“A prosaic question: picture a young man who has never been very good in sports, who prefers being in church to being in a sports bar, who fasts, reads spiritual literature and grasps the concept of pacifism and who then joins the legendary armed forces, and is assigned to a military unit where bullying, violence, hazing, etc. flourish … What does he do? How does he survive?”
First of all, please accept my sincere sympathy. It is really very difficult to live in such an environment. The first thing to remember is – God does not give us more than we can handle. A person can grow rapidly only in difficult and critical situations. It is very important not to become irritated, not to despair, and not to curse one’s fate and everyone nearby. Every situation is created for only one purpose – to bring us closer to God and to develop Divine love. We are surrounded by teachers. From an absolute point of view, there are no such roles as parent, child, neighbor, or commander. Everyone we meet in life is simply our teacher. God sends only angels to us.
In situations such as you describe, it is really very difficult to retain humanity and remain happy. But it is possible. It depends on the choice we make. You may wonder, “What choice?” But even a paralyzed man can choose how to react to a situation. And our choices determine our lives. This was well described and proven by Professor Viktor Frankl, who survived the worst of the concentration camps. A military compound looks like a spa in comparison, and officers like kind fairy godmothers. I recommend reading his works, especially those in which he writes about the independence of the inner being from outside circumstances.
I once read about a certain priest who served his time in a Kolyma labor camp. After a 16-hour working day, he nursed the sick people, sharing his rations with them, speaking kindly to everyone. In other words, he treated everyone in the same loving manner, whether they were ruthless killers, political prisoners, or supervisors. Many of them became religious in the warmth of his serenity and enormous love. And there are dozens of similar examples. Generally speaking, resentful people are the first to perish in such situations.
All this only corroborates the ancient principle of Eastern philosophy: the more we are focused on ourselves, the larger our ego and the more unhappy we are. And vice versa: the more Divine love we possess inside our souls, the more we are showered with bliss. Yes, we experience difficulties. But we can always find someone worse off and start helping them with words and deeds. Do we need to choose despair, grievances, and contempt, when we can choose to see God’s hand in everything, radiate humor and optimism, and express forgiveness and sympathy towards others, etc.? In other words, we need to become like the sun that can shine light on everyone, and yet be entirely self-sustaining. Then the atmosphere around us will completely change.
True bliss comes when we give. This is how the Universe works, and no circumstances can ever change this. We can always find somebody who is worse off. And if we cannot help them materially, we can always send our love; say a kind word; share our experience, etc. If we abide by this, in a very short time we will see that it works. And then we will start getting questions, not from a depressed soldier, but from a serene spiritual disciple who has dedicated his life to God’s service. He understands that success on this mission is measured not by the number of times he has attended church services, not by the amount of inspirational literature he has read (although, of course, this is also important), but by how many living things he has helped to become happy, and most importantly, how much unconditional love he has brought into this world.
I wish you success!
“Ten Steps to Happiness, Health, and Success. A Practical Guide to Personal Fulfillment and Optimum Well-being”, Rami Bleckt