Part II, Squander

(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)

8 comments on “Part II, Squander

  1. I don’t know ‘we’

    Just ‘you’ so far.

    But I think one day I may have the gift of knowing you and your beautiful family a little better.

    So Hey…?

    If you have a nice older cousin – it would be okay with me to tell ’em that there is a sweet French/NNA/Canadian that thinks he might be cute.

    Just sayin’



  2. *gentle, thoughtful nod*

    “I hit this guy, I could end up in a place that provides nothing positive for me.”

    I see a parallel here in my own life.

    I hear this alot now (or variations of it)…

    “Why didn’t you just kick his ass?!”

    It is always said in an angry and/or frustrated voice and the anger – although I would take it on myself as a reflex in an instant – is never really directed to me but rather a natural reaction of people who feel like they may have been able to help me or encourage me to help myself when I was being mistreated.

    Truth is?

    No one who ever hurt me was worth more than the freedom I had already sacrificed for them.

    If someone raises their hand to me – I flinch and get ready for the hit.

    If it is more subtle – I get ready to feel it another way.

    That is what I was ‘trained’ to do.

    When you feel the pressure to react – you do so and it is an effort to tame yourself to something less than what you have been trained to do.

    I don’t understand war Michael, but I understand pain.

    I am sorry that you are conditioned to feel the need to protect yourself and others from it…

    But I am grateful that you remember all the reasons why you would need to.

    You are a kind person, a good person, a protective person – a soldier.

    Thank you.



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