrades came home dead and wounded while I was unscratched, I have become grateful for my safe return and for the experience which now allows me to reach out to support our troops. Survivor’s guilt has evaporated. Anger over perceived injustices has dissipated. Gratitude remains.

Many days I still find myself wallowing in the muck and mire of self pity. I stare at the fears of the future and regrets of the past rather than the blessings of my present moment. Certainly, I need to focus on these blessings more than once a year or even once a day, but Thanksgiving is a season of gratitude. I celebrate it. Happy Thanksgiving to you all.

Re Quest: Honoring Duty

I have a confession to make. Those yellow ribbons on cars irritate me. They make me angry. You know the ones—they say Support our Troops. I don’t know what that means. I always want to turn on a red light, pull them over, and ask exactly what they actually DO that supports troops. Okay, I have a little Vietnam Syndrome now called PTSD.

When I returned, I did have a positive experience. My friend and I came home together, and we flew from Seattle to Minneapolis on a red-eye. A group of good ol’ boys on a hunting trip bought us drinks the whole flight, and we drank for effect in those days, especially when someone else was buying. Still, we felt the collective angst and disapproval toward us by our society. We felt un-thanked and unsupported. I want to thank and support our troops. I just don’t believe a yellow ribbon can do that in any meaningful way. If you have one on your car, that’s okay. This is my problem, not yours. Maybe you can tell me how you go about supporting our troops. I want to know.

Opportunities for me to cross paths with active and retired military are abundant in Yuma, AZ. We have two major and famous facilities in our area: Yuma Marine Corp Air Station with one of the country’s largest runways; and Yuma Proving Ground, one of the largest geographical testing sites in the country. How can I support these troops and Veterans?

This has not been easy for me, but I have found some ways. There are meetings to help troops and Veterans recover from combat experiences and adjust to civilian life. Community groups sponsor workshops, forums, and celebrations that offer individual and family support. No matter where you live, you probably have something nearby in the form of a Veterans Affairs clinic or center, or maybe just a community office. If nothing else, you probably have a National Guard or Reserve unit. Make a connection.

I offer written and spoken words. It is something I can do. I am not an organizer, fund raiser, counselor, or leader, but I can write and speak as an advocate for our troops and Veterans. I can share my story. It isn’t much, but if it helps even one person, it improves several lives—the life of that one troop or Veteran, the lives of his/her family and friends, the lives of other troops and Veterans helped by that person passing it along, and one more: me. Being of service is important for my wellbeing. Helping others is a very meaningful way for me to help myself.

Many of our people returning from regions of conflict bear invisible wounds (including those who also have visible wounds). They have troubling symptoms. Most of these will persist and even get worse over time. Our troops will attempt to cope with these symptoms. Many of these ways of coping—alcohol and other drugs, anger/rage, work or hobby immersion, isolation, etc.—are destructive. This defines a disease process, and we can help.

What do we do about breast cancer? Diabetes? Depression?

Action starts with awareness. We can learn about symptoms, treatments, recovery, and support mechanisms. Yes, I always seem to get back to learning as a solution to real problems. That is not because I taught—it is why I teach. Learning matters.

On my website (www.ErvBarnes.com), I suggest Awareness, Acceptance, and Adaptation as the recovery process. It is meant to be suggestive only, my way of looking at things. You can start your investigation there. You will find links to @ervbarnes on Twitter and Erv Barnes Ink on Facebook where I retweet and share PTSD information. Any search for PTSD will get you started. Wherever you go for information, please start now. We can support our troops and Veterans IF, and only if, we know how.

Please share comments with readers here about how you support troops and Veterans. What you say and do matters.

Note: The next thread of Quest for Etymoken will be much more positive, the Science of Joy, and will posted on Wednesdays. The writing thread posts, Journey for Authority, will be made on Mondays. You are the reason for these changes since my data says you like reading on Mondays and Wednesdays.