Taking Refuge

By Mike DeMaio At the age of 17, I enlisted in the marines. In 1967, at 18, I was in Vietnam. I went willingly, eager to prove myself. During my time incountry, I experienced and witnessed a lot of death and suffering. The war changed me as it did all of us who were touched by it. I lost something deep inside-that part of self necessary for relationship was gone. In its place was depression, anger. I felt estranged and disconnected.

Thirty years later the war is still with me, but ever so slowly I've been healing. In October 1997 I came to Omega seeking healing from the trauma of the Vietnam war. Six years earlier, I had attended the Omega retreat with Thay. I came back to be with other veterans. I've learned I can be safe with them. But, Thay also taught that we veterans need non-veterans to heal. I am still in awe at all that happened during our retreat. As we practiced breathing in and breathing out, listening to the bell, sharing deeply from our hearts, a bond grew between us. As we struggled with schedules and worked through conflict, our bond deepened. In the circle and in our writing and reading together, I witnessed how love overcame fear. I felt connected and for this, I thank you my brothers and sisters, veterans and nonveterans, because I learned anew that healing does not happen alone. Our refuge is in the Sangha!

Mike DeMaio, M.S. W., is counselor at the Salem, Oregon Veterans' Outreach Center and served with the U.S.M.C. in Vietnam from 1967-1968.

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