I didn’t expect this question to be at the heart of my interview with Navy SEAL Brent Gleeson, but that’s kind of where it went. We titled it “We Happy Few,” which is a line from Shakespear’s Henry V. (Brent actually gave a heart-wrenching rendition of the speech it came from on the show.) Overall this title seemed a good fit to address the complexity of the warrior’s journey and the seeming contradiction of choosing suffering and service over happiness, and also for it. Brent’s story seemed a good starting point to help listens address any assumptions they might have about the people who take arms in the name of service.
Brent made a point of talking about making a choice out of suffering. Because that’s what warriors do. Think about that. These people choose what they will suffer for. While many of us are complaining about the download speeds on our Smartphones, or the preservatives baked into dog food, these folks are breaking themselves into pieces for the right to serve. For others this may seems crazy or pathological. But I don’t think so – and it’s not because I’m a vet. No, I think warriors stand as beacons to those who’ve become victims to life. Alot of us have surrendered our power over to the outside world. And this isn’t a judgement on my part, it just happens. Life is sexy and can be f’ing tough. Everyone suffers. But how we suffer is exactly the point-and elite warriors are masters at changing that game.
So what’s the Warrior’s Way?…
If you choose to listen to Brent’s story you’ll likely hear he’s just good folk. He’s respects the path and doesn’t take it lightly. Warriors like him have earned humility, and they do so by walking a path filled with big hairy obstacles. For SEALs like Brent that amounts to the brutal crucible called Hell’s Week. We peel back the curtain on BUDs a bit in this interview.
The truth is right-minded warriors like Brent, and others in the special forces community, are just people. They have all the feels, but do different things with them. Often extraordinary things. I think there’s a cultural misconception, especially among the disappointed and comfortable, that the people who slay monsters become the monsters. While some may be, I think this is mostly crap. They monster are exceptions and you’ll find them everywhere in life- fruit stands, Macy’s, sometimes in your home, and The White House. The military doesn’t earn special privileges in this regard.
But if you’re interested in exploring the thin red line, so to speak….
Former Navy SEAL David Goggins talked about his journey to overcome darkness in a talk with David Rutherford and Marcus Lutrell on the Team Never Quit Podcast recently. Both David and Marcus are retired SEALs, so it got juicy quick. (Listen to this show, by the way! These are lucid and exceptionally vulnerable people talking about the ins and outs of the warrior’s path.) David admits to having to burn through darkness, as he started with bad intentions. He called himself a “soul snatcher.” But to me this isn’t a commentary on David or the warrior’s path. I see it as more of a truth of the shadow. Darkness is alive in every person on Earth. Warriors, however, get to address it with damn radical honesty. It’s life and death for them, and so while some may wander into the wilderness, most eventually grow through it. Of course the consequences are way higher, but that’s another conversation.
More warriors simply choose to fill themselves to the brim with suffering so they can master it – and that’s what the miserable training is about. Mastering suffering gives warriors more choices in life. By overcoming and befriending it, they understand it better. Warriors then can make the hard decisions required of them. They become the makers and takers of life and death. That’s a pretty heavy responsibility with choices and consequences the average Joe and Jane just doesn’t want to face.
So what’s the benefits of the warrior mindset?
The warrior mind and path really stands out in a few ways. It forces you to become aware and own your true power. What’s the Marrianne Williamson quote,
“Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure.”
Warriors get this deal about choices and consequences. There’s probably no clearer delineation of where power comes from than what’s illustrated in the lives of warriors living on the edge in battle. Days are literally filled with life and death choices. They also get the chance to transform suffering through brotherhood and service. With each day they survive, they become the creators of their freedom.
So perhaps I’ll leave you with a questions to explore in this episode. Ask yourself, what makes the choice to serve and take life attractive?
Here’s my two cents.
Honestly I don’t think it matters. Why? Because once a person chooses to serve they land on a something so much bigger then themselves. They’re get put on a path of service, and from there the dragon of service does the rest. Some warriors believe it’s a path of destiny. I actually heard David Goggins say this on the Never Quit Podcast, which I mentioned earlier. He said, ‘Navy SEALs are SEALs before they ever show up.’ I get his point, because the truth is nobody can be taught how to endure the level of suffering that Navy SEALs and elite warriors are required to endure. Suffering, from this perspective, is not pain. Pain has no purpose beyond the self. It’s just the body and mind bitching about getting beat. Suffering, however, is endurance for a cause. You can’t study or prepare for it. It’s stuff that simply can’t be taught, it’s pre-natural programming so to speak. So David’s point is true warriors show up as warriors and simply persevere. They were made for it. That’s seems like a sound argument for a divine inheritance there.
The Big Picture
So, part of the reason I’m doing this series on Warriors is to promote tolerance and respect of different ways of being. We’re all on a path, life is the way, but there’s a lot of different interpretations of how to live our ways. I respect warriors because they seem to understand their path isn’t something everyone will understand. In fact they know people can’t understand. They know others aren’t meant to, as understanding comes from enduring the path itself. The only way to understand them is to suffer like them, and not many are willing to do that.
Warriors prepare for a horrible and special task. They take life back from the monsters who steal it. And they know monsters are real because they understand suffering. They get that monsters are just people who’ve lost their power, they’ve gotten lost in their suffering and so are taking it from others by force. So it seems warriors will forever forge their will through this path of brutal ritual of suffering, as the choices asked of them are so high.
Brent summed it up pretty good with this statement, “This may be hard for some people to relate to, but suffering can make your life full. Because it’s not about you.”
But the story’s bigger than the byline, in this case. Rob’s on a mission, and there’s some big whopper issues attached to where that all started for him. Stuff like what’s good and bad about religion? Is there a God? And where do we go to find meaning in our lives? The kind of stuff that many like to file in the “don’t touch” drawer for entire lifetimes.
Rob’s also pulls back the curtains on some of the underlying emotional dynamics that drive addictions. He paints a wickedly crisp portrayal of the hidden struggles that can light the fuse on depression and problem drinking. I could’ve called this episode “Church & Booze,” because both were at the root of his low points. I happened to relate to alot in Rob’s story. Not only did I work in the addiction industry for 8 years, but both booze and religious zealotry made the highlight reels in my own upbringing. I actually think that helped us make a good on-air connection-but I’ll let you be the judge of that.
So, you get to hear how Rob made sense of all that. You also get to glimpse why moments like these turn lives around. They shake the very foundation of a person, beliefs, outlooks, hopes, dreams, and perspectives -everything can change in an instant. We’ve showcased a few of these “wake up calls” on the show. But man… Rob’s got one super legit wakeup call. It’s terrifying and mystifying and perhaps worth chewing on. It’s something he still draws on as a leader and family man to this day.
One final random thought this episode sparked in my head.
What I mean is we all have beliefs we like to imagine are serving us in the best possible ways. …Until that moment an event comes screaming out the blue to completely reset our story and perspectives. Once humbled, we can see how life forces our hand to inspire changes we might not otherwise be compelled to make. There seems a truth here. As an interviewer I feel privileged to get close to moments that after decades are still reverberating in people’s hearts. It’s awesome.
My interview with Rob got me thinking that perhaps our ancestors were just pointing out the ancillary benefits of radical discomfort. Struggle inspires change. Life encourages us to grow in this way. More broadly I see this as a commentary on the nature of freedom. We desire it, dream, plan, and scheme for it but aren’t so great at achieving it. And if we do achieve it, it’s typically fleeting as freedom by nature can’t be captured.
More often then not we get stuck in the lives we create to secure our freedoms. They become our cages, because we can’t help but fall short of lives that only exist in our dreams. So life helps out and knocks us on our ass from time to time. The unexpected difficulties knock us out of our spells. And in those brief moments we taste freedom. Freedom, in other words, is often felt on our knees.
Can’t we all relate to this idea in some simple way? Haven’t we all come through some screwed up event feeling better off? More prepared for life, or more grateful? We may not have expected it, but there it is anyway-a better life resulting. Rob’s story reminded me just how important it is to stay open to change -at least as best we can. I say open rather than “prepared” here, because change ain’t predictable. It’s not on anyone’s calendar and rarely welcome when it stops by. But if we can see the process of change as healthy, perhaps we won’t add struggle to our lives by trying to avoid it. Perhaps then won’t need a great flood or to be held at gunpoint to inspire growth. Maybe if we simply make the room to get uncomfortable in some tiny way each day we’ll remain flexible enough for life to flow through us as opposed to cutting us off at the knees.
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