Gem Fire AirTaking A Stance For Peace
June 10, 2007
“Were it not for the darkness, we would never know light.”
Recently, Bill Moyers interviewed poet, writer, Maxine Hong Kingston, highlighting her work with over 500 veterans from every war since WWII, to honor “all those soldiers who have served our country in war and peace.”
The scope of her work is staggering considering the fact that she chose to use writing workshops for veterans to have them transfer their war experiences to some form of the written word. Experiences that heretofore were too dark to think about much less share.
As both a trauma therapist and one who has experienced a personal trauma through an auto incident, I know that one of the mediums that helps a person to move through and beyond the trauma is to share the deepest expression of the fear, anger, despair, and helplessness one goes through, and which has been compressed into mere seconds of time.
Mostly, in our Western culture, the modus operandi is to “forget about it and move on” not realizing that despite the persona we put on, we still carry the deep wounds within us, and that they show up regardless of how much we wish otherwise and try to bury them, or deny that they exist, saying instead, “Oh, I’m just fine.”
Even many of today’s professional treatment protocols expect the client/patient to push on and to get over some imaginary line that exemplifies outward healing. Treatment is mostly measured by demonstrating behavior that the system considers normal, and anything outside those parameters is considered abnormal. If the client/patient does not ‘get over it’ within the period of time that an insurance company has decided is time enough, then the client/patient is further classified into a system that provides less and less possibility to truly allow healing to occur.
What we as a culture have failed to fully realize, and which some people are now beginning to acknowledge in the face of the overwhelming dis-ease that our Gulf War and Iraq War veterans have come home with, is that any person who has experienced the field of war is also highly exposed to the trauma that comes with it.
Simply being in a war zone places a person at risk of PTSD. They do not have to actually be on the field of battle to experience the ravages of trauma. Seeing the daily toll that war imprints on the public environment can embed the effects of trauma into the human psyche.
Due to the mindset of military training, a soldier is conditioned to be hardened against such effects — and that is what they believe to be the truth — until some of them experience differently.
But like the familiar hall closet that we constantly use as a catchall, a place to hide away various and sundry things we prefer not to be seen, sooner or later, we find that it is stuffed to the gills with all the unpleasant looking belongings that we did not want to deal with otherwise — and we find ourselves forced to deal with the explosion that comes tumbling out one day when we try to stuff yet one more unmentionable into it. The psyche does not wait forever for us to decide to deal with this accumulation, and once the saturation point is reached, it acts on its own and forces us to the task at hand, whether or not we are ready to come to terms with all that we have hardened ourselves against. Wilhelm Reich called it ‘armoring’.
With the age of modern communication, and since the Korean War, Americans at home have been more immediately exposed to the stories and pictures of war than ever before. There has been a greater sense of awareness by the American people towards the human costs of war; a difference that can be seen in the manner and way we send our soldiers off to war. We used to wave flags and have bands play martial music in the streets as the soldiers marched to war — their mothers and fathers, wives and girlfriends, and sisters and lovers cheered them on.
Modern communication systems have caused a greater awareness, and although we may not be outwardly vocal against sending our sons, husbands, and lovers to war, now we also send our daughters, sisters, and wives. Mostly we put on a strong, face wrapped up in the flag thinking that we are doing our patriotic duty.
Inwardly we hide those not-to-be-spoken-of feelings of fear, dread, and possibly even dissent. No, we stuff those into our personal hall closet. We stuff those feelings of being chilled to the bone by the knowledge of what our loved ones will be exposed to, and by the cold realization that they may not come back alive, and perhaps even worse, that they will come back — maimed or wounded to such a degree that their life will forever be changed.
In Moyers’ interview, Pauline Laurent, wife of a veteran killed in Vietnam says:
“These men who served in Vietnam even though they came back their lives were forever changed. They weren't the same men."
Maxine Hong Kingston responds:
“I think all these people have come back and they are not the same. But my hope is that through art, through telling their stories, by having people hear what they went through, it changes them again, you know. There's the coming home from war, being broken, feeling losses, but then there is a wholeness that takes place if the person were able to write their story, to write their poem, to have people hear them and listen and understand. Then they are changed again.”
Writing about our trauma experience adds another level of expression to the telling of it via the voice. We can hear the voice yet we do not see it. Sound, although it is powerful and has its own place in the healing process, it is also fleeting and momentary. Writing adds another dimension and also places a permanency to the expression. It gets shared; not only in the telling, but also in the availability to have others read it, both silently and aloud. This adds multiple opportunities for the trauma to ultimately be released from the nervous system and eventually to be forgiven.
Connecting the thoughts and feelings that are embedded in the psyche, with the fine motor act of writing those thoughts and feelings out, acts as the conveyance and helps to release the trauma from the psyche and overall cellular structure of the body. Trauma literally embeds itself in the cellular makeup as emotions that we experienced during the trauma and which are frozen there.
In my own experience both personally and professionally, I also use body and breath awareness, and movement within the context of several different expressions of Mindfulness practice to assist in the release of trauma. The combination provides one of the most powerful means to move through and recover from PTSD.
Unfortunately for the population of the world, and specifically the united States, others have also seen the impact of war trauma, and now use it as a tool of psychological warfare against whole societies—9/11 and the present administration’s official “War on Terror.” Since 2001 the administration and politicians of the country have used the WOT as the basis to remove American rights of privacy and freedom. We are also now insidiously inflicted with constant re-traumatization by association each time the words WOT are used, each time we have to show more and more validation of who we are, and each time the President signs another Executive Order that gives him further power, all at the expense of individual freedoms of the people, not the terrorists.
Another participant interviewed by Bill Moyers is Vietnam veteran Ted Sexaur who has this to say about what he experienced:
“In my particular case, in the case of veterans of my generation, it was very significant the fact that we were shut down so much we were not allowed to speak when we came back - we weren't allowed to talk about it. So the effect of was — it becomes a secret in the back of your head when you can't speak about something traumatic that had happened to you.
So the process of writing them down and completing that circle by - after times gone by and people are ready to hear to reading the writing to citizens not so much other veterans but to people who hadn't been there but were curious to know what it was like, yes, solved the problem that I had had about feeling so isolated. I got to reintegrate into society thru that means.”
Isolation is a huge part of the aftermath of a trauma event that first and foremost separates a person from his/her former self. In their defense, they isolate themselves in varying degrees to help them recover.
America in trauma has also become isolated as a culture. We trust fewer and fewer countries to be our allies, and we are alienated from our neighbors. America has fewer friends and we are no longer openly welcomed abroad. Despite what President Bush has promised, we do not feel safer now, and as news coverage proves, we are suspicious of an old man praying on a plane, and those who may even faintly resemble someone from the Middle East.
Our collective paranoia is merely a mirror-reflection of the fear that we ourselves experience personally. Jung would call it the ‘shadow’ of our psyche — the disowned part of ourselves that is too unspeakable to mention let alone think about. It is the part that we repel, push away, and deny ownership of.
Consequently, everyone else is exactly that which we deny ourselves to be. It is like a huge collective blind spot — so that everyone else is the devil, the evil one, the wrong one, and the one out to get us. We feel stalked, like many Americans who believe all Muslims are the enemy who is out to kill every one of us. This is not to deny that in some cases this is not so, but perhaps no more so than it is also true about our own race and kind — the crime rate in the U.S. is one of the top globally, and we have more people incarcerated in the U.S. than any other country in the world. That statistic alone speaks volumes.
Most importantly is the fact that what we are denying in the mirror-reflection is that, what stalks us is not who we think it is — but rather that it is in fact our own shadow that will not leave us alone, and which follows us everywhere we go — even into our most private of thoughts. However, we never see it for that because we cannot come to terms with our own personal villain; in our extreme naiveté, we believe that we are only goodness itself. Such is the stuff that Americans are made of!
We are a very rigid society that has more laws than any other country. As Reich would say, we are fully armored. Our large versions of armored vehicles for cars to keep us safe is but another outward representation of our invisible personal armoring — as is the acclaimed armoring technology of incorporating depleted uranium (DU) into the Abrams tank while it shoots DU-tipped artillery at the enemy.
We have literally annihilated all that we have stood for as America — individual freedoms — and for what the rest of the world has so admired us for in the past. We have been provided a legacy of freedom, but we have not been good stewards of that freedom. We have frittered it away — have spent the principle long ago and haven’t even known it.
Regardless of how insulated we may feel or believe ourselves to be, our house of freedom has not been built upon solid rock, but rather it sits on a bed of shifting sand — and the tide is oncoming.
Bill Moyers asks Maxine Hong Kingston, “How did you come out of that corner?” — meaning that corner of isolation.
Maxine speaks of founding a community of those who she knew had also been through a “terrible war”, and to “understand loss and - and what our lives are like when we've been through devastation, when we are - when we have participated in events that are inhuman, how do we become human again? How do we re-create ourselves?”
And then finally, Moyers gets to the crux of the matter — to the source of the collective expression of the shadow — the violence of war.
Moyers says to Maxine Hong Kingston:
“Well you make it very clear, as have others to me that art, poetry, fiction can help us come to terms with trauma. It can help us to heal and all that, but it doesn't do anything to stop war in the first place. I mean if a government is determined to go to war, there's almost no way to stop that government, right?”
“That is a - such a difficult problem because - here we find methods to - for inner peace, but how do we manifest peace out in the real world? And but -I- maybe -maybe this is the way it works. At first one learns to be a peaceful person, and then - we're able to go into action and - - in action we make good relationships with one person. And there we have a friendship. We would build peaceful, loving communities such as this writing workshop. Okay, so now we have built something in the real world. Made a peace manifest in the real world.”
Here is the one recurring theme that constantly remains present behind my personal Exploration of Peace for 2007.
How much of a difference can I one person make? How do I deal with the ultimate fact that despite all that I have done to make the representatives of my government know how I see the present path of U.S. political policy to be a path of national suicide, they do not have the ears to hear it?
The defining line for me is to know that when I divide myself within a conflicted mind, I do not clearly stand for Peace and thereby am giving power and energy to what I stand against.
It is much clearer and more powerful to stand for something and let all actions be sourced by that stand. Then the action is moving toward something rather than against it — it becomes the ultimate act of Aikido, providing a flow, a blending, rather than a resistance.
In the stance of ever-present Peace,
Labels: armoring, Bill Moyers, collective paranoia, healing trauma, Maxine Hong Kingston, Mindfulness practice, PTSD, shadow, stance for peace, trauma of war, veterans