(Originally Cont’d from PTSD alert: don’t squander away your life 12-5-09)
I began to ponder this while meditating Friday night (Oct 24, 2009) at the Omega Institute in the Hudson Valley of New York State. I was attending a retreat led by coordinator, Claude AnShin Thomas, a combat veteran with PTSD who just happened to have become an ordained Buddhist monk. He has been helping other PTSD vets through Zen teachings.
His basic message: “focus on the breath.”
By using meditative tools, additional options become available to the veteran. You simply direct your attention from one breath to the next, using the flow as an anchor. During the time it takes to get from a full intake to a gut-expelling out-take, a person can realize there’s more than one way to respond in a given situation, particularly, a stress-filled one. Some PTSD veterans see only one action to take: “attack.“
“Fight.” And not “freeze.” For God’s sake, you never “flee.” You “lash out” with all the pent-up rage hiding just beneath your surface.
Too often, you give in to that urge to maim . . . to hurt . . . or even . . . to destroy.
Another person. More frequently it seems, you’re aiming that anger at your self.
The military taught us to respond quickly, and when something triggers a flash back, our conditioned persona often kicks in and we revert to the good, highly trained soldier, sailor or marine. We take up the survivor’s skills that had served us so well in a war zone, but has since come to plague us in our daily civilian lives.
Personally, I don’t think my PTSD will ever go away. I’ll have it for the duration of my life’s tour here on Planet Earth.
But instead of “giving in” to that first knee-jerk reaction, I now know that I can make a choice. I can respond aggressively as I have before, providing dozens of rationalizations for my action, some even good enough to possibly call for such wrath. Or, I can contemplate another option. An option that can rise during the span of time it takes to breath in air, and let it out — about the time it takes from one “action” to receive a corresponding “reaction.” The brief moment allows me to lower my blood pressure, to provide a more positive feeling, and give me that extra few seconds to consider the consequences.
I hit this guy, I could end up in a place that provides nothing positive for me.
(see Part III, Squander)