“What’s Love?” U.S. Army Veteran Eric Walrabenstein Responds

For Valentine’s Day, we asked movers and shakers in veterans’ service organizations: What’s LOVE?

LoveEric

“Love is, at its essence, a kind of capacity…

to be present for others.

to allow for our differences.

to endure difficulty.

to go beyond our self interest.

Love is the capacity to do all of this with an effortless grace that allows us fully and spontaneously embrace all that is.” -Eric Walrabenstein, Veteran, U.S. Army, Bootstrap Stress Management System

Eric Walrabenstein

Eric Walrabenstein, U.S. Army Veteran

Eric Walrabenstein is a nationally-recognized expert in the fields of yoga and mind/body health and the founder of Yoga Pura, one of Arizona’s largest yoga centers. As a former infantry officer in the U.S. Army, he knows first-hand of the sacrifice and dedication the members of our armed forces make every day. 
 
His wide-ranging experience in the military and civilian sectors, combine with his profound understanding of yoga technology and mind/body health to make him uniquely equipped to help our troops and veterans end their struggle with chronic military-related stress conditions. 
 
In addition to his work with BOOTSTRAP and teaching at his Arizona center, he regularly travels the nation training yoga, meditation, and mind-body health teachers from around the world. 

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Grateful for big, loud, things

"Restrepo

Film Still from “Restrepo”  Photo by Tim Hetherington

“The Army might screw you and your girlfriend might dump you and the enemy might kill you,but the shared commitment to safeguard one another’s lives is unnegotiable and only deepens with time.The willingness to die for another person is a form of love that even religions fail to inspire, and the experience of it changes a person profoundly.” 

― Sebastian JungerWar

Yeah, I know. You’re circling the yoga studio in your car, not sure if you really want to go in. Everyone walking in seems so… bouncy, and they’re smiling, and what the heck are they happy about? Plus,  you’ve seen the “7-Days of Gratitude” started on FB, and a few of your friends have even posted things they’re grateful for.

What a bunch of goody-two-shoes.

After all, you’re intense. You’ve seen the most extreme part of life. War, poverty, suffering, pain. Violence, tragedy and danger.  You’re fierce in your beliefs, and so is everyone else you know. You walk on the earth.  But those people who go around saying they’re grateful?  You’re not so sure. Reality check?

You gun the engine, race ahead, trying to find a parking spot on the crowded street. Who the heck put this studio here, anyway?  What fool thought to put it next to a Starbucks and a hot dog stand? You shake your head. Honestly, you like your intensity. And you don’t feel like “letting go.” Besides, what is that? Letting go. Do they think there’s a window in your brain to open, and your intensity will just go away?  BIG LOUD AWFUL THINGS have shaped who you are now. And while there’s stuff you could do without –like the lack of sleep, or the reel that plays back and forth in your head …there were good things too. Like feeling you had a sense of direction, fighting for the person next to you, and knowing they’d do the same for you. Things were so certain ….and now? The only thing certain is everyone is talking about gratitude, and it kind of annoys you.

So now, you’re circling the block again, and you’re wondering…. yeah, you comprehend the meaning of gratitude. Life, liberty, pursuit of happiness means more than it did before you went to war. Some of your friends lost the chance at all three in a gritty battle or alone, at home, when hope had run out. Will they understand war ushered in the best friends of your life?  That the brother and sisterhood is unquestioned? Yeah, sure, there was trauma, but there were funny things that still make you laugh. Will they get it? It was the best and worst time of your life, and you’d do it again (only this time you wouldn’t lose your best friend). Do they understand it was the intensity that kept you alive? Do they know how much it pisses you off to be tossed off as an ‘adrenaline junkie?’ It seemed that way, but you weren’t though it’d be a lie to say that war wasn’t exciting. You were fighting for the guy on your left and your right.

Finally, you find a spot. It’s three blocks away from the yoga studio, but it will do. You park, gather your stuff –the yoga mat with the wrapper still on it, and a towel. You follow the others with yoga mats strapped to their backs. Some look rushed and harried. One even walks into you and doesn’t say, “sorry.” So maybe some of these yoga people are assholes, which makes sense: in any given group, there’s always going to be one.

You reach the door,  no time to hesitate, there are people behind you. But you remember one thing someone wrote here on WarRetreat:

We know you miss your war. It’s fine. We’re not asking you to become anyone else. If you’re already grateful, maybe you’ll find more. But no sane person is going to insist.  And maybe you won’t like yoga. Maybe your thing is to climb a mountain, ride a bike, or write a poem.

You check in, find a spot. The music starts. You sit, and breathe. And then you do it again.

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Loaded words: Is contagious the right word for PTSD?

Photo: Mother Jones

Photo: Mother Jones

It’s no secret that the effects of PTSD are felt among family and friends. The agitation, hyper-awareness, lows and highs are taken in by everyone around the person with PTSD.

“Kateri’s eight-year-old son now also counts the exits in new spaces he enters, points them out to his loved ones, keeps a mental map of them at the ready, until war or fire fails to break out, and everyone is safely back home.”

What’s your take on this article?

Is PTSD Contagious?

In Esquire: Brian Mockenhaupt writes “The Boys of War.”

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It’s the story of Daniel Rodiguez, who fought in the mountains of Afghanistan, away from anything he knew, literally fighting not only for his life, but for the men he knew so well.  He’s back, and Brian Mockenhaupt writes about him in the 80th Anniversary Edition of Esquire Magazine.

Best advice he’s gotten: “It’s not how you start something, it’s how you finish it. Where I’ve been and what I’ve gone through haven’t defined me; it’s where I want to go and how I finish my life that drive me and motivate me.”

Read more: The Boys of War – Esquire
Follow us: @Esquiremag on Twitter | Esquire on Facebook
Visit us at Esquire.com

Brian Mockenhaupt served in the US Army and completed two tours of duty to Iraq with the 10th Mountain Division.  Since, then he has written extensively about veterans, war, as well as the aftermath for publications ranging from Esquire to the Atlantic.  You may also find his work for purchase on his website.

WarVet Leans on the Dalai Lama: On Laughing With Others

“Only affection produces authentic friends.” -The Dalai Lama

We sat outside a barn in Oregon, the sound of sheep and goats in the background, happy to see on another. I’d traveled north to Oregon in need of a change of scenery, and also to touch base with friends. I felt blessed that he’d chosen to drive a few hours to visit with me.

20130625-212109.jpgThis friend was an old friend/new friend. I call him that because this was the first time he and I had ever met. While he had met my husband, he and I had only carried on a conversation for 4 years over through blogs, emails and phone calls. We had mutual acquaintances, made through the experience of war. This long awaited meeting was special.

I’d followed him through is many missions overseas to rough and dangerous territory. He was a good man, pressed to do dangerous risky work, among people who needed and wanted him there, and others who only wanted to kill him. His point of view always gave me a deeper perspective in trying to understand the bigger picture of things in Afghanistan. Gradually, his role came to an end, and he returned home. But here, something ominous awaited him in the form of PTSD. We knew he was in trouble because he admitted as much to us via emails and phone calls.

To say many of us were worried is an understatement. But we all loved and believed in him, and hoped a change would come about.

It did. And what it took was a move, and being in a place that didn’t resemble the arid landscape of Afghanistan, where nature and beauty came together and most of all –where he was needed and could find a new a new purpose. He’s finding a balance of things. We talked about his life as it is now, and he told me that prayer works a lot, as does reading the Dalai Lama.  He described something that the Dalai Lama said, about the difference between laughing with people and at them.

1337256000000.cachedMy friend said this wasn’t an easy thing for him to do –he used to be a deadly mimic. But all the while, in doing so, it was a way for him to deflect what he was really feeling, and also to ignore the feelings and humanity of the other person. So while it’s not easy, it’s what he’s practicing now as he makes his way through civilian life.

 You have to take care of others, of their well-being, by helping them and serving them, to have even more friends and make more smiles blossom. -The Dalai Lama

We talked about how it wasn’t that different from the years when he was in command of so many young men and women. There was  discipline, and he served them well by extending patience and order. He is still very much a warrior with the people skills acquired through service, now burnished with the wisdom of the Dalai Lama. He still has PTSD, he still struggles with sleep, but rather than edging into a pit of despair, he has resources now to help him cope.

We ended our meeting as the late afternoon set in. He left to continue on this fruitful path, one that teaches him compassion through the ability to laugh with others.

Read: “Why I Laugh”  by the Dalai Lama

Two Upcoming Veterans Retreats in California

HPW Rafting 2012 pic 01

UPCOMING RETREATS WITH HONORING THE PATH OF THE WARRIOR

By Dyan Ferguson, Founder, Honoring The Path of The Warrior, and US Army veteran

Honoring the Path of the Warrior is pleased to announce our two upcoming retreats:

  1.  The Women Veterans Retreat at Tassajara Mountain Retreat Center from June 17th – June 21st 2013 and
  2.  The Whitewater Rafting trip open to both men and women from July 30th to August 2nd.

Both of these events combine nature and engaging physical activities with meditation, Sensory Awareness and mindfulness practices.  The intent is to provide Veterans with connection, community and tools that support them in using their strengths and experiences to find a meaningful and productive path in civilian life.

US Navy veteran Scott Gunning made this video about a White Water Rafting retreat by Honoring The Path of The Warrior.
US Army veteran Steve Lewis talks about his experience: “You get a bond, and you have fun….” Here’s what others have said about these events:

I really can’t put into words what this trip meant for me, but I can say that this was easily one of the most meaningful and special experiences in my life.  I got more out of this 4 day trip than I did in the entire 5 months that I was in the [...] PTSD program.”

“I just want to take the time to say thank you both from my complete and whole heart for what you two have given me this weekend. I’m speechless cause the gift you both gave me was HOPE. And I really can’t remember the last time I truly had it. The act of pulling a trigger from a man made weapon on another human being has shattered my person. You both have given me the hope and energy I need to some how find a way to try to put my shattered soul back together.”

All events are nondenominational and are completely free of charge to veterans.  We do, however, welcome contributions from veterans and members of the broader community so that other veterans may attend future events.  Please support us as you are able:  Honoring The Path. 

Why Yoga?

{VIRIN}People often ask me why I “do” yoga.  This is usually followed by: jokes about guys doing yoga, questions about levitation, and references to contortion.  Once the laughter settles, I’ll answer in one of several ways.  If the question  comes from a guy or group of guys who are joking about “guys doing yoga,”  I say something about how horrible it is to be the only guy in a room full of women.  That usually gets their attention.  If the question comes from an overly-muscled person who questions the “manliness” of yoga, I usually respond in the form of an asana.  Usually eka pada koundinyasana that transitions into a variation of Mayurasana.

When the question comes from someone who really wants to know “why I do yoga,” I will sit down and tell them about my yoga journey.