Tag Archives: joy

Comfort and Joy

Life is a trip, so enjoy the journey.

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. February is a meditation on harmony.

No matter what else we may learn about Post Traumatic Stress, it is a disruption of harmony, a discordant cacophony, a disturbance of The Force, or “noise” in a quest for peace. When the disruption is great enough, behaviors follow that define “Disorder” in APA terms. Such behaviors not only define PTSD, but they also disrupt or destroy families, damage work relationships, and threaten social stability. On a personal level, disturbed behaviors leave the individual with feelings of anxiety, guilt, remorse, and oppressive confusion that demand relief.

Some combat Veterans seek comfort if not joy in arousal states induced by gambling, intoxicants, high risk behaviors, pornography, or even returning to combat. We seek the relative comfort of adrenaline rushes to the depressive muting of life without meaning. What we find is addiction, disease, and death.

“But what is happiness except the simple harmony between a man and the life he leads?” (Albert Camus)

So, just how do we find happiness? How do we learn to celebrate this journey of life?

One day at a time. A journey is one day’s travel. All we must do is navigate this day and enjoy the journey for a few hours.

Meditation helps.

I have learned four basic requirements for successful meditation. The first is relative comfort. Relative comfort.

“The moment will arrive when you are comfortable with who you are, and what you are– bald or old or fat or poor, successful or struggling- when you don’t feel the need to apologize for anything or to deny anything. To be comfortable in your own skin is the beginning of strength.” (Charles B. Handy)

I have meditated in the Pine Barrens of New Jersey in deep darkness of a winter night cold front rain that turned to ice, but I was comfortable. I wore raingear with warm clothes underneath, and I was with a group of students with a shared intention. And, we were led by very experienced people with a loud drum.

Sometimes the required comfort is not physical. Sometimes the distraction is the discomfort of one’s mind or soul. Since we are meditating to achieve harmony of mind, body, and soul, how do we first achieve the comfort necessary to meditate?

Practice.

Nothing, absolutely nothing, comforts me like walking and sitting in the woods. I am comfortable there, in the woods. Actually, I find comfort in many natural places, but I seem to need some camouflage and concealment, some trees, hills, cacti, or shrubs protecting me from the intrusion of thoughts of being observed. In a strange way, I am never less lonely than when I am alone in Nature.

I am blessed. My prayer for you is that you, too, can find your place of comfort—if only in your own mind. Sometimes in a crowd, I find my place of safety and power in my mind where my soul is comfortable. If you learn to meditate, you will find your clear space, also.

There is harmony in that place in your mind. You only need to seek.

Happy Tracking!

Joyous Gift

If I were a drummer boy, I would play for you.

“It is the personal thoughtfulness, the warm human awareness, the reaching out of the self to one’s fellow man that makes giving worthy of the Christmas spirit.” (Isabel Currier)

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.

You and I are separated, but it is in my heart to connect with you, with others. I find this very curious—like it is in our DNA. I have studied a lot of genetics, because I seek to know how the universe works, and the genesis of life seemed central at the time. The focus of my studies has shifted.

I have not studied the drum for a long time although I have a wonderful elk-hide gift from a friend that I play for spiritual purposes. I have studied a bit of guitar, harmonica, keyboard, and even voice. Music is not my gift to you.

My ego demands that I find my gift that I may share it with others. I have searched a lifetime for it but all I have found is a few tracks.

Words are tracks.

Ernest Hemingway said something about writing being easy, that all one has to do is sit down at a typewriter and bleed. He bled to death.

I do not write because I am in love with words or particularly gifted in playing them, nor do I wish to bleed to death. I write mostly because I can’t seem to help it. I need to write if only to find out what I think about how the universe works. I choose to share it with you.

That is not easy for a shy person with a touch of PTSD. But, then, if it were easy, it wouldn’t be a gift to you, would it?

My gift is my art, and that is all I am to share. My medium is ideas. I move ideas around until I find some structure that pleases, amuses, or teaches me. Sometimes I stumble upon one that does all three and I simply have to share my joy.

“Life is self-controlled chemistry.” is such a structure. I built that sentence many years ago to challenge Advanced Biology students to design a philosophy of Biology.

Define self.

We are each individual, separated from one another in specific ways. Our individuality defines life. It is sacred. And yet, we strive to connect to others. Because we know, deep down inside our selves, that the connection is also sacred. It is spirit.

Trauma breaks something inside us so that we no longer connect well with others. Our individual survival depends upon our separation from others who would end our lives. Forever. And ever.

Still, we need others. We need connection. For combat veterans, we understand connection because our lives depended upon our brothers and/or sisters. But, they all went away to their own lives lived very separately.

Shy men who do not connect well with others can jump right into conversation with other men. Vietnam veterans talk to other Vietnam veterans. Oh, sure, there is a vetting process, but combat veterans understand that other combat veterans understand what the protected can never know. We need each other and we understand that.

Writing words is not my gift to you. Sharing my thoughts and feelings so that we might understand each other is all I offer this Christmas Eve. It is my hope that I can define self in a way that celebrates rather than denigrates the gift that is individuality, that defines life. It is my hope that I can help others who suffer directly or indirectly from Post Traumatic Stress to accept themselves, the sacred individuality, the blessed ego, the gift that finds joy only in being shared.

It is there, that gift, inside each of us, as unique as the freckles on our faces or the prints of our fingers. Track it, find it, and share it.

Have a joyous season—Merry Christmas, if you please—or any other reason to celebrate giving.

Happy Tracking.

Stone Soup

“We are so lucky.” (Nancy Barnes, almost every day)

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. November investigates gratitude.

Grace is a state of exuding joy, an emotional effervescence springing from the heart and overflowing the physical self. I love that feeling. I want some more of it.

Still, much of my life is lived in some kind of vortex between grace and despair.

I know that I am fortunate and I am grateful. I am thankful, but grace often eludes me.

Fate, Fortune, or Facility?

It is my mind. I keep wondering, obsessing, on why I am so blessed.

Is it fate? Have I been granted privilege to live so long, to experience joy and success, to feel functional and relevant into old age, for some reason? If this was predestined for me, I have to ask, “Why?”

Why have I been so blessed? Is there some purpose for my existence that has not yet been accomplished? What do I owe (and whom?) for these gifts?

Maybe grace is the ability and practice of accepting gifts with simple gratitude. Okay, “Thank you.”

Or, is it all just luck…fortune? Is life just a big numbers game? I cannot help but believe that my choices have had something to do with my luck, but how (and why) did I make those choices?

I have won in casinos and it felt good. I have won in life and questioned why. I question my worthiness for the good fortune.

Maybe grace is the ability and practice of accepting gifts without justification of worthiness. Okay, “Thank you.”

On the other hand, maybe all that I have is a result of my hard work. Maybe I have earned everything I have found enjoyable. Ah, but there is a rub.

Maybe I survived combat because of my prowess. The corollary is that those who did not survive, failed. The conclusion is that I won and others lost.

By my junior year in college, I had lost my drive to win in wrestling—because it always meant that somebody else had to lose. Winning was not that much fun, anymore (even though it was rare enough), but losing was no fun at all. Winning meant creating losers, a philosophically unsatisfactory reality for a young idealist (or for an old one).

The proposition that I won the combat contest while others lost their lives or limbs is deeply troubling to me. The proposition that my Vietnam experiences were relatively mild compared to others’ because of the choices I made is deeply troubling. It makes it hard to say, “Thank you.”

Stone Soup?

There is an old folk tale from sixteenth century Europe about a village running short of food when a traveler came through town looking for a meal. Yesterday morning, in the dark shadow of Monday nights events in Ferguson, MO, my spirits were lifted by serendipity as I watched preschool children act out a version of the story read by a teacher. The experience changed my whole day.

Was this encounter fate, fortune, or facility of my decision to schedule my co-teaching date in a beginning education class on that particular day?

The answer does not matter. I am grateful for the experience.

Sometimes there is evidence in my past and present of forces beyond my understanding. If the product of these forces leaves pleasant tracks in my heart, I have reason to smile and be grateful. Thanksgiving is about finding that evidence and celebrating it without regard to causes or worthiness, but accepting it with grace.

Happy Tracking.

Flickering Joy

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. October looks at humility.

“Find a place inside where there is joy, and that joy will burn out the pain” (Joseph Campbell)

There is pain inside us, and that is the hard truth of it. We can live with the pain, maybe, but can we live well? Can our families?

Pain is a poison creating more pain and spreading through our secret selves, those parts we consider dark. Joy is the antidote.

A young Veteran on campus asked how he was supposed to relate to the younger students. When I told him that was a good question but that I did not have the answer, he said that nobody does, only excuses. But, he also acknowledged that he had a better chance of relating to them than they to him. After all, he had been young, but they had never faced the fire.

It has taken me several days, but I see the answer to his question in his own acknowledgement.

“You’ve never lived until you’ve almost died. For those who have fought for it, life has a flavor the protected never know.” (Guy de Maupassant)

I remember the second line from a wall in our C-Team compound in Bien Hoa.

The protected cannot know the pain inside us—unless we share it, and that is hard to do, maybe even dangerous. It feels dangerous, like reliving it. Sometimes, it smacks of weakness. Always, it bares the vulnerability of being misunderstood.

We can, however, remember being young. We can find the innocence of our youth, faint as it may be, and reconnect with that. We can find the joy that still lives inside, the joy we knew before we faced the fire.

That is the part of us we can share with the protected. We can connect with them by touching the good things we still remember inside ourselves, flickering lights of joy we tend to hide beneath a bushel of pain.

There came a time when I could not find my joy. I had buried all the pain so deep that when I looked inside, all I found was darkness. A few gifts of humility helped me find my way back home.

Yes, it is a kind of humility to find good things inside ourselves. I know it can feel like betrayal to feel joy in the presence of so much pain in our brothers and sisters. It is not. It is necessary, for it is life.

Sure, we must track down our own pain and face it (but not alone); however, if we are to reconnect with the protected including our own families, we will do well to find the light of our own joy to show us the way back home.

Happy Tracking.

Delight

I sat in the woods with my aging dog,
Just watching Nature abiding,
When I came to know a little thing,
Without us even trying,
The dancing trees in graceful wind,
Light, colored, satisfying,
We sat immersed in something real,
Beyond our space and timing,
“Delight,” came the answer.
Without me even asking,
Ah, but I had held the question,
How will I ever,
Love enough?

Delight, a noun, 1: a high degree of gratification: joy.
Delight, a verb: to give joy or satisfaction to (Merriam-Webster)

I find it difficult to be happy, grateful, and delighted as I watch my friend and companion of thirteen years cripple away. Serenity is a beautiful Yellow Labrador Retriever, the smartest and kindest animal I have ever known, and that is saying quite a lot, and I suffer her pain. I grieve her dignity lost with incontinence, her independence gone with legs no longer capable of steps or ramp, and her tremors and confusion at sundown.

But I delight in our memories.

She taught me delight. She showed me joy in her leaps into the lake after a stick, her digging in the earth behind my shovel, her dragging the little trees I cleared, and the way she greeted people with the solid expectation of adoration.

Serenity shared her delight in the world. She began whining a few miles away from our Nort’ Woods home, getting frantic before our camp came into sight, so I had to let her jump out of the truck and run around. She always came back wet from her own little swimming hole at the stream. But those were younger times.

There was the time I laughed aloud hunting grouse with friends because after I shot at the bird zipping by, overhead, all I saw falling were leaves. Serenity came bounding, without training or being called, to see what I had. She came back with the grouse, delight dripping from her face.

Her hearing is gone and her eyesight dim. Even her nose is not what it was, and her old legs cannot get her over the logs. So, we don’t hunt, anymore.

And soon, way too soon, I will have to end her life. In that I cannot delight. But I can cherish her memories and her lessons.

If more combat Veterans had Labrador Retrievers, I believe there would be a lot less PTSD in this world. Maybe life is not meant to be so complicated. Maybe the whole point is delight. That’s what she taught me. Because I love her, I delight in her delight. And because she loves me, she hangs on, trying to give me another delightful memory.

And tonight, when her delight turns to fright and I cannot soothe her, I will know we are right, the time is near. But tomorrow morning, for a few more tomorrows, we will delight in one more walk in the woods. And I will be grateful.

Gratitude is a form of delight, and delight is the sincerest form of prayer.

Natural Love

“A brother is a friend given by Nature.” (Jean Baptiste Legouve)

There once lived three brothers working on a farm, aged 5, 10, and 15. That was long, long, ago.

The eldest left the farm to drive truck and the others stayed.

When the middle son had a medical condition briefly preventing him from working on the farm, he drove truck with his older brother, but he stayed on the farm.

When the youngest brother graduated from high school, he drove truck with his oldest brother for a summer before he left the farm for college, and the middle brother stayed.

When one brother needed help, the others showed up. It’s what they knew, lessons from their parents, aunts, uncles, and cousins. Money changed hands, time was shared in passing, deer were hunted together, parents and other family members buried, joys and sadness lived.

Years turned to decades and the middle brother went to trucking, but he stayed on the farm. The eldest continued trucking through his heart attack, through two open heart surgeries, and well past an age of retirement.

The youngest son retired from teaching, once, and went back for more. The oldest brother finally gave up trucking of medical necessity but returned to the farm to summer in an RV, work the garden, and help with farm chores. The middle brother lived in the same farmhouse he entered at age 4, continued trucking, and worked the farm in between. The youngest brother returned in summer to occasionally dabble in farm work.

Summers became a time of reunion as the eldest brother returned to the Wisconsin farm from Florida and the youngest visited from Arizona. The brothers laughed, played Sheepshead, and sweated together, again—home…home on the farm.

Always, the farm remained open to family. And, so, another summer brought the eldest home. Eighteen years past his second open heart surgery and thirty three past the heart attack that brought the first one—and the arrest on the table—find him rototilling the garden, mowing lawn, feeding and watering horses, pulling wagon loads of hay, and generally contributing what he can.

The youngest comes to visit for a week, invited into the house with his sick and dying dog, sleeping on a screen porch much like he did as a teenager, throwing a few bales of hay just to say thank you, or, mostly to feel the joy of honest work on the old farm.

After a hot day of hard work, the eldest reflected on the condition, the contribution to the farm, the opportunity to return: “I just love this…for the end of my life, really.”

The end of life may be sad, but it need not be tragic. I have seen too much of the tragic, people withering away far from home, if they ever had a real home. Not all families share this kind of brotherly love, this simple contribution of time and talent with each other.

Maybe that’s the point…of life, I mean, to have a home to enjoy at the end of life. What do you think?

Loving Light

“Knowledge is love and light and vision.” (Helen Keller)

I can tell you what it feels like to slip into the grips of a severe episode of combat PTSD, what we refer to as the wild ride or dinosaur dump.

It feels like walking in a swamp in a rare rain-fog at midnight of a new moon. I know there is a road, a high road, somewhere nearby, but I have no idea which way to turn in order to find it.

Reminder: This blog series is dedicated to love, the various kinds of love beyond the romantic and erotic that support personal growth and healing, especially the healing of invisible wounds from Combat PTSD.

I ask you now to imagine, and while imagining, remember that everything you see and feel is in your mind and under your control. It could be considered a form of meditation. It could also be considered daydreaming.

Imagine yourself sitting in a quiet natural place. As a Wisconsin farm boy, I am partial to the fields and woods. You pick your safe place. Sit in a position comfortable for you and as natural as possible.

Imagine a beam of brilliant, white light descending from above upon your feet. The light is very bright but does not hurt your eyes. Your feet feel a soothing sensation of warmth from the light upon your feet.

Breathe, slowly and deliberately, in through your nose and out your mouth. As you breathe, notice the light and warmth rising up your legs.

The soothing, warm, brilliant white light rises up your legs until it seems to bubble into your belly. Breathe. It fills your abdomen and rises into your chest—soft, warm, comfortable, and really nice. The light is good and you know it.

Recall that this is in your mind and under your control.

The light and warmth rises into your chest, filling you with comfort and a sensation of gentle power. It begins to fill your head.

As you breathe, the light completely fills you and overflows the top of your head like a fountain, cascading gently down and around you until you are completely enclosed in a cocoon of white light.

Breathe. Remember that you are in control of your mind. Simply sit in this brilliant-but-soft, warm, soothing white light and enjoy.

Enjoy.

Do you feel loved?

Go, and love another right now.