99 Red Balloons

I was driving home on River Road, outside of Salem, Oregon with the top down on the Mustang. I was enjoying the afternoon and the curves of the road. In many things I am typically a pragmatic person, I am, in some, a sensualist. And driving a convertible Mustang on a curvy road is quite enjoyable. Aiding in this enjoyable moment was when when a cover of the song 99 Red Ballons came on over the radio.


The song,a great 80’s song, got me thinking. Here are the lyrics to the song. The basic gist of the song is below:

This was one of the songs in the ’80s to make a point about the brinkmanship and paranoia/hysteria surrounding the issue of war. The song talks about Nena and the listener buying 99 Balloons in a shop and letting them go, for fun. These balloons show up on the radar as unidentified objects and both sides scramble planes and go to full alert to counteract a perceived nuclear attack, when in fact it is the most childlike of things, a bunch of balloons.

As I was thinking about this song, about it being a story of possible brinksmanship, but more thoughts. Suppose you have someone who hears this story and takes it as factual truth. It is treated with all the reverence of dogma. They construct elaborate rituals about releasing red balloons, sometimes with hundreds and hundreds of them at a time.

Another person takes the lyrics of the song and recognizes there are discrepancies. The song makes no mention of using any helium gas tank. They insist that without this, balloons would not float in the air at all. Nor does the song make mention of them tying the balloons together to form a clump. In fact, they say, it says they were released one by one, until they were gone. Even if they could float without using separate air tanks, and given a rate of releasing the balloons at about 2 per minute, a rate guessed at considering two young adults and blowing balloons manually or utilyzing a singular air tank, the balloons would disperse even considering a windless night. They would also suggest that balloons dispersed as such would not be visible on radar.

The pro-balloon side counters that it is possible to detect such small objects if clustered, that the dispersion isn’t enough to be invisible to radar. They point to examples of doppler radar picking up flights of birds.

Birds on radar
birds on radar

Scientific American article about birds on a radar.

The other other side counters that this sort of phenomenon is not an unusual occurrence, that any experienced radar techs would be looking for meaningless junk on the screen.

The two sides argue back and forth about the hows and ifs. Meanwhile, both miss miss the point of the song. By taking the song as literal, and arguing the feasibility of a literal interpretation of the song, they don’t consider the mythic meaning the song raises; the nature of people to react with violence when they are fearful, or of tribalism. The meaning of the song, its message, is more important than any literal meanings. Take the song as literal, what does it say about tribalism and brinksmanship? The believers in the literal nature of the song, that it represents historical accuracy, could still enter into discussion with people about the deeper meanings. The non-literalist side, believing the song to be utterly ridiculous in its likelihood, could suspend disbelief to enough of a degree to discuss the central themes of that, not understood, could lead to widespread violence.

Such is the discussions around religion. Some followers of some religions propose that only their specific version of religion is the true one. They point to their dogma, use circular logic, and forget the very messages of their books. The sides that attack various religions, that because there is no logical way (insert religion here) could be proven true, followers of such must be idiots. They miss the very real human themes of existentialism that are portrayed and the mythic, emotional delivery vehicles they contain.

I use myth and meaning in ritual for healing and enlightenment. While some sides argue their religion/anti-religion sides, attempting to control people’s behavior, some of us are able to see the mythic themes and use them to help spread healing and understanding. And, if I notice that either of the literal camps of pro/against, overstep their bounds, I will oopppose them and work to limit their influence. For they are the most dangerous thing against human freedom.

I was passing the State Capitol recently and there was a guy dressed as Uncle Sam with a very large display of the Christian 10 Commandments. People, such as him, believe that they should be able to create laws forcing others in their literal interpretation of their brand of religion. I did not ask him, but several people like him loudly profess that this country is based on Christianity (it isn’t, you are quite mistaken). As I went by him I simply said “Honor to the Gods. Honor to Odin.” I wasn’t looking for an argument. I didn’t state it in any accusatory tone. And I didn’t oppose his beliefs. I only wanted him to know that there are other people who honor other gods.

Just as we protect the rights of people who literally believe 99 Red Balloons, we should also protect the rights of those who claim the song is absurd. Again, the bigger picture is a human drama, and the myths of meaning we tell to help us get along together on this large spinning rock in a very large Cosmos.

Blessed Be.


The Green Man


I recently attended Faerieworlds in Oregon. I’ve gone several years now and this was the first year that I started with the opening circle dance and finished with the last act, camping out the entire weekend. I loved it. I always do, but this time was different. It was at Hornings Hideout, lots of trees to walk under. I slept in a tent and woke up both mornings to the sound of rain. I read, drank coffee, and then ventured around the booths and exhibits. I talked to many wonderuful people, watched a lot of great music, gained a friend, and overall had a magickal time.

One of the best things about it for me was that I was surrounded by other pagans like myself. I’ve left Christianity around 1992 or so, and soon after I discovered paganism, specifically Wicca. Like many before, and after, it felt like a homecoming to me. I’ve written at length the amount of fear, distrust, accusations, and more that I experienced from ill-meaning as well as well-meaning Christians over the years, so I will not do so here. I do not define myself by their rules and so could care less now how they view me. In the beginning, however, it was hard. In those days I needed the community that I felt at Faerieworlds to help bolster my esteem, raw as it was, still clinging to vestiges of the brainwashing of Christianity (hellfire and brimstone teachings of fear took years to root out. I oppose teaching such to children, it is nothing short of child abuse).

No, I don’t suffer such neophyte esteem issues these days after over 20 years on the path. But what I do suffer from at times is an unbalanced logical view. A dear friend of mine, well entrenched in intuition and emotion, would question me often as to why I placed supreme virtue on logic instead of emotion. It is easy for me to see this as a completely absurd question not worthy my time. Yet if I were honest, I don’t answer the question because the locical answer is unsatisfactory, and the emotional one is stunted. Being around so many other pagans for 3 days was medicine for me. It reopened doors long shut. This isn’t to say that I’ve turned logic off, gods no! But that I am seeking balance.

On Monday, the day after the event, I am home and showered. The day is brilliant and I needed to go hiking. So I packed my newly bought pointy cap, which gives me no small amount of joy to wear, my trusty walking stick, and a military map case that I put books in, grabbed some tea, and departed for a stretch of forest

It is often customary for me to draw a rune or a tarot card when I first embark on a hike. This was a common practice for me when I was at my prior best self in Houston (just before moving to Oregon) and to such a state I am returning to spiritually. I did so again, drawing a single card from the Wildwood Tarot deck, a new deck that I’ve acquired. It is a nice deck, there are some things I like about it, some things I do not like about its coherence, but overall it is a very nice deck.


I drew The Green Man. While the history of this myth is questionable (see here) it does indeed strike a powerful symbol, suggesting an archetypal influence. The Wildwood Tarot writes, among other things about this card, that this concerns the masculine aspect of Nature. There is generosity here, gaurdianship, and dynamic energy. It says to be prepared for a thriving drive to begin new projects, relationships, and new ways of living life.

This isn’t where I say ‘ah ha’ and point to some proof. This is where I enter a path with open eyes.

I began my walk of contemplation. I have different walks, some are for a purpose, some for time, some are to just be. On these latter walks I may stop at some seemingly arbitrary spot on a path and just watch what occurs around me. There may be nothing of noticeable importance there to a passerby, but after a few minutes I might notice a great deal around me. I recall such a time when I became entranced with watching an inchworm climb up a single strand. What I know is that there is a universe of wonder and beauty around me. It isn’t a question of going to find it, but instead of being able to see what is there. Whether this is a spot of grass in a parking lot, or a majectic view from a bluff makes no difference. It is easy to see the beauty in a viewpoint, but beauty is all around to eyes open to see. And so on a walk I may stop for minutes at a time until I am able to see the beauty around me. Then I will continue, each step in gratitude.

After walking a bit I came upon a crossroad. Either direction was just as good as another, I knew what lay down each direction. Yet I took a left turn and further down I heard a raven fly over a ravine. That last two times I’ve been on this path I heard a pair of ravens in this area. I surmise that their nest is nearby, though I’ve been unable to spot it with binos. Looking up I noticed that a jet aircraft’s path matched the path that I was on. I took this as a synchronicity event, two unrelated events with a meaningful connection. In other words, I took it as a good sign that I was on the right path, as three separate paths, one of air (masculine/intellect/logic) and earth (feminine/physical/stability) and water (feminine/emotion/purifying) all aligned. In the picture what is not visible, but is there, is a creek running alongside the path. The is 3 of the 4 elements and I took this as a pretty good sign. What didn’t occur to me, until now, is that I was travelling South, which is associated with Fire (masculine/manifestive/passion).


This balance is important for me for a variety of reasons. I was in correspondence with someone recently and she asked me my thoughts about the Green Man. My short answer was as follows:

 – – – begin – – –

Of interest to me are the various themes of masculinity, femininity, misogyny, sex, objectivism, Kant and autonomous beings, and so forth. I’ve waded through a shit ton of baggage, being raised in white protestant culture of the South, especially benevolent sexism, and have, like many progressive men, been baffled by the paradox of sexual attraction and objectification. Also, as a combat veteran with my own reintegration, I’ve sought to understand, and help others in doing so, the interplay between masculinity and aggression. The two are not so easily split as some would have us consider. Some of us vets carried not only guilt, but shame, for our gross violence (masculinity) and we’re unsure how to disentangle it.

The Horned God is so close to me as to be distant. It is like a fish that is asked to describe water. I feel the Goddess moving, but cannot discern the God, and having only the single-nature understanding of him in violence (think Ares), we turn away from it.

For me I’ve struggled with this, trying the edges where I may, experimenting in anything and everything that will give me understanding. The Green Man is, for me, a balance of the two holisms. I, being prone to science and philosophy, will easily slide into an analytical way of thinking, a very masculine way of being… patriarchal. I lose sight of the connections, the dirty, messy, ways in between. My guitar playing is very much opposite of my thinking… it is messy, carefree, goes where it goes, filled with wrong notes and dead ends, but also moments of pure joy and inspiration.

That’s not very clear on what the Green Man means to me… but it approaches it at a sideways walk.

— – – end correspondence – – –

This is an unsatisfactor answer for the logical mind which craves categories and correspondences and neatly arranged puzzles. Yet in trusting the messy soil, the ambiguous mud, I hope to realize that aspect within me that has been so unbalanced in the past. I seek the Horned God. As I noted above, it is not so easy to separate the primal masculine energy from naked aggression. Say what you will about egalitarian relationships and sex, as a friend told me once, “sometimes a girl wants to have her hair pulled”. Men, listening to some of the voices out there, will hear the shame of such masculine energy and disown it, in turn, becoming impotent in their energy, unable to create, to guard, to protect, to attack, to pull hair. One unbalanced way of masculinity is domination and oppression, the abuse of the land for profit (welcome to Oregon, land of the clearcut) but the other side is just as imbalanced. What I am seeking is balance, a love and respect for life around me, and the devestating power to create and protect it with dynamic strength. And also to pull hair.


There were many great sites to see on my walk. I saw an old tree stump, huge, near a stream. I sat at the edge of a flat area with water collecting in pools, overgrown with shrubs, grasses, and rushes, and heard deer run through the underbrush and water, invisible to the eye. I watched hawks and ravens fly over head.


Several times on my walk I would stop, suddenly filled with appreciation for all that was around me. I was overcome with emotion, with love. It was a common occurrence on my walks in Houston’s Arboretum before my move to Oregon. It was during that time that I was closest to the gods. I feel them stirring within me once more. Turning a bend in the path I come upon a garter snake basking in the sun. I walk up to it and admire its coloration for a few minutes, and then I walk away, leaving it be.

IMG_3422 (1)

I do not know what my future path holds. But a few years ago, during the autumn equinox, I went outside and had a small ritual for the gods and spirits of the land around me. At the time I was beginning my path to recovery from war. I was lost but had an intuitive nose for north, plus the help of a great therapist guide. I remember that I willingly asked the gods and spirits for growth. I knew when I asked it that this meant further difficulties and tests. One does not grow in spirit without difficulty. But I welcomed it gladly. This is the same attitude that I later found among the Stoics when they came upon difficulty in life. They viewed the Logos, the university, to be deistic and that ill fortune nobly born was fortunate to have. What I didn’t know then, but do now, is that I was adopting a basic principle of Stoic thought.

And so I continue this quest for balance and growth. I still feel that I’ve yet to tap into my full abilities. I’ve got so much more to give. Mabon is a few days away. It is a time of balance. I plan to locate a fitting setting and take stock of my year and life.

Blessed Be


Dare. Risk. Dream.

IMG_0821“Is God willing to prevent evil, but not able? Then he is not omnipotent.
Is he able, but not willing? Then he is malevolent.
Is he both able and willing? Then whence cometh evil?
Is he neither able nor willing? Then why call him God?”

The problem with quotes by philosophers is that much of them are not true. Epicurus didn’t say these words. This post at Egregores does a pretty nice job at illustrating this. However, anyone with any passing familiarity with Greek philosophy at all should have been suspicious of the quotes from the get go. It isn’t very Greek, at least not 500 BCE Greek. Plus, and more telling, it is odd that an ancient Greek philospher refer to a supposed ‘God’ instead of gods.

While the four statements are also used as ammunition against a case for a monotheistic god, typically of the sort with white beard, white skin, sitting behind pearly gates, it isn’t a very good attack on a notion of such a concept at all. All in all it is quite weak when one considers it. I admit that in my times of haste and lazy thought I too have affirmed these very statements. However, given a moment’s pause to consider them, they are weak. This Christian apologist post illustrates some of the various weaknesses. Though the post also suffers from its own biases, monotheism being among them.

I am not writing this to attack anyone. I honor all the gods, it is the people that I sometimes take issue with. No, my purpose here is go in a different direction against the weak statements that lead at the top of the post. I shall begin with a scenario.

Suppose a parent is watching a child play outside. The kid is on the edge of the porch, and a fall, while unpleasant, isn’t fatal. The parent, a strong, wise, powerful being in the universe of the child, watches from nearby. The parent has, compared to the mind of the child, a near infinite grasp of the laws of cause and effect, able to foresee with great precision what will occur in the future. While it is true that some parents shadow their children’s every move, fearful of every seen and every possible bump and scratch that may befall their child, while others seem to care less about the opportune harm, many parents walk a fine line of safety and danger. They know that a child needs to learn to reach out, beyond the center of gravity underneath them, and into the shaky unknown beyond their fingertips.

The benefits the child experiences are daring, even at such a small level, of stretching zer wings and daring. Better an arm to break than the child never learns to risk… to dare… to dream.

How empty our lives are when we cannot dream freely.

Risk implies, no… necessitates, pain. It must require that pain is unavoidable, hence there are no true limits. How utterly boring and sad omnipotence must be. Of all the comic book heroes, I think that Superman is the most sad of all. Daring is as much about flying as it is about learning to live with pain. Without that knowledge of that pain, beauty, joy, triumph, are utterly and completely meaningless.

Go back to that child on the porch, experiencing the world with new eyes, growing, learning… and the parent that watches. What is it like as a parent to experience life through the eyes of that child? We get a glimpse of that fear, that thrill, that hope, that laughter, when we watch our little ones’s fully live… fully human.

Dare. Dream. Risk. Be fucking human.

Image 7-19-15, 11-52 PM.238a4746b3754090806c3f56e2e48a51

love like it hurts

Image 7-19-15, 11-52 PM.238a4746b3754090806c3f56e2e48a51 I was in Portland recently and took the opportunity to visit Powell’s Books. This time I only visited the psychology and philosophy sections, held a few tomes with solemn contemplation, and somehow left without purchasing any; rare occurrence for me. I mostly wanted to get back home after a long week. It is near midnight and my sleep schedule is out of whack from long nights, midday naps, and an active brain that keeps awake with thoughts. I am still awake. CrossFit in the morning will help get me back on track.

I am awake with thoughts now because I saw a sign on the wall of a Jimmy John’s sandwich shop. I’ve seen these words posted on social media, bumper stickers, and usually I let them pass by as something else has my attention. But this time I stopped. It has my attention.

work like you don’t need the money

This one is too easy to write off. Sure it sounds good, but some jobs require a stick instead of a carrot. I see no reason why some jobs would ever get done if there was no incentive (hunger) for someone to do them. Working happy and stress free may work in some fields, butin others it pays to have a bit of a chip on your shoulder. Some theorists postulate a world where we could live in communes and everyone is an artist, giving also of their time to do the maintenance work. I suppose this may work for some smaller segments, tribes, small villages… but certainly not a metropolis. As the population grows, individual effort in group task diminishes. Add to this the sense of entitlement that some have (‘Murica) and we are on the fast-track to Wall-E. Lest you think I am repeating the rhetoric of O’Reilly and other pundits concerning the lazy welfare class, I’m not. The greatest sense of entitlement are from those very same people that cry the loudest about helping out the poor.

dance like nobody’s watching

This is easier said than done for some people… like me. I am so self-conscious when I dance as to near lose all mobility in my joints. I’ve been told that in a variety of situations I’ve moved with grace, with a deep flow. When I’m on my game in bartending, I move with perfect grace. There were times in the dojo that I approached it. And I’m just now starting to find glimpses of grace while performing deadlifts and cleans. Dancing is not one of them. I would like to learn to lighten up. I aspire to dance as carefree as the aged hippies at the Saturday Market who seem completely oblivious to any notion of a beat. They have all the rhythm of a lava lamp. The lesson here, I’ve yet to learn, is to enter into dance with the same love as I do lifting. I lift for me, not others.

love like you’ve never been hurt

This one I took issue with. In the past I’ve casually accepted this without much thought, taking it at its face value to be daring. And perhaps this is great advice for asking people out on a date. But love? It asks too much. It asks me to assume that pain can be let go and forgotten. I don’t want to forget. I can’t.

When I deployed to Iraq in 2004-2005 I was a happy guy. I take after my Dad in that I am always cracking a joke, smiling, singing or whistling a tune. When I came back, I was changed in a variety of ways. Recently I had a discussion with my Dad where he told me he was glad to see me doing well some ten years after the deployment. He looked to Mom and asked her “Do you remember the first words I said when he (pointing to me) came home?” She answered, “Yes. You said ‘my son didn’t come home’, he’s still in Iraq.” Now it is that in some circles I am known as the happy guy. In my CrossFit box they joke that I’m the only guy who, in the middle of a METCON, will still sing the words to MC Hammer tunes, or yell out oddball encouragements (LET’S GET SOME COLD CUTS!), and that when we are out on a run in town I am constantly saying hi to people. But it wasn’t always like this. When I came back I was angry more than not. I made jokes, was a goofball, but it wasn’t really the same. It was rare. My emotions were raw and powerful, unpredictable, and also fragile. They would appear and disappear with the change in the wind. I had a relationship with an amazing person and our intimacy was near zero after my deployment. I was overwhelmed with shame and guilt because of this, compounding my issues more. After dating another person, then another, then another, until the pattern became very clear and so predictable you could set your clock by it. In 3 months the wheels would come off, in 6 months we’d be separated. Seeing that the common factor in all of this was me, as each woman was amazing and unique her own way, I began to harbor more and more doubt, fear, and dread for the next relationship. Because at the end, I was the fault, the broken piece. Yet, even though I knew, but had not fully learned, was that the emotions are a tapestry, one and all, and that by seeking to cut out one emotion from my awareness, avoiding the so-called negative, also had the effect of cancelling out the others. Because I had numbed myself to feeling hurt, I now numbed myself to feeling joy… and love.
I can recall a moment a few years ago where I was drifting to sleep and before doing so I had a fervent wish in my heart… I wished that I could have a broken heart again. I wanted that pain because I now knew that without having the ability to have a broken heart I could not truly open up into love. Love is a mystery, I’m not sure how I can force the issue, to make myself love someone when I feel nothing. This would have saved me a lot of problems in the past. But perhaps on opening up to heartache I could allow the engines to turn back on. I didn’t have a plan, or a guide, other than cultivate what little openness that I could find. Whenever something uncomfortable came into my awareness, I leaned into and felt. I felt, whether it was a television show, a song, or something I witness in the world around me. If sadness was there, I welcomed it, however small.

I was broken goods. The prevailing theme among many, even in the helping professions, is that PTSD is not only normal, but that it is permanent. They try to soften the blow by saying something like “you’ll learn to manage it” even though it stays with you forever. Broken things are pretty useless. I was no better than Anduril, to be kept on a soft display, out of the normal workings of the world. I couldn’t handle battle any longer. This metaphor holds for hearts… I couldn’t handle intimacy with people any more. I was to go into a quiet, lonely museum. Unless I could have a miracle, some dwarven or elven master smith to make me whole again. With great power, magic, furious furnaces, and powerful blows, I could be reforged, without breaks. I found no dwarven smiths with hammers of magic.

While I was going through therapy, and starting/ending relationships with people, I came upon the idea of Kintsugi, “it treats breakage and repair as part of the history of an object, rather than something to disguise”. Looking through images of these, I found that most of the time their broken patterns were the most loveliest. The asymmetry, the crudeness of it, gave me more appreciation for the design of the item itself. Also, looking at the small pieces I am reminded of the patience, the love that the mender must have had in putting the item back together. Looking at each piece, gently putting it back into place, and mending it. The history of the break prominently displayed, celebrated. My therapist was no dwarf with mighty hammers, smiting the flaws, erasing them from me. She was the patient mender, gently holding each piece in reverence.

Imagine holding a piece of pottery like the pictured. You are more present with it, its weight, its tactile feeling, and you are aware of its history. You know that it can break, but you know that it is also a thing to be used, not to be put on a shelf for display. Do you cherish it more? My grandmother was a hunter in the swampy woods of southern Arkansas. My father gave me her trusty .22 rifle that she carried everywhere. It is quite a gift and I’m really, very humbled. Its wooden stock is dotted with dings and scrapes and scratches. Its barrel and metal worn in patches from wear. To pick up this rifle and study it is to see the evidence that my grandmother did not live her life stuck in a chair. She was a woman of the woods and knew it well, and it knew her. My dad said that he briefly considered having it refinished prior to giving it to me, yet didn’t. I’m glad he didn’t. Those many dings and dents are the imprinted history of my grandmother. Those dents are what matter to me, not the rifle.

Virtue philosophers, and others, generally hold that we humans are pretty clueless. We often take the easy way out, or are selfish, or act from fear or eagerness, or fall into boredom and stupor, or more. In all of these states we are not fully human. We are not flourishing. What is it that makes a flourishing life? Acting in virtue. How do we develop virtue? It is a bit of a long answer, but I’ll attempt to sum it up as thus; we learn virtue when we deliberate, alone and with wise elders, on what virtue might be, and we attempt it. We fail. We succeed. We fail again. And over time of testing and pushing the limits and expanding, and discarding, and growing, and shrinking, and adding more and more threads into our soul, increasing the complexity of our being, we develop virtue. This life, it is said, is the life well-lived.

I started playing music again. I fell in love with GarageBand on the Mac. I got a new acoustic guitar, and a bass guitar a year later. I started playing and making silly songs on SoundCloud. They were just typical guitar hero stuff, but I surprised myself one day by making a tender melody on piano. I’m not a piano player, I cannot play chords or read notes, nor do anything with two hands. But I can make loops in GarageBand. One day I had been fantasizing about being in love again, imagining what it might feel like waking up with this person on a lazy Saturday morning, the sunlight filtered through a soft window, and her still asleep. I took that feeling and played something on piano. Now, a year later, when I listen to it and I can slipping deeper into numbness. Now I made this song and it expresses something I had only glimpsed.

I entered into many relationships with the trepidation, the dread and anguish, of knowing that I was poison to her well. That though we were having fun today, I would darken her skies too soon (three to six months). In the past three years I’ve seen several that I’ve dated go off into loving relationships, some married, and while that part of me that loves them is filled with joy for their happiness, it was another reminder that I am the poison. And again I would retreat into my museum, put myself onto a shelf, and stay from the light.

Yet there is an ember deep inside that keeps burning and over the years I’ve tried to keep kitsugi alive in my heart. Recently I met someone and, somehow, was able to talk to her. I gave her my number, asked her to call me. She did, and we went out, twice. In the solar system of our souls, as we near each other and the gravity begins to influence the calculus of our actions, that calculus is more complex than mere attraction for me. Had I never been hurt, or had I not hurt too many people, the trajectory would have been quicker, straighter. What comes to mind is that of a asteroid striking the Earth. Good bye dinosaurs. Yet now my approach is different. I am not saying that I am ‘taking it easy’ or ‘slow’, but I am mindful of my motives, my reasons. I am listening to my soul as it suddenly awakens. I sit with myself and realize that, contrary to what I’ve said, I have been lonely for something, I was just good at hiding and ignoring it. And there is a quickening of the pulse, a desire to move forward, and a joy in an embrace. It is like the feeling of a cool rain after weeks of scorching sun and the soil softens and roots welcome the nourishment. Rain can be rash, it floods. It can be stingy, and drought. Or it can come as needed, and the Earth greens.

Imagine holding someone, aware of their broken lines, with all of the care and reverence in your heart of the pottery mender. Imagine being that broken piece of pottery, being held and seen, loved for your design and your history. Not placed on a shelf, but made a part of a life. How beautiful is that? We can do this, not because we love like we’ve never been hurt before, as though we were naïve and forgetful of the past, but instead because we are mindful of our past. The heavy knowledge that we have been hurt, that we have been the one to hurt, are alive in our touch as we cross the vastness of space to touch the solar system of another star.


It is okay

I give many presentations to many different groups. I try to bring insight or understanding in a matter to the group. Recently, at a post-deployment event, I gave a talk where I brought out a variety of lessons learned to ease the reintegration from war. One of those lessons, often glossed over and missed by some (and I am very guilty to this as well), is my insistence that just as necessary as healthy food is the need to have quality time with quality people. I add quality here because spending time with destructive people isn’t good for health, just like watching Fox News all day breeds a warped sense of things. The dilemma for many veterans is that the more angst they feel, the more they want to isolate from others, which adds to their angst, so on in a negative spiral. This isn’t all that is going on with the veteran, it is an over-simplification, but it is a powerful one.

To illustrate this point I tell a story about when I was running one of the 9 marathons I’ve done. It was at the Portland Marathon, a really great one to run by the way, and as usual I had no friends or family in attendance. I did, however, have my BIB customized with my name… ‘Eddie’. Somewhere around  mile 22 I was struggling to run and was feeling the pain in my legs. I joke about it while telling it, but unless you’ve run a marathon, you don’t know how much pain I was really in. I was very aware of every pain in my legs and I berated myself for signing up for another marathon and when will I ever learn my lesson?. As I was running (read: hobbling), a bystander yelled out “Way to go Eddie! You can do it!”. I was already very aware of my pain, all systems were monitoring ship life support (to use a Star Trek metaphor), and I noticed that my pain level, lets just say it was an 7, dropped a little. Not a lot, it wasn’t a drastic change, but it was something. It is like when you are on a sweltering day, the air is thick and muggy, and you can’t imagine what feeling cool feels like, and you move your body a little bit and the slight breeze caused by your movement is pleasant. It is still very hot, it is still uncomfortable, but for a brief moment in time you not only feel but you embody hope for cooler temperatures to come. Running the marathon, feeling the pain decrease ever so slightly, even for a moment, gives the slightest bit of hope that this too shall pass, to persevere and to just keep swimming. In fact, more than once I’ve been known to finish out the last couple of miles  of a marathon singing this song… just keep swimming, just keep swimming, just keep swimming, much to the amusement of onlookers.

Among my various sets of stances, beliefs, and views, all of which are constantly reviewed, challenged, discarded, picked back up, altered, as this journal attests to, is that I am not only sex positive but also hold that a person ought to be able to be monogamous or polyamorous, or switch between, and so on. I attended an open discussion group of poly-minded people, some of which brought along some of their primary partners. We were all in a circle and did a lengthy introduction. I was third from the end of about twenty. Working in group therapy for seven years now, I’ve gotten used to not only listening to what people are saying, but watching their bodies, hearing their tones, and trying to discern what they are not saying but really want to. It was clear to me that a few of the people that were brought along were uncomfortable with the notion of non-monogamy but didn’t want to be seen as ignorant fossil stuck in an old way of doing things. When it came time for my introduction, I gave just the basic… I’m a nerd who has cats. But I took the opportunity to say something else. I cannot remember the exact words, and I’m sure it wasn’t as clear as below, but this is the gist.

I hear a couple of you struggle with jealousy and view it as proof that you are inferior or not as developed as the enlightened. I wanted to say, with respect to everyone in the room, that you are not underdeveloped. You are feeling jealousy for different reasons, each of your heart’s are telling you something important, something you need. Instead of viewing your jealousy as something with distaste, honor it, cherish it, welcome it into your dialogue with yourself and with your partner. What does it say? Jealousy is often called an immature emotion coming from someone with a poor sense of self-esteem. What if jealousy was something else, something protective, that was always looking out for your deepest wants? What are those wants? Only in honoring jealousy can we fully enter into that discussion and free ourselves to experience what we truly need. It is here that we become ourselves and not mirrors of our fears. It is here that we learn love.

The relief was palatable. When we finished our group discussion and entered into the mingle phase, I was instantly surrounded by a handful of people, eager to hear the message that they weren’t crazy or broken or stupid or such. They wanted to feel loved. This isn’t to say that their partners hadn’t told them they were loved, hadn’t done things to illustrate their feelings, they had. But the jealousy itself hadn’t been honored, and it was crying out for love for it self.

I watched a great anime movie last night, Expelled from Paradise, and I chewed on the notion of human minds living in virtual reality, especially from such a young age. I questioned if we remove the meat sack of the body, and its emotions (one character didn’t know what the pain in her body meant when went down to Earth on a mission), what would this do to who we are? Simply put, without the imperfect emotional system that guides most of our thinking, and as frustrating as it is to try and root out racism and other ideologies because of it, we wouldn’t be human without it. We seek to build artificial intelligence, and we question deeply what is sentience. Is it merely an elaborate feedback loop? Is it a perceived ghost of oneself in spatial time central located within sensory perceptions? As usual, Star Trek had it right when Kirk says “I need my pain”. Simply put we have two systems, a fast and messy system (emotions) and a slow and cleaner system (conscious assessment). See Kahneman’s Thinking Fast and Thinking Slow for a wonderful introduction. Emotions, developed over the span of our species, motivate us to work together, protect each other from danger, nurture each other, and more. Without the fast part (the body), the humans raised in virtual reality would not operate with love, with friendship, with support, or any other thing that makes us human. It is our meat sacks that make us human.

Combat veterans have learned to distance themselves from feeling their meat sacks. I couldn’t resist, that was a great sentence to type out and it elicits a laugh from me. Back to the point. We learn to dissociate, that is, unplug from feeling our body. This means we learn to ignore the pain, whether that pain is caused by exhaustion, heat/cold, hunger, or emotional. Yes, emotions cause physical pain. Dissociation, or anything working with emotions, is a very generalized anesthetic, meaning that deadening one thing in the body deadens the rest. As veterans begin to do the work to return home, that is, to assume the roles other than warfighter, the begin to lessen the anesthesia. What results is a seemingly cacophony of bodily feelings. They feel how weak they are, how tired, hungry, confused, happy, depressed, anxious, angry, lost, achy, sad and a host of other feelings they are. The emotions are quite strong, because the body has been trying to get the message through to the self, only to be ignored. Since the message doesn’t get through, the body tries to send it stronger, and when the phone lines are opened up… BAM! it is overwhelming.

This is where the help of a trusted guide is invaluable. This person doesn’t look at the emotions as negatives, that the tiredness or sadness or jealousy or what are things to cut out, to eradicated, but that they are messages. Why am I sad? What images come to mind? What if we honored the sadness? What else would it tell me? Over time the body learns that the message are received and read, the self learns to read and understand, and the Self becomes more adapted at operating in what it needs. Again, we have a very long evolutionary history of moving through a chaotic world and the only calculator to perform the risk assessments was our emotional systems. This is why economists, unless they start studying psychology, will always get human behavior wrong at a deeply profound level. Homoeconomicus is a myth, it is the humans raised in virtual reality using only mode of thinking.

It is okay. What you are feeling is a valuable voice to paid attention to, honored in the shrine of your heart. Meet it under the Full Moon, welcome it, and ask it for its wisdom. Healing comes when we open our arms.


I have held a grudge against my biological mother for a long time. Wait, not a grudge… I’ve been indifferent to her. She didn’t hit me… no more than the typical spankings that most kids got in Arkansas in the 70’s and 80’s. I don’t have any harsh memories of her spankings. The last time she tried spanking me I remember I just stood there as she wailed on me with a measly fly-swatter, trying to elicit a reaction from me. I just stood there and took it, not feeling it. That was her last time. Her spankings always paled in comparison to my dad’s. His brought Old Testament fear. He rarely had to follow through on his threat of a spanking. He was a “one warning” guy.

Mom was a manipulator. I watch on the television as comedians make stereotypes of the Jewish mother that lays guilt upon her hard-working comedian son. It is a caricature and intended as a joke. My mom wasn’t like this. She was a sledgehammer some days, or a slow painful poison other days. She’d pick at your defenses. She’d let all things be well and then bring her trap down upon you. If you watched Roos Bolton toy with Theon Greyjoy in Game of Thrones, that was her, only without the physical torture.

I’ve tried to remember a time that I felt comforted by her, when I knew she was truly comforting me and not setting me up. The last time I can remember is when I was in the third grade. At her behest to be bold I marched into another class at school and gave the prettiest girl in school some candy for Valentines Day. She was nice, but by lunch she chose another boy instead. It broke my heart and I remember sitting in the couch, crying, and mom comforting me. This is the last thing I remember. I know, or hope, there is more, when she wasn’t acting, but I cannot remember them.

I had some issues growing up as a kid. I was a bit different in some respects of which I am still greatly ashamed of. Mom had a big part in that shame. She cultivated it. But I will not say that I was abused. I had it lucky. I had books and toys and a farm to grow up on and explore. Christmas was never lacking for me, we did trips as a family, and more. I reject any notion that I was an abused kid. I had a great dad. But for decades I have harbored no love for my mom. No hatred either… Just an utter indifference to her plight. People who know me are surprised to hear this. I’m not sure how to answer, but I think it is where my attention to character comes from. To this day I will not waste my energy on people of poor character. My mother is such a person. She is dishonest, manipulative, hateful, and more.

Many times over the past 20 years I’ve wondered about sitting down and writing a letter to her. But I never do. I simply do not care. I had no desire to offer her anything, positive or negative. Why waste time on someone for whom I hold no regard? I knew what the great spiritual traditions taught, about forgiveness, and I searched inside myself for just such a motive. Nothing.

I have a couple of sides within me. There is one side that is the cultivated soldier. I can bring out great violence, if needed. That side of me is a cold, hard side. I am very intimate with it. There is another side where I am political. This side comes out often in the world around me where I often challenge the BS around me, especially in areas of racism, sexism, or some other cause for equality. I offend many people often as I loudly call out bullshit when I see it.

There is another side that was much stronger in the 90’s. I lost touch with it for a while but it is coming back, thanks to Stoicism and meditation. This side is a more clinical, yet humanistic, self. It is this self that, in the 90’s in college, I was questioning how to get treatment to pedophiles before they committed their acts. I thought that if we psychologists could show a more caring front we might invite more people to seek our treatment beforehand. Shame, I believed, only served to push people away. Love, or as Rogers referred to as positive regard, doesn’t mean acceptance of the act. This insight is, perhaps, a result of the lessons in shame that my mom gave me.

The central hypothesis of this approach can be briefly stated. It is that the individual has within him or her self vast resources for self-understanding, for altering her or his self-concept, attitudes, and self-directed behavior—and that these resources can be tapped if only a definable climate of facilitative psychological attitudes can be provided.
Carl Rogers

I have been growing as a person; therapy, marathons, Crossfit, good friends, good and meaningful work, pets, philosophy, psychology, a mustang, zen and meditation, and stoicism have helped in this. I am often reminded of something…

Begin each day by telling yourself : Today I will be meeting with interference, ingratitude, insolence, disloyalty, ill-will, and selfishness–all of them due to the offenders’ ignorance of what is good and what is evil.
Marcus Aurelius

A point made by the Stoics, and other philosophers, is that nobody does evil intentionally. This would take more time to explain, so I’ll refer you to this here. This is a cornerstone of Stoicism, and it is something that I’ve sorta believed at a shallow level since I first came upon it in some of Descartes writings over a decade ago when he discusses freedom and constraint of action as one learns more. It was a fascinating read. Still, as I get read Carl Rogers and positive regard These ideas are not incompatible. In fact, they have formed into a foundation for me. While I am vociferous in politics, inwardly as a philosopher and psychologist I am cultivating love and compassion. Instead of seeing Ted Cruz as the idiot it is so easy to see him as, I see him as a human with wants and needs and fears and etched pathways of emotional experiences. I wonder how Marcus Aurelius would meet him, or Ann Coulter, or Trump. Remembering the Stoic belief in the Logos and how sin is not living within this, or the idea that they don’t actually choose to be a putz (they are merely ignorant, not evil), I find myself with more patience with them.

Back to my mom. I was driving along in the Oregon sunshine and contemplating some thoughts along Stoicusn. A Beatles song came over my iPod, and I remembered my mom loved the Beatles. I could remember her sitting on the floor next to her big Fingerhut stereo, headphones on, listening to a Beatles album. And for a moment, in the theater of my mind, I did not see my mom. Instead I saw a young woman who was clueless about a great many things that I have learned through 10 years of college and 6 or 7 trips around the world. She was from a small town in Arkansas, with a past of her own, a human need to love and feel love, and here she was, seeking some comfort in a Beatles song. And for a moment I looked upon her memory in my mind with love. Not the love of a son, but the love of a human that recognizes another human, bruises and all. In that moment I forgave her for not being perfect, for teaching me about the landscape of shame and self-doubt.

Recently she has had a stroke and she, being old and poor health, for being an all around spiteful person adds years to ones body, she has had to retire and move into an assisted living home in Mississippi. I have a desire now to ensure that she has a record player and some Beatles albums. Perhaps she can, again, find some small solace. For I’m sure that for her it’s been a hard day’s night.


Do the work

I use running as a metaphor for a lot of things. So I’ll start here with another one.
For some reason it was on my list of things to do to run a marathon. Not sure where I got this idea or why. I think that it might have been a thought along the lines of proving that I have grit. It isn’t enough that I was a Marine, nor deployed, nor done a lot of things… being a typical man and falling into the trap that masculinity is something that must be earned everyday, I signed up for a marathon when I was 39. I wanted to do it before I was 40. I trained and trained and it was rough going, the learning curve and growing stronger. Before then I was not a runner. I hated it. I got bored. I only ran over a 5 miles a handful of times ever. Only three or so 10K’s ever. I wasn’t a runner.

Training required me to schedule time to do the running. To be honest, there were times when, overcoming a year-long ankle injury one one foot, and a two-year old injury on the other ankle, where a mile was too much and I’d have to quit. But I did what I could, didn’t berate myself, understood that more important than ‘all or nothing’ as the approach of ‘consistent effort’. I was plugging into the mindset of growth.

I did my first and it hurt, but I was hooked. I did another, then another, and another, and so on. One year I did two, the next year I did three marathons and four half marathons. This year I have run 1 marathon already, have 2 more to go, have run a 1/2 marathon, am going to do a Spartan race, and have signed up for a grueling ‘soul crushing’ 13 mile run up a mountain, the second biggest incline race in the US behinc Pikes Peak. It took me a couple of marathons and a few hundred miles to finally think of myself as one. Somewhere I transistioned from ‘training so I don’t hurt’ with only one way to run (a sloppy energy wasting run) to running for fun (most days) and a better, tighter, energy conserving glide. I’ve changed my approach, my pace, my training, my mindset, everything. After over 2000 plus miles, I would hope that I’ve learned something about running.

Now to the heart. For a variety of reasons I entered puberty and young adulthood with a low sense of esteem in relationships, a clingy dependancy, constant worry and self doubt, and so on. Self esteem is not global, it can be specific. I have great confidence in my abilities in many areas, but romance is not one of them. Go back a few years on this journal and the weight of the immature emotions,  the raw insecurity, conclusions that are quick and simple, are stunning to me. Though I repeatedly found myself in the same cycles in every relationship, I had enough sense to realize that I wasn’t dating clones, I was bringing the same issue to every relationship. In a Stephen Covey book I came up a phrase that stuck with me for years;

The measure of success is not whether you have a tough problem to deal with, but whether it is the same problem you had last year.

John Foster Dulles

Former Secretary of State

I noticed a pattern of clingy neediness that was poison to every relationship that I was in. I could see the pattern and the quote showed me it was about me, not them. I didn’t know why I was so clingy, but I knew I had to get over it.

Flash forward to deployment to Iraq. This, naturally, threw a HUGE monkey wrench in my relationships. Before Iraq I had the longest relationship ever with one of the great loves of my life. After Iraq, I was emotionally volatile and barren. I’ve given many talks where I’ve been as upfront and honest about this as possible. I tried dating many people afterward and each one was highly problematic. I wasn’t present with them, I was 100% involved and then I shut them out completely and was distant. I began to see another pattern… the six month ending. 1-2 months were bliss. 2-4 months were okay, with good and blah. 4 months the wheels were coming off and I tried holding on until around month 6 I could take it no more and would end it, if she didn’t end it first. I would fear the same pattern the next partner and the pattern would repeat again.

Lets take a side step for a moment. I used to be a goofball. Total goofball. I was always happy. Sure I could be moody, but usually I was loving life. Five years ago, or more, I was birdwatching and it struck me that it was the first time since Iraq that I felt absorded in watching the bird (a common Robin) instead of the feeling of angst. In other words, I was comfortable being in the world. The realization of that moment was a gift. Every year since then I would note how ‘well’ I was, that I was ‘better’ than the year before. I was calmer, easier to get along with, and so on. The facial twitches and muscle spasms were less and less common, the ringing in my ears less and less, the headaches less and less, the tired feeling everywhere in my body less and less. Soon I felt… good. And every year I felt more good. I did the work. I kept running, I picked up meditation semi-regularly. I read a lot on the concepts of resilience and awareness and growth and so on. I worked every Tuesday night as a co-facilitator for a veteran PTSD domestic violence batter intervention group, teaching them the lessons that I was still working on, and learning a lot from them. It is not uncommon for me to call an ex-girlfriend I had dated since Iraq and tell her how much I appreciated her kindness while we dated, how I’m sorry I wasn’t as present as I could have been, and how were they doing in their life, or ask about what was their good news for the day? The next year I felt not only more good… I actually felt I could call myself healthy for once. I felt that the word ‘flourishing’ applied to me. The next year was even better. Today I am in my best shape ever in my life, in no small part to a much lower stress response and constant CrossFit and running and eating healthy. Today I was driving down the road, singing like a goofball with the top down, and it occurred to me how at ease I was… in traffic. Doing the work has paid off.

Three weeks ago I was able to go to Arkansas for a week-long conference. While there my Dad came to see me. We had a short talk one night and he told me how happy he was to see me doing well. He looked at Mom and asked her ‘do you remember what my first words were when he (me) first came home from Iraq?’. She said “yes… you said ‘my son didn’t come home. That’s not my boy’.” What he meant was that the happy-go-luck optimist was replaced by a different person, a dour pessimist quick to react with aggression. Finally that optimist is back.

Just like I learned new running strides, footfalls, leg postures, center of gravity positions, for running, and what my tempo and pace are for different times and places of a race, I am learning more and more of my emotional landscape again. Recently, while feeling great bouts of pure joy and happiness I was struck with other feelings of… negative (?), what I have surmised to be the piggybacking of emotion. This is not uncommon with veterans who’ve learned to supress emotions and once they start letting them out again suddenly find that random emotions pop up in clusters. Faced with the growing melancholy I reached out to some of my best friends, all of whom have been women that I’ve dated. That didn’t strike me as too strange at the time, yet what occurs to me now is that 3 of the 4 are women that I didn’t date until after Iraq. This simple fact gives me great hope.

So it is that I train on my running with the hope of getting a better and smoother stride and a faster pace. Likewise, seeing that I have grown in physical health, spiritual and emotional health, and that several women that I’ve dated when I was struggling to return from deployment I am able to call my dearest friends, who love and support me, is proof to me that I’ve come a long way. Perhaps I am not able to call myself a romantic partner… but I can call myself friend.

So here is my hope for the future. Aside from the negative iceberg belief that I am still trying to root out of my core beliefs, that I am unworthy of love (it is deeply entrenched), I have a hope that seems possible now, when it didn’t seem so a couple of years ago… that I can actually love someone. Knowing the people that I’ve dated since Iraq, who’ve I’ve treated poorly and yet still love and support me, gives me confidence that others are strong, that I can not hold myself to impossible heights of responsibility for breaking their heart, which is a factor in my isolation. There is hope for the future.

This is worth lacing up the shoes and hitting the trail for