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Friday, May 24, 2013
Memorial Day— Let’s Share the Burden of Guilt and Shame Carried by Our Returning War Heroes
On Memorial Day in the USA, we see wreathes and metals and honors of our beloved heroes of all wars who fought hard and courageously to the death for love of their country and ideals. But in my gut, I feel an emptiness knowing that our society has little place on a-day-to-day basis for sharing the actual burden of guilt and shame and emptiness—the psychological impact of war experience— that is often carried by our returning heroes. Surely we would all prosper in better mental health if our society recognized and was educated to truly share the responsibility for the guilt and shame of this emotional state of distress that is an indication of the need for sharing body-mind reflection on one’s gut feelings, emotions and core beliefs.
I am reminded as we approach Memorial Day of the young man who came into my office when I was a career counselor in a junior college in the 70’s. He had returned from the Vietnam War and was overcome by shame for his actions. Upon reflection on his gut feelings and impact of life experience, he understood that he had gone into the military service to gain acceptance from his parents and to care for his country’s safety, but had committed unthinkable and unspeakable acts against civilians while there, all lead by his sergeant. This was a burden of actions that he felt upon his return home that he must hold inside all on his own and he was in great pain and suffering. It was my hope to provide a place he could share with me as another accepting and caring human being the feeling memory and feeling of guilt for these actions, for which he had thought that he had little choice but his own death to do and because he thought at the time it was the right thing to do what he was commanded to do. But now, there was no public place in society for the sharing of these acts and the shame and guilt that was eating him alive, and many others like him.
The Vietman War may have been an unusual war; one which many soldiers felt was fought in vain and far more brutally than really necessary. But my experience in counseling returning Vietman Vets has always left me with the awareness that all heroes may feel shame and guilt, even for wars they felt were necessary and successful in defending their country. Even those heroes we honor with metals, may smile to us as they receive them, while hiding that they feel empty down inside in their guts—feeling confused and guilty for their actions against other members of humanity. I have been told by returning heroes that a little bit of ourselves die too every time we kill another person in war, even if we believe in the neccessity of the war in which we are engaged. So how in our daily lives today do we help share this inner death of our returning heroes?
If these shameful and empty feelings of today’s returning vet is something difficult for people to engage supportive conversations about in our country, then could we at least provide a ritual in our daily lives together that would work toward helping both our returning vets and also the psyche of one and all by sharing the inner burdens and giving constant community acceptance for our inner being? Perhaps we need a wall to honor with constant rituals of not just the names of our fallen heroes who have given their lives, but a wall for our returning war heroes alive today, as well as our everyday hero living in our modern stress-filled environment. This "Wall of Acceptance" could be built with stones that symbolize that we know we are all caring human beings at the core of our being in a shared community—with stones we could place and rebuild in rituals many times in honor of the love of the authentic Self flourishing deep in all our beings. As Depth Psychologist Carl Jung built his own stone dwelling, he referred to the single stone as a symbol of the authentic Self we are all returning to the consciouness of, or “individuation process”. A community sharing effort does not need to be a fancy shine, just a simple small but very accessible clearing of land with stones available for people to come in reverence to participate in a constant building of this stone structure symbolizing community responsibility, love of humanity, and true inner peace for all.
Peace Be With You All!
In honor of those returning vets who shared their feelings and impact of the experience of war with us in the 70s, thus helping us create the Somatic Reflection Process, we would like to share this short summary selection on that healing process from our book “What’s Behind Your Belly Button?” taken from the conclusion of chapter seven:
“The Somatic Reflection Process warrants much more study as a somatic, depth psychology process that could be used to assist people in returning to an awareness of the authentic Self and finding the strength within toward healing the trauma of the body/mind split. This process seems particularly useful as a depth method because it engages both the body and mind, focusing on body awareness. It is also a process that once learned somatically, may be used as a daily practice by the individual for dealing with life traumas and unsettling experiences."
“Both the clinical experiences and research we have done with this process supports the idea that it may be valuable in healing people experiencing trauma and stress caused by both emotional and physical conditions. The range of trauma that this process is successful in dealing with may well include the large amount of returning veterans of the Iraqi and Afghanistan Wars who are experiencing severe trauma and PTSD, as well as the uncomfortable feelings of accumulated trauma experienced by the common everyday hero living in our constantly-changing, stress-ridden, modern world."
“The Somatic Reflection Process both encourages and gives support to understanding the authentic Self as we open the mysterious doors of our unconscious. Having a theoretical model and process of understanding our human inner needs and instinctual feelings makes it possible to integrate what we learn somatically about ourselves, thus supporting the communication and integration of the body/mind. As Gershon (1998) might suggest, it enhances the communication between the head brain and the gut brain and thus reduces stress and stimulates the intuition."
“We have found that the Somatic Reflection Process is a technique for safely walking consciously into the awareness of one’s unconscious somatic awareness. It’s exploration as a tool is for anyone who is interested in recognizing and identifying the field of consciousness that is calling from deep within all of us, beaconing us to know ourselves as both individuals and as a human family, each with a human body with universal human needs and instincts that are at the core caring for and connected to all of life.”
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