I joined the Navy in 1982 and since then have navigated my way within the Dept of Defense as an Active Duty Petty Officer, Reserve Petty Officer, Government Contractor, and Government Civilian. I achieved the rank of GS-14 and gave it up when I felt like my values and the current actions of our military were out of sync. I eventually returned to a civilian position at a lower grade to complete my Federal Career and Service. During my career I have worked one-on-one with high-ranking officials including Admirals, Generals, and Assistant Deputy Secretaries. I share all of this to offer insight as to how comfortable I am within the culture. After 32 years of exposure – not including life with family members who were at sometime in their lives Enlisted or Officers – I understand the military psyche and its protocol. That is my story.
I understand that when a military person demands respect, as with any human being who demands respect, it is usually indicative of low self-esteem. I know this first hand as I myself have demanded respect when I felt I wasn’t receiving it, only to discover that I felt insecure about something I was doing, my place within a group, or an assignment I felt was beyond my capabilities. I’ve learned to have compassion for myself and others when my – or their – hurt and confused child surfaces to the top and bubbles out into an explosion of, “You need to listen to me” or “You will treat me the way I want to be treated.” [Please don’t mistake this second sentence as a healthy boundary – that’s another topic!]
One thing meditation has offered me is an opportunity to be kind and gentle with myself; to observe when I’m in my practice day-dreaming rather than focusing on my breath, and then just return to my breath without beating myself up for being a bad meditator. This practice of observing what at first might feel like a failure and then starting over with no judgment toward myself for screwing up, is one gift of my meditation practice. Because it has allowed me to understand that in my daily life, I’m going to screw up, allow ego to take over, and react to a situation unskillfully, rather than respond mindfully. And that’s okay…
Beyond observing my reaction, my practice provides a skillful path to make another choice – to respond from my heart rather than my ego. I often believe the people who most get on my nerves are angels who offer me this opportunity – to see myself for who I really am and what I am really capable of.
So last week when I found myself in an uncomfortable situation with a military person, I went for a walk. I needed to get away from my desk, take a few breaths, and clear my head. As I walked I asked myself what this person was showing me about myself – was I feeling disrespected and unappreciated? If so, in what ways? I also started thinking about my history with the military and working in a Defense organization. I thought about all the military people I’ve met – friends I’ve made and continue to make. I reminded myself that try as we might to be different, we are all human and we all experience the same range of emotions, only in different ways. The person who annoyed me does not mean to be annoying. My reaction to our encounter was probably hurtful to both of us and that’s not the person I want to be. I acknowledged that I had screwed-up and allowed ego to take over, and fell back into my heart with love towards everyone, especially my military brothers and sisters.
As I contemplated all of this, a military person passed me on the steps. We greeted one another and once past one another he stopped, looked at me and said, “I really like that shirt you’re wearing!” He had no idea what that kind gesture did for me. I accepted it as a message from the Universe that I was in complete harmony with those around me; that it was my own insecurity and feelings I sometimes have of not belonging in that culture that caused my ego and inner child to act out rather than skillfully respond to the situation. Just as I do when on the cushion, I forgave myself and gave gratitude for the opportunity and honestly the where-withal to see my Self in every situation.
There was a time in my life when I could only get through a similar situation by deciding the other person was all screwed up. Now I’ve come to understand that we are all screwed up – as in beautifully and magically imperfect and perfect. I’m grateful to my meditation practice and the concept of mindfulness for this shift in how I live my life which has become so much easier and so very filled with love, peace, and harmony. It doesn’t matter where I am, who I am with, or what I am doing; every opportunity is an opportunity for me to choose whether that means to begin again or let go, to stay on course or make a shift.
This weekend I attended a mindfulness workshop. I met the founder of the Center for Mindful Awareness at Sharon Salzberg’s talk this past Tuesday. She shared that she was facilitating a workshop based on her Shine model – Keys to Mindfulness, and invited me to participate. I’d seen the tool she created to support the methodology and was excited for an opportunity to check it out. So on Saturday I attended the workshop and really, all I can say is, “Wow!” I love the model, the methodology, and the work CMA is doing. Check out the website. I hope to have more to share on this topic very soon!