Posts Tagged ‘journal’

Review: Application of Impossible Things, A Near Death Experience in Iraq

January 24, 2012

A true tale of survival and courage, sure to empower others who read it.

“Come one, come all! Be amazed and shocked as you peak behind the curtain into the realm of the unexplained!!!” From sideshow barkers to check out aisle tabloids the pitch so often outshines the experience that it’s hard not to become cynical. Not so with Natalie Sudman. Her first hand account of being Out of Body during her dance with death explodes off the page. In the blink of an eye she travels dimensions that shred time and space. Yet she writes with such uncommon wit, sophisticated insight, and stunning attention to detail that it will turn your view of reality inside out. This truly is a front row seat in the theater of “impossible things.” Do NOT miss it!

Paul Rademacher

Executive Director of The Monroe Institute and author of A Spiritual Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Universe: Travel Tips for the Spiritually Perplexed.

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Progress Not Perfection

May 1, 2011

Every day I feel like I haven’t accomplished much, yet I’m always busy. I know that this is a mental-habit perception rather than reality. In the five months since I bought this house, I’ve completed an enormous amount of work …

Just to list the major accomplishments: I’ve moved all my belongings into the house almost single-handedly (two objects required assistance), painted the interior (1500 sq ft, 10ft ceilings), built shelves on every wall of the garage (5 units), refinished three bookshelves and one coffee table, installed a sink in the garage, built two worktables for the garage, devised and built a way to hang my kayak, sealed all outdoor wood timbers, assembled five industrial shelf units, refinished a floor, dug 20 holes for trees and a 5 x 10 x 1ft deep foundation for rainwater storage tanks, set up and fired a new kiln.

As soon as I finish a project, it is dismissed from my perception. Wouldn’t it be better to give attention to the finished project, taking the time to admire it and myself for the accomplishment? Instead I focus on the long list still to be done: build earthbag terrace walls, put rip-rap on the driveway extension, gravel the driveway, plant the 20 trees and as many bushes, install the rainwater collection tanks, make and fire clay half-pipes to direct water from one tree to the next … the list is long.

Progress not perfection.

The journey matters.

I’m trying to re-teach myself that generosity. 

In Iraq I moved full-speed sixteen or eighteen hours a day. Rolling around in my brain were between twenty and sixty projects, each with their uniquely bizarre problems to be solved yesterday. Being untrained in the tasks, I had to work twice as hard as everyone else just to be half as good at the job.

Then I got blown up, and as soon as I was conscious again the same sort of dedication and concentration was required in recovery. I was always doing something: stretching this, moving that, controlling pain, tracking government paperwork (try that when you’re looped out of Perc – yeesh), pushing my body, training my mind for new expectations and adaptions.

Habits have always been hard for me to break, and this one – a tornado brain – is proving tenacious. The mental chatter is not constant, but it constantly returns. Being alert in a war zone pays. Whether at work in an office (alert for incoming), riding the roads (alert for IEDs, SAF, etc), static at a site (alert for SAF, RPGs, coordinated attacks, etc), the background is a constant if sliding scale of adrenaline. Add handling a near-panic level learning curve and high speed problem-solving in a strange and violent land, … is it any wonder that breaking these habits takes time?

Before going to Iraq I’d traveled extensively, living for months in different countries and in various intense, microcosmic, small-group situations. Culture shock had become familiar to me. When I returned from Iraq that experience paid off, as I was more patient with myself during re-entry than many friends were with themselves.  I knew that many of the symptoms would gradually fade without effort.

War zones, though, produce unique intensities of persistent culture shock and thought patterns.I know other vets who feel the same way. Habits learned in a war zone are deeply seated. Reinforcement tends to be strong when you immerse yourself in a world for a year and half, and extreme behavior and thought patterns are seated profoundly in the body’s nerve system. It is said we learn best if more than one sense is engaged, the spoken word accompanied by pictures, for instance. A war zone teaches through engaging every sense, and with extremes (explosions, blood & guts, 130F heat, guns, bad food, constant problem solving). By a person’s senses entirely, actions and thoughts and emotions become tuned to a high level and rooted in the very cells of the body.

My most useful tool in quieting the hyper-aware chatter of the mind, slowing time in order to notice and congratulate myself on accomplishments, and letting go of the goal-oriented ticking off of tasks (lists – the organizational nerve system of my life!) has been the use of meditation. In particular, I find that the Monroe Institute cd’s (www.monroeinstitute.org) are especially useful.

Hemi-synch, the use of binaural beats to put a person into deep meditative states, often short-circuits the hyperactivity of my mind, quieting the chatter. The instant release of dropping into deep meditative states is making it easier and easier to remember during the rest of the day to take one moment at a time, and helps me to find the beauty and ease available in just being alive in this strange world.

Today I ordered sandbags to build the earthbag terrace walls. A contractor is working up an estimate for the rip-rap and driveway gravel (I’ve decided I don’t have to do it all myself). I’ve got culvert and gravel on the way for the rainwater collection tanks, and tomorrow I’ll get the pvc pipe that I’ll need for their plumbing. Saturday a friend will join me for a tree shopping spree.

There is still so much work to do.

It’s not work that needs to be done right now though. Right now I’m going to go sit on the back patio and watch the daylight fade and the stars appear, quieting my mind.

Progress, not perfection.

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I Am My Own Science Experiment

December 18, 2010

Today the whole world smells to me  like my small world at Walter Reed Army Medical Center did in December 2007.

Since being blown up, my sense of smell has been quirky. For months after I was released from the hospital, all raw meat smelled rotten, salmon smelled like polluted earth; I was unable to tell if milk had gone off; the clean, fresh scent of lemon made me nauseous. I couldn’t smell smoke; some of the finest perfumes smelled like cheap drugstore scents; and coffee smelled like burned toast.  The day that I was able to discern the delicious scent of coffee as coffee is supposed to smell was one landmark day in my recovery!

Now my sense of smell has what appear to be permanent gaps, and about once a month or so I’ll have a few days of persistent strangeness. Many perfumes and – oddly and perhaps luckily – sewage type odors almost never register as accurate. I’ve become accustomed to that. It’s the days of unexpected scents that stand out. One day everything will smell like raw meat. Yesterday scented soaps smelled like alcohol, and the day before that the desert smelled like talcum powder. Today, as I’ve said, everything smelled like Walter Reed, a distinctive lightly sweet, slightly waxy, barely medicinal odor that wouldn’t be unpleasant if it weren’t associated with the hospital.

In the excellent book The Emporer of Scent, Chandler Burr describes Luca Turin’s scientific investigations of the sense of smell. Turin is convinced that we discern scents through the vibration of molecules, the molecules seating themselves in sensors in the nasal system. In contrast, the leading scientific theory states that we perceive odors by sensors reading the shape of molecules, so in the course of his investigations and conclusions, Luca Turin ran head first into the entrenched scientists of shape theory. When scientists have invested many years in a particular theory, they don’t necessarily follow the basic precepts of science by keep their minds open to deviations from that norm and alternative explanations for gaps in the original theory. Luca Turin’s theory explains the gaps in shape theory, and overall he makes a convincing argument for vibration. Although I will remain willing to be convinced otherwise, since I’ve read only one popular-science book about the subject, I am currently a proponent of Turin’s vibration theory.

One of the stories Chandler Burr recounts in the book describes a woman in Scotland who suddenly perceived everything as smelling like feces. After consulting with many experts, her physician heard about and contacted Luca Turin, hoping he could help this woman. Being convinced that smell is based on the body reading the vibration of molecules, he suspected that this woman’s body was misreading the vibrations, which he postulated might be alleviated by medicines for epilepsy. I wish I remembered the details of why he came to that conclusion, but I don’t, probably because it made sense to me intuitively.

I think about this when my own sense of smell goes haywire. I had a massive concussion, a fractured skull, shrapnel in my frontal sinus – that’s still there – and that frontal sinus was ultimately isolated by being plugged. Perhaps there are sensors in that frontal sinus that no longer allow me to smell certain odors at all. Maybe my brain had enough jarring that some connections were permanently altered. Or perhaps my brain sustained some scarring that affects the way information is transmitted or received.

It’s also possible that environment affects my body’s energy vibration in such a way as to disrupt the scent sensors. I’ve noticed that when I eat sugar my sense of smell will be “off” the next day. If I eat more sugar the next day, the deviations are exacerbated. If I eat vegetables and simple meats, and exercise regularly, my sense of smell gets more acute and accurate.

Physics has found that what appears to be solid is not really solid. A chair is just an organization of molecules, which are in turn smaller particles with spaces between, which are in turn smaller particles with spaces between … and on and on to smaller and smaller and smaller particles, down to perhaps no particles at all – just energy. Vibration.

It makes sense to me, in these contexts, that what I put into my body or do with my body or surround my body with will affect all my senses. All the “particles” that make up my body are my own unique energy, and create or emanate my own unique energy. That energy interacts with all that it encounters.

So on days that my sense of smell is screwy, I look at what’s affecting my energy: food, exercise, stress, chemicals, drugs, sleep habits …

I am my own science experiment.

My Brothers

February 13, 2010

One of my favorite PSD guards, I’ll call him G, tracked me down five days ago. He sent a short, sweet email that catalyzed an excited flurry of communication. We compared injuries, traded photographs of our bombed out trucks, asked personal questions, sent each other love and kisses. He passed me on to another PSD friend, and another, who passed me onto yet another … my angels, my guns, my guards, my big brothers, my broken hearts, my strength, my baby brothers …  God, I miss them. I’m soaring on a flurry of sweetness and warm hearts.

G’s truck was blown up about a month prior to mine, and no one would tell me, at the time, how he was doing. “A broken back, other bad injuries, Seren, it’s not looking good. We don’t know.” OK, maybe. Or maybe they knew every detail. I never really figured out the secret rules of their secrets. Some things were off limits but I was never sure which, or when, or why.

I didn’t know any of the PSD men well, yet I knew some of them very well. We weren’t friends in the sense of sharing opinions or feelings, intimacies or life stories. We worked together in delicate harmony of respect: I told them where to take me and when, and they told me how we’d get there, how long we could stay.  I trusted them to protect me, and they trusted me to stay alert and follow orders. I was the reason they were employed, and I couldn’t do my job without them. We grew into a sort of deep but narrow, limited friendship by spending many hours together on the road, watching each other act and interact in a volatile environment. We grew to depend on each other, to trust each other in certain important ways.

Many of their clients treated PSD men like servants or adversaries. I tried to treat them like the experts they were. Some of their clients – my colleagues – argued about routes, time on the ground, the intel behind their decisions. I asked the men what they thought was best and trusted their decisions. Some of them had been living in war zones all over the world for two decades. I’m going to argue with that?

We got to know each other over hours and hours on the road together: sweating in hot little Land Cruisers, walking down roads under the relentless desert sun wearing thirty, fifty, eighty pounds of armor and ammo on our backs. We watched each other defuse hot situations involving guns or angry contractors, belligerent Oil Police or Port authorities. We watched each other squirm in uncomfortable situations, and brood heavily over problems and tensions. We shared deceptions, lying to colonels and generals in order to make our own lives easier, and pushing agendas on behalf of each others’ interests. We shared water and candy and sandwiches. We shared hours of silence, naps bumping down dusty tracks through empty desert, winks behind the boss’ back, cigarettes in the thin shade of ratty trailers.

Each PSD team developed a unique personality. G’s team was mature, solid, impossible to shake. Where another team might move-move-move at the rattle of SAF up the block, these men would step behind walls and wait it out, assessing, watching, thinking, sensing. To a man they were calm, friendly, curious about the history and people of Iraq, thoughtful about the reconstruction effort. They made friends with children, fed families along the frequently-traveled routes, wondered how land ownership worked, pondered Iraq’s future. They asked questions and engaged the answers with intelligence.

We got lost on the desert following a faint dirt track, finally laughing, wondering if we’d strayed all the way into Kuwait. G tapped me on the shoulder and politely tugged me back into a doorway when SAF rattled off down the street. One of G’s teammates was insulted on my behalf when an Iraqi asked my age. Another teammate winked when the port official finally signed turnover papers that I was sure he’d find an excuse not to sign; “Good day, eh Seren?” he said quietly when the official walked out the door. “You looked worried.” He touched my arm gently and smiled, giving me a little bit of his confidence and assurance. G stared out across the blue water of the port, lost in time, looking like his heart was worn out.

The experts, my eyes and ears. My guns, my guards, my big brothers.

And sometimes my little brothers, the pain in their eyes almost too much to bear, the bravado a little too thin. I wanted to hug them, each of them, hold them close and hum quietly, taking them somewhere gentle and serene. I wanted to erase their memories of pulling bloody friends from beneath trucks and saluting coffins disappearing into the back of C130s. I wanted to erase the deep sadness in their eyes when they watched little children begging for water. I still do.

In this way we were friends: the whole world existed only in the present, and there we were.

***

Now we chatter through the ether, finding each other again. I’m excited; I’m touched that they worried for me – that they remember me.

My heart aches again for them, worries for them still in the zone, yet it soars and sings for them because they’re doing what they’re good at and they love what they do.

G wants me to call, day or night. I’m nervous. I’m scared now, of them, of G and of myself. Who are we now?

_________________________________________________________

Counting My Blessings In No Particular Order … Installment 03

February 10, 2010

 

  1. NPR’s Wait Wait Don’t Tell Me
  2. Blueberry pancakes
  3. Thunderstorms on the prairie
  4. Strangers who are kind in small and valuable ways
  5. Gardens on top of buildings
  6. Ostrich eggs. They’re so big!
  7. Hamburgers on the grill
  8. Central heating!
  9. Mysterious things
  10. Aqua
  11. Fireflies
  12. Foraminifera
  13. Falling stars
  14. Hot sunshine
  15. My aunts
  16. Stone beads
  17. Alizaron crimson
  18. Art
  19. Imagination
  20. Sunrise