It’s good to be home. We landed back in Ottawa last Tuesday night after driving along winding blue-line roads that blinding rain rendered sleek and sinuous. It was a fitting close to 7 days of intense work with the Trauma Resource Institute (TRI) that took us from Fort Drum to Saranac Lake, NY. After completing the first part of the trauma resiliency training last year, Frank and I were asked to join them for training in the coaching phase of TRI. This brought us into a tight circle of highly competent people facing the challenge of how to deal with the psychological wounds of war as the US veterans return home from Iraq and Afghanistan. The sad truth is that where we have never had enough well-trained, informed professionals who could deal with the aftermath of carnage, we now have even fewer with a much higher demand for them. This is as true of the US as it is of Canada where the extent of our wounded not as overwhelming but the available services is proportionally just as meager.
In Fort Drum, we helped train military and local Chaplains in the skills of dealing with Post-traumatic Stress Disorder. It was a fascinating experience at many levels, not the least of which was the tricky process of honouring religious beliefs about the origins of mental distress while teaching an approach that placed the physical/physiological nature of distress front and center. Although all the Chaplains were Christian, this is a delicate balance I’ve run into with Buddhist teachers as well.
There is a deep part in us that wants to believe that if we simply believe, it will be enough to take away the suffering. I would truly like to think that is true in all circumstances of suffering. It would be lovely if 108 prostrations will take my mother out of her wheelchair and restore her ability for self-care. If only 10, 000 Butsu chants fingered along a strand of mala beads would bring back lost loves, heal rifts, and back-fill ideological schisms. What if 84, 000 doors all lead to one Truth: just believe and it will be well?
Although my faith in psychological interventions needs well-adjudicated data, my faith in my spiritual path really doesn’t. And I wonder if I’m being judgemental to wish more people of the spiritual ilk knew that difference. I’d like to say it’s because Buddhism is different but I’ve heard too many teachers say things about people returning from death’s door that make me cringe.
On the other hand, maybe I’m just jealous.
This stumbling towards nirvana is tough work. And some days I miss those multiple prayers to St. Jude (the patron saint of the impossible) or St. Christopher (the patron saint of lost things – before he was de-sainted). I think I will start a novena to Manjushri; I’m in need of someone to wisely wield a few swords. And for good measure, I’ll go practice a few moves myself!