Until he extends his circle of compassion to include all living things, man will not himself find peace. – Albert Schweitzer
There are many ways and reasons to settle differences without going to war; solutions that allow resources to be shared to the benefit all of those involved. I’m not a pacifist. I once picked up a gun to defend my sleeping daughter. (No, I didn’t shoot.) But there have been moments in history where it would have been close to impossible to do other than engage in battle. And I continue to hold those moments, the people who were involved in prayers and meditations.
The word veteran comes from the Latin vetus, which means old. And old is what one sees in the eyes of a veteran of the killing fields. They have traveled through the “dark night of the soul.” They’ve been tested in ways that can never be fully understood. In today’s world, a lot more is known about treating PTSD and much remains to discover. Intriguingly, in recent years, some of the most interesting programs are centered around nature. And they’ve emerged at a point in history when both humans and nature are crying out to be healed.
Ancient wisdom and mythology are full of stories about confronting and overcoming demons in nature. Each vet who has a place to wield an axe to clear brush from a wetland, plant trees and gardens, has the chance to confront his or her personal demons in a setting like no other. And nature responds.
Some vets have hooked up with other vets to start organic farms. The profits are threefold. They feel good about producing healthy food choices for themselves and others. Their confidence is renewed and a portion of their earnings pays for their PTSD therapy. Other vets have found pre-existing groups that place them in programs that help them obtain environmental and conservation related degrees while working in the field. Washington’s state funded veteran’s conservation group  is such program. One medic who’d done two tours in the Middle East and was suffering from serious PTSD, said, “Working in nature made him think for the first time that everything would be all right.”
Testing has shown that the veterans in these programs have a ways to go before being free of PTSD, anxiety, and depression, but it has shown they’re more able to function socially and their ability to perform tasks has improved. Some vets may never fully mend.
These wonderful programs provide the opportunity for that vital first step back toward the embrace of families and communities. They stimulate economic growth through the work and jobs they provide, the businesses they help start. Nature needs them. We need them.
After all, these men and women are a very special gift to us. On a deep level, they help us grow compassion. They bring mindfulness into our lives. They teach us forgiveness and empathy for the disabled and wounded that live among us and in us. They pry open our hearts and teach us how to be vulnerable. They are our chance for leading more meaningful lives and this powerful team underscores the force of life. Hand in hand with nature, they become a luminous guidepost on the path to our collective future.
Unfortunately, the funding for these kinds of programs is falling away. Americans are known, however, for their grass root services, the ingenuity of the solutions they put into place to help others. With goodwill and intent, through donations and or volunteering, these valuable groups will survive and flourish.