He who conquers himself is the mightiest warrior.”
― Confucius

Dogs are largely misunderstood across the United States. While they are generally treated better here than in other countries, many owners aren’t aware of some serious issues dogs can struggle with. For example, if a dog goes absolutely ballistic when their owners come home, whining and shaking with excitement, the owner might smile with an “awww,” happy that the dog is that ecstatic to see them. Of course it’s good for dogs to be happy to see their owners, but the reality is that this over-stimulation in dogs is actually more akin to a panic attack, and most professional trainers will tell you to act as if nothing has changed when coming and going from the home, for this reason.

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Training dogs in the correct way is more than just having a series of parlor tricks for guests — it actively benefits the dog’s mental health. It connects them to their owners and deepens their bond, and it creates one thing in the life of an instinct and emotion driven animal that they would have difficulty finding elsewhere: clarity of mind.

Before I dove into training my dog, I figured I wanted to let him be more of a “dog” and didn’t want to turn him into some kind of robot, but it was made clear to me that I did not understand what was really going on. Training the dog gives it a sense of clarity in regards to the world around it. They know what they’re doing when they are told to “sit” or to “lie down,” and they’re good at it, which feels rewarding. In the same way, human beings like to be good at a task or a skill, and they attain a sense of clarity when they perfect it. They know what to do and when to do it. Life goes from an emotional bundle of rampant thoughts and feelings, and it turns into a manageable, practical series of events that can be handled no problem.

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An example of what a lack of clarity might feel like: ever feel like your phone has you connected to the whole world, and you’re constantly pinging all the time? That stupid internet arguments stress you out when they shouldn’t, and your mind is constantly moving from idea to idea? It all sort of becomes this over-stimulating buzz of ideas bouncing around in your head, and nothing really seems clear anymore. Taking a step outside into nature — literally getting a breath of fresh air and live in the present for a moment — and you might feel that sense of clarity return, if just for a moment.

In our modern society, our brains are fractured in a million different directions. Many of our readers are veterans, and there are a myriad of military experiences that can lead to an exacerbation of everyday issues. While focusing on mental health is looked down upon in some modern military circles, historically speaking it’s quite popular among many warrior societies. They would often promote the journey toward self-knowledge and clarity of the mind. Many philosophers of old point to single-mindedness, peace of mind, living in the present — all of those things that clear the mind from the rumble and turmoil of everyday life.

This enables you to attack future problems from a place of strength. It allows you to clearly learn from the past, act in the present and plan for the future. It’s a difficult journey, and those who think it’s all bogus and claim not to need the hokey science of mental health probably have a long way to go. True introspection is never easy.

But how is that sort of clarity of self attained? We’re not dogs, and we don’t have owners to train us.

Therapy is one method, and you don’t have to be terribly messed up to need it. You probably won’t have “Good Will Hunting” moments where you’re supposed to cry in the therapist’s arms, and most therapists aren’t going to sit on their high horse telling you how to “fix” your life. They have a certain way of listening, and they tend to develop your ability to articulate what’s going on in your own mind, to become a healthy outlet, and discover facets of your own person that you probably didn’t know existed (but that have a daily affect on your life). I’m sure there are a thousand other uses that I am not aware of, and that vary from case to case, but these are some.

I’ve known combat experienced SOF veterans that recommend therapy for these reasons; I have known veterans who have never deployed who also found it useful. I have known civilians, who are simply battling their way through life, that found therapy very helpful. It brings a sense of clarity that many didn’t realize they wanted. The stigma surrounding it, that you have to be “messed up” to go, is false. Warrior cultures throughout history have put a high value on knowledge of self, and this is just one, relatively new tool that we have to achieve that end.

But it’s not the only option. Speaking among some kind of inner circle can have a similar effect. A large and tight-knit family, a close circle of friends, a veteran community, a church, a club — they can all serve to be the space in which you can seek clarity of your own mind. With those groups you can develop the self-knowledge that will empower you to navigate life’s upcoming tribulations. Sure, it might not be the professional help that therapy can offer, but it’s something and maybe something is all that’s needed.

At the end of the day, clarity of mind and self-knowledge is a journey warriors have to endure if they want to remain effective — but it’s a journey I think everyone ought to embark upon.

There is nothing outside of yourself that can ever enable you to get better, stronger, richer, quicker, or smarter. Everything is within. Everything exists. Seek nothing outside of yourself.”
― Miyamoto Musashi, “The Book of Five Rings”

Featured image courtesy of the DOD.