Embrace Bad Experiences Like a Warrior
by Shawn Rhodes
What I remember most about the first time someone tried to take my life was how good the water tasted.
It was spring of 2004, and I was in a cargo vehicle full of infantry Marines. We headed out to protect an overpass used as a supply route to Baghdad. It was being shelled regularly by the local Jihad constabulary. The big, clunky vehicle pulled under the bridge and we waited for further orders. Apparently, it’s a bad idea to park a vehicle in a spot the enemy has plenty of experience hitting. We immediately began receiving incoming mortar fire.
I heard the order to abandon the vehicle, and I was two people from the rear hatch. The man closest to the back jumped the 12 feet from the truck bed to the ground, rolled on the pavement and ran for cover as the rounds rained around him. The second man followed, and was peppered by shrapnel along the right side of his body. The rounds came in half-second increments, and when they hit the pavement around us, it was like geysers opened. Smoke, gravel, and pieces of steel sprayed up and out like jets of black steam. I jumped from the vehicle and a mortar exploded underneath me.
The next thing I remember was swinging from the rear tailgate of the huge truck as it lurched forward. One hand gripping the steel while the rest of me banged around against the bumper. I dropped to the ground and checked myself – no wounds. When we finally settled in for the night, I realized I’d never been so thirsty. That lukewarm, stale, chlorinated water tasted like it had come from the Swiss alps.
I share this story because I want to jog your memory. I want you to remember the elation that comes from surviving. More importantly, I want to share with you a key principle of living a life with Shoshin, Beginner’s Heart:
The best moments occur when you push yourself (or are pushed) beyond what you think you can handle. It is what you do with that victory, however, that defines the rest of your life.
Trauma is a well-recognized and ancient way of bringing oneself to the brink of what we think we can handle. If someone survives, it changes them forever. Many of the veterans I fought with are still coming to terms with what they experienced on the battlefield. These folks were certainly physically stronger than I was, most were smarter, and our training desensitized all of us to violence. So why do some of us return after these experiences re-dedicated to fulfilling our life’s purpose, while so many leave their life’s passions in the desert sands?
People hurt us. Others are taken too early. What do we do with the emptiness echoing within? The solution may surprise you – it’s not forgiving and forgetting, and it’s certainly not pretending it didn’t happen. If an event in life challenges your reason for living as fully as possible, pick up the mantle of the warrior again. Even if you’ve never thought of yourself as a warrior, the spirit of service lives within you. It is your human calling and it’s a way to embrace challenge in life.
Think of the most traumatic events in your life, and the details involved. Remember of how things felt or smelled. Record it on a piece of paper. If these memories don’t feel like an unhealed wound, you’ve already done the healing work of a spirit-warrior or your life is blessedly free of trauma.
What do you want to invite back into your life? Playfulness? Unbridled joy? Trust? Write it down. If it’s stumping you, ask friends or family who knew you before and after the event noticed any changes.
If the event re-played itself in your mind every hour (and it does for some of us, doesn’t it?), what would you do to make the memory bearable? This is assuming you’re tired of avoiding the memory and are ready to regain what you lost.
Warriors are called to live a life of excellence. Striving to be fulfilled brings lessons of both victories and defeats. What separates a warrior from a victim is what they choose to do with the rest of their lives. Like all life-issues, the faster you run, the faster they pursue. Warriors don’t run, hiding behind alcohol, drugs, or pretending something didn’t happen. A warrior does what they love – they revel in playing on the battlefield of their lives.
Of course, the events that shaped us no longer exist, except in the past and in our memories. You see, the place warriors reclaim lost parts of themselves is within their present moments. It’s there we walk the path. Remember, a warrior is one who serves a higher calling. If you’re reading this and you’ve survived the traumatic events of your life, it’s safe to say you want to make the most of your present moments. Your higher purpose, your passion, your call to live with your own beginner’s heart is echoing through you into your empty spaces so that you can act on it. You deserve to live an excellent life.
So how do we bring what we’re missing back into our lives? As any martial artist will tell you, once you learn a ‘difficult technique’ it’s a forehead-slapping experience when you think of how much you struggled to perform something so simple.
But that technique, that missing piece and that life you dream about will never materialize unless you begin practicing. You have to send out what you want to bring into your life. Start now. Laugh at every opportunity. Trust in small increments until you can turn your life back over to the universe. Practice giving others the things you’re missing and savor the return as it flows back into your life. Seize those moments and taste them; drink deeply.
As John Turturro said in O Brother, Where Art Thou:
“Come on in boys, the water is fine.”
– is a deeply personal issue that everyone decides for himself. Sometimes the price is high, sometimes low. But this is not very important for life. Life is an interesting thing. And the price on Viagra – too.