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.”
So I interviewed the Warrior Monk. What may be interesting to you is that Navy SEAL Commander Mark Divine and I actually have a past. A flash in the pan, so to speak. We were BUD/s class 170 together, which is Navy SEALs training for those of you who don’t know. Good god, was that really some 20 odd years ago! How does this happen?!
Honestly I don’t remember much about the folks I trained with. I can recall stupid shit like my instructors tossing my surfboard out my 2nd story barracks window, and being nicknamed “Sharkbait.” And being terrorized by an instructor nicknamed “The Antichrist” on a beach one late night. Large patches of my memory of training is gone. I think that’s because BUD/s is one long anxiety and pain dream. As a therapist now, I’m well aware of how stress impacts memory. Recall goes kaput. So I don’t have an inspiring tale of comradery to spin with Mark.
But I do recall one conversation.
I was a wreck when I checked into BUD/S. Most of us were. Stepping foot on base with some of the worlds most skilled and arguably dangerous people on earth will do that. Nothing you do is right, everything is wrong. You are perpetually playing catch up with operators who are masters at their games. It’s serious brain-busting stress. You’re also far away from home and missing your mother and girlfriend. At least I was.
Mark seemed different, however. He had a steadiness. The first week or two everybody sizes each other up. You’re wondering “who’s going to survive this mess?” I had a bead on Mark. He had a calm about him, something more than the act of playing it cool, which we all worked hard at. Not artifice. Imagine a group of scared mutts all lined up next to a Wolfhound. Mark was the Wolfhound. He had an “It quality” and I wanted to know what it was about. I made it a point to corner him and pick his brain. One day before breakfast I asked him about his life before SEALs. I went searching into him. He didn’t give too much away, except he was older and had real world experience. What struck me was his humility. He didn’t share much but he was gracious.
So here I am nearly two decades later interviewing the guy. Funny how that works. It feels like a Back To Future Episode. Mark and I went our separate ways. Mark graduated as the top student in our BUD/S class – a mere 13 of the original 86 or so original class members crossing the finish line I believe. I on the other hand rang the bell and ended up cleaning dolphin crap at Sea World a few years later. Mark went on to become a decorated Navy SEAL Commander before retiring to pursue a business career.
I recorded a story about the craziness that ensued after BUD/s and my military career. You can listen to that here ->>> Failing On Purpose
Mark’s whip smart and intuitive which means he was always two steps ahead. Mark understands change, so he could talk to his own process. Having tasted the challenges he’s endured, I know it’s not an act. He’s got a wisdom born from epic challenge-and I personally think that means something in today’s story-selling world. He’s a devoted learner, so his passion surrounding his personal evolution is evident too. He opened up about some of the family challenges connected with his first entrepreneurial venture out of SEALs, a brewing business. There was emotion there, which Mark suggested was indicative of the damage caused. He talked about extricating himself from the fallout that mess, so that could be valuable for you folks. As far as my take home. Well, I confirmed what I sensed nearly two decades ago. Mark’s the real deal I got a bonus with the chance to mix a meditation on the battlefield scene. Stay tuned for that tasty bit.
After publishing, I decided I’m going to produce a few more Warrior Stories. We’ve going to do series on elite warriors who went from the battlefield to CEO. The lives of warriors offer a glimpse of wisdom forged in the fires of life and death challenges. And also insight into the mindsets needed to rise to that level of service. I think it’s compelling material. But then there’s the also fact that I also like mixing war scenes.
Next Up is Brent Gleeson, another Navy SEAL turned CEO and author of Taking Point.
We’re got a bead on two more Navy SEALs- Jocko Willink and David Groggins. But they are both Hail Mary’s. It’s a wait and see. If you have suggestions for elite warrior guests, shoot me an email at [email protected]
Props to our Video Director Dan for this epic spin. It’s quite the video trailer. Why’s it seem the trailers are so much better since I put him in charge?…
Strap in folks.