#4 in the series An Affirming Flame: Veterans’ Journeys from Trauma to Healing
In the book, Walking the Medicine Wheel: Healing Trauma and PTSD, co-author David R. Kopacz adapts Joseph Campbell’s cycle of the mythological heroic journey to that of the experiences of war veterans. Campbell breaks the heroic journey into four stages—beginning/ending, separation, initiation, and return.
Kopacz writes of this cycle, “Separation is the call to adventure that takes one away from the everyday world. Initiation is the challenge, the trial, and it is the acculturation to a new world, an unknown world. Return,” he writes, “is the journey home, with new knowledge, a new sense of self, and a gift or boon to give to society.” Kopacz remarks about this return, “Society needs the returning hero, but is initially distrustful because the hero has gone where ordinary humans should not go and has been exposed to the mysteries of life and death.”
As mentioned in earlier entries of this blog, telling one’s story, whether through poetry or song or straightforward narrative, is essential for a veteran’s healing from post-traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD. But the crucial counterpart to the story being told is the story being heard.
When a society is “initially distrustful” of veterans returning from war, people protect themselves, for better or for worse, from hearing the warrior’s story of where he or she has gone—“where ordinary humans should not go…exposed to the mysteries of life and death.”
Bracing against the experience of the war veteran from that place of initial distrust, the people around them prolong ambivalence about whether what the warrior brings back is “a gift or a boon to society.” Thus the story is stifled, and what could be a gift remains a threat. Supporting this notion, Kopacz quotes from the gnostic gospel of Thomas, in which Jesus states, “If you bring forth what is within you, what you bring forth will save you. If you do not bring forth what is within you, what you do not bring forth will destroy you.”
Buddhist monk and teacher Thich Nhat Hanh, himself Vietnamese and who has worked with Vietnam veterans with PTSD for decades, shares a wonderful practice of inviting a bell to sound. As one does so, one says aloud, “Listen, listen. This wonderful sound brings me back to my true self.” By pausing to listen, by opening ourselves up to the resonance of the bell, we arrive in the present moment, open our breathing, and let down the guardedness we carry with us consciously or not.
With roughly 19 million military veterans living among those of us who have not experienced “the mysteries of life and death” that veterans have, the willingness, or lack thereof, to listen to the stories, to listen to the resonance of their experiences, will determine whether we support and facilitate the completion of the heroic journey. Kopacz quotes Vietnam veteran John Wesley Fisher in cautioning what will happen if we do not: “When the war continues in its veterans, it continues in the country as a whole, as well.”
Kopacz’s co-author of Walking the Medicine Wheel, Joseph Rael, also known as Beautiful Painted Arrow, writes that “a true human is a listener…a person who knows who he is because he listens to that inner listening-working voice of effort.”
From a vision he had in 1983, Rael has installed actual sound chambers in North and South America, Europe, and Australia for the express purpose of creating sound, listening, and healing.
May returning warriors be supported by members of their society—our society—by all of us finding the willingness to enter into listening, with the promise of the wonderful sound being made bringing us back to our true selves.
Eli Addison, QMHA, is an individual continually seeking to better understand the human experience and explore our diversity. He serves as Veterans Housing Specialist at Medicine Wheel Recovery Services. His passion and careful persistence drive his advocacy and support for those in need.
Eliza Galaher, QMHA, has lived all over the country, especially the Northeast and the Southwest, working in publishing, education, liberal religious ministry, and many others. She is back in her native Oregon, serving as a Veterans Housing Specialist at Medicine Wheel. Addiction and recovery have always been a part of her life and she now offers her lived experience in service to all seeking healing.