Tag Archives: psychology

Who You Are

“We choose the right to be who we are.” (THUNDERHEART)

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

Yesterday, I had a discussion in a meeting with a couple of other Veterans on campus. As I explained that I still didn’t know why I chose the path that took me to Vietnam, one of my friends said, “It made you who you are.”

I do not know which came first–who I am or the choices I made–but I know the two are intimately related, and it really doesn’t matter which came first. What matters is that I chose to be who I am.

One of my Officer Candidate School classmates came through our Special Forces camp on the Cambodian border in the Spring of 1970. After seven months in Vietnam as an Infantry platoon leader, he was still humping the boonies most every day. As he visited our team house and saw the way we lived, he told me, “Barnes, you really have it made.”

It made me smile because several months earlier some of my classmates laughed at me when a jump school student hung from his parachute on the tower across the road from our barracks. “That’s where you will be next week, Barnes.”

Maybe our choices make us who we are. Maybe when we choose to be who we are, we make lucky choices. Like Forrest Gump, I think it both might be happening at the same time. Maybe that is how Vision works.

In the movie, THUNDERHEART, which is grounded in some real events of the 1970s, an Oglalla Sioux named Jimmy Looks Twice explained to an Indian descendant FBI agent, Ray Levoi, why people were getting murdered on the reservation. “Sometimes they have to kill us. They have to kill us, because they can’t break our spirit.”

Jimmy Looks Twice is played by John Trudell, a man who lived the experiences of indigenous protests and losing his entire family to violence. He continues the explanation, “We choose the right to be who we are. We know the difference between the reality of freedom and the illusion of freedom. There is a way to live with the earth and a way not to live with the earth. We choose the way of earth. It’s about power, Ray.”

It is about power.

There is no greater personal power than living one’s Vision. But, sometimes they have to kill us. And, sometimes, like John Trudell, we have to go on after they killed our families.

Our power lies in our Intention to be who we are–and our commitment to that intention.

In my view of the universe, Vision is the way we see ourselves in relationship to the rest of our world, and specifically, how we see ourselves fitting into the world around us. I’m pretty sure another way of saying this is that Vision is our view of who we are.

Where do we get that Vision? Are we born with it?

For this sometimes cowardly human, it is a very good thing that my Vision is limited in clarity and scope, that I cannot see too far down the road of my future lest I lose my commitment to being who I am. So, my Vision becomes clear to me only like the road in my headlights on a dark night, a little at a time.

Sometimes it is foggy, dusty, snowy, or rainy. I have even driven into a mud storm, a dust storm with rain, but I survived because I could still see the tail lights of the truck ahead of me. Maybe I survived because I had had the good sense to be following a truck.

How have you survived? Have you been “lucky” because of some good sense, because of who you are?

Happy Tracking!

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Passion of Purpose

Who are you?

It’s a serious question. Beneath the façade of style and guile, what is your name? Do you have a spirit name? Do you have a spirit identity?

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

Vision as an indigenous cosmology is a complex concept with purpose at its core.

When we find ourselves devoid of passion and purpose, the first thing we need to do is stop. But that’s not easy. The rest of the world is zooming by at full speed. Left alone with ourselves, without a project to occupy us, we can become nervous and self-critical about what we should be doing and feeling. This can be so uncomfortable that we look for any distraction rather than allowing ourselves the space to be as we are. (Dawna Markova)

I am a teacher and Nancy is a nurse. We are blessed to be people who have found careers of purpose matching our passions. We have lived our identities. We are lucky.

But, luck needs help. Neither of us found our way accidentally. We wandered. We made choices. I found I enjoyed teaching in graduate school and as an Academic Staff Specialist at UW-Madison. Nancy found she enjoyed taking care of people as an Army medic and a nursing aid. Still, each of us needed a personal crisis to push us to a decision and we needed family to coach that decision. Sooner or later, we all need coaching.

Some of us make major life decisions as children and adolescents that steer our lives by passion. Many of us begin a life of purpose and developing identity. Too many of us experience trauma that disrupts that development.

In 1968 I was a science student accepted into graduate school to study genetics at UW-Madison. I had a research assistantship offer. In three or four years I could be a PhD geneticist and maybe a professor.

In 1969 I went to Vietnam.

Trauma has a way of changing who we are—or, at least, who we think we are. It has a way of changing what we believe about purpose, and it discolors passion.

That’s all I have to say about that.

Oh, I came back to finish my Bachelors and Masters degrees in Genetics, but the passion was gone. I had lost my Vision (although I didn’t know about Vision at the time). That life no longer fit my perception of myself, had I actually faced a perception of myself.

I found my way to a new passion, a purpose that continues to grow and develop even now.

How did I find my way?

I looked.

How I changed over the past forty-five years is still a mystery to me, a mystery I intend to pursue in the next year, but I know it all began with my searching for a purpose. I stopped and let the world race by me. I caught my breath and saw a glimmer of distant hope. Somebody loved me and believed in me. Answers came.

Have you stopped, I mean really stopped, to look at the tracks in your heart that show you who you are?

Happy Tracking!

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!

Breakfast Call

Discipline, like charity, may only count when it is done with humility.

Without apparent humility, I shall proceed to brag about my adolescent discipline.

NOTE: This blog series investigates twelve attributes I see as conducive to recovery from PTSD and other past stress. We have looked at ten and leave one more for August. July is devoted to Discipline.

I ate breakfast every morning as a boy, almost always a bowl of Wheaties with farm fresh milk and plenty of sugar. I marveled over the champions featured on the front of the box and the important reading on the back. As my testosterone levels began to increase, I became interested in growing into a champion.

One morning, I read a government physical fitness plan on the box that gave expectations for different ages. It said at my age (7th grad I believe), I should be able to do 13 push ups. Being a budding scientist, I tested that hypothesis. I did 13.

That’s fine, but champions do not aspire to mediocrity, so I did some more the next day and the next. I did push ups every day. By the time I was a high school freshman, I could do 75 push ups. Now, that is not the only reason I was a successful wrestler, but having the ability to push myself off the mat with an opponent on top of me helped make me become an escape artist. That is what wrestling is all about, to wrest, meaning to twist and pull away.

Wheaties really was the breakfast of champions, even though it was the words on the back of the box that produced the results

My point?

Discipline yields results. Reading the Wheaties box or eating the cereal did not make me a champion. Hard work did.

When I was a freshman, I was having trouble with an escape or reversal move called the switch. Coach sent a JV sophomore over to teach me. We worked and worked on it.

I worked on it myself. I practiced it at home. I practiced it right-handed and left-handed. Then I invented (re-invented) a move I learned was called the inside switched where I started the move in one direction then quickly changed to the other directions. I practiced it over and over, alone and with teammates. I used it in matches. It worked all the way through high school and into the Big Ten.

Today, I frequently lose patience with myself for what seems a lack of discipline. Yet, here I am again today, working on a blog when I could be walking in the woods, wrestling with a mini keyboard on my pad and trying to outwit a sluggish MiFi, getting impatient because I only got half the quack grass out of the garden this morning. I’ve been letting it grow.

That is another form of discipline, watching that stuff grow in my garden. But, it was necessary. Now it is strong enough so that I can dig it up and pull the roots out rather than breaking them off. So, even what felt like a lack of discipline, watching that stuff grow in my garden, was a form of discipline in patience.

Fasting requires the discipline of patience. Procrastination may be a simple form of fasting from familiar things, time to allow the conscious and subconscious minds to communicate. But, don’t forget to break that fast. Heed the call to breakfast.

Have you been hard on yourself for procrastination when it might really be the discipline of patience? Is it time for breakfast?

Happy Tracking!

My Way

It occurs to me that discipline is really fidelity to a way of life.

NOTE: This blog series investigates twelve attributes I see as conducive to recovery from PTSD and other past stress. We have looked at ten and leave one more for August. July is devoted to Discipline.

When I think of discipline as rigorous obedience to rules, particularly as daily routine, I judge myself undisciplined. Oh, sure, I was sometimes a disciplined athlete and soldier, but I really dislike routine–even though I accept the value of routine in stress management. Routine is not my way.

What is my way?

I still have some materials from a greenhouse I bought forty years ago. I save stuff. For years I have been viewing this as a shortcoming, a lack of discipline in organization. Lately I have seen it differently.

I grew up poor, even though I didn’t really know it until I was in high school. My parents married during the depression and had five kids before Pearl Harbor followed by this early Baby Boomer. Waste was a sin although they didn’t call it that. We just didn’t do it.

I am a disciplined eater. There is very seldom anything left on my plate. “Take all you can eat, but eat all you take.” We were poor but not hungry because we lived on a farm. We grew and hunted our food. Somehow, when you produce your own food through sweat and discipline, it becomes too valuable to waste. That is the way my family lived and a way I call mine.

I am embarrassed to throw out food. It shames me.

I give things away. From time to time I force myself to go through the anguish of choosing what to keep, what to discard, what to sell, and what to donate. I hate those decisions even though the process is liberating.

In reflection this week, I admitted I learned this from my father. If we needed a board, we went to a stack of boards between the chicken house and the tractor shed. If we needed a link of chain, we searched the tractor shed or the garage. If we wanted worms for fishing, we dug them. When I needed training halters for my show calves, I braided them from used baler twine from our hay or straw. When my mother wanted to make me a bat boy uniform for my uncle’s softball team, she searched scraps of material and discarded clothes, cut them down, and sewed it.

A few weeks ago, I pulled a beautiful rock out of the woods to make a rock garden for Nancy. I found out a length of pipe I had bought for a project and not used. It was along side a shed waiting. I also made a stone boat of sorts with a plastic sheet I bought to drag deer but never used. I had them because I saved them, you know, just in case I might need them someday. That is my way and I am true to it.

It is not hoarding; it is recognizing potential utility in things and refusing to discard them. It is not organized; it is messy. But, it is ultimately pragmatic, and I am tired of being apologetic. I am not undisciplined. I am true to my way, and my way works for me just as it worked for my family.

My mother was disciplined in the garden, and I share that way. I like a productive garden, and I prefer to keep it free of weeds. It is a sense of pride, accomplishment, and independence to harvest my own food, but I also plant for the utility of beauty. I cannot garden without fond memories of my mother.

My father took care of both crops and livestock. While he did not fuss over appearances, he took great lengths to keep them healthy, and he never allowed animals to suffer. In animal husbandry, he was devoted and disciplined. Whenever I get to help on my brother’s farm where we grew up, I remember my father’s way. It is my way, now.

What is your way? Deep down inside, back to your pre-trauma self, do you find tracks of fidelity to a way of life that is disciplined in your own way?

Happy Tracking!

Quiet Love

If God is a Father, I can surmise that godly love is like pure parent love. Knowing little about godly love and more about parent love, I shall address the latter.

NOTE: This blog series investigates twelve attributes I see as conducive to recovery from PTSD and other past stress. June shares Love.

While I was in Bien Hoa, Vietnam, I bought a pair of ceramic elephants to be used as end tables or lamp stands. The Army crated and shipped them home for me. I still have one.

One arrived intact, but the other was broken, the elephant separated at feet and trunk from the base. At the time I really didn’t care. In the thrill of being home, it seemed insignificant.

My mother worked for hours, days I think, to repair that elephant. She found some glue that worked and chinked pieces into gaps like putting Humpty Dumpty together. It worked. I can still see her on her knees toiling away.

I wonder if she really knew, consciously, what she was doing.

When she grew feeble in her mid-nineties and had difficulty remembering names, she still recognized me, even though I only saw her a few times a year. Near the end she told me again that she loved me. She needn’t. I had always known.

I had not always known that my father loved me. Like me, he was not particularly verbal or demonstrative on his feelings. Until that day I signed away my little farm.

It had been on his recommendation that I bought it. I believe he said something like if I didn’t buy it, he would.

Then came divorce and I had to sell it, but that was during a real estate bust in the late seventies and it took two years.

I had to get a perk test and my dad came to fill the hole using what had been my D-17 bucket tractor. I was having a rebellious period and refused.

Then came that awful day when we stood in the little kitchen of that little ramshackle house and signed the papers. My dad stood there with me, silent as usual as I signed away my little dream.

I am sure he consciously knew exactly what he was doing. He taught me something really important about being a father that day, and I never doubted his love again.

It took me almost twenty years to get another piece of land and another sixteen to get a bucket tractor. And when I use it, I think of him.

I stopped grieving the loss of my father on Father’s Day of 1990, a little over two years after his death. I prayed aloud, that day in the Arizona Sonoran Desert, a prayer of gratitude for my father and for the privilege of being a father.

When I garden, I think of both my parents. Planting, cultivating, and harvesting is what we did.

Near the gate to my garden in the north woods stands a wounded ceramic elephant with a pot of flowers on its back. It symbolizes a few things for me, but most of all, it represents the healing power of Love, especially Agape Love.

Happy Father’s Day.

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!