“Life for me is a work in progress,” said Owen Harley, a former infantryman who served for more than 21 years in Iraq, South Korea, and throughout the United States.
Owen said his life is a bit difficult—with a not-so-easy transition into managing and dealing with civilian life—which is why the New York City resident was elated to receive a scholarship to attend A Retreat for Veterans in 2017 and 2018 at Omega.
This integrative program is designed for veterans to come together to support one another and renew their minds, bodies, spirits, and relationships. It’s facilitated by a trained, multidisciplinary team of veterans, psychotherapists, and interfaith leaders who have offered holistic educational services for more than a decade.
Through wellness practices, small support groups, outdoor recreational activities, and expressive arts, the men take time to reconnect with themselves and other veterans and learn stress management and emotional resilience skills, including mindfulness, qigong, and yoga.
“I always battled violent thoughts in my youth,” Owen said. “Then I joined the Army and put that into practice. As a student of life, I have been practicing mindfulness, meditation, and yoga. These practices have taught me many ways to deal with, control, and manage my emotional shortcomings. They have also prevented many harmful and dangerous ends to aggressive encounters. I am proud of this ability and practice it daily. I still have violent thought patterns, but they are not who I am.”
A Beautiful Exchange of Words
Owen first attended the retreat in 2017 and said it had a profound and positive effect on him.
In 2018 he continued to enjoy the camaraderie with his fellow veterans and the serenity found on Omega’s campus.
“Getting up in front of strangers and talking is always a nerve-racking challenge for me, but I do it for that reason…to challenge myself without opinion, judgment, and expectations,” Owen said.
He calls it the “just do it method.” And he said that the outcome is “unbelievably rewarding to my mental capacity and confidence.”
As soon as he arrived, he said, his very first conversations with other retreat attendees were amazing and uplifting.
“Almost everywhere I would go, someone engaged me in a beautiful exchange of words,” Owen said. “I need to write a book on what events like this mean to me.”
He said it stands in contrast to his life after the military, which has always seemed difficult for him. Owen has dealt with strong anger issues, was divorced, and now lives with family who don't seem to understand the problems associated with PTSD, including communication.
Taking the Practice Home
After the retreat, Owen says his goals are to continue his practice and see what comes forward as he gains a deeper understanding of himself, and to find ways he can help fellow veterans and people alike.
“I believe these practices are 'the way,' or the right path into understanding who we are on a very personal level,” Owen said. “To learn more about what makes us tick can help us to understand and answer many of our most difficult questions. Lovingkindness to yourself first is the key and a true access to loving anyone else.”