Tag Archives: moment

Momentous Journey

“You’ve come far, Pilgrim,” the old mountain man said to Jeremiah Johnson.

“Feels like far,” Robert Redford (Johnson) replied.

This week is a slight digression from our study of character traits conducive to recovery from PTSD and other past stress. Or, maybe not. August will focus upon the twelfth and last trait: Vision.

Have we come far? Well, we didn’t do it in a day.

Journey is a term originally referring to the work done in a day or how far we could go in one day. Just for today.

In the jungle of Vietnam, we could walk about one click an hour. One kilometer. So a day’s travel might be five or ten kilometers or five miles give or take a couple.

It is roughly twenty-two miles across the Grand Canyon, and people can do that in a day. Not me, but other people. My plan is to do it in four days.

Twenty miles was a journey for a wagon train.

Yesterday I drove nearly three hundred miles, but I have done many more in a single day. Today I hope to fly a couple of thousand. Quite a journey.

Our culture has twisted the meaning of journey far from the original meaning of marche du jour.

As I wait to go to the airport, I am pondering just today, this hour, this moment–while I think about the future.

Much of my life is wasted weighting events of yesterday or waiting for events of tomorrow rather than savoring my walk today.

My parents were married during the Depression, living on squirrels Dad hunted, day old bread they sold door to door, and what they could grow in a garden. “Those were the good old days,” Dad told Mom fifty years later.

“I think we’re livin’ in the good old days,” (Merle Haggard). I hope we don’t miss it.

Psychologically, we can never experience more than a moment, a fraction of one second. Everything else is memory, an illusion created by the mind to record the experience of a moment. Yesterdays are all illusions. Yes, they happened, just not quite like we remember.

Tomorrow is illusion. Yes, it may happen the way we imagine, more or less, but maybe not.

Today is all we have. Let’s make it momentous, grander than the tomorrow we dreamed, yesterday, grander than the memory we create. Let’s live in the good days.

We made a lot of tracks, you and me, some deep, some barely noticeable. Some we regret.

Tomorrow we will make more tracks, God willing.

Have you ever watched a track being made? Have you ever taken note of the Earth beneath your feet as you made a track?

I participated in a blindfold swamp walk in the Pine Barrens of New Jersey. We were led in a group, one person behind another, along a string through the swamp as were blindfolded. It was fun and comfortable, slipping into holes, feeling my way around roots, finding footing. After some time, we were stopped and told to remove our blindfolds. Quickening the pace, I took three steps and cut my foot. I forget to feel my track being made.

Momentous is another word our culture has twisted, originally meaning of one moment. Well, maybe that is not twisted. Maybe making note of a single moment is huge.

A funny thing happens when you face the probability of dying soon. You find each present moment precious, momentous.

One morning this week I went to my spot along the stream valley and noticed the activity of Chickadees. One flitted in a tag alder but three feet from my face, eyeball to eyeball, leaving a visual track in my mind.

Today, will you take a few moments to notice your breathing? Will you admire another part of life sharing this moment with you? Will you take a slow, deliberate walk and feel your tracks being made?

Happy Tracking!

Easter Bunny Died

For many in our culture, spring is the time of hopeful expectations. Lambs are born, flowers begin to grow and even bloom, darkness retreats. Combat PTSD is a condition threatened by expectations. For me, the Easter Bunny died in Vietnam—right there in the jungle with Santa Claus.

Some of you know that I am applying for a job. It is a good job, one for which I have prepared my whole life, and it is right here in Yuma. For weeks, I discussed it with family and friends until I decided to go through with the application process. I have come to know that I really do want the job.

That’s the problem. One of the symptoms of PTSD is a sense of dread, a feeling that something is going to go wrong. Wanting something—anything—leads to an expectation of things turning sour. We sometimes stop wanting just to avoid the dread.

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.

Dr. Hart refers to naïve psychology as viewing ourselves differently from the way we view others (or they view us). We infer other people’s (or, animals’ for that matter) internal states of mind based upon observable traits and actions. We read body language and decide if this person is friendly or not, kind or dangerous, happy or angry. Others do the same to us; however, we see ourselves differently. We look at our behaviors as responses to the environment, things or events that trigger us. “They” make me mad.

Recovery is a learning process. By learning that my actions are consequences of my states of mind, and learning how to be aware of my state of mind, I can reduce the frequency and severity of PTSD symptoms. I can behave more like the kind of person I want to be.

I am vulnerable. I have placed myself on paper (well, electronic documents, actually) for all to see. My grades, my evaluations, my past, my skills, resources, talents, and potential…it’s all out there to be judged. “The greater the sense of vulnerability the more likely this will lead to an automatic arousal response, a dinosaur dump.” (Hart, 2000, p. 40)

I am not sure what happened last week in Afghanistan, but it sounds like a dinosaur dump, a brain limbic system disregulation that resulted in tragedy. While multiple murders is an extreme example, it is the kind of thing that happens when a sick mind loses a grip on the edge and sinks into an abyss of despair switched to rage.

So, why do I put myself in vulnerable positions like publishing a book, speaking on PTSD (as I will Friday), and applying for jobs? I do it because I am learning how to let go of the edge a little at a time—and with the help and support of family, friends, and a professional psychologist specializing in Combat PTSD. I do it because I want the life on the other side. And, I do it with the tool of a Clear Space.

Some of you learned relaxation techniques in my classes. You were introduced to your own personal clear space, that quiet, peaceful, and beautiful place in your mind where you feel, well, powerful. Yes, the clear space is our respite from vulnerability, and we have many ways of getting there. Morning walks with a Labrador Retriever named Serenity helps me. So does working the newspaper crossword puzzle with a wife named Nancy.

Santa Claus may be dead to me, as well as the Easter Bunny. I may look for all the things that can go wrong so that I expect misfortune. I may even awake with an undefined sense of dread. But, I do not have to live in that terrible choice between vulnerability and rage.

Looking around at my life today, enjoying the beauty of the moment in my clear space, I cannot deny that good things happen for me every day. Choosing to go to my clear space, to savor the blessings of this moment rather than the fears of expectations, I can walk through the vulnerability without rage. Only the myths died in Vietnam. Nothing real changed but my perception, my state of mind, and that is a reversible change.

BREATHE, and enjoy the journey.

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.

Does Writing Have to Hurt?

Ernest Hemingway has been quoted: “There is nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at a typewriter and bleed.”

A cursory search reveals a number of such references to pain and writing. As a journeyman writer, I have a few thoughts on the subject. I am writing about these thoughts in an attempt to place them in some cognitive structure of my muddled mind.

Many past writers of renown seem to have been troubled souls. I cling to a notion that reflection and introspection lead to trouble, and trouble arouses emotions. Many of these emotions hurt, especially if suppressed. They fester into anger and guilt.

Writing is an art form that allows expression of emotions through words on a page (or screen). Fiction is creative expression of emotion with the pretense of being imaginary. The writing of fiction becomes cathartic as suppressed emotions are vented through a narrative medium of characters and literary devices.

Instead of talking about myself, these other guys have this problem. How do they deal with it? In the labor of writing, I also process my own feelings. At least, that’s my journeyman’s hypothesis.

Readers love emotions. We like to identify with characters and partake in vicarious feelings with the detachment of fiction. We temporarily feel the pain of fear, rage, betrayal, and loss only to look up and close the book. I suppose we feel better, but mostly we feel without getting overwhelmed.

My conclusion is that emotions sell books.

The craft is the creation of art that expresses life so that readers can swim in emotions without drowning. The more realistic a story becomes, the deeper the experience (and the danger of drowning). I suggest that is why some readers prefer cozies and fantasies, lest they realize the story is about them. There is comfort in deniability.

Enough of what my friend calls Seventies Psychobabble. Why must the emotions be painful? The honest answer is, because in my case, I’m just not that funny. And, I am not nearly joyful enough.

Essentially, only pain motivates me to sit at the keyboard and bleed. Comedy is a substitute for the bleeding. If I could write humor, I would.

Joy is an emotion. I can, occasionally write that, but I am not motivated because I am comfortable enjoying my own moment. Then, readers seem to seek out their own cathartic “pleasures” in reading material (and other art forms). Joyful people don’t seem to find a need to read joyful material the way perfect melancholy personalities seek painful reads. Blood sells books.

Keep writing, and enjoy the journey (even though painful). It beats most alternatives.

Miracle of Gratitude

Late in the year of 2008, I accepted two related ideas: 1) I was not as happy as I wanted to be; and, 2) I was not as grateful as I needed to be. With the counsel of happier and more grateful friends, I began 2009 with the commitment to write one small gratitude statement in a daily meditation book—a different gratitude each day. Perhaps I missed three days that year, but I made up all my late work.

2009 was a very good year. Something wonderful happened along the way. I found humility (I hadn’t even noticed it was lost). And, there, behind humility, gratitude was waiting for me.

For those of you familiar with the works of one Nazarene, I have a word: Beatitudes.

Misery is a blessing. Power is in paradox, although I do not believe it is at all paradoxical except at a superficial level. Misery is a condition from which we learn. It is humbling. What we learn from such experiences is the blessing. We learn gratitude—if, and only if, we are willing.

Gratitude feels good. It is practically impossible to do evil when grateful. In gratitude, we act from love—and love comes back to us. That is not a paradox. It is the way our universe works.

Okay. I am going way out on a limb here. We have the experiences we request. Prayers are answered. I’ll try to explain.

I watch a movie, To Hell and Back, and wonder, “Would I be brave?” I really want to know. It occupies my mind for years. Then, I get the answer.

Nobody tells me, “Erv, you are brave.” I’m a skeptic. I wouldn’t believe a statement like that. The answer comes in an opportunity to be brave. The opportunity is peril of war.

In 1968, under imminent threat of military draft, I signed a guaranteed enlistment contract with the U.S. Army to train and employ as a Chemical Staff Specialist. It was my attempt to control my own destiny. Within a few days of swearing in, however, I surrendered that guarantee for the opportunity to attend Infantry Officer Candidate School with only one guarantee: I would go to Vietnam.

To this day, November 21st, 2011, I have been confused about why I did that. Why did this peacenik agriculture student volunteer to do such a thing? My friend used my words this morning to answer my question: Go before show.

Permit me an aside. I have disliked yellow ribbons on cars because I felt it was all show and no go. I never wore one. Now that I have an opportunity to advocate for Veterans with combat PTSD through Beyond the Blood Chit (www.ErvBarnes.com) and related personal appearances, I feel entitled to wear a yellow ribbon because I am, indeed, supporting our troops through my actions.

I never had to prove my courage in the way of Audey Murphy, but I did do my duty under fire. Today, I am grateful to know that about myself. Even though many comrades came home dead and wounded while I was unscratched, I have become grateful for my safe return and for the experience which now allows me to reach out to support our troops. Survivor’s guilt has evaporated. Anger over perceived injustices has dissipated. Gratitude remains.

Many days I still find myself wallowing in the muck and mire of self pity. I stare at the fears of the future and regrets of the past rather than the blessings of my present moment. Certainly, I need to focus on these blessings more than once a year or even once a day, but Thanksgiving is a season of gratitude. I celebrate it. Happy Thanksgiving to you all.

When you write, what are you thinking about?

Here is a question from a newer member of Write on the Edge, our writing group at Foothills Branch Library of Yuma. It stopped me in my tracks—mostly because it sent my mind to spinning like tires on ice. Okay, not a useful metaphor in Yuma, but I am a Wisconsin boy. It got me thinking so fast I lost traction. I’m going to take a stab at answering, but I really hope you help me out with comments.

Sometimes I think about you, the reader, and try to construct some meaningful combination of words to express my thoughts. I suppose it’s always a good idea to keep the readers in mind, but I must admit you usually are not front and center—my ideas  occupy that space. That may be a good thing.

Other times I think about the mechanics of writing so intently with my logical mind that my creative mind breaks free to express my feelings. This may not be a conscious decision, but it is intentional. That is, it happens when I intend to express something really important to me. Poetry helps. I believe the focus on meter and rhyme, maybe even structure of a particular form, becomes a type of mantra that allows more of my brain to function simultaneously. Well, that’s my hypothesis.

The researcher in me immediately tries to devise some inquiry that might answer the question or test my hypothesis. The question is similar to the research question for my dissertation which basically asked what high school students think about (and how they do it) as they work on real environmental problems. In that case, students were encouraged to “think aloud”, or talk, while they worked in small groups. It is a method that has been used to study problem-solving techniques and strategies for years, but I have a constraint here. I write alone.

Introspection and reflection might be of some use, but it is even more difficult to manage subjectivity with introspection than with thinking aloud. The best we may do is to learn what we think we are thinking about, and that is grossly biased. Hence, the comments of many writers may be necessary to even begin to perceive patterns. And, there is a key word—patterns—because, we are not likely to always think in similar ways to each other or to ourselves in different situations.

Here is one fair conclusion, however. When we write, we think. That is why writing can be a wonderful tool for learning. It requires us to structure our ideas, and occasionally it reveals our feelings, even the ones we consciously try to avoid or hide. For example, much of my writing during my divorce in the late seventies was about Vietnam. Obviously the experiences were on my mind but suppressed.

Caution: Introspective journaling can be too revealing for a lone individual. Counseling and group work is advised lest memories trigger realism of reliving the stress, pain, and terror. Maybe that is why I accepted the choice to write fiction. I can pretend it is not all about me.

Much to my surprise, I found myself thinking about my fictional characters so intensely that they talked to me and actually drove the story. It happened so subtly that I didn’t notice right away. I just found myself thinking about how they were going to get out of the situations I had created for them, even to the point of wondering how a sentence was going to end. I wish that experience on all of you. See why I had to start writing a sequel immediately?

Writing can be very much like meditation, and meditation works best if I do not think about what I am doing at the time. I am really living in a single moment as a passive observer unless compelled to participate, and then I choose participation by previously accepted purpose and intent. So, I think it is fun and useful to think about writing, thinking, and thinking while writing, but I do not wish my metacognition (thinking about thinking) to impede my cognition.

Happy thoughts and have fun writing.

Re Quest: Parsing Eternity

Do we take time to study time—at least our personal views that influence our decisions? In 1969, I chose to not apply for U. S. Army Flight School. The investment in a very expensive helicopter flight training program included the expectation of two tours in Vietnam. That was too much time for me. Although I have flown a few lessons and even soloed once, I am not a pilot. Choices have consequences. This choice was made on the basis of my view of time.

Are all conclusions synoptic? No. I guess that’s the point of this blog, to encourage a pulling together of ideas, a broad view of a subject, an analysis of relationships. I’ll try to do some of that here; however, there is a hard reality. You really have to do it for yourself. The best I can do is encourage a forum where we can share the process and give  one example, good or bad.

Is the concept of eternity the denial of existence of time? I don’t know. I do know that I have a feeling of eternity, if not an idea. I have had experiences in which a very short measure of time, a moment, can feel like forever. A quiet sit in the north woods helps me feel that. So can a quiet sit in the desert. I have learned some ways of touching eternity, and that seems like a very good thing to learn.

There is an unsettling feeling in such a moment—a feeling of smallness without insignificance, of being less sure of boundaries between self and other, of knowing that everything other than this moment is some kind of illusion. The feeling might be humility. It is certainly not certainty.

Ah, maybe that is why we cut time up into smaller pieces, avoiding the moment. (There is only one, you know.) We avoid the discomfort of feeling eternity, humility, and uncertainty; however, that leads us to another discomfort: mortality. Dilemma, isn’t it?

So, let’s agree that at normal human velocities, time is pretty easily measured, recorded, and understood. I don’t see any problem here. So, where is there a problem to define, that we may solve it?

Well, for starters, can we tell time with Nature, or have we grown dependent upon our measuring devices? Can you open your eyes, look at the natural clock around you, and tell time of day and season? Would that be of any value to you?

How about learning to accomplish more in the time you have on Earth. Do you find value there? Okay, let’s begin defining the problem thusly: Life is short (and for folks my age, probably a lot shorter than for most others). Is my bucket list a cause for hurry?

Hurry is a waste of time. I used to tell my students that because I believed it. Still do. A friend admonished, “There’s never enough time to do it right, but always enough time to do it over.”

How can a person learn to manage time to accept more gifts from life? Shall we parse eternity and/or our lives into smaller pieces of structure and discipline, or shall we wander off into the wilderness to seek the moment? How shall we choose to live our lives, the compressed and personal samples of eternity?

No problem can be solved without defining rules (constraints) for a satisfactory solution. Happiness? Success? Peace?

A time problem as it relates to a person’s life is necessarily very personal. We each must choose. I’ll leave you with a poem I wrote a few months ago: 



There was a day I touched the wind  with fingers free and strong,

A day I faced uncertainty discerning right from wrong;

There was a night I inhaled stars from Heaven’s black abyss,

A night I never thought I’d see another night like this;

There was a week I drifted free from day to night unbound,

A week I lived eternity and left my fate unfound;

There was a month I dreamed of peace with eyes unfilled with tears,

A month I built of days and weeks and hours that knew no fears;

There was a year I choked with dread and gritted teeth and tongue,

A year of fear and low grade rage when songs were never sung;

There was a life I drifted through as though I owned no way,

A life of days and weeks and years and months of dreary gray;

There was one hour when I looked back and saw the life I’d led,

An hour regret of silly things and wounds that never bled;

Then one minute I shared six breaths with those who cared for me,

A minute wrest from life’s tribute, for blessed clarity;

Through days and weeks and months and years I traversed rocky shore,

In search of an epiphany, or moment—just one more.


Have a good time.