by Michele M. Spencer
2013. Live 4 Love. Rancho Murieta, CA.
Review by Ron Camarda, Military Writer’s Society of America (MWSA)
Michele Spencer, during her year in Baghdad, “had a shift in consciousness – from breath-holding fear to heart-opening love, and then from an external war to internal peace.”
It was hard work. She was stretched and ripped. She was aware of the ying and the yang of yoga, both realistically and metaphorically. Michele takes a risk, as any hero is required to do. B.A.G.H.D.A.D. Yoga is an experience, a journey and a reality of the perspective of a woman officer in the Army National Guard. It gives us an historical perspective of women on the front lines today, along with their thought and soul process. To transform Douglas MacArthur’s famous quote: “The woman (civilian, mother and soldier), above all other people, prays for peace, for she must suffer and bear the deepest wounds and scars of war.”
From my own experience as a chaplain in Iraq, her book touches on the truth beyond the fog of war when more civilians die than warriors. “Yes, mortar fire was often too close for comfort, and I was in harm’s way each day of my deployment. But my enemy was anxiety, arrogance, apathy, ignorance, stress, and the petty, toxic people I met who kept me in fear for my life, challenging my values and my integrity. I fought for my peace of mind… (p.8).” Michele has a very different and uncomfortable understanding of life and God that stretched my beliefs, as yoga tends to do. When I breathed through those challenging passages, something was released. It was good.
This book is a hybrid in the author/artist’s quest to play her part in saving the earth and the soul. She blends narrative, poetry and cliché in a very innovative, creative and unique style that works. The energy of the book wells up from the replenishable soul of an army “soul-dier” to coin one of her many created words.
Most fascinating, I found myself going through the motions of her upbeat pros and demeanor, when suddenly she would zing me with the questions she raised that triggered my e-motions. Michele brings up moral and ethical issues about how we spend our money, how we treat women and the poor, the perplexity of the military industrial complex, and racism to name a few. “The truth of life cuts to the core, and many people just do not want to hear it. They would rather ‘spin it,’ play ‘pretend it never happened,’ and just hope their illusion will eventually be the truth. The blind lead the blind (p. 138).” She raises some very important questions, but she does not fall into the trap of answering them for anyone but for herself. Michele is not naïve to the toxic people in the military and everyday life, but attempts to transform the negative experiences of life into something divine.
“I sat open to experience a depth of my Soul that had been in the shadow of my mind. My mouth gaped as my heart swelled. I felt light. I was coming out of the darkness as I relinquished and abandoned the thoughts and ideas that no longer served me.”
In responding to her nosey motivated day at Saddam Hussein’s trial, she positioned herself into a most difficult yoga move of the soul: “I prayed that when we are in the trials of our lives we can tell our truth and admit the crime we committed, atone, and shift back to joy, integrity, and selflessness.”
As a chaplain who served at a M.A.S.H. type of medical hospital during the Battle for Fallujah, I appreciated how she responded to and processed the death of one of her students. At times she gave voice to thoughts I have desired to shout out without watering down. “The telling of stories, parables and myths as well as some lies run deep within our human fabric. We weave stories to rationalize our fears so we won’t have to tell the truth. Who are you if you never speak from your heart? Your soul?”
The book is a bold attempt in the search for the bliss. The author is not perfect and she stands in her vulnerability and responsibility for the losses in her life. Every combat warrior has loss and bereavement including, but not limited to, our innocence, marriages, psyche and soul. In one of my graduate classes, Career Development, we had the honor of reading Laurence G. Boldt’s book: ZEN and the art of making a living: A practical guide to creative career design (2010). Michele encourages her readers, especially women, to not just read or skim through her book, but to participate in the soul exercises in your own time and space. Soldier Spencer models how she transformed her reserve commitment from a job to an occupation to a career to a vocation. She is on a soul journey.
Sometimes, Michele’s style annoyed me. I do not believe the onus is on her, but on me. There is much to contemplate and meditate about in her story. It is a genuine book. All I had to do is be attentive, breathe, don’t judge and listen. My chest opened up – the ying and the yang brought about a peaceful state, Samadhi, and an understanding of her motto: Live 4 Love!