What’s in a label?

Testing, testing 1,2,3 comma nope… ok so I’m going to give this Google Docs thing a go and speak my thoughts as its Friday evening I am both tired and yet deeply contemplative at the moment. The thing about us, and I’m talking in particular about those of us who have had adventures, who have tested the waters, who have stepped before they are truly ready, afterwards, who are we? Are we heroes? Are we losers? Are we gurus? Or are we something else again? Personally I feel like whatever the labels are, telling me who I am, they have lost their stickiness. I’m not quite civilian and I’m not quite a soldier, I’m not quite a northerner and not quite a southerner, not exactly rich and not exactly poor, and it seems I am not quite enunciating these words in a manner becoming of Google (massive spellchecking and re wording going on tomorrow!). The point being labels are only good if the life you’ve led is simple enough to accommodate them and still allow your authentic self to be seen.  The more complex your life becomes, the more labels are stuck onto you and before long all you are is a walking label fest in the shape of a human, the real you can’t be seen at all.

Removing labels

Some then use the labels as a shield and hide behind them, meanwhile the authentic self gets mired in the sticky gunky mess that is loss of identity. Finding your true self therefore means shedding the labels. We are not our jobs or our family positions, we are not our moods and we are not our actions. Removing the labels is tricky to say the least, and I know this from experience of removing my own. Even then when the labels have been removed and your authentic self is shining through once more, in moments of perceived or actual weakness or ego, labels can slap back onto you and you find yourself saying, ‘excuse me, do you know who I am?!’ or apologising to someone for your existence because they exude power.

One of the labels I removed was soldier along with a lorry load of other labels. I did this 20 years ago but as fate would have it, I was invited to view that label again this week.

Veteran Retreat

It has been a significant week as I re-joined the fold spending a day with a veteran retreat. I arrived on the second of three days. I was reeling before I set off in the morning, worrying about what it will be like being part of a military group again, concerned that my anxiety would get the better of me and perhaps I might freak out altogether. I had 50 minutes of driving to gather myself and give myself a good talking to, to find my authentic centre before I arrived. The retreat group consisted of veterans, serving personnel, holistic therapists of various types and spiritual healers. As it turns out I was welcomed with open arms. That old familiar feeling of camaraderie came back to me; growing throughout the day. I heard stories that day from fellow veterans that humbled me and shared a humour long forgotten. I saw the grace in these people’s struggle with their mental health – having led the life of a hero, outwardly strong still and carrying the soldier label, but underneath needing more weapons than they had to fight their mental health.

Most of the people in the group were special forces and as such had done far more dangerous things than I had ever done in my time in the army. They had come from the battlefield, from stealth operations, from insurgence, Minefields, and all-out War. As cheesy as it sounds, I actually felt the love in the group that day and what a weapon that is. What surprised me the most was the recognition, understanding and practice of all things spiritual esoteric and holistic in the group. Having walked that path of hero and soldier they now walk the path towards the alternative, holistic and spiritual side of life. Whether they instinctively knew that this stuff would save their lives or whether they accidently stumbled into the arena, they were there to tell their tale because they had found the weapon they needed to fight their mental health issues.

Camaraderie and Compassion

We all know ‘that someone’ who ridicules ‘that hippy dippy shit’ probably stemming from the world of medicine saying it doesn’t work since it doesn’t cost millions to produce and line the pockets of fat cats at the top. This week however, I have witnessed evidence to the contrary. I have seen what difference it does for soldiers and veterans. I have felt what it has done for myself and I still feel the effect now, days later. So, what is it that has drawn veterans to this seemingly opposing side of life? I have a theory. Camaraderie is the cornerstone of military survival philosophies and yet when a soldier leaves the military, that feeling is lost, we feel lost, cast out and left behind. There is a similar camaraderie amongst those in touch with the more esoteric side of life. Sure, it’s not full of dark jokes, motivational swearing and pulling each other through the mud but as a veteran, that stuff is done anyway. Those things are the ‘stickiness’ keeping those labels on like ‘brave’, ‘strong’, ‘hero’.

As a veteran, the inevitable decompression of the soul happens and that can take years and with that inevitable decompression of the soul comes mental health issues. There is then a need for compassion, gentle consideration, and attention. This is needed to combat the effects of that decompression and that is where the likes of holistic therapies, spiritual healing, and alternative medicines step in. The people who are a part of this side of life have fought inner wars and found their way through and have a camaraderie all their own too. There is a recognition of that in the veteran seeking sanctuary I think, and equally in those settled there, the recognition in the veteran that they themselves were once there too. They know what is needed, so offer the gentlest of welcomes and perform the most compassionate of work to help them find their new place without the labels.

Tomorrow is Saturday and I will be doing my regular online spiritual meditation group with a coffee and I will know that what I am doing is actual medicine, with no side effects on me or on Mother Earth, sounds like a win-win to me!

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