Tag Archives: ego

Heart and Soul

The heart of a dairy farm may be in the barn, but the soul is in the soil, and my ego is grounded in both. Status of a farm boy is embodied in chores, and mine included duties inside and outside our barn. Rites of passage became new chores requiring greater skill and more responsibility.

NOTE: This blog series is dedicated to the quest for understanding who I am and how I came to be me.

My dad was a dirt farmer. I say that with pride of the narrow meaning of the term: a man who farms his own soil, land he owns. That was a big deal in our family. Mom and dad only bought that farm a year or so before I was born. Before that, they were share croppers.

I never knew my Grandpa Barnes because he died when Dad was about fifteen. Being one of the younger children of a family of twelve, my dad went to live with older siblings until he was old enough to find a job as a hired man, a young man working on a farm for room and board plus a few dollars. It was many years before a WWII need for farmers provided opportunities for sharecroppers to buy farms with little money down.

Dad never let go of that land. He was still spending summers there and working on the farm when he was seventy-eight. One brother lives in the house and our other brother and I help out a little every summer. There is a spiritual umbilical cord none of us wishes to cut.

We grew up in that barn and on that land—we might as well grow old there, too. We learned to work, to take care of livestock, to till the land, and to care for each other on that farm. One fear I have never had is the thought of being homeless. And, when I think about how I became me, I think about that farm.

It was a proud moment the day I graduated from scraping the barn to sweeping it. Scraping then became the chore of the younger boy my mom cared for during the day while his widowed mother worked. I was no longer the baby. Soon, the two of us could scrape, sweep, and lime the barn. There is real pride in viewing a clean barn aisle you created.

I carried a soup can with kerosene through the garden, one of my earliest memories. My job was picking the potato bugs off our potato plants and dropping them into the can. Killing is a part of gardening, a part of farming, and I gave no thought to it. It was my job.

Planting was more fun. Mom would hoe a small fresh hole in the soil Dad had tilled, and I would drop in the seeds. We planted a lot of garden that way and I never tired of it. Many years later I did the same with my daughters. Once when they were teenagers, I kept them both busy at the same time running the hoe—a two row planter.

To this day soil calls me. I hurry home to our land in the north woods to plant garden in spring. It isn’t for the harvest, because we frequently leave before the season, but for the planting. It’s funny how those childhood things remain so important so long.

But, they were important. We lived on the products of that barn and garden. It was survival, but it was so much more. It was security and comfort and reality. When I was young, it was all I knew. When we wanted popcorn, we went to the back room and got some ears of popcorn, shelled them into a pan, winnowed them in the breeze on our porch, and then went to the stove. And before we could get that popcorn from the back room, we had to till the soil, plant the seeds, hoe the weeds, pick the corn, and dry, husk, and store it.

It was the same with almost everything we ate. Even the apples and peaches we bought were canned or pickled for winter. Maybe it seems like such a life is tenuous or even dangerous, depending upon your own hands to grow your own food, but I see the opposite. It is freedom: freedom from want, freedom from fear of scarcity, and freedom from dependence upon uncertain times.

Yes, I think that has a lot to do with my view of the world. “A country boy can survive.”

If he has land. And family. That is security.

I find no wonder that people without land and family get scared and angry, get mean and crazy. Especially when they cannot work to earn money to buy food they cannot hunt or grow. My heart and soul have never had to live that fear. I was a lucky boy.

Holy Duty

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. December investigates charity.

We cannot experience charity by sharing ourselves with others unless we can accept ourselves, even our egos. Yes, the goal of many spiritual growth paradigms is to abandon ego; however, in my lay opinion, abandoning ego completely may lead to spiritual enlightenment and physical death. I aim to abandon the ego as the center of my existence.

And, that brings us to duty.

“Holiness is not the luxury of the few. It is a simple duty for you and for me.” (Mother Teresa)

I have made a leap from lay psychology to spirituality of the masses (pun intended). Come on, you knew it was coming. I have given you enough Jungian kind of psychology to expect some commitment to the unconscious.

This has been a challenging week for the entire concept of duty—with the release of the torture report. Last week I had searched for duty quotes and found many that are negative or inappropriate for this blog. I think the explanation is fairly simple: Egocentric duty is damned dangerous.

I recall a story about young Mother Teresa, but I could not find it. It claimed she was so moved by the hunger of the people she cared for that she gave away her own meager lunch. Day after day. And, being of youthful metabolism, she soon began to weaken until a superior noticed her failing stature and inquired. Young Mother Teresa was admonished to eat her lunch.

The point of the story? Unless we keep ourselves alive and reasonably healthy, we will have no strength, even no life, perhaps, to share with others.

I do not know if the story is true about Mother Teresa, but I know it is true about me.

It is the oxygen mask rule. In the case of a sudden loss of cabin pressure in the airplane, your oxygen mask will drop from the overhead panel. Put it on as demonstrated. If you are traveling with a dependent, put your mask on first so that you will be able to help your child or mother traveling with you.

That is why I say we must not abandon our ego—only put it in its proper place.

Proper place?

Yes, in service to others.

I am not Mother Teresa. Neither are you, I’ll bet, or you would not be reading my blog. We are people wounded by life, sure, but more than that, we are people with different duties, different callings.

Duty to whom?

Oh, no. You are not going to trick me into giving you my meager lunch. I have a deep conviction about my calling, my mission in life, and I am trying to live that. My gratitude is that I have been blessed with opportunities to serve others in that calling and that I continue to be so blessed.

For each of you, I pray such a blessing.

But, I am not a missionary to the poor. I am a teacher and occasional minister to the poor in spirit.

Who are you?

Whom do you serve?

There are very old ways of answering those most personal questions, ways that have much in common across indigenous cultures, ways that do not fail when the ego has been relegated to service, for then we become blessed with the joy of charity, of giving of ourselves, of doing our personal duty.

“Is it I, Lord?” (Daniel O’Donnell)

The answers are inside you, deep down beyond your ego, and they are Holy.

Happy Tracking!

Size Matters

“The true nature of anything is what it becomes at its highest.”                     (Aristotle in Hart, 2000, p. 132)

Reminder: For the past few months, this blog has been dedicated to my reflections on a book by Ashley B. Hart II, PhD, called An Operators Manual for Combat PTSD: Essays for Coping.

We are wounded in heart, mind, and soul. Some of the wounds may heal but others never will. Our lives, as determined by our own behaviors, will depend upon how we defend ourselves against the pain and threats we perceive, the ways we protect ourselves psychologically, the ways we defend our self essence known as ego.

There are big ways, small ways, and some in between. The small ways are easy and automatic. Big ways require efforts of diligence and learning. Medium is another way of saying mediocre.

Your happiness—and that of your family, friends, and neighbors—depends upon the size of your recovery.

Dr. Hart refers to three categories of defense mechanisms as immature, common (neurotic), and mature. I call them small, medium, and large—mostly because I balk at calling aging Veterans immature.

The most primitive defenses are rooted in anger, dread, and expectation of harm. I woke up with a familiar sense of dread again this morning. I face most days with an expectation of harm, and I am quick to anger. Oh, come on, I am almost always a little to a lot angry. Good news? These are not behaviors.

If I stay small in my ego defense, in my response to feelings of personal vulnerability to mortal attack, I will act small. Blaming and tilting at windmills are the results. I may spend my efforts finding faults with others while attacking people, institutions, and principles which bear no real responsibility for my feelings.

We tend to complain, procrastinate, or even bait others with manipulative behavior. In anticipation of rejection or judgment, we pretaliate. Not a word? It should be. We retaliate against what we project a person will do—before s/he has done anything. We treat others as though they have already done to us what we fear they might do. Sounds familiar, doesn’t it? Yes, nations reflect the fears of people.

A moderately more mature path is response not to vulnerability of death, but to threat for self-worth, safety, and self-esteem. Three common reactions Dr. Hart talks about are Command and Control, Bunker Down, and On the Road Again. I am guilty of all.

Any perceived threat is usually addressed with planning, preparation, and problem solving; however, when the threat presents confrontation, I must choose fight or flight. I do not like to fight (mainly because I have residual distaste for half-measures police action and contemplate all-out war). So, I turn away.

There are two common methods of flight. On the Road Again is obviously running away. It may be changing geography, jobs, marriages, churches…. The reason it doesn’t work for long is because sooner or later I always find myself there.

The other common method of turning away is Bunkering Down. My bunker may be my garage, living room, or land in da Nort’ Woods. I see puttering or piddling as a way of psychologically bunkering down. I hide my mind in a task to prevent thinking about the threat/conflict. Addictions of all kinds frequently begin in this reaction of hiding from perceptions.

The medium size (neurotic) reactions to threats are not wonderful, but they do offer some social acceptability far beyond the small, immature, blaming behaviors driven by anger. Ready to look at the large solution?

When piddling is directed to productive functions, to work, home improvements, education, community projects, it is more mature. It serves a higher purpose beyond protection of self. It allows personal validation on the path of becoming whole.

In my opinion, which seems to be shared by Dr. Hart, there is one pattern of behavior which is the highest form of recovery, the most successful for individuals, families, and communities. Service.

Do you really want to help a recovering Veteran? Do not serve him or her. Offer opportunities for her or him to serve others. We are proud of our service and find our true nature in the highest calling of helping others. We are especially good at helping other Vets. Help us by encouraging us to help others. It’s that simple.