Monday, December 15, 2008
On November 21, 1995, I walked off the USS Nimitz for the last time.
What a feeling to stand at the head of the pier that cold morning, with my sea bag slung over my shoulder, and look back upon that awesome and horrible ship, which had been my home for the previous three years.
I didn't stand there for long though. One of my closest shipmates -- Brandon -- was released from the Navy the very same day and he was giving me a ride to the Seattle-Tacoma airport. My wife and son had moved back to California about a month earlier and were living in Santa Cruz, where we were renting a house with my mom. The Monterey Institute of International Studies had accepted my application and I was to start classes there in January.
In the meantime, I had about six weeks to relax, to grow accustomed to being a civilian, to process the many dreams -- nightmares, really -- of seeing stripes on my sleeve and being told that I was back in the Navy. It's only with hindsight that I now realize how important my military experience was to my further personal development.
What the Center provided for my psychic development, the Navy -- particularly during my first year in pursuit of SEAL-hood -- provided for my energetic or vital development. (For a refresher on the lexicon check here.) The Navy provided the structure and security necessary for me to focus upon and express my energetic persona, to let it emerge as the principal driver of my consciousness, which in turn was the only way for me to realize -- not just know or think, but realize -- both its strengths and its weaknesses.
For all their differences, it's difficult for me not to notice the striking similarities between the Center and the Navy, similarities I was constantly reminded of during my Navy tenure. For example:
* Both the Center and the Navy are top-down, authoritarian regimes;
* Both recruit and rely upon volunteers and, in turn, discourage members from leaving;
* Both demand conformity, prescribe uniforms, and impose grooming standards;
* Both emphasize physical fitness and discipline; and
* Perhaps most importantly, both provided their respective members a social security blanket -- just by joining, a member could have most of his or her basic needs met (although the Navy does a better job when it comes to providing medical care, a subject I hope to address in a future post).
My spectacular failure at BUD/S and the resulting three years I spent on the Nimitz provided two more important elements to my further development. First, my failure at BUD/S left a huge hole in my psyche. One minute my vital life force was driving the organism, the next minute I found myself a broken man aboard ship, dreams smashed, humiliated. The psychic vacuum left behind that failure became an eventual breeding ground for my further mental development. It was as if in turn, each of the members of my psyche -- first heart, then vital, then mind -- would have its respective day in the sun.
Finally, my time in the Navy stripped me of the last vestiges of my spiritual pride. Though I was no longer consciously practicing any spiritual disciplines, I carried with me into the Navy a kind of spiritual bigotry -- a sense inculcated in me during my Center years that there is a qualitative difference between a disciple (even an ex-disciple like me) and a "worldly" person. That's a crock of shit and I wouldn't have learned that lesson so convincingly had I not joined the Navy.
Disciples and sailors alike come in all stripes, good and bad, heroes and cowards. By the time I left the Navy in November 1995, that lesson had been drummed into my very bones. I looked at people as individuals and judged them, if at all, on their actions (and not upon their associations).
So it was that I found myself back in Santa Cruz a free man.
What a sweet shot of Natural Bridges in Santa Cruz, with credit here.