Tag Archives: meditation

Harmony Hair

Harmony of self,
Of mind, body, and soul,
Waits upon harmony of mind,
And waits…

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.

Each day is a wrestling match between two minds in one self, a logical mind which guides my rational life, and a feeling mind which becomes my emotional life.

“Left brain, talk to right brain,” is a mantra for some of us in Dr. Hart’s Combat PTSD after care group. It works, usually along with other tools like controlled breathing and EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing). It works because the feeling mind knows no boundaries of space and time, conflates here and now with then and there, and rages hormonal response to threats long past and far away. It works because we deliberately apply the processes of cognition to our immediate life and quell the nagging dread before it flares to blinding rage. It works because we have learned that it works and we rely upon it.

But, it only takes us so far—back down to a socially acceptable edge of anger, to a sublimation of our fears and resentments.

To go further is dangerous, to dance with our demons at the edge of a cliff of despair, the brink of depression. We hold onto our edge, which is our tolerable anger, rather than dare the vulnerability of crossing the chasm on an ethereal bridge to an imaginary land of Serenity.

It is okay. You have earned the right to stay, to hold onto the sanity of the safe place you have found, the edge against the world that protects you, your family, and the innocents you respect. It is okay simply to know that there is a real place of Serenity and a real bridge to get there when you are ready.

When you are ready—what no other can tell you.

When you are ready, you will need a hair. A long, curly hair.

It is a metaphor for a job that can never be finished, that always demands further attention.

It is a metaphor Tom Brown, Jr. gave us in a story. The hair kept the insistent genie busy because each time he straightened it and let go, it curled up, again. The genie’s job was never done, so he never raged his demand for another job.
My logical mind is where I live. I think for a living. I think for fun. I think for survival. I think because I am.

That logical mind is like my desk, like my entire office (both, at home and at work), full of ideas and problems that demand my attention.

Sitting quietly and waiting for harmony twixt my two minds is futile for an impatient soul with so much important stuff to do. I need a hair—you know—to keep my logical mind busy while my emotional mind expresses feelings to me (so that my dreams might be less disturbing).

I need activity to enthrall my logical mind. It may be yard work, a repair project, or a walk in the woods. But, we can go further, find a hair we can use at work, in a crowd, at a party. We need a mantra or mandala upon which we focus our logical minds while listening to our rational minds.

Find yours.

I like slow music, Native American flute or light New Age. I like sounds of Nature. I like visions and memories of safe places, beautiful places, peaceful places, a clear space, my Sacred Place.

You have such a place, across the chasm. It does exist for you. And, you have the way to get there, to your own Sacred Place. When you are ready.

I hope you find it, and Happy Tracking!

Blessed Breathing

Time will come when all that matters is the next breath. In that moment we will comprehend need and, as the breath comes, gratitude. Imagine contemplating each breath as both a desperate need and as a blessing received. Now, imagine living life as a succession of those moments. That is living prayer.

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.

The word, harmony, derives from a Greek root meaning joint as in the arm. Harmony is a state of being joined—and acceptance of that reality of being connected to other, to Earth, itself.

We all breathe the same air. What one exhales, another inhales. Twelve to twenty times each minute at rest or minimal exercise.

We take a breath every 5 seconds, more under stress.

Tom Brown, Jr. taught us “need” with an example something like this: Imagine holding your breath under water. Imagine the building urgency for your next breath. Hold it longer—until you must exhale and inhale. Hold it still. Now, slowly surface. Just before you reach the surface, you begin to comprehend need.

You might be wondering what this desperation has to do with meditation. Got you thinking about breathing, didn’t it?

“Feelings come and go like clouds in a windy sky. Conscious breathing is my anchor.” (Thích Nhất Hạnh)

The second requirement for meditation (after relative comfort) that Tom taught us was controlled breathing. As we walk, sit, or lie in relative comfort, we breathe deliberately. Some may call it a beginning of mindfulness as we take conscious control of an otherwise autonomic function.

I will leave the theories of mindfulness and deep breathing benefits to others, today, and focus on the benefits toward harmony. Deep, controlled breathing contributes to our meditation in three ways I understand. First, it deepens our physical and mental relaxation. Second, it gives our busy logical minds something to do while our emotional minds are free to express feelings. Third, it becomes a metaphoric contemplation on need and blessing.

Intentional breathing generates an internal harmony of mind, body, and spirit as it accepts external harmony with the rest of Creation.

Is there something more you need from life?

Each breath inhaled is a need satisfied. It is a deep prompt for gratitude, and gratitude is healthy. Gratitude is one of those beneficial qualities that slips away from us as we sink deeper into the vulnerable self. One of the first things we lose when we feel threatened is the ability to breathe. We thrust our tongues to the hard palette roof of our mouths and hold our breath. It is a natural response to fear, real or imagined.

Those with Post Traumatic Stress have twenty (20) seconds to intervene—to breathe—before our endocrine systems begin to dump flight/fright hormones into our blood streams. If we miss that deadline, we have twenty (20) minutes to consciously reduce our anxiety before a full-fledged “dinosaur dump” of noradrenergic dysregulation plunges us into three or four days of painful anguish, days in which we just might do some irreversible, regrettable things.

Breathe.

On the other hand, a few minutes of relative comfort, controlled breathing, and body relaxation each day offers the increase of serotonin levels that promises quality sleep at night. We NEED sleep, too.

Are you aware of your breathing? Happy Tracking!

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!

Awareness of Intention

I love blueberries. My mother used to make me a blueberry pie for my birthday instead of cake, but nothing exceeds wild blueberries plucked from the bush.

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. January reflects upon simplicity.

My Army Advanced Infantry training was at Fort Dix, NJ, and the machine gun training was at a range camp in the Pine Barrens. I found wild blueberries which I ate in joy to the dismay of some of my brothers who thought I was crazy for risking eating wild berries. Years later I spent time at Tom Brown’s Tracking, Nature, and Wilderness survival school and found the high bush blueberries standing ten to fifteen feet high, but I still preferred the wilder flavor of the smaller low bush species. But I ate both and some Huckleberries besides.

In 1998, we bought our acres of open forest in Florence County, WI, and I was intent on preparing an area for our camp. After selecting a beaver-cleared spot overlooking the stream valley, I set about plotting a path for a roadway connecting to the logging road that would be our driveway. I contacted a local man to come out and look at the job and I told him I hoped to find some blueberries, which are common in that neck of the woods.

He looked at me and said, “I think there are some right over there.”

Yes, right along a game trail from my camp to the stream was a patch of short blueberry bushes I had walked by dozens of times. Why had I not seen them?

Well, they had no blueberries—and they still haven’t. Oh, I have a patch elsewhere in the woods that produces berries, but this patch seems to drop the flowers or berries most of the time.

No, that is no excuse. I had not seen them because I had not been looking for them. The focus of my intention at that time was to get this road installed. To be fair, an eyeball to eyeball encounter with a large black bear earlier that season right in my camp spot had convinced me a road to get my truck back there was a priority. Yes, that’s my excuse.

“Our intention creates our reality.” (Wayne Dyer)

Any of us can Google this or other quotes on intention and find volumes written about their meanings. I prefer to keep it simple. I tend to attend to what I intend. When I set my intention to focus my attention on an object or phenomenon, I am looking for it. I am then more likely to see it, to become aware of its presence, even what it is doing.

How does that work?

I have a friend who quotes one of his teachers: “Prayer is the sincere desire of the heart.”

I have no person to whom I may ascribe this quote, but we can find similar sentiments. Whether we investigate philosophies of the East, the Native West, or the Middle East, we are sure to find something very similar expressed. I find credibility in that universality.

Meditation is safer and more effective when we are sentient of our intention before we begin. We live in a big world, an immense universe, too big to find what we may seek—unless we choose deliberate awareness of our intention to find. But don’t take my word for it. Try some significant research.

The effectiveness of our meditation is directly proportional to the sincerity of our intention, and the less selfish that intention, the safer our journey in meditation.

If you sincerely desire blueberries, look for blueberries; but, don’t hesitate to build your road to safety, first.

Seek the goodness at your center, and Happy Tracking.

Meditation by Attention

Focus all of your attention on everything.

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. January reflects upon simplicity.

One of my least favorite statements by young people is, “I’m bored.” Quite frankly, I do not understand it. In the first place, I had so much work to do, and so much playing to do, when I was a child and teen, I never had time to be bored. Perhaps it is a kind of dependency in the expectation that someone or something else is responsible for my entertainment. I grew up believing I was responsible for my own amusement and, I reckon as a corollary, my own education.

“When you pay attention to boredom it gets unbelievably interesting. (Jon Kabat-Zinn)

Perhaps you have had a psychology course or otherwise learned that the human brain can only attend to one thing at a time. Okay, so that leads you to believe that you cannot pay attention to everything, as meaning all things, at the same time. I have a challenge for you.

Go someplace where interesting things happen. I prefer Nature, but a mall or campus will do. Sit down. Quiet down. Look straight ahead, perhaps at some interesting object such as a tree, statue, or fountain. Keep you eyes pointed directly toward that object but change the focus of your attention.

How? Choose. Simply choose to pay attention to any and all happenings around that object all the way out to the limits of your peripheral vision. Tom Brown, Jr. calls this wide angle vision. You will soon notice movement of people or other animals, maybe plants in the wind, far away from the object your eyes appear to be focused upon. You will begin to notice any, and maybe even all, movements within the range of your vision.

You are paying attention to everything all at the same time. How is this possible? In my simple mind, it is a choice to view everything as one single thing, the whole thing. So, the next time you begin to entertain the idea that you might be bored, try this. It is free of cost or calorie, and it is good for the soul.

“How long do I have to sit there before something happens?” you might ask. There is a simple answer: Try it—more than once. We call this science. Instead of inventing an answer by reason and rhetoric, and instead of accepting an answer of some authority like Erv Barnes or Tom Brown, Jr., take your butt someplace happening and experiment.

I challenge you to sit through four days and nights in Nature, say the Nort’ Woods of my Lonesome Pines, without experiencing something interesting.

Meditation is just a term from Greek meaning to think about. Trust me or try it for yourself, but my conclusion is that thinking about stuff is a marvelous cure for boredom. Wide angle vision is certain to reveal tracks everywhere, tracks that you could not see while you focused your attention upon one tree, one statue, or one fountain. A little practice just might also reveal some really important tracks in your mind.

But maybe boredom is really a euphemism for your denial and avoidance of those tracks in your mind. That’s okay. You may not want to see all those tracks at once, so I recommend beginning your practice of this eyes open meditation the way you may eat an extra large pizza—one bite at a time. And, before you are ready, you may want to read next week’s blog on Intention.

Don’t forget to breathe, and Happy Tracking.

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?

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.

Happy Holidays

Now, before you go all righteous and reactionary on me, take a chance on my sincerity. What I mean is that I wish you happiness all of your holidays throughout your year, and I mean it for each of you regardless of your faith. So, if people take offense at my wishing happiness, well…what happens to the happiness I wished for you?

As a voluntary part of my job, I attend meetings of the AWC/NAU-Yuma Science Club, and at this Monday’s meeting we watched a brief TED Talk video.

The idea is that happiness precedes success.

In 1969 my brand new Cougar wore a front plate with Snoopy wearing a Green Beret and claiming, “Happiness is a Green Beret.” I still have it somewhere.

In 1970 I was sure happiness was that freedom bird landing on American soil.

By 1973, I believed happiness was attainable as soon as I finished my PhD in Genetics.

Okay, so three items in a series can determine a pattern. We have established a cultural norm of believing happiness is attainable through success. It’s kind of like believing health can be attained through diagnosis of disease. You know what? Knowing that I have PTSD does not make me healthy and knowing that I am sad does not make me happy.

Success does not produce happiness of any duration or stability. Happiness produces success. Researchers in Positive Psychology have the evidence.

So, I spent most of the past year describing signs and symptoms of Combat Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and now I am saying that all this work has been wasted?

No. Recognition of a problem is the beginning of solving it; however, if we remain stuck in the symptoms, we never achieve happiness.

What if happiness is not the goal but the cure?

Yes. What if the health of Veterans and their families is not the requirement of happy and productive lives, but the consequence?

“I could be happy if I just wasn’t mad all the time.”

“I could be happy if the VA wasn’t so slow and stupid.”

“I could be happy if politicians weren’t so crooked.”

Another pattern.

Yesterday my wife noticed a halo around the moon and asked me to explain. It seems the sight of a large light ring around a high morning moon made her happy. I think she noticed the halo because she was happy, but that is not the point. Happiness is a dance with reality: sometimes Nature leads and sometimes we do. The important thing is to dance.

Dogs like to dance—figuratively. At least my Yellow Lab loves to interact with Nature. That is why Nancy was fortunate enough to notice the moon. Today she is at the store very early to beat the senior savers on first Wednesday, so the happiness of walking our dog is mine.

What makes you happy? Nothing, really.

Okay, how is it that you are sometimes happy and sometimes not?

If the answer is pointing outside yourself, then you are to blame for giving your happiness away.

The video suggested five daily activities that could generate the happiness that leads to health, wealth, and wisdom. (Yes, I paraphrase creatively.) Gratitude (Write 3 new ones each day.); Journal (1 positive memory each day); Exercise (if only to remind ourselves that behavior matters); Meditation (giving us time dedicated to NOT multitasking); and, Kindness (1 conscious act each day). The speaker, Shawn Achor, claims that 21 consecutive days of practicing these five actions will lead to habits of happiness.

Here is my wish for you today: Take a holiday from unhappiness, negative criticism, cynicism, guilt, shame, sadness, and dread. Try gratitude, memory, exercise, meditation, and kindness for just one day. Okay, try it for seven days and then come back to read my blog next week.

Happy Trails…

Sleeping with Snakes

“Many veterans live a life characterized by a quiet tension which leaves them feeling drained and exhausted…” (Hart, 2000, p. 80)

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

Human brains make chemicals in response to our mental activities. Serotonin is manufactured only during periods of wakeful relaxation. If our hours awake do not include sufficient periods of calm, peaceful, relaxation, our brains fail to produce adequate amounts of serotonin.

The result? We have difficulty falling asleep.

Hardly seems fair, does it? If we don’t get enough relaxation during the day, we can’t sleep at night.

It gets worse. Two other neurochemicals, dopamine and acetylcholine, are produced by our brains only during restful sleep. With inadequate levels of these chemicals, we wake feeling edgy and with a sense of dread that makes it difficult to have periods of wakeful relaxation.

This can be called a disease, a positive feedback loop. If we don’t get enough relaxation during the day (serotonin), we sleep poorly. If we sleep poorly, we fail to produce enough dopamine and acetylcholine to have a healthy day with periods of relaxation. Our sleep-o-stat is broken.

This is why so many Veterans have sleep disorders and why so many psychiatrists prescribe medicines that enhance neurochemicals such as serotonin, dopamine, and/or acetylcholine.

An alternative would be learning to sleep with snakes.

I used to golf some—enough to know that I only approached a fun and respectable game when I was in a confident and relaxed state. In fact, a psychiatrist actually suggested it for me long before I was diagnosed with PTSD. The game becomes a kind of biofeedback activity, although an expensive and inefficient one. But, hey, if you like it, it works.

So might sleeping with snakes. No, I have not tried it, but I did have a pet Reticulated Boa I carried around my neck for awhile in Vietnam. Actually, I just read about sleeping with snakes last week.

In the BOOK OF HOPI, there is a description of part of one ceremony of a Snake Society. They gather many snakes from the four directions and place them in the center of the Kiva while the society members sit knee-to-knee in a circle around them. The snakes, poisonous and nonpoisonous, look for a way out, but many of them find nice, warm places to sleep in the laps of the men, men who are sitting in wakeful, relaxed states with their eyes closed as in sleep.

Some men have no snakes sleeping one their laps. Some have one or two. One elder attracted six, all curled up and resting peacefully on his body. My hypothesis is that snakes can smell serotonin.

The author suggested that nobody really knows what the Snake Society is all about. I’m thinking it is pretty simple: Love. When we love and accept Nature, Nature knows. Dogs know. People know. Snakes know.

When we learn to love and trust snakes, we are able to love and trust all of Nature, all of Life.

A few bad days at the war, and Veterans have difficulty loving and trusting people because, well, we have learned that they are more dangerous than lions, tigers and bears—or, even snakes. We have difficulty sitting in a relaxed, meditative state generating alpha brain waves and manufacturing serotonin. We have difficulty relearning to love, trust, and accept people (even family, sometimes).

Veterans need regular activities that generate alpha waves and make serotonin. We need to run, ride motorcycles, walk in the woods, play with our dogs, build chairs, something, anything that helps us to relax and accept life.

You can help. Invite and encourage your Veteran to pursue and participate in such activities, even if it means time away from you and his or her family. Join groups that provide opportunities for such activities. Encourage community college courses that teach and promote such hobbies.

Turn off the TV, stop talking about politics and tragedies, and go play with a Veteran. You both might sleep better, with or without snakes.

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.