In the Company of Warriors
I am a military psychologist. And I keep the company of warriors.
Seems easy now, but I’ve resisted writing that for some time, resisted openly claiming that as an important part of me, and I’ve only just recently become fully aware of why.
I contribute to a Mindfulness for Warriors programme within our organisation as a blend of my experience as a meditator, my skills as a psychologist, and role as a leader and way-finder for best-practice in this collective. I deliver a 4-week course designed-for and researched-in military groups, with the aim to give soldiers, sailors, and airmen and women the cognitive tools to be able to pay attention when it counts, and make skillful decisions when it really matters.
So why my resistance to claiming my place in this work?
Because in some wider cultural contexts of my country, I notice a sense of mistrust of the military, or aspects of it. There’s a real tension here no doubt. Where more New Zealanders than ever are turning up to reflect during Anzac Day memorial services, and making the pilgrimage to honour our fallen warriors on past battlefields overseas. At the same time there’s this suspicion of decisions taken in the name of serving our country, allegations of cover-up.
All this plays out in messy, and very human and understandable ways for me. Like when I take the bus into my office on the days where I wear uniform to work - which is infrequently as I take advantage of a civilian dress code more often that not, as you’ll soon see why - I notice a sense of fear-of-judgement in me, and a busy-mind occupied by a projection onto my bus-mates of what my uniform must likely represent to them.
My mindfulness practice is enormously useful here. As my practice has deepened, all the complex threads of thoughts, feelings, and habitual narratives have become more clear, as I notice, notice, notice my everyday experience. So here’s what I notice.
I am privileged to keep the company of warriors.
We train to have do some shitty behaviours in horrible circumstances. Most of us hope to never, ever, have to be put in those situations where we’ll use our training to do indescribable things. But that’s what we have to do. As warriors.
We prepare for eventualities where reason has all-but broken down, and escalation of force is necessary. Let’s leave discussion of the political motives leading to the situations we’re placed in for another forum. This is about the operator, the human, in the midst of this terrible drama. Because for centuries a warrior class has stepped up to do this kind of work. Brave, sometimes misguided, but courageous and afraid and very human - people deliberately putting themselves into these situations. Not everyone can do it. Not everyone should do it. I work with the people who say they will.
I keep the company of warriors.
I help men and women train the mental skills they need for when skillful decisions are pivotal. When the human condition spirals to its worst, I help prepare people to remain vigilant to their base instincts, to notice each moment, and to respond carefully, diligently. When escalation of force is necessary, I help warriors ensure they will apply only that which is skillful in these complex, demanding, confusing situations. You and I will never have to experience this. Warriors have to prepare like that’s their reality.
This isn’t about supporting a mongering for violence, it’s not about some glorification of killing. It’s messy and complicated and paradoxical, striving for peace while preparing for the upper end of the worst. We all hope for - and many of us work towards - a world where our societies won’t have-to or choose-to deploy some of their members into these dark places. But until that time when our warriors can step down, I’m with them, one way or another.
I am proud to support these humans doing tremendously difficult work.
I am proud to keep the company of warriors.