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!

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!