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.