After serving in a scout-sniper platoon in Mosul, Tom Voss came home carrying invisible wounds of war — the memory of doing or witnessing things that went against his fundamental beliefs. This was not a physical injury that could heal with medication and time but a “moral injury” — a wound to the soul that eventually urged him toward suicide. Desperate for relief from the pain and guilt that haunted him, Voss embarked on a 2,700-mile journey across America, walking from Milwaukee, Wisconsin, to the Pacific Ocean with a fellow veteran. Readers walk with these men as they meet other veterans, Native American healers, and spiritual teachers who appear in the most unexpected forms. At the end of their trek, Voss realizes he is really just beginning his healing. He pursues meditation training and discovers sacred breathing techniques that shatter his understanding of war and himself, and move him from despair to hope. Voss’s story will give inspiration to veterans, their friends and family, and survivors of all kinds.
We hope you’ll enjoy this excerpt from the book.
I sucked at meditation in the beginning. I’d do it for one day, then miss a whole week. Then I’d do it for three days but skip the fourth day. It went on like that for months. Meditation was really hard. It was hard to sit still. It was hard to do the breathing. It was hard to discipline myself to do it when I didn’t feel like doing it. But I was determined to incorporate it into my life because when I stayed consistent with the practice, I felt like a completely different person.
And I wanted to share that feeling with other veterans. I started volunteering for the organization that had produced the workshop in Aspen. I worked with Ken, James, and Kathy to arrange meditation workshops for vets in Milwaukee. At the workshops we’d teach the same breathing techniques I’d learned in Aspen. We’d listen to the same tape I’d listened to. We ’d do the patterned breathing technique — breathing slow, then medium, then fast. And I’d watch other vets have these incredible breakthroughs, just like I’d had. They’d feel like a weight had been lifted, just like me. They’d leave the course with a new sense of hope, just like me. Some of them would even start meditating regularly.
Even as I shared the breath work with more and more people, the process remained a mystery. How could something as simple as breathing be so powerful? How could breathing in a particular pattern release trauma so quickly and address moral injury so directly? How could it be that meditation, which was free and available to everyone, was the answer we’d all been searching for?
One day I got a call from James and Kathy, asking if I wanted to join the organization full-time. Not as a volunteer but as a full-time paid staff member. My job would be to travel around the country organizing meditation workshops for veterans.
By fall 2015 I found myself in Washington, DC, working for the organization full-time, living in a meditation center, and spending hours a day in meditation. Before I started meditating, I’d spent nearly ten years trying and failing to heal moral injury through every means I could find — talk therapy, drugs, alcohol, prescription medication, EMDR therapy, and a 2,700-mile walk across the country. Once I made meditation a part of my daily life, it took only eighteen months to reach a point I’d never dreamed of: not only was I not suicidal or depressed, but I no longer needed alcohol to numb the pain of moral injury. I could sit and be with myself for hours on end. I could even sit and think of the past without spiraling into sorrow. There was a distance between me and my past now. A buffer. Meditation didn’t make the past disappear. It let me revisit memories without getting completely sucked into them. The past stayed in the past, and I stayed in the present.
I was traveling all over the country and sometimes abroad to do incredibly fulfilling work.
I was more than what I’d seen and done.
I was more than my wounds.
The future looked certain and bright. But the present moment, which I was learning to make friends with, looked even brighter.
Tom Voss served as an infantry scout in the 3rd Battalion, 21st Infantry Regiment’s scout-sniper platoon. While deployed in Mosul, Iraq, he participated in hundreds of combat and humanitarian missions. Rebecca Anne Nguyen, Voss’s sister and coauthor, is a writer based in Charlotte, North Carolina. www.TheMeditatingVet.com.
Excerpted from the book Where War Ends. Copyright © 2019 by Tom Voss and Rebecca Anne Nguyen. Reprinted with permission from www.NewWorldLibrary.com