spirituality is the negotiation of the boundaries between “I” and “we,” the
purpose of breathing meditation is to clarify those boundaries. It is necessary
because being born into a new life is an intensely shared experience, creating
connections that make it difficult to know where we stop and another (initially
mother) begins. The first goal of breathing meditation is to be confident in
our sense of self.
as we separate life remains a collaboration. What is no longer needed by us can
be a gift to other living things. What they no longer need can be a gift to us.
To meditate on our breath is to be conscious of that exchange: we exhale carbon
dioxide, and plants release oxygen.
To master breathing meditation is to make exchange the sole focus of our awareness. As mastery grows, awareness extends to subtle exchanges of thoughts and then pure energy. Obviously breathing meditation is not mastered in a day.
In the era of Alexander the Great, conquest was used to propagate culture. In the terrifying era of battlefield massacre, wars were fought to preserve the nation-state. With the development of nuclear weaponry, finally civilized nations realized that military readiness must serve only one purpose: preservation of the peace.
Peace is not easy, for tensions exist in every relationship. Nations with different languages and customs cannot just dissolve their borders – their citizens would argue and fight. To ensure that tensions do not boil over, treaties and pacts must be negotiated.
The parallels with death are critical. Death is also a form of separation. We would like it to be gradual and gentle, but often it is not.
A sudden violent death can confuse a spirit. A Japanese doctor who was trysting outside of Nagasaki reported encountering a victim of the blast, charred skin crusted from head to toe, walking away from the city. The victim dropped dead upon seeing the horror in the doctor’s eyes.
Warriors can get lost in their mastery of death, seeking only killing for its own sake. Warriors that fight to protect peace are therefore right to feel virtuous. When they were nurtured within the confines of a peaceful society, love was offered freely to them by adults and peers. Given those gifts, many PTSD victims consider themselves to be “weak.” I see the matter more sympathetically.
The only way a warrior can go into the modern battlefield is
to suspend understanding of the dangers they face. Those that remain effective
in combat are those that ignore the realities unfolding around them. It is
those that take it in – that see the death and destruction, that allow their
souls to bear witness to it – that fall into despair.
Upon returning home, warriors may be numb because modern war is inhumanely destructive. Souls torn from broken bodies travel with the returning veteran. Those souls hang on to the veteran’s sympathy, either hoping to escape death’s merciless grip or hoping to receive confirmation that their sacrifice was of value.
The only alternative to this kinship with the departed is to avoid the trauma of loss. In “War,” Junger remarks that fresh troops arriving in Afghanistan were immediately sorted by veterans. Those that are not taken in are those that fall first – not infrequently when marching to their position. The veterans somehow know to avoid them, and thereby escape the grief of their loss. The hapless rookies are consigned to death.
But that is knowledge gained from experience, and so comes too late. In “Combat Stress Reaction,” Zahava Solomon offers the opinion that almost every warrior comes back with trauma – it is just that most of them don’t report it. Where the PTSD casualty is “weak,” the functional veteran is hardened.
In either case, the veteran is a wound in the heart of a
peaceful society. They struggle with violent outbursts, unreliable productivity,
and substance abuse. Culturally, they become death’s viruses.
So where is healing in this picture? To find it we must
return to the insight offered at the beginning of the last section: the mind is
a time-travel device. In combat, the well-trained corps functions as a single
gestalt, drawing upon shared tactical concepts to think their way through a
successful engagement. But at a deeper level, the entire field of combat is
tied together in a struggle against death. That fear is universal. Enemy
combatants are equally victims of circumstance and deserve equally to be
liberated from fear.
Coming back into a peaceful society, the warrior enters that greatest and most valiant struggle. Where love was once received from parents without reflection, the PTSD casualty now must choose to receive love and guard its benefits. When that choice is made, the surrender reveals an infinite source of unimaginable power. Whether it is called God, Source, the Universe or The Good, it steps into the warrior’s mind to reveal that death is only a temporary separation that is pierced by love.
This is the individual warrior’s road to peace. When that hope is projected universally, the goal of every wise warrior is brought into reach: the insanity of modern warfare is apprehended equally in all cultures, and a durable peace becomes possible.
When dealing with combat stress and its follow-on disorders, hypnotherapy is an adjunct to treatment by licensed clinicians – both psychologists and medical doctors.
All caregivers recognize that combat stress drives the warrior into an extremely protective posture toward the world. In fact, the shift begins in training. The armed services cultivate a mentality that in the Army is known by the acronym “BATTLEMIND.”
As recognized in “After the War Zone,” the mentality poses challenges to post-deployment reintegration in civil society. The authors – clinical psychologists working at a veteran’s center – consider each piece of BATTLEMIND one at a time, cautioning the returning warrior to prevent those elements from poisoning his relationships with family, friends and employers.
This is an attitude comfortable to the warrior: confront the problem and defeat it. Thinking as a hypnotherapist, however, it has serious deficits. The subconscious does not understand “no” very well. If fact, “don’t do that” often reinforces the importance of whatever “that” is. In other words, lacking a positive alternative, the subconscious tends to stick with what it knows.
To address this deficit, I suggest a “HOMEHEART” perspective that actively seeks to restore adventurous, heart-centered relationships. Re-integration should be built around experiences that build confidence in the world.
The emotional charge in undertaking these steps should not be underestimated. The warrior fights to preserve our emotional privileges under conditions in which those privileges are brutally punished. Each privilege may associate with a traumatic event. If and when those are discovered, however, awareness of specific connections is a powerful aid to licensed therapists and adjunct professionals seeking to facilitate recovery.
H – harmony. This could be found in music, poetry, art, chanting or nature.
O – openness. This could be experienced by sitting passively while others offer physical and emotional closeness (rather than intimacy).
M – mindfulness. Mindfulness is a practice of being in the present moment. Drinking a mug of water, tying a shoe, or walking in a garden are all safe avenues for focusing on the simple pleasures of the now.
E – empathy. Doing charitable work, growing food, and caring for other living creatures are all means of re-establishing this connection to the world.
H – healing. This is the gradual experience of allowing the blocked heart to open to receive positive energies from the world.
E – ecstasy. Experiencing the exciting tingle of intimate contact with our friends, our children and our lover.
A – allowing. Making decisions based upon what brings pleasure, rather than what guarantees safety.
R – relating. Negotiating full participation in our social system of family, friends and employers.
T – trusting. Any bond of the heart is mutual – when our heart is open, to be loved is a felt experience. Confidence in those bonds is strengthened by success in our relationships.
The great benefit of hypnotherapy is in facilitating consideration of these experiences by the whole mind before they are practiced in life with loved ones that may be vulnerable to fear, anger and hostility carried over from combat.
When dealing with combat stress and its follow-on disorders, hypnotherapy is an adjunct to treatment by licensed clinicians – both psychologists and medical doctors. Further information on hypnotherapy and combat stress reactions and PTSD is here. A perspective on the psychic battle against death concludes this series.
As a particle physicist trained to believe that time only flows forward, I wasn’t prepared to accept a fact known to many warriors: the brain is a time-travel device. Once I did, I developed a completely new understanding of trauma: in the event, the survivor reaches deep into themselves to find resources, and receives them from their own future.
Thus survivors of trauma relapse. As they develop strength,
their past reaches out to claim what was necessary to survive. My counsel to
those that survived personal trauma
was to recognize the dynamic and respond to the need in an organized way. When
the event crashes through the walls, don’t fight it, but offer to that earlier
I love you. We are strong enough. Come to me.
While effective, that advice was offered as an intuitive
Professionally, the gatekeepers for trauma recovery are licensed psychotherapists and psychologists. Their goal is simple: keep the sufferer in the here and now. The techniques used include stress inoculation, cognitive behavioral therapy, and exposure therapy. The strength thereby created is essential to recovery, but insufficient: it masks off the past rather than healing it.
Alternative healing modalities address the psychic process
head-on. Methods such as EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing)
and EFT (Emotional Freedom Therapy) broaden the perceptions of the mind-body to
diminish the hold of trauma.
Hypnotherapy enhances all these techniques. The traumatized mind is wide open – the barrier of the critical mind has fallen, and so information is taken in as absolute truth. This victim is often susceptible to paranoia and conspiracy theories. By taking the client into deeper hypnotic states and then out into conscious dialog, the procedure of hypnosis rebuilds the barrier of the critical mind.
Secondly, hypnotherapists rely upon dreams to monitor the evolution of the subconscious landscape, and interpretation of dreams was always a central feature in therapy. Dreams occur in sequential episodes during the night, and until hypnotherapists learned how each episode affects the development of behavior, attempts to interpret dreams could heighten client anxiety. Once the episodes were understood, recurring dreams (such as flashbacks to traumatic experiences) could be passed and eventually expelled from the subconscious. This is valuable to trauma victims whose haunting dreams often wake them in the middle of the night.
As the strength of the critical mind is restored, hypnotherapy’s third goal picks up pace: rebuilding assurance that the client is safe, freeing the conscious mind to restore and reactivate the circuitry that suppresses the fight/flight response. In this stage, in transmitting insights directly to the subconscious, hypnotherapy is an amplifier for psychotherapy.
Battle trauma creates an imbalance in the warrior’s mind.
Fear dominates his or her expectations. Obviously battle is not a typical
experience, and the imbalance is extreme.
But parents raise children with predispositions toward euphoria
or fear. When the former is expected, the child becomes adventurous. When the
latter is expected, the child is protective. Most children have experiences
that balance those expectations – they may be adventurous in one context and
protective in another.
Until the 1950s, many hypnotists believed that protective
people could not be hypnotized. Unfortunately, it is the protective person that
most often needs hypnotherapy. As his practice became dominated by such
clients, Dr. John Kappas applied himself to cracking their hypnotic code.
In the course of that study, surprising behavioral differences were revealed. Most naturally, adventurers (called “physicals” by Kappas) attract attention and crave intimacy, while protectors (called “emotionals”) dress conservatively and prefer time alone. Less obviously: adventurers tend to answer questions indirectly, taking the listener on a journey of experience. Protectors tend to be terse – in extreme cases answering only with “yes” and “no.” Paradoxically, adventurers interpret requests literally – they take words at their face value – while protectors anticipate the motivations behind the request and act accordingly.
As regards the psychic struggle of combat stress, the most important difference is that the adventurer invests heart in every relationship, while the protector invests mind. They both care – and in fact complement one another. Adventurers without a protector find themselves out on a limb; protectors without an adventurer find themselves isolated and bored.