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Warrior Compassion

MalaforVets Blog

Follow the Pursuit of Compassion.

Warrior Compassion

Chris Eder

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I have never hit someone, nor been hit by someone.

This is not to say I've never been angry enough to do so, nor made someone else angry enough to do so.  I suppose I've been lucky? Maybe.

I served for 23 years in the Air Force...most of those years as a Combat Correspondent.  While I was not a member of any team whose mission was to capture and  or kill the enemy, I have been embedded with teams who were doing just that.  The majority of the battles I've been in all have been in...I was the one being attacked. Countless times I've been startled with the sound of the early detection system (giant voice) warning of possible incoming.  TAKE COVER!  Even more times...no alert...only the sound of explosions that were too close for comfort.

It is in these moments that the core of who we are...that which defines and creates our morale compass can be tested, challenged...and sometimes changed. On my first deployment to Baghdad in 2003, I got incredibly ill. The nearest bathroom was a good 30 yards from my bed.  This is the same bathroom that I think was last cleaned in 1990.  The things I did in that stall are unmentionable.  It was at this lowest of low moments my supervisor brought my chemical protection gear to me. He told me there was intel that we were going to be attacked with chemicals.  I needed to have the gear by my side just in case.  Healthy normally functioning people have a tough time putting on their "chem gear" quickly.  ME???  I was screwed!  There was no way I was going to be able to put this stuff on in time for it protect me.  Even if I did, if I were to continue relieving myself from all openings...I would asphyxiate on my own relief...and die!  What did I ever do to deserve this?

Well...I was a Warrior!  My station in life, my dhrama was to be a Warrior.  WAIT A SECOND!  How can I be both a Warrior and a compassionate person?  How can I play a pivotal role in the destruction of physical property, ideology, and even...human life...and still live a life worthy of living?  A life of love and loving.  A life instep with that which I believe to be true.  You need to look no further than...the Bible.

Psalm 144:1-2

Blessed be the LORD, my rock, Who trains my hands for war, And my fingers for battle; My loving kindness and my fortress, My stronghold and my deliverer; My shield and He in whom I take refuge; Who subdues my people under me.

Ecclesiastes 3:8

A time to love, and a time to hate; A time for war, and a time for peace.

There is also a fantastic story about this very same struggle in the Bhagavad-gita.  The Bhagavad-gita is a conversation between Arjuna, a famous warrior about to go into battle, and Krishna, his charioteer. In the course of giving Arjuna all manner of spiritual and material advice, Krishna explains karma, the self, the Supreme Self, the purpose of yoga, the difference between our self and our material body, how our environment affects our consciousness, and how to attain the perfection of life.

In a nut shell, the Bible the Bhagavad-gita suggest using intelligent decisions when faced with moral or ethical battles.  This is how I came up with what I call Warrior Compassion.  I apply Ahimsa and Saucha to my intelligent decision making...or Viveka.  Viveka means discrimination. This is the intellectual ability to discriminate, or discern, between the real and the unreal. Vedanta defines the real as being permanent and the unreal as being temporary. 

To practice Ahimsa is to be constantly vigilant, to observe ourselves in interaction with others.  This sounds a whole like being a warrior!  We have to be constantly vigilant. But there is a second part to this...you must also notice your thoughts and intentions. That is the "touchy-feely" part. Ahimsa traditionally translated as "do not kill or hurt people." Take this a little deeper and we can extend this to not being violent in feelings, thoughts, words, or actions. At root, ahimsa means maintaining compassion towards yourself and others. It means being kind and treating all things with care. Ah...COMPASSION!  There it is again!

Saucha is a Niyama...or a guide to self-regulation.  Self-regulation in the world we all live in is a daunting task!  Just about everything is open 24/7.  If its not..then you can find it on the internet.  Often times in Warriors our ability to self-regulate is difficult.  In the book, "Living with Honor," by Medal of Honor recipient  SSG Salvatore Giunta, talks about living in an environment where your head is on a swivel 24/7...a kill or be killed environment...where  it is impossible to self-regulate because your body is ALWAYS on high alert.  This inability to self-regulate often continues when Warriors return home.  Saucha is imperative!  So, how do you, I, we do this?

Simplify...let your mind, body, spirit digest things.

Saucha is both an internal and external cleanse.  For the mind...meditate.  For the body...eat well and exercise.  Yoga is great...but any movement will do.  For the spirit...get involved.  Church, charity work, (seva) or any kind of selfless practice.  Smile!  Clear out space and only replace it with positive, non-harming thoughts.  RE: Garbage In/Garbage Out!. 

The combination of these practices will help alleviate mental anguish, stress, and hyper-arousal.  Thus helping you along this parallel path of healing we're all on...to a more compassionate state.  Allow yourself to be a compassionate Warrior!

The major block to compassion is the judgment in our minds. Judgment is the mind's primary tool of separation.  — Diane Berke in The Gentle Smile

The major block to compassion is the judgment in our minds. Judgment is the mind's primary tool of separation. 
— Diane Berke in The Gentle Smile

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