Tag Archives: love

Dance of Essence

“Those who live for one another learn that love is the bond of perfect unity.” (Frank Fools Crow)

Note: We have been exploring twelve attributes I see as conducive to recovery from PTSD and other past stress. August contemplates Vision.

I wish I could tell you enough about Vision that you might understand and use it. Probably not, but maybe I can invite you to seek for yourself. Frank Fools Crow was a powerful Lakota Medicine Man, a man whose power to help others came from his Vision and his personal commitment to live that Vision faithfully. We can begin to sense the power of Vision from the stories of others. But our power, yours and mine, can come only from seeking and living our own Vision. Fools Crow also referred to this power as a kind of special knowledge and a form of unselfishness. He was a very wise man.

“If you do at least one good thing for yourself and at least one good thing for someone else every day, you will become a happier person. We are all connected so both of these things are of equal importance. If you do too much for yourself or you do too much for others you will be unhappy. Balance is the key.” (Evan Coats)

Before you go too far looking for other wisdom from Evan, know that his mother’s maiden name is Barnes. Evan is my grandson and this was published today as a Facebook post.

I wonder how he became so wise before his twenty-first birthday.

He asks questions, really hard questions, and he looks for the answers. Sometimes he finds them.

Pain has a way of provoking us to ask questions. Unfortunately, it also has a way of provoking us to turn away from both pain and answers. Ours is the burden of constant choice. That is life.

I wish I could tell you how to cure PTSD. I wish I could tell you how to help someone else cure his or her own PTSD. Nope.

We are never going to cure our pain by reading books or blogs. Nope.

We are never going to cure our pain by listening to people. No way.

We are never going to be healed by medicine. PTSD is not like that.

So, where is the hope?

Each of these things will help us, whatever our pain may be. They are all useful and valuable, but not necessarily essential.

So, what is the essence? What is indispensable in the management of this kind of pain?

My grandson knows. He is teaching us.

You will not be cured by reading books and blogs, but you just might be relieved by writing them. You will not be cured by listening to people, but you just might be relieved by talking to people. You will not be cured by taking medical care, but you just might be relieved by giving some.

It’s a balance thing as Evan said. We have to take care of ourselves AND take care of each other.

Deep down inside, what are the questions you have been afraid to ask? If you dare to ask them, answers will come, and they have the darnedest way of showing up while you are taking care of someone else.

“Your vision will become clear only when you look into your heart. Who looks outside, dreams. Who looks inside awakens.” (Carl Jung)

The search for your way to fit into your community and culture, to find your essence, IS the way to do something for yourself and someone else. Vision Quest is the dance to seek that essence.

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!

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!

Bower Power

June is Love month. Our exploration of twelve personal attributes I see contributing to recovery from PTSD and other past stresses continues with consideration of four kinds of love. Let’s begin with Eros.

It is no coincidence that the heart shape of our most common love symbol physically resembles buttocks.

Without the power of physical attraction, we would not…could not…exist. Besides, erotic love is a thrilling natural high. It is a good thing–an excellent thing. Eros is quite literally a portal to greater love.

Trauma sometimes damages this love, even if the trauma is not sexual. I don’t know why, but I know a bit of how.

Mentally wounded people are less attractive, or at least we feel less attractive. We are more guarded, self isolating, distant. Intimacy becomes more challenging.

We may appear to have lost something of our essence, our soul.

Then there is the anger thing–very unattractive, repulsive actually.

There is another issue: Trauma survivors gravitate toward addiction. Perhaps it is attempted relief from pain of mental obsession, but I am not a psychologist. I don’t even play one on TV.

Sex can become that addiction, that avenue of distraction and stress relief. Pornography raises its ugly head, a very real problem for some of our combat Veterans.

A doorway to greater love is closed. That is a great tragedy for all of us.

“Christianity gave Eros poison to drink; he did not die of it, certainly, but degenerated to Vice.” (Frederich Nietzsche)

I don’t know about the Christianity part of the quote, but I am certain this is often true of trauma.

I have spent the past few days hauling rocks to build a new rock garden for Nancy. She likes rock gardens. She likes most gardens, so I work to make them pretty for her. I am a Bowerbird, fixing up a pretty haven for her Bridal Bower in the north woods.

Isn’t that romantic? Our thirty-fifth year of marriage and I am still wooing her. Sure, there are ulterior motives; I want her to be happy in the north woods because I want to be here more, and I want her with me. Sure, I am happier when Nancy is happy.

Maybe recovery is really that simple: doing something for somebody else. Maybe that is the essence of erotic love, the drive to do something to make somebody else happy even if it is for ulterior motive.

I said it was a gateway to greater love, this Eros thing, not the greatest love. We will get to that later.

Erotic love is not a vice, but an addiction is. As with most addictions, recovery from PTSD requires first recovering from any sexual addiction, and the first step to that is admitting it has become a vice.

No, I am not going to ask you to look for tracks of erotic vice in your heart.

Please, look for the tracks of true romance in the young heart of your pre-trauma self. Remember it and cherish it.

Happy Tracking!

Questing

What boundary separates Hope from Love?

This is a transition week, a break between four May posts on Hope and four June posts on Love. So, I have been pondering this question.

But, as a teacher, I know that while my pondering is very powerful for my learning, it does little for the student. Learning is completely dependent upon what the learner does.

Are you pondering? Are you seeking?

Hope is a necessary, but insufficient, emotional attribute of healing and growth including recovery from trauma, stress, and post traumatic stress. Love is another. We will begin our discussion of four kinds of love next week with the familiar eros.

When you think of love, do you think of a noun, a verb, or maybe an adjective?

Do you think of yourself, other people, or something else?

All learning depends upon what we think we already know. Do you know enough about love to empower your learning? Do you know enough about love to impede your learning…because what we already know can do either.

If you know enough about love, you must be living it all the time. Right?

If not, why not?

Post traumatic stress challenges our ability to love and be loved. We often feel less than lovely and loveable.

Some experiences lead us to believe that some people need killing. We believe they are dangerous. That is why we killed them–or tried to.

The blood won’t come off our hands.

The hate won’t leave our hearts.

Will it?

A Quest is a form of inquiry to some power or wisdom beyond our own mind driven by an emotional need to know something.

What do you need to know about Love? Not what do you want to know. Need!

I do not have your answers. I have mine, the answers I discovered by Questing.

Since all learning depends upon what the learner does, and what the learner does depends upon the learner’s motivation, what is the role of the teacher?

I love teaching.

The root of “learn” is a Latin word that means furrow or track.

Happy Tracking!

Generosity of Spirit

“The love we give away is the only love we keep.” (Elbert Hubbard)

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.

An old man I call friend has survived multiple wives afflicted with Alzheimer’s Disease. He told us of his gratitude through the process as his wife and friend of over thirty years slipped away, gratitude for the years shared and for his opportunity to care for her through their ordeal. When I grow up, I want to be so grateful.

Grateful people are happy. At least, that is my observation. Unhappy people are ungrateful.

Generosity seems to be the key to happiness through gratitude.

“Minds, nevertheless, are not conquered by arms, but by love and generosity.” (Baruch Spinoza)

Sometimes, the mind to be conquered is my own. When I feel I need a little love, may I remember the power of generosity to give love away. There lies the way of happiness.

And, happiness, according to some, is the meaning of life. (I will leave it to you to find such quotes. Quests are good for the soul.)

This is just my opinion, of course, but I believe there are two basic views of human existence: #1) our world is dangerous and stuff is scarce; #2) our world is gracious and stuff is abundant. How we live our lives depends upon which view we choose.

Traumatic events tend to nudge or shove us toward view #1, a theme of danger and scarcity. We expect bad things to happen, people to be dangerous, things we need and want to be hard to get. Naturally, we are unhappy and our unhappiness perpetuates our belief.

Funny thing about belief and this self-perpetuating phenomenon. When we approach view #2, a theme of grace and abundance, we notice it in our lives. When we feel fortunate, we believe in abundance. When we accept the grace of generosity, we feel blessed. When we feel loved, we love others.

My old friend has a favorite saying when asked how he is. “Never had it so good.”

That always gives me pause, and I admit (often reluctantly) that the same is true for me. I am blessed. Feeling so, I become a little nicer, more inclined to share love, to give it away freely. It always comes back to me.

Is that all there is to life? If we are generous, we become happy?

Well, there is this little problem of waking with a feeling of dread, and feigning happiness just does not work. So, which comes first, feeling loved or giving love?

That’s your problem. Do a little work to discover your answer. Look to others for advice, if you wish, but look inside yourself, also. Look deep inside. What evidence can you find in your heart?

War and other trauma may scar our brains and hearts, but love leaves tracks there, too.

Happy tracking.

Love Dilemma One: Generosity or Parsimony?

The problem with caring is that behavior matters. Ask any parent. Or, teacher.

A teenage son wrecks his car. No one is injured, but the car is totaled. He now has no car. His car insurance will go up. He has no job. Money is a concern in the household. As a parent, what would you do? What should you do?

Is there a rule book for parenting?

Let’s assume that you are a parent that really loves your teenage son. You want what is best for him and you want to see him happy. So, are you thinking long-term or short-term here? Is a life lesson with payoff years down the road worth a few weeks or months of misery, now?

Perhaps the generous thing is to buy your son another car—not necessarily a great car, just a car. License it, insure it, and present it with no strings attached.

No strings?

Is such generosity a true act of love? Or, is parsimony more responsible.

So, here is the thing. That accident means insurance goes up, way up. If the teenage son has a cheap car, insurance on that car can replace more expensive insurance on other household vehicles.

Is the decision still about the teenage son? What is best for him? Or, did it just become what is best for you, the parent? And, if so, is that bad parenting, meaning that you don’t really love your son?

Can a parent be too generous? I am asking if it is possible for a parent to give too much to a son or daughter, so much that it actually makes happiness more difficult for her/him in the future. Perhaps, parsimony is a more loving practice for parents, to mete out resources with a stingy hand.

We could explore the same dilemma between spouses, I am sure: whether ‘tis more loving to be generous with one’s husband or wife rather than frugal. I wonder if intent really matters—you know, the thought that counts. I guess I am just postulating in print what love might actually look like in human behavioral matters of the material.

Is it more loving to give a student an A than a B? Given that high school teachers now have one or two hundred students at any time, and assign many grades or scores to each student during a semester, and these grades become permanent records that affect students’ graduation, acceptance to college or military, scholarships, and even future employment, is the loving thing to do to give higher grades?

I’m sorry if these are easy questions for you. I am sorry because they are not easy for me. If you have the answers, I would like to know the reasons and rules. Because, I think love is hard, parenting is hard, marriage is hard, teaching is hard. Living a life grounded in love means living, always, on the razor’s edge of dilemma.

Maybe that is love, choosing to live on the razors edge, willing to make mistakes and bleed, and going back tomorrow for another chance. And, maybe that is the hard part of life for a survivor of traumatic stress, the vulnerability of love’s razor.

Love Remnants

It had been a very long week that May of 1988. Nancy and I had left Wisconsin in the early morning hours with my sister in her motor home headed for Arizona. The trip was unplanned but not really unexpected. Our dad had been sick—now he was sicker, and we made the decision to go get him and Mom.

We did not make it. When we stopped for fuel just across the state line in Missouri, Nancy called Mom only to find our Dad had died half an hour earlier. We continued to Yuma.

Much of that week is a blur of memory. A brother and other sisters showed up, a nephew, and my brother-in-law. We cried, laughed, and attended services for Dad at the little church in the foothills, but we did not lay him to rest. He would go home to Wisconsin.

When the arrangements had been made to send the body, we all prepared to make our ways back home. Nancy and I would ride with Mom and my sister and brother in-law in their motor home.

That was a good thing. Nancy is a natural care giver, an RN especially interested in families of the dying and deceased. She took charge.

Mom was, naturally, having trouble sleeping. Nancy suggested she wear one of Dad’s shirts to bed. We could see Mom’s face brighten. She picked out a rather plain western dress shirt Dad used to wear to church. It became Mom’s nightshirt. She slept well.

It is a simple thing, a shirt, and it does not really matter how such a thing works. Is it a trick of the mind? Is it a spiritual phenomenon? Or, both or neither? I don’t care. It works.

There is a feeling, a very real sense of closeness, which comes from wearing a loved one’s shirt. Dogs know this. They often grab a piece of clothing to hold close during a lonesome day. It is comfort.

I like to believe that love leaves tracks in things, that things people hold close and/or dear somehow hold remnants of their love as essence of their souls. I find comfort in the belief as people find comfort in the things like Dad’s shirt.

Dad did not have a lot of things. And what he had was divided among six children and many grandchildren. I have a few.

I own a two colored wildflower prints from an old book he cherished. They hang on our bathroom wall where I see them every day.

I inherited his first gun, a 16 gauge single shot he bought used. They ate rabbits and squirrels for survival during those hard times before WWII. It hangs on my brother’s wall where I put it when Nancy and I moved into our RV.
And I have his ring. Not a wedding ring, just a simple Native American silver ring with turquoise chips in an interesting design. I wear it most of the time when I am not home or doing physical labor.

It is not big, bold, or valuable. There is nothing special about it, although I do get compliments. I believe some people can see beauty beyond the visual aesthetic.

Dad loved that ring and wore it faithfully. Twenty five years later, it still keeps my father close to me. I hope I leave such love tracks in a few things to comfort those I leave behind. I hope you do, too.

Choosing Love

It ain’t easy, this love stuff. The instruction manuals are not written in English. Maybe that’s why some of us need dogs and little children to teach us how to do it. Labrador Retrievers are really good at it.

Dr. Hart counsels Combat Veterans upon the hazards of getting stuck in our combat roles. If we had a lot of responsibility in combat, we tend to take on responsibility back at home. If we had little responsibility in combat, we tend to avoid it at home.

Me? I tend to get stuck in the middle. I was a Lieutenant.

I do not like making decisions—at least, not alone. I tend to feel traumatized, as though I were still deciding who would die, or afraid I might make a mistake and the wrong people would die. Life or death choices are not for me.

I taught school and got sick every semester at grading time. Imagine how I would have done as a surgeon or emergency room physician. I couldn’t even be a paramedic although I know biology and have a knack for diagnosis and triage. So, I avoided it.

After several viewings, Forrest Gump still amazes me. He always knows what love is. He always seems to know the right thing to do—good at life, you know. Of course, when he didn’t know, he ran for a few thousand miles. I tend to sit in the woods and listen to the wind.

One reason Combat Veterans isolate themselves is because we see people as more dangerous than lions, tigers, and bears. Fear is that reason, and it makes sense in combat terms.

Another reason is love. Yes, this is another dilemma. Love is the antidote for PTSD, but it also causes us to isolate. I have found two reasons for this.

First, loving and losing is painful. It goes back to the avoidance of FNGs, the new guys. People who have experienced combat loss of friends simply choose not to make new ones. It hurts less when they die.

Back at home, we lose all our friends. They get reassigned or ETSed (Expiration of Term of Service). So, even if we all make it home, we lose each other, anyway.

Second, being loved is also painful. Oh, sure, it feels wonderful to have an intimate friend, someone we can trust, but….

Isn’t there always a but? Being loved is a big responsibility—because it entails power. Being loved gives us the power to disappoint, fail, or otherwise hurt someone. For Combat Veterans stuck in the middle (between seeking responsibility and avoiding it), this is another dilemma.

Now, add some symptoms of Combat PTSD. The Veteran is certain to disappoint, fail, or otherwise hurt the very people who love him or her. We cannot help it. Our brains have been trained, even re-wired, that way. After awhile, we get very tired of failing at love. So, we avoid it—the very thing that might support our recovery.

Love is a grave vulnerability for most Combat Veterans because it threatens us with more loss, both loss of our loved ones and loss of ourselves when our disabilities fail us in love.

We cannot recover alone. We need love, but we need more. We need understanding. We need mature love beyond philos of brotherly love and way beyond eros of sexual attraction. We need a Natural love.

We must relearn that failure is not terminal. And, we need friends who can accept our defects and failures as progress.

When a Combat Veteran returns without an arm, we no longer expect him or her to applaud. When a Combat Veteran returns with a shrunken hippocampus and working memory, with an aggressive amygdala, and a need for security, we must not expect her or him to enjoy party crowds, fireworks displays, and air shows. It is us, the people who stayed home this time, who must change our expectations.

Changing our expectations is a way of choosing love which just might grant the Combat Veteran freedom to choose love, again. Is that too much to ask, America?

Love Echoes

There are spaces between the trees, today, where my friend and companion of thirteen and a half years no longer walks. Our Yellow Lab, Serenity, has passed from the pain of this physical world, and her absence leaves a void.

Across that void I feel the echoes of her love. That love lives. It touches me. And, I reach back.

Love is like that. It transcends. It echoes across the void, reverberating softly without end.

Spring flowers come and go. Trees endure a few more years. Even rocks become sand and silt carried to the sea. But love remains. I can feel it upon the land.

We leave tracks, you and I, physical tracks upon the Earth, emotional tracks upon the hearts, and spiritual tracks upon the void. We cannot do otherwise.

PTSD is a kind of reverberation; echoes of tracks from our past, only these were not the tracks of love. I think we can just leave it at that.

Some words attributed to Chief Seattle haunt me: Every part of this country is sacred to my people. Every hillside, every valley, every plain and grove has been hallowed by some fond memory or some sad experience of my tribe. Even the rocks, which seem to lie dumb as they swelter in the sun along the silent shore in solemn grandeur thrill with memories of past events…. (I do not use quotes because Seattle did not speak English.)

The wake of a Combat Veteran riding wildly through the noradrenergic dysregulation of the brain’s limbic system, a Dinosaur Dump, is turbid turmoil. It is stressful. PTSD generates more PTSD.

Love is the antidote. That, I conclude, is the whole point of this inquiry into love beyond Eros.

But, love lost is painful. I miss Serenity. I cannot touch her, hear her, see her, smell her.

Or, can I?

Love leaves tracks. I know that.

There are places I love and places I do not. Some places make me nauseous. Some call me back, again, and again.

I believe the last time I grieved a loss such as this, when I said goodbye to Serenity, was the day I said goodbye to my little farm in Cambridge, WI. I lost more than land, that day. I lost all the tracks on that land.

Twenty years I searched for more land until I noticed an ad for this place in da Nort’ Woods. I did not buy this land. The land adopted me and I inherited all the tracks upon it.

A year later, a puppy adopted us. Her tracks are upon this land, her best memories in the woods and water (and, mud) of this place. I cannot own these. I can only accept the responsibility to care for them for a little while longer.

There are many days when I feel I have made enough tracks. Including today. That, however, is not my choice to make. My choices are only what kind of tracks I leave, today, and how I care for the tracks left by others.

Today, I choose love, and I believe Serenity is happy about that. I feel it in the echoes.