Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Wounded Warriors in Nature Provide a Luminous Guidepost

Until he extends his circle of compassion to include all living things, man will not himself find peace. – Albert Schweitzer
A good mystery takes me firmly by the hand. It pulls me forward around bends, to the top of hills and down into the shadows in the valley. Sometimes we move at such an exhilarating pace, it’s hard to catch my breath. Right now, in this chaotic and shining moment what I see is the mystery of awakening to the vibrant bounty of what Nature offers. And when I see a piece of the puzzle of that mystery falling into place I feel compelled to share it. This particular piece has to do with wounded warriors, war and the possibilities of healing themselves and the planet.
There are many ways and reasons to settle differences without going to war; solutions that allow resources to be shared to the benefit all of those involved. I can’t call myself a pacifist as I once picked up a gun, and would do so again to defend my sleeping child. (No, I didn’t shoot.) I make every effort to resolve situations non violently, even when it comes to corralling a wasp or spider in my room and escorting them outside. I do believe there were moments in history where it would have been close to impossible to do other than engage in battle. And I continue to hold those moments, those people who were involved in my prayers and meditations.
The word veteran comes from the Latin ‘vetus’ which means old. And old is what one sees in the eyes of a veteran of the killing fields. They have traveled through the ‘dark night of the soul’. They’ve been tested in ways that can never be fully understood. In today’s world, a lot more is known about treating PTSD and much remains to discover. Intriguingly, in recent years, some of the most interesting programs are centered in nature. Is it serendipitous? Or are they answering to something deeper when both humans and nature are crying out to be healed?
Ancient wisdom and mythology are full of stories about confronting and overcoming demons in nature. And each vet who has a place to wield an axe to clear brush from a wetland, plant trees and gardens, has the chance to confront his or her personal demons in a setting like no other. And nature responds.
Some vets have hooked up with other vets to start organic farms. The profits are threefold. They feel good about producing healthy food choices for themselves and others. Their confidence is renewed and a portion of their earnings pays for their PTSD therapy. Other vets have found pre-existing groups that place them in programs that help them obtain environmental and conservation related degrees while working in the field. Washington’s state funded veteran’s conservation group www.dva.wa.gov/vet_conservation_corps.html is such program. One medic, Ensign Grisham, who’d done two tours in the Middle East and was suffering from severe PTSD, said that ‘working in nature made him think for the first time that everything would be all right.’
Testing has shown that the veterans in these programs have a ways to go before being free of PTSD, anxiety and depression, but it’s also demonstrated that they’re more able to function socially and their ability to perform tasks has improved. Some vets may never fully mend. But a vital first step has been taken. Their spirits are seeking to reunite within the embrace of friends and families, with communities. In the best of cases, jobs and new enterprises are created. Nature needs them. Nature feeds them.
These men and women are a very special gift to us. They help us grow compassion. They bring mindfulness into our lives. They teach us forgiveness and empathy for the disabled and wounded that live among us and inside us. They pry open our hearts and teach us how to be vulnerable. They are our chance for leading more meaningful lives. Hand in hand with nature, they become a luminous guidepost on the path to our collective future.
Unfortunately, the funding for these kinds of programs is falling away. However, I’m not without hope for Americans are known, for their grass root services, the ingenuity of the solutions they put into place to help others. With good will and intent, through donations and or volunteering, these valuable groups will survive and flourish alongside us.


  1. My brother was 21 when he was taken from the Vietnam War .He was a fighter pilot, his last siege, the Bay of Tonkin..He came home the Christmas before and I caught him strapping off in the basemnet but had no idea what he was doing..The fear and surprise in his eyes was unforgettable: he made me promise not to tell our parents..It wasn't until I was much older I understood what I saw and what was the cause of his freak plane accident in San Luis Obispo the following winter when he and 3 other pilots rented a plane to fly to SF for Christmas.
    They crashed into a bonfire of flames in a small field.There were no recognizable remains. My senior year in HIgh School took an abrupt detour as I tried to piece together the past and the present and prepare myself for a parentless future..Our parents had just divorced the year before..
    For years I blamed myself for not understanding Jim's plight and getting him the help he needed..His eyes were deep with self loathing and pain..He should have never been a Marine or any kind of soldier..He did not have the proper ingredients...he was raped of a life..Jim had a temper and signed up in his Junior year after a fist fight with our father.
    Our father was a good man but uneducated...he accused Jim of not being man enough to handle anything...That was also the summer Jim grew 8 inches.He towered over the entire family afterwards at 6ft2"..
    emotional revenge?
    Many years later in my late 20's.. I visited San Luis Obispo..I decided to take a walk through the area of the crash.. I found a beautifull little creek with a dingy attached to the house I was visiting.. so I let it take me on an adventure..When the boat stopped I was presented a large grassy sunfilled field.. I lay down to take in all the odors and the sun ...and fell asleep. When I awoke a large white mare was sleeping next to me like a lover ..its nose snorting softly next to my face..I stared into that horse's gaze and KNEW all was well..On the way home in the dingy I witnessed the greatest phenomenon...These water newts started to surround the dingy..then as we drifted down the stream they collectively formed a ball and rolled along with me ..occasionally others hooking onto the sphere..I was so riveted by this experience I spoke about it for years...now it is just one of my veneers.
    We who have the chance not to have to defend ourselves are so fortunate..WAR and the taking of another''s life is a wound left open..
    it is as you say SAM other people's compassion that can close those wounds...
    Thank you for your inspiring blogs...and the opportunity to share...

  2. My brother was 21 when he was taken from the Vietnam War..He was a fighter pilot and his last seige was the Bay of Tonkin. The Christmas before I caught him strapping off in our basement. With a look of raw fear and surprise he made me promise never to tell our parents. It wasn't until years later I relaized what I had witnessed. or that this scene explained the reason why the plane he and 3 other pilots crashed in a field in San Luis Obispo on thier way to SF the following Christmas..
    The plane crashed in a bonfire of flames leaving no recognizable remains.
    My senior year took an abrupt detour as I tried to piece together my past,present and parentless future. our parents had divorced the year before.
    The deep sadness and self loathing in Jim's eyes haunted me for years as I felt responsible for not helping him get the help he needed.
    He had joined the Marines after a fist fight and our father yelling at him he wasn't a man..The Marines or any outfit was not his tailored suit and raped him of a life.
    How the patina of war has been distorted to define manliness.. Our father was uneducated but a good man and I am a sure was riddled with his own pain after the crash.. though he nver spoke of it.
    Years later in my late 20's I decided to visit San Luis Obispo and a friend. A broken dingy was attachd to ther dock which I decided to let take me on an adventure one morning.. After several lazy hours, I stopped at a large open field, lay down on the grass ,taking in all the spring odors and fell asleep..
    When I awoke a large white mare was sleeping next to me like a lover. Her soft snorting, rythmic...as I gazed into her eyes I KNEW all was well.. On my journey home in the dingy a group of water newts began to swim along side the boat..They formed a ball and rolled along with me ...occasionally other newts joined the sphere...This expereince affected me so strongly I spoke of it for years, now it is just one of my veneeers..
    You are so right SAM the wounds of war are open and it is others that help close them..anyone who is fortuante enough not have been challenged by violence is fortunate..it a gift to be handed forward..
    Thank you for your insprirational blogs SAM .. and the opportunity to comment. xxx+ooo