Tag Archives: Work

Warrior Poet

With the change of the new year, I find my work circumstances changing and that I’m more fully returned to some of the work I used to do before making changes over two years ago. I’ll put emphasis on “some” and further emphasize that some critical pieces are different (for the better).

But one thing that is back is me being in charge of people and responding to crisis situations. Again, not as dangerous to me as before (at least not yet), but like a warrior putting the arms and armor on again for the first time I am feeling some of the familiar energy and movements.

And so it seems a good time to pause and think about things I’ve learned over the past couple of years being away from this all. During that time, in conjunction with other changes in my life, I’ve reconnected with artistic and creative endeavors and likes that had been dormant (in some cases over twenty years). My military history magazine subscriptions traded for Buddhist and Poetry ones. My library has undergone a major purge and rebalancing with a lot of history books gone and literature, poetry and spirituality books added.

As I feel that old energy come back though, I do know that it too is a part of me. Indeed, it is as central a part of me as these other interests are. And so I am feeling rebalanced myself as I’m getting some of that flowing again.

It of course raises the question of if I’m going to flip back and start restocking history and military history and purging literature, poetry and spirituality. But I think the answer here is no, I’m not. Indeed, I think the answer here is  no, I can’t. And, no, I shouldn’t.

We hear about more refined times when warriors also practiced arts. Japan is most notable with samurai cultivating the Haiku with the same dedication as the sword. In our rougher, shallower, more rational time, we look on that as an anomaly, a cute inconsistency. After all, what could be more in stark contrast than someone using perhaps the most advanced sword ever made (the Katana) and a calligraphy brush.

But I’ve been thinking about this a great deal lately and realizing that not only is it not a cute inconsistency, it’s a necessity. It is a critical balancing element that keeps the warrior from becoming just a soldier, from losing their humanity and becoming a killing machine.

When I look at times when I’ve gone deep into that warrior side, I’ve seen myself increasingly lose touch with the rest of the world, with the people I did this for. I see myself inhabiting a world of dark complexity that others simply cannot understand. I’ve seen and felt myself feel like the dayworld everyone else inhabits is built on ignorance and illusion that I can’t share. Innocence, once lost, can never be regained after all. I would be lying if I didn’t say that over time, you start to resent people in the dayworld for their blithe ignorance, naivete and ingratitude. In particular, you resent dayworlders second guessing or judging your actions when they have no idea what it’s like. It’s for this reason that while I may lament situations gone wrong, I will almost never criticize or judge because you don’t know what was happening when it happened. If you ever get to see NYPD Blue Season 1, Episode 21 “Guns ‘n Rosaries” you can see an excellent examination of how hard these situations are.

When I made changes two plus years ago, in fact, I told my colleagues that I needed to make a change because I’d been living so deeply in a world of fighting and negativity that it was all I could see. I was, I said, at risk of becoming one of those cops who’s been on the job too long and comes to hate the people they originally signed up to protect.

While my work has not put a gun in my hand or had one pointed at me, it has put the burden of great responsibility for people’s safety on me in dealing with those who mean harm. And in that way I share the experiences and burdens that others in more physical safety roles have. For all of us, to fight the bad people you have to understand them and think like them. And there is a contamination quality here: you don’t want to bring that darkness back to the people you’re protecting. Indeed, your goal is to hold the line and keep that darkness outside. You sacrifice your comfort and light so that others can have it.

I used to think that meant that we who did this had to accept a burden of exile from those we love and do this for, so as to not stain them. But I’ve come to realize that’s not realistic. We live in the same world and unless we who do this are willing to live alone and separated from what we love and are protecting, we have to find a way to be in the darkness, hold it, manipulate it, battle it, but also leave it behind and come back and spend time with those in the dayworld.

Indeed, if we were to cut ourselves off entirely the question would eventually arise of why bother doing it at all? Or, worse yet, why fight the darkness, why not relax and succumb and join it? It is, after all, a very thin line that separates the cop from the criminal. And if there is no benefit to be had for all that effort, why not cross over: the pay is better after all. This is how people go to the “dark side”.

But there is a logic to living only in the darkness. Indeed, our culture favors specialization in all areas such that we don’t question the wisdom of that in its own right. But specialization for warriors is particularly dangerous for the reasons I outlined. It turns us from warriors into soldiers. It turns us from humans fighting of necessity for something we love into killing machines that know nothing else. And it leads to some of the most horrible and tragic situations that involve people who fight. It leads to massacres like My Lai, the Kandahar massacre and Abu Ghraib. And more commonly, it leads to self-slaughter. There’s a reason we are facing a suicide crisis in our armed forces after eleven years of unrelenting warfare. When all you know is killing, living in the darkness, you lose your humanity.

So how do we prevent this? By cultivating warriors and not soliders. By working towards balance. By returning to the dayworld and living in it and experiencing and remembering what it is we fight for in the first place. For me, it’s holding on to those things I’ve recovered over the past couple of years while reentering some of the fight. It is also, honestly, choosing to not be right on the most front lines of the fight like I once was. Most of all it is recognizing the dangers and making an effort to maintain balance as much as possible.

Sadly, it would seem this realization of mine runs contrary to broader trends. In this post 9/11 world we are seeing more and more militarization in the interest of safety. Our police today are better equipped than soldiers were in the 1980s. Not only do we ask those looking out for our safety to specialize more and more, we’ve asked our entire society to specialize in safety. This is worrisome to me for many of the reasons I’ve outlined (and some I haven’t). That is, I think, a topic for another post.

For now, though, I think its important to close by saying I understand now the importance of the warrior poet. And the importance of cultivating that as my ideal. All the more so because of my father.

My father was a Marine who served in Viet Nam. And while I was totally estranged from him, when I fell into security work I realized that I had in some ways inherited that calling from him. Police and military service are often family callings and his family was no exception: he and his brother and several generations before them were in the military. And though I had no contact with him since I was 12, I realized that this work suited me in a way that did feel like a calling and so I felt that was something I inherited from him. It was the one and only way I felt any connection to him.

Like so many soldiers, my father was unable to cope with life beyond the uniform. And so I found out in 2002 that he had succumbed to self-slaughter in 1995. We were so estranged that I had to find out by getting his death certificate and autopsy.

After two years separated from that warrior side, I find it’s not good or realistic to suppress or cut that side out. But if I embrace parts of that and want to avoid my father’s (and so many others’) fate that comes from losing their humanity, I need the balance that comes with the warrior poet rather than the soldier.

That’s the big lesson for the new year as I embark on new endeavors.

Running Towards Your Fears

I had just poured water into the heating filter for a Captain Country Chicken MRE, and was preparing to remove some layers of clothing beneath my flak vest (the weather had turned hot after the freezing night), when RPG and small-arms fire rattled the scrap iron that formed the roof of the filthy garage headquarters.

The fire directed at us did not let up. Over the ICOM, Smith learned that it was coming from a mosque on Michigan about 300 yards away. The mosque was promptly targeted for a possible air strike, and everyone began a fast march toward it.

Smith did not have to order his Marines straight into the direction of the fire; it was a collective impulse—a phenomenon I would see again and again over the coming days. The idea that Marines are trained to break down doors, to seize beachheads and other territory, was an abstraction until I was there to experience it. Running into fire rather than seeking cover from it goes counter to every human survival instinct—trust me. I was sweating as much from fear as from the layers of clothing I still had on from the night before, to the degree that it felt as if pure salt were running into my eyes from my forehead. As the weeks had rolled on, and I had gotten to know the 1/5 Marines as the individuals they were, I had started deluding myself that they weren’t much different from me. They had soft spots, they got sick, they complained. But in one flash, as we charged across Michigan amid whistling incoming shots, I realized that they were not like me; they were Marines.

“Five Days in Fallujah” by Robert D. Kaplan, The Atlantic July/August 2004

This is an essay that I read years ago out of my interest in history and military history. It’s by the journalist Robert D. Kaplan and details his experiences as an “embedded” journalist, accompanying the 1st Battalion of the 5th Marine Regiment in 2004 as they worked to take the Iraqi town of Fallujah. The battle for Fallujah in 2004 was some of the hardest fighting in the Iraq war, and Kaplan’s article gives a good feel for what it was like on the ground.

While my interest in military history has waned some lately, I find that this excerpt has a lot of value outside of its military context. For while it’s talking about how Marines are trained to respond instinctively under fire in combat, it’s more about how human beings respond to fear and danger. And in that vein, it’s actually an important lesson and example for everyone and how we approach life and the fears and anxieties we face every day.

The simple fact is that fear is a part of being human, like I outlined in my word meditation on fear. We don’t get to choose whether we will experience fear or not. We get to choose what we do with our fear when it comes upon us.

Our reaction to fear is instinctive. Our body and mind urge us to either run away from our fear, or to hide and wait for it to pass us by. Both of those are natural responses and they have their place and purpose.

But we have another option, one that is not natural but can be learned. We can run towards our fears and face them. Unlike this example, when we run to meet our fears we’re not necessarily looking to fight them or overcome them. Rather, we’re looking to dispel them somehow. Oftentimes, once we are face to face with our fears, dispelling them is simply a matter of listening to them and understanding what they have to say. After all, fear ultimately isn’t an adversary; it’s a part of us that’s doing a job that’s meant to benefit us. But to do that, to engage with fear, we first have to run towards it, not away. And that’s no easy thing: many times we can feel that what we’re afraid of and have to run towards is something that could well destroy us.

That’s what these Marines did under fire, run towards something that could destroy them. And it’s instructive to look at how they came to be able to do it. They trained for it, they practiced it, over and over again. Through drills, exercises, and real-life experiences, they slowly developed new instincts, new responses and new habits. Until finally, the first, immediate response, without having to think about it, is to run towards rather than away.

I used to be a very fearful person. Then, I spent ten years working in crisis management. And over time, I learned to run towards things that I was afraid of, because running away only made it worse.

Over time, I learned to apply those lessons from work more broadly in life. And now, as I’m more focused once again on questions of spirituality and growth, I find that this is an important lesson for all of us. All of us can stand to learn how to run towards our fears rather than away from them.

It’s not easy. It’s not safe. Sometimes you get hurt. But it’s the right thing to do, the right way to approach life. And the lesson from this particular episode is that it can be done successfully and the key to that success is through practice.

Fortunately, being humans, we have a chance to practice running towards our fears every day.

The Fall

It has been some time since I’ve written and to say that much has happened is an understatement of the highest order.

At its simplest, I finally accomplished what I set out to do: I walked out of that poisonous, abusive, unhealthy work environment on my terms, my timeline, with my head held high, much love and support from friend inside and out, and no small amount of envy from those left behind.

For the past eleven days now, I’ve been coming to terms with the separation, learning what it is to not check e-mail every 30 minutes unless on vacation. Most of all, I’ve been recognizing that a number of issues I had when I was younger haven’t really gone away: they were just pushed to the back of the closet. When something takes up nearly 90% of the available space in your life and your mind, you shove a lot to the back of the closet.

I expected that what I feel now is what I would be feeling. In a way this reminds me of my skydiving experience. You’re falling from a great height, fast, the air is rushing loudly and feels like water, you’re thrilled and scared all at once, you’re flying and falling and so alive and could well be dead if it all goes wrong.

And then….

…you’re on the ground, it’s quiet, there’s no movement, no danger, no excitement, no sound. It’s just you, where you are, with what you have with you. That’s it.

I’ve been watching the scene in the new Galactica where Adama enters the boxing ring and fights well to a point, at which point the fight becomes just a beating, a punishment, something that shows how much he can take until finally, he can’t take any more. And then, he falls.

The idea of falling is very prominent in my mind as I grapple with the new reality. I have had to cope with the idea that I have fallen, that I had to leave that job because I took it until I couldn’t take any more.

I always said that the difference between a setback and a failure is whether you get up again. And I am determined to get up again and move on.

But first, I have to heal. First I have to gather my strength before I try to stand once more. But I will, and I will move on to new and better things.

For now though, I am taking stock of where I’ve landed, what I have and who I am. That last perhaps is the biggest thing to work out, because I am free for the first time of the conditioning and conforming expectations of others. And while that’s wonderful, it means that it’s up to me now to fill all that space myself that others were happy to fill for me.

Magister Ludens Irae

or: Master of the Game of Wrath (with tip of the hat to Herman Hesse’s Glass Bead Game)

I have been thinking rather a bit about my posting talking about how angry and resentful my work has made me.

It was one of those posts that was written quickly, driven by the energy of realization and the power of the underlying emotion realized.

It is in some ways one of the most open postings I’ve ever made. Unlike other postings about myself, it’s me showing something I’m not proud of or happy about. It’s me showing how my circumstances have made me other than I want to be. And that’s a very vulnerable thing. It’s natural after sharing something like that to have worry and regret: should I not have posted it, will people like me less now that they see this side of me.

But as I thought about that all, I realized that my feelings about this post is misdirected. The post only shows what’s already there. If I’m going to feel worry and regret about this at all, I should feel it for those feeling being there in the first place and not for talking about it.

And so it was that I found myself feeling worry and regret about the anger and resentment that I find in myself from work after the post.

But then I started to think about the post before that, The Game where I closed by saying:

So, yes, I do desire this all once more and innumerable times more. Yes, thank you, for all of it, I wouldn’t change a thing. Yes, I can’t wait to do it all again, and again, and again, and….

How can I say “yes” to what I had been thinking about in that earlier post and yet feel worry and regret about my work. Shouldn’t I be saying “yes” to what I’ve been through? Am I being a hypocrite?

Well, to a degree, yes, I was. Though more accurately, I would say that when I wrote Dies Irae I was still focused on the acknowledgement stage in coping. But having taken the thesis of Dies Irae and had it collide with the antithesis of The Game, I realize now there is a synthesis of the two pending. And I realize that synthesis is of critical importance for draining off the poison and the venom. For the synthesis is going and looking at this whole painful, damaging experience and learning how I am better for it, how the me that is emerging from it is so much more than I was before, for the better.

It’s not yet time for that. I need to close this chapter. But there will come a reckoning of what I’ve been through and out of that will, eventually, come the realizations of why I’m better for all that’s good and why I will say “yes” to that all again and again and again.

Dies Irae

The post title is taken from my favorite part of the requiem mass, the Dies Irae which translates as “Day of wrath” and is based on a twelfth century poem by Thomas of Celano that details the Apocalypse.

Yesterday was a dies irae for me. I had a rather stark and sobering realization. My work situation has deteriorated to such a degree that I am angry and resentful about it. I realized this as I was reading about the launch of a new product yesterday and realized that I was getting angry with some of the reviews of the product for not hating it. I realized that I’ve moved from being a morbid spectator watching the disaster that is this work to actively wanting and rooting for the disaster to be ever worse. I haven’t moved so far as to actively take steps to move the disaster along. But still, for me, this was a very stark and sobering and not pleasant realization.

I am now nearly a month past when I had planned to leave. And I still lack a clear exit date due to a number of factors. I know it will be no later than the winter holidays. But that’s still well over two months away and this clearly indicates that my mental health is worse than I’d realized.

It is interesting though, as I’ve turned the past couple of months into a bit of an self-administered psychology test, trying to carefully watch and catalog all of the bad aspects of my work and understand their impact on me.

For instance, I have come to learn that feeling overwhelmed is a killer for me. It makes me the most stressed and angry and unpleasant the most quickly of any sort of stimulus.

Boredom is also a killer for me and is something that I’m struggling desperately with even as I write this. Once I drop below a certain level of engagement and activity it becomes nearly impossible for me to do anything, really. I just sit and get progressively more low energy and ultimately depressed. Indeed, I find serious boredom to be far more physically and mentally draining than being being overworked.

I’ve also come to realize how merely being in this office affects negative changes on me. I recently had several days off and as soon as I was back in the office, I could feel how unhappy, frustrated and stressed I was by simply sitting at my desk.

But, realizing on top of that all how truly angry I am is a new insight. And now that I’ve realized it, I think I understand why I feel that way. It’s the way in which I’ve been treated with little regard, belittled, humiliated, told constantly how I’m wrong, and generally made to feel that all problems are my fault.

I am very angry. I am very resentful. But I am this way because of my circumstances. And in the end, I am changing my circumstances. And when I do, I will drain off the poison and venom they have pumped into me here, find the me I love once again, and resolve to never let anyone do this to me ever again.

p.s. In a fitting “cherry on the top”, I find that due to unknown networking issues here at work, I can’t easily publish this post from my editor but have to copy/paste from my editor into my browser. As my mother would say, some days you just can’t win for losing.