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Thursday, June 25, 2015

Soldier's Heart - The Path of the Spiritual Warrior - Part 4 of 5

This hero's journey I've been writing about is an initiation.  To dismember oneself, you must enter the darkness, and in the darkness, at the very bottom of it, you encounter the Beast.  The Beast is your animal nature; it's the animal within you.  It's the part of you that has a will to survive that is so strong, it will do anything to get what it wants.  It has the power over life and death.  You've got to be honest about it.  You've got to be honest about experiencing it.  Anyone who has ever experienced it, fully experienced it, knows how powerful it is.  It can be consuming.

To gain control of the Beast though, you have to unite the head with the heart.  You can get control of the Beast without allowing it to dominate and control you.

When we were in council at the retreat in 2013, we were talking about the nature of killing.  What causes PTSD in soldiers is 2 things:

  1. The pain of loss.  You lose somebody, your best friend, a guy or gal you went to boot camp with, who you trained with, who was always by your side.  You lose them.  So you have this loss - what could I have done to save him or her, and the guilt attached to that.
  2. Being put in a situation where you have to kill or be killed.  That's the encounter with the Beast.  Ask yourself, what would you do in that situation?
We were given an opportunity to speak after the lecture and exercise.  When it was my turn, I spoke to the group about how you've got to love the Beast.  (By the way, the people gathered together for this retreat were amazing - there was so much deep and honest sharing of the high values, dedication, and passion for our veterans and their families.  It is an honor to be working together with them on this issue).  What I meant by loving the Beast is that you must love them beyond the Beast.  You have to look beyond; you have to see the innocence in them; you have to love the berserker of which they have touched upon in themselves.  You have to love them so much that their true nature emerges.  By judging one way or another whether having killed or not killed and what that means doesn't help the sufferer.  If we want our soldiers to come back home and complete their journey, we have to see beyond that, see the truth in them, and give them our unconditional love and non-judgmental support.

It was at this point, after the exhortation that I made and a momentary break to allow some time to process, we re-convened the council with the reading of a poem.  While the poem was being read, a Vietnam veteran who was sitting two chairs away from me broke down into tears.  He wept.  Dr. Tick and the rest of the group gave him space to release what needed to be released.  He told us he'd been holding onto so much pain that he hadn't wept in 40 years.  He'd felt so safe in this environment that he was finally able to surrender all that he'd been holding up inside of him.  Then, he looked over at me and said, "You are my son.  We need you."  It was a defining moment on the retreat for me on so many levels.

The point is - these warriors, these soldiers, these men and women, they all deserve to come home.  They do not need to be treated as victims.  You've got to look at the Beast with them; you've got to meet it; you've got to walk with it.  You have to walk it with them.  No judgment.  No flinching.  Because you are meeting the inhumanity of humanity with them.  It's part of the collective human shadow.

Now, the purpose of initiation is, ironically, to lose our innocence.  It is to understand both good and evil, to take this wisdom, and then, become one of the leaders and elders of the community in order to bring about the greatest good for all.  Initiation can take many forms.  It doesn't necessarily have to be going to war.  It could be boot camp or going off to college that is a traumatic experience.  When people enter boot camp, it's very traumatic - it's a dismembering; a taking apart of one's individuality and building you back up again for the military model.  You start accessing parts you didn't know you had.

The military is trying to create a unified machine where individuality is stripped away and conformity is of the essence.  It dehumanizes you.  It dehumanizes the individual, the enemy, and civilians.  That's just part of the process.  In order for you to heal from your PTSD experience, you must learn to master yourself by transforming and integrating these wounds to make yourself whole once again.

The homecoming can be very traumatic in itself.  First you have grief attached to it.  There's a culture shock.  There's a loss of adrenaline rush.  The loss of your buddies.  There's a feeling of displacement and anger at the trivialities of life, and a disorientation.  What can you do?  You must find a healthy way of returning home that makes meaning of the experience.  With a study of universal spiritual principles and a realignment with the archetype of the warrior in its fullness, you are able to gain gifts from your experiences; you learn what it is you needed to learn which gives value to your life so that you can contribute more to the world.  You must restore meaning through spirituality.  Included in this is community restoration, which basically means you come to the community and tell them what you have learned.

Having the experience of war doesn't necessarily make you a spiritual warrior.  There is an initiation into being a spiritual warrior once you have been restored to the community.  The true values of a spiritual warrior are protecting, restoring, and preserving all of life.

The Beast, as I wrote about earlier, is a propellant.  If its not related to you, it will come after you.  So, you must embrace it.  You must make him your friend.  Find someone who can embrace it with you.  If it's not me, if it's not Dr. Tick, if it's not someone in the Soldier's Heart community, find someone you trust who can embrace it with you; who can go all the way with you to meet you where you need it; to help you restore your soul to its rightful place.

Part 5 tomorrow.

Please visit Soldier's Heart's website at to learn more about the work being done to restoring our warriors and communities.  If you are inspired, please donate!
Charlie Pacello, an Air Force veteran, is a Life Coach and Healing Expert for PTSD, Depression, Addiction, and Trauma.  He is a facilitator with the Mindful Warrior Project, an author, inspirational speaker, and a candidate for a Masters in Psychology and Theater at Burlington College.  Charlie also works as a trainer with the Soldier's Heart program and with Drs. Ed Tick and Sarah Larsen in trauma release and healing.  He is also the creator of the program, 'Lt. Pacello's Life Training Program' based on his work in healing his own PTSD, depression, addiction, and trauma.  Charlie graduated from the United States Air Force Academy in 1996 and was commissioned an officer.  He comes from a family of veterans: his grandfather fought in WWII, his father fought in Vietnam, and he was on the front lines of nuclear warfare.  All suffered from PTSD.  Charlie struggled to make that return journey home and is now committed to helping others succeed as he has.  He can be reached by visiting his website at