Archive for March, 2016

I’m peeling back a layer here to go deeper into some of the issues close to heart. Why? Because the things I discuss with combat veterans are deeply personal, deeply human, and deeply spiritual to warfighters in nature. Not religious. Spiritual. Pretty much every topic I discuss can be tied back to spirit. So, let’s explore.

Q: You talk about warfighting being a “spiritual calling.” What do you mean by that?

I believe we are eternal beings of Love and Power. I believe we chose our lifetimes before we come to this earth, including our date and manner of death, and that when we die, we return to the Spirit World, but remain conscious of all of who we are and all of what we’ve experienced. We return to our purer innate essence of full Love and full Power. We come here to learn, to explore, to experience our Selves in ways not possible in the Spirit World. I don’t believe in hell or sin, in the sense of “separation from God” – because I believe we are all divine and you cannot separate us from the Divine anymore than you can separate hydrogen from oxygen and still have water.

So, when I say that being a warfighter is a spiritual calling, I mean that while you’re still in the Spirit Realm, you choose and accept to carry the weight and responsibility of being a death-bearer. Not all combat veterans are warfighters, not all combat veterans carry the spiritual calling. But those who do, know it deep down in their soul dna. Being a warfighter is who they are. It’s what feels the most natural to them, and while they can and do certainly live in peace among civilians, most always have a sense of “being among but not one of.” Something’s always off just a bit, missing. You’re never quite home.

In an unholy sense, think of a lifetime like a video game. You choose your role, understand the risks, don’t know what’s going to happen next, can choose to end the game early, and overall, do your best to complete all the missions and rank up or die trying. Now, obviously, life is far more sacred than this, but it gives you a context to consider. It also returns you to a sense of your own power in choosing this lifetime and that is absolutely critical to your future.

Q: So, if you carry this spiritual calling, then what?

Accepting and seeing it as a spiritual calling gives you ground to stand on, or fall on when it gets too heavy. Warfighters (warriors) have always spent more time out of combat than in it. For the most part, they have always had to find ways to endure peace. Bearing the responsibility to be the one who sends others back to the Spirit World is a sacred and heavy trust. It’s not one any true warrior takes for granted, it sits in your chest, it changes and shapes you, it lasts across lifetimes. It creates a sense of sin and pleasure, it is a position of power and grace. It makes you more deeply aware of the value of life, and strips away the lies, falsehoods, and illusions we humans use to deny ourselves the right to truly, deeply live. This is one reason why warfighters often struggle with feeling more alive when the Energy of Death is near. Because Death is real. And its presence, its energy, makes Life real. We often assume we are numbing out to avoid pain, when we’re actually numbing out to avoid our present life because a life that can’t be lived as real as we know it can be… feels depressing and void and pointless. (Until you learn to see with a different perspective, and you absolutely can do that.)

Q: What about the lust to kill?

It is in the nature of a true warrior to feel pleasure in killing an enemy. Even when the “enemy” gets broadened to define anyone who might put one’s self or fellow warriors in harm. The lust to kill is sometimes an actual lust, but often it’s that sense of exacting power and the satisfaction from defeating a worthy opponent. The satisfaction is not the same when the kill is too easy or the enemy not equal enough to you. When it’s unequal, you can start to feel guilt or a sense of shame (even if the fight was still just). Our modern world has lost the ability to see the appetites of the warfighter as natural. Now, does that mean you can just go out in the civilian world and do violence? Hell no. Being a warfighter is all about containing and controlling power, mastering it so that you are able to be the dark and the light. Kind, gentle, passionate, tender, respectful when appropriate. Lethal, dark, vengeful and vicious when appropriate. You are not “two different people” — but rather, a more whole one.

Q: You don’t believe in sin and yet, so many feel shame and guilt and deep remorse for things they’ve done and experienced. Does it ever go away?

No. It doesn’t. There are things we justify within ourselves, mostly destroying in order to defend and protect fellow warfighters or the innocent. And there are things you never get over. Not in this lifetime. Not in the next. (Because it’s all ONE Life, just different lifetimes. You remain You.) If there is no external “God” waiting to judge us, and if we are the very essence of Love and Power… then our sense of shame and guilt comes from believing that what we have done was wrong and should not have happened. There are some things we will always know in our soul dna that are irrefutably wrong. And when we violate those instinctive beliefs, it does something to us deep down. People like to call it “moral injury” now… and in a sense, it is an injury to our sense of morality. But more often than not, it’s a sense that we have violated an instinctive spiritual code among human beings. And so, we have to look at the bigger picture of this lifetime (and sometimes past lifetimes) to see how our actions are part of the bigger story of Us. And ultimately, look at how can we make choices NOW to impact the story. Because while past actions have consequences, so do your current ones. And some of the greatest love and goodness expressed in this world has come from those who chose to choose Life after they had previously chosen destruction.

Civilians thinks warfighters feel guilt over killing. Period. That’s not true. You may, but most often, it’s guilt over violating the Code. Some of the deepest wounds come from not having been able to save your own brothers (or sisters) in battle. From a personal sense of “your best not having been your best” because someone you loved died at the end. Even though you know, logically, that you truly did your best in that time and place. And sometimes, you know you didn’t do your best. You made a mistake. You let yourself get distracted. You failed to find the courage you needed. Tiredness and a depleted body made you fight just a little less harder than you would have otherwise. In other words, you were a human being being a human while in battle. So much is entirely out of our control and yet, the brain will gnaw at your wound with “if only I had” or “I should have” or “did I make the right decision?” until the pain is so great you shut down that part of you that feels anything or you think killing yourself is the only way to end spiritual pain. (It’s not, often being able to tell your story to someone who will hold it sacred is enough to begin to lessen its pain and help you find a way to carry it.)

What it comes down to, is that guilt comes from love. A general love for humanity (at least those we deem innocent among us) or from personal, relational love — the kind warriors have for one another. You break the spiritual Code and you are going to feel the weight and pain of it. But that doesn’t mean it needs to destroy you. You have choices. One of them is to accept your own humanity, to accept what happened and to let the pain you must endure help you make choices during peace that build life, that honor life, that teach others the value of life. And you can do that WHILE remaining a warrior. Again, contain the dark and the light. Wholeness.

Q: That sounds overly simple.

There’s nothing simple about it. You have to choose the courage to carry the weight on your soul, to own who you are in this world, in this lifetime. But the pain and sense of remorse, the tears that well up just thinking about it, the sense of a hole in your chest that nothing can fill because what happened has taken that part of you and it’s just gone — that’s reality. I think we confuse “healing” with “take away all the impact of trauma and combat from me and make me how I used to be.” And that’s what many warriors come to me hoping for.

That’s not what it’s all about. Healing is a natural process that restores life to our cells, and our Aliveness over time, when the conditions for it are supported, allowed, and chosen. But healing does not erase scars, does not regrow limbs, does not take the ache out of you that comes from the trauma, does not revert you at all to who you used to be. Healing moves you forward. You BECOME who you are not yet. Healing is a necessary part of being a warfighter, but it does not alleviate you from the weight and responsibility of being a warfighter. Nor does it change who you are. It may change your way of being and relating in this world when combat is no longer an option for you.

So, while healing is very much what I am here to help guide warfighters to experience, at the same time, it’s more like I have this virtual camp. ¬†When warfighters are in my camp, they have a safe place to rest, to let their guard down, to feel protected in spirit, to refind their strength and refind their courage. It’s about living as a combat veteran and warfighter. Living the best life you can with the wounds and losses, with the scars and pain, with everything in you….allowing and choosing to carry the weight you have been so sacredly entrusted with in this lifetime, and often in past lifetimes as well. It’s tough, but you wouldn’t have chosen this lifetime and still be here if you weren’t going to be given the resources and strength and choices to grow and continue on your journey as a human being.

 

You were trained to be violent. That’s obvious to you, but it’s not to civilians. They see veterans who struggle with violence or violent tendencies as someone who has lost control (or never had it) and they fear you. Warfighters and LEOs are the only callings in life where you are trained to use violence as part of your role. Not only trained, but rewarded for it. So, let’s be clear on this. It is as much an issue of training as it is habit, now that you have been to war and back.

In a perfect world, warfighters would remain with other warfighters throughout their lifetimes, deployed away from civilians, where they are inherently understood and can be who they are. But our world doesn’t operate like that, you either get out of the military when you don’t re-enlist or you are discharged. Either way, you are separated from the culture, lifestyle and accepted norms of behavior that you’ve lived with, only to meet a world that has vastly different expectations of you. You come home displaced, with a ton of emotions and experiences that no one can see, you don’t really know this civilian world, and yet, you don’t want others to know you’re struggling.

And you are angry and you are used to having violence be a way of solving problems.

That doesn’t work in the civilian world. So what can you do about it?

1.) Don’t feel sorry for yourself. Man (or woman) up and realize that you are responsible for your life now. There is no one else to blame or hold responsible anymore. When you left the military, they handed ownership of your life back to you. You may not know what to do with it, but it’s yours. This is a new concept for you if you have spent your entire adult life in the military where someone else was in charge, someone else told you where to be, how to do things, how not to do things, and made life very simple (not easy) for you.

2.) Get a good understanding of PTSD and of the spiritual impact of combat. Know why you are angry. Learn why you react the way you do. Spend time thinking about the connection between how you were trained, what you experienced, what was acceptable in the military, why you react/don’t react the way you do. You need to look inward and understand the Why behind your tendency to lash out in violence.

3.) Don’t overlook the physical/biological reasons. If you have a TBI, it may be more challenging for you to control your emotions. The same is true if you are chronically tired and not getting enough sleep. Sleep deprivation makes it harder to control emotions (and so much harder to be in a good mood). It also makes you crabby and far more likely to lash out. There’s an interesting theory about OTS (Over Training Syndrome) where your body/mind/spirit is depleted from endless training/deploying/training/deploying. Understanding the physical/biological reasons that impact your emotions is essential.

4.) Decide to change. This sounds oversimplified. It’s not. There are many things you cannot control (having a TBI, PTSD, nightmares, etc.), but the fact is that until you decide to control the things you CAN control, you won’t change. I’m not talking about being a controlling person, I’m talking about showing up for your Self, owning responsibility for your attitude, perspective and beliefs in life, and taking action to live the best life you can. There is no room for a victim mentality in true warfighters, nor do you have the luxury of remaining stuck in a life that is not yours anymore. If you have made it home alive after being in combat, you are here to Live your life. You are here to honor your fallen by living as fully and deeply and joyfully and truly as you possibly can. You owe it to them. That means you have a future and you have a hope. And at some point, you are going to have to close the door on What Is No Longer and be here, right now, in What Is. But the choice is up to you. You want to change your life, you find a way to do it.

5.) To change your life, you have to accept What Is and surrender to the process of transformation. It’s your nature and training to fight to solve something, and if it doesn’t work, you fight harder. It’s necessary in battle, right? Most of the time. The only problem is, you are not in combat now and there is no enemy trying to kill you. When you take a “fight harder” approach, you turn your Self into your Enemy. But there is no one who needs your Love more than your Self. And you don’t need to be fought, you need to be acknowledged, valued, loved, heard, given room to change. Who needs to give that to you? You do. (I’m going to write more about this in another post, as it’s very very important and such a huge mindshift for warfighters that it deserves some true contemplation and exploration. But for now, realize that fighting may not be the way to transform your life. Surrender to being a learner of new ways of being is.)

6.) Learn how to master your power.¬†Anger spikes violence, right? You can learn to manage anger. This is about power management. You are an intensely powerful being and unlike most civilians, you’ve been trained to control and unleash power that is lethal. You don’t get more powerful than taking a human life, right? Wrong. True power comes from mastering your own passions, from learning to control your power to be as effective as possible. Warfighters are the few who must learn to control immense power within themselves. You are not exempt from that requirement now that you are living in the civilian world. There are anger management classes, yoga, mindfulness, martial arts, there are leaders and authors like Mark Nepo, Mike Dooley, and so many others who have ways to teach you about how to honor your power while seeking inner peace and being who you are meant to be in this world. Start looking. Start searching. Do the work of finding the perspectives that make sense to you and open your mind to whole new ways of thinking about life and purpose. The more you learn how to Be Present with Life, the less anger is required to make you feel alive.

7.) Take it out on something safe. Get a punching bag, go to the gym regularly, learn how to box, burn off that extra tension and energy that builds up, find a physical way that is non-destructive to express that energy. Get off the PS4, put your beer down, and move your body. Dance! Get silly. Laugh. Just move. Physical fitness in the military is not just to keep you in fighting shape. It is to help you manage your energy and power. Put that practice to use now.

8.) Know that the desire for violence does not make you a monster. It makes you a well-trained and experienced warrior who hungers for what was once most fulfilling to you. It makes you someone who must learn to master that desire in order to retain your honor and protect your brothers’ dignity. It makes you someone who has been given great responsibility – the knowledge of how to use violence in this world – and that responsibility is one you carry to the grave and on into your next lifetime. If you struggle with fantasies of violence, consider writing fiction or song lyrics. You can express it safely in writing – whether you pen a novel, screenplay, song, or just write stories that no one ever reads. Try to find a way to move that energy out of you in a way that does not harm anyone. It’s the feeling you are craving, and those feelings can be created through story. The brain does not know the difference between what is imagined and what is real. (How else do you feel emotions from the films you watch?)

9.) Get help. You’re not alone. Sometimes the relief you find in sharing what’s really going on in you is enough to help empower you to feel more in control and take action.

10.) Safety has to come first. Repairing or addressing relationships comes second. If you feel that you are putting others or yourself in physical harm, or if others feel threatened by you, know that they absolutely must leave you and be in a safe place. They are not betraying you if they do not feel safe, or if they decide they need to live elsewhere while you focus on learning how to master your power. If you are suicidal, call 911 or go to the local Emergency Room and let someone help you to find a way through this.

Remember, you have to be the hero in your own life. Only you can save You. Others, like me, serve as guides, but ultimately, this is your life and you have to make the choices to find new ways of getting help, coping, being, adapting and thriving. You are here to support life now; not to destroy it.

Stand firm and have faith. You have the power to change your life.