Courageously Faithful: Bringing Peace to War

This room is a new room to most of us. I want to invite you to simply take some time to arrive in it.

Go inside. Notice how you notice your molecules, some of them still on the Interstate, trailing along behind you, sliding under the doors or through the windows—arriving here, in your skin. Give them all the time they need to arrive here.

Notice how you notice the floor underneath you—and whatever sense of grounding or support that comes as you bring your awareness to it.

Notice how you notice that you are here, and you are surrounded by Quakers.

From this place, notice how you notice any way that you experience yourself as safe. Simply be with your sense of safety. Be with what happens as you orient yourself to your experience of safety.

Notice—have your shoulders dropped?
Do you feel heavier—or lighter in your body?
Are you more present?
Has your breath gotten deeper?
Has your heart slowed?
Do you feel just a little bit easier, more relaxed, better?

Notice how you notice the atmosphere in the room. Notice how it might be different for you. I invite you to listen—and to continue to notice yourself.

I am a Quaker
I am a Taoist, Buddhist, Christian Quaker.
I am an acupuncturist
A trauma therapist
A peace activist
A healer.

Early every Wednesday morning I sit in gathered silence in the belly of Walter Reed Army Medical Center. I sit with a group of acupuncturists and body-workers. Our Restore & Renew Wellness Clinic will treat around 70 nurses and doctors, social workers and chaplains, administrators and orderlies, physical therapists and food service workers—civilians and soldiers. We bring peace to the very tangible experience of war that soldiers bring home with them and give unknowingly and unbidden to their caregivers.

And on every Thursday morning, I travel to the Veterans Administration Hospital—to their War-Related Illness and Injury Study Center where I serve as an acupuncturist, using needles as an instrument of peace for veterans of war.

Each day and in every treatment I call on Abba—Father God for his bedrock of protection, safety, and forgiveness. I call on Amma—Mother God for her peace in the quiet, dark places, for her mysterious gift of healing, for her unboundaried presence. I feel their presence fill the room—and it carries my words, my hands, my needles.

Together Abba-Amma, Mother-Father God, welcomes home warriors, forgives them the sins of war, and heals wounds in the bodies and souls of soldiers, of soldiers and their nurses, soldiers and their lovers, soldiers and their children, soldiers and their chaplains.

How did this work come to be the pivot around which my mind and heart revolve? What have I learned that is worthy to share this evening—with you, in the context of Faithful Courage?

In the fall of 2004 I "happened" to hear Kevin and Joyce Lucey interviewed on the radio. Their son, Lance Corporal Jeffrey Lucey, had come home from Iraq in 2003. Unable to cope with what he had seen, and what he had been asked to do, he committed suicide. His dad is a social worker, his mom a nurse. He couldn’t have asked for more active, involved, or loving parents.

My first thought: acupuncture could have made a difference for this young man, and for his family—what a shame the Veterans Administration wasn’t set up to offer it to him. I was filled with a feeling, a knowing, that it didn’t have to be this way for Jeff or for his family. I lost that thought in the day-to-day of life until, three months later, I again "happened" to hear the Luceys interviewed.

This time I woke up—I said to myself, "I am the director of a complementary healing center; I am in a position to bring together a group of healers who can make a difference for soldiers, their families, and their caregivers." It was a leading, and it picked me up.

We birthed our nonprofit affiliate, Crossings HealingWorks, with a mission to "bring ancient healing traditions that restore and renew the body, mind, and spirit of people touched by trauma—creating peace for one family, one community, one world—one person at a time."

Did it take courage? Yes—I hid my three-pointed hat, took the bumper stickers off my car, and went undercover with my teeth chattering the first few times I walked through the gates of Walter Reed. What if I was found out? Would they cast me out? Ridicule me? Court-martial me? Worse yet—Google me?

Did it take faithfulness? Yes—this is something I have learned about leadings. They carry us past, over, and through our fear. It was no longer an option for me to not engage in a deeply personal way with people wounded by war. My leading to do this work helped me transcend the "us and them" dichotomy that exists not only between Quakers and the military—but between those of us who are "outside the gates" with those of us who live and work "inside the gates."

This is a different kind of peace work. I never thought I was doing enough for peace because I wasn’t doing big things—like organizing massive demonstrations. Now I have discovered that the small act of placing a small needle in the small ear of an Army medic at Walter Reed is absolutely and unequivocally peace work. I discover that not only is it okay to work for peace within my domain—it is my calling to work for peace within my domain and not someone else’s domain. I have found what I call my divine enough. Between God and me, it’s enough; I am enough. I have found my divine enough.

I have immersed myself in the study of trauma. I have learned something of how it impacts our body/mind/spirit—and how we heal from the disorganization it creates. My goals?

  • to keep these folks out of the criminal justice system—an important task, since we know that unresolved trauma is a principal cause of violent, impulsive acts. Traumatic reenactment is one way our unconscious minds attempt to complete and bring closure to life-threatening experiences.
  • to keep these folks in healthy relationships with their children—an important task, since we know that the children of parents who are so traumatically frozen that they can’t gaze lovingly into their infants’ eyes have higher rates of drug abuse and suicide than those whose parents made visual and tactile connection with them as infants. This is how the dynamics of trauma get passed on in families.
  • to help these folks make thoughtful, flexible, creative contributions in our political discourse—decisions that are not straight-jacketed and molded by fear sold cheap by our political leaders.

I’ve learned a few things, and have lots more to learn.

I’ve learned that the impact of war is not limited to the persons who served, their time of service, or the geographic borders of their service. Their caregivers, their families, their communities—our whole nation is impacted by soldiers coming home and bringing the trauma of war home with them. Trauma is a vibrational illness, and it is catching—like the flu. I have also been heard to say that recovery from trauma is equally catching—it spreads like honey on warm toast.

In the face of trauma, our neurological systems go on high alert. We flee, fight, or freeze. The response we make is highly variable and dependent on how our creator wired our unique neurological systems. Some of us are made to fight—we are she-bears, we charge when attacked, and others are made to flee—we are white-tailed deer, we run and get out of the way. Still others become immobilized and freeze—we are opossums. It is not better to be a she-bear, a white-tailed deer, or an opossum—we all are part of creation, and we are wired to survive.

The most primitive parts of our brains govern our survival responses; it is not under our conscious control. Our response has nothing to do with our valor, honor, dignity, compassion, or our value as a human being. Our cognitive minds play no role in these decisions; they are not engaged, nor are they useful to our survival when we are facing danger.

We cannot will our fight/flight/freeze response away, we cannot educate it away, we cannot pretend it doesn’t exist and be in meaningful dialogue about violence or passivity in our families and communities, about war and peace at home or abroad. We wouldn’t really want to lose our fight response anyway—it is what allows a 110-pound woman to lift an automobile off her child.

When I think about the query, "Do my actions serve to take away the root cause of war?" I think about this primitive survival response. How do my actions help to bring some measure of freedom to this primitive instinct? I say: unwinding, transforming, releasing stuck trauma responses in the body/mind/spirit of individuals who have experienced war is fundamental to finding peace in our families, communities, and world.

A story: "Joe" is a nuclear, biological, and chemical warfare specialist. He was fresh home from Iraq. He had migraine headaches and ruptured discs in his neck from carrying armor. He described his sleep by saying, "I flip-flop like a fish on a pier." He admitted to using alcohol to excess in order to sleep and to medicate his nightmares.

He knew that as a Christian his task was to love others, and he named his job as a soldier to be a necessary evil—he used his forefinger and thumb to demonstrate picking off people behind furniture in my treatment room. He appeared dissociated and disconnected—frozen—as he described this.

His primary complaint was having lost 70 percent of his vision in his left eye due to a retinal bleed. He was also concerned that his memory was not what he knew it to be.

Difficulty sleeping is very common for trauma survivors, as are nightmares. The stress chemicals that help us be alert to danger get frozen and stuck on high alert and don’t turn off easily. Protective at one time in our past, they now get in the way of sleep and healing. Helping to thaw that freeze and find internal peace and quiet is part of trauma recovery.

Symptoms in the head and neck are also very common in trauma. We use our sense organs to orient to trauma, and that orienting response leaves us hypervigilant. It is common for people to grind their teeth, have neck pain or restricted range of motion in their necks, ringing in their ears, or eye symptoms after trauma.

These are some of my notes:

"I’m like a turtle—slow, still, quiet." (Where do you feel that?)
"In my chest."
"When I’m not a turtle—I’m a dragon—fire, fighting, hot." (Touch into the edge of that.)
"Also in my chest."
(He discharges with some light trembling and shaking in the liver and gallbladder meridians in his legs.)
"When I make contact with my spiritual self I feel expanded in my chest and more like a man. My legs are lighter and my shoulders are relaxed."
"I’d like to poke a needle in my eye to let the blood out." (See yourself doing that.)
"I’m a beekeeper—calm, resistant to stinging." (Feel that feeling.)
"I feel so different in my psyche since coming home. I’m trying to come back. People have me in a groove and I’m different. Some parts of me I like and some I don’t. I don’t feel at home. I’m trying to come home."
"My skin feels like dragon skin—it’s hot and tight." (Feel that.)
"I’m going to turn it over to God." (Feel that; take your time.)
"My skin feels new, it’s cool and green and full of life." (Feel that.)
"There’s a bubble in my belly—it wants to rise, I feel like laughing and smiling. It’s all so ridiculous. I want to send this feeling to my wife." (Feel that.)

This is over the course of four sessions. I used acupuncture points primarily on his liver and gallbladder pathways—meridians that run from the eye, across the head in multiple bands, down the neck, and on down to the foot along the outside of our bodies, and then up the inside of the leg and to the chest. They help us with our vision—both our eyes and our mind’s eye; with our ability to see a new future. They help our emotions move smoothly, past life’s obstacles that might otherwise leave us frustrated and angry. They help soothe and settle stuck fight responses. Some of the points I used had names like Loathsome Jaws, Wilderness Mound, Sun and Moon, Suspended Regulator, Bright and Clear, Chapter Gate, Rooted Spirit, Flowing Valley, and Gate of Hope.

His last session—his eye had recovered, his memory was better, he was sleeping, and he felt more relaxed overall.

He had interviewed for a position with the Strategic War Command: cloth napkins, crystal glassware, and a six-figure salary. He was bubbling over, talking fast. I asked him to slow down and check in with his body. How did he feel when he was there?

"Numb in my head, pain in my belly" (he points to his liver) "and I want to get drunk." (Feel that.)
"Those people are crazy." (Feel that.)
"It’s not for me—I don’t belong there." (Feel that.)
"I feel a lump in my throat." (Feel that.)
He begins to tear up. He wants to cry and scream. I encourage him to see himself screaming as loud as he needs to and crying as much as he needs to—silently.
He’s a pretty stoic guy.
He says "Profanity" and holds his head in his hands and weeps.
He says "Violence" and holds his head in his hands and weeps.
He says "Rage" and holds his head in his hands and weeps.
He says "Killing" and holds his head in his hands and weeps.
He says "Grief" and holds his head in his hands and weeps.
He says "Loss" and holds his head in his hands and weeps.
We sit quietly for a time.
He speaks of his fear of meeting others’ expectations, of the rejection:
"Who will I be to the world of violence if I am not violent?"
"When I am here, I am more powerful than all the world’s armies."
"I feel hope for the first time in a long time."
"I am a simple man who no one
can see."

He left the army. He left a $400,000 retirement package and the possibility of a very cushy job at the Pentagon. He went home to the Midwest to be a spiritual leader for his four children. He went to tend his bees and go back to his civilian job.

He told me he was going to write to the Dalai Lama to ask him how to heal his karma. I don’t know if he ever did—I think he healed his karma on that day.
He sent me this poem a couple of weeks later:

The Simple Man
I am a simple man.
No one can see me.
Sometimes a few see me. I was born green.
When I am hidden, is when I am most visible.
I am more powerful than all the world’s armies.
I can kill you but I choose not to.
My body strikes like the leopard, or my mind.
Hands you a blossoming flower.
Go slowly. Your time for peace is near.
I am a simple man.
I will stop the tears and bring a joyful silence.

Friends, this is peace work. This is the grittiest, grimiest, dirtiest, and most meaningful peace work I have ever done—in the shattered hearts and minds of the veterans of war.
The ancient Chinese said that life happens in a dynamic tension between opposites. Let’s look at "courageously faithful."

Courage. Do you hear the Latin root for heart, cour, in courage? Courage belongs to the heart. The heart belongs to the fire element—fire is summer, passion, expansion, connection, fullness, love. Fire is yang.

Faithful. Faithfulness belongs to the water element, to the kidney, to the winter, to the questions, "Do I have enough crop stored away? How long will the cold last? Will I survive?" Water is cold, contemplative, quiet, interior, wise. Water is yin.

Fire without water to temper it burns wildly—like the wildfires we have witnessed out West. Water without fire to warm it is inert, frozen. Neither lives without the other.

Courage cannot live separately from faithfulness any more than the front of your hand can exist without the back of your hand. All courage without faithfulness is a bull in a china shop on a manic episode; all faithfulness without courage is an icicle in a very cold, dark cave.

Life happens in dynamic tension between water and fire, yin and yang, between courage and faithfulness, war and peace—two poles, one life force.

There is a structure in our aorta called the Respiratory Sinus Node. The Chinese called it by its acupuncture point name: Within the Breast. It governs the electrical current that brings coherence and relationship between our breath and heartbeat. It is profoundly impacted by overwhelming life events. Those of you who have experienced automobile accidents, falls, or other jangling events may remember your heart racing or your breath becoming quite shallow. This is part of a whole-body response that allows you to survive what your body perceived to be life-threatening.

When we find our way to safety—in our bodies, not in our intellects—there is greater congruence between our heartbeat and our breath—and there is greater congruence between our heartbeat, our breath, and the generation of alpha waves in our brains. Alpha waves are highly correlated with states of compassion, empathy, creativity, and serenity.

The Chinese use the same character for heart and mind. They knew that when we are troubled in our hearts, we are also troubled in our minds—and that peacefulness in our hearts brings peacefulness in our minds.

When I have a greater sense of internal coherence, when I am embodied, present, feeling safe—when my heart is beating peacefully in the kingdom of my body—my brain generates alpha waves, and—this is important, so listen closely: My heart entrains your brain’s creation of alpha waves—if we are touching or in close proximity. My peaceful heart entrains your brain to create electrical currents that are highly correlated with states of compassion, empathy, creativity, and serenity.

Our Restore & Renew Wellness Clinic at Walter Reed has treated over 1,100 members of their staff—that is, 15 percent of their 7,000 members. More than 300 have come five times or more. Each one goes back to work with a more peaceful heart, a quieter mind, a more coherent energy system. Each one goes back to work as an alpha wave machine—carrying vibrations of compassion, empathy, creativity, and serenity to their patients and their patients’ moms, dads, lovers, and children.

Friends—this is peace work.

Being fully present with each other, in embodied states of love and compassion, affects our biology and our energy field. It creates more order, more flexibility, more balance in the electrical currents that guide our nervous system and all the nervous systems we touch. Trauma resolution spreads like honey on warm toast.

Small things done in big ways. A smile. A hug. Care-filled and thoughtful listening. Being embodied, present, living from our experience of safety rather than our fear helps to create more peaceful, creative, compassionate vibrations in the minds of the people close to us.

Who do you think of as other—and can you find your way to being embodied, present, engaged when you are with them?

Who do you think of as other—and can you find a way to be in your embodied experience of safety when you are with them?

Who do you think of as other—and can you meet them outside of judging their trauma response as inferior or superior to yours?

Who can you find to create a peace-filled vibration with that can quite literally change the world?

What is your domain?

What is a small thing you can do in a big way for peace within your domain?

What is your divine enough?

Alaine D. Duncan

Alaine D. Duncan, M.Ac., L.Ac., Dipl.Ac., is a member of Adelphi (Md.) Meeting. A longtime acupuncturist, she is executive director of Crossings HealingWorks (http://www.crossingshealingworks .org). This article describes her leading to bring peace to war in the bodies and souls of soldiers, their families, and their caregivers. She delivered this address during the opening plenary session of the Friends General Conference Gathering in Johnstown, Pa., on June 28, 2008. The theme of the Gathering was "Courageously Faithful." She also presented at the Armed Forces Health Protection Conference in August on Acupuncture for the Treatment of Traumatic Stress, and on the impact the Restore & Renew Wellness Clinic described here is having on compassion fatigue symptoms of Walter Reed Army Medical Center caregivers. An interview she gave after the Gathering may be heard on's "Spirit in Action."