Saturday, 16 July 2011

Sitting with Warrior: Interview with Carl Hitchens

By now I figured that some of you might be tired of reading about my writing and my pain and suffering. I thought maybe, dear reader, you might enjoy thinking about someone else’s writing and their pain and suffering!

Sometimes you read a book that smacks you right in the brain bucket. Sitting With Warrior slammed me with unusual power because it has spiritual relevancy that begs to be examined.

Without further adieu, I’ll share my Amazon book review and a short interview with author Carl Hitchens, a Washington, D.C. native who currently lives in N. Arizona:
Around the time author Carl Hitchens was a young, green Marine entering his first hot LZ in the jungles of Vietnam, I was a young countercultural student demonstrating against the unpopular war in the streets of Middle America. You might say we were on the opposite ends of a spectrum. In his sobering first book, Sitting with Warrior, Hitchens generously took me to his war, and also to sit with Grandfather Warrior, his internal spiritual teacher, who reveals the sweet spot of equanimity between these two destinies. I came away from my reading understanding better how one can embrace the seemingly irreconcilable differences between war and peace.

Hitchens has clearly spent a lifetime probing the depths and shadows of his war experience to find “the beauty in the breaking”. Sitting with Warrior is a richly woven tapestry of light and shadow, fact and fantasy, prose and poetry that soars far beyond the boundaries of the tepid patriotic and political rants of ordinary war literature. This little volume pierces the heart of consciousness itself and ultimately merges the creator and the destroyer, and by healing that dichotomy within the warrior, also bridges the paradox that lives within us all.

KR: If there’s any weakness in Sitting With Warrior, in my opinion it is that the voices of the seeker and the teacher are too similar. Both are exceedingly articulate and knowledgeable. The seeker seems to have done quite a bit of homework before we see him sitting with Warrior. Was this a deliberate choice in your portrayal of the two characters? 
CH:  As far as the similarity of the voices of the seeker and the teacher goes, it wasn’t an intentional stylistic choice. It just happened. But when I look back, it makes perfect sense. Warrior is not merely a Native American of a specific nation, predisposed by a former physical past life to speak in a cultural-period way. He is a transcendent being beyond racial, cultural, gender, and even “species-ist” singularity. He is the universal, consciousness-quickening spiritual dynamic in all life forms, individuated within the specificity of each life form he inhabits as the indwelling teacher.
After departing the exotic mystery and peril of Vietnam and its warfare, the seeker spent years processing “his” war. But he did so privately within his own personal consciousness. But sorting out his own true voice from all the others and their judgments was no easy task.

Though he found a spiritual grounding that validated the nobility of his overall life, he still was unable to put his war in proper perspective with noble accomplishment. He needed to understand his journey to war and through war to know if he acquitted himself according to his own heroic ideals. 

This soul-searching came to a head, when after 35+ years, the seeker located one of the Marines of his old unit in ‘Nam through email. This event was a catalyst for him to seek out an understanding that had eluded him over the years. A determination to get clear on Vietnam before connecting in the flesh with those he had fought with.

From then on, an intensity to know the current manifestation of himself compared to his Marine-self in Vietnam consumed him. His sleep time, his day dreams, his spontaneous and formal contemplations all gravitated in this direction. As he witnessed and recorded these journeys into self, Warrior figuratively and literally (as an aspect of his own self) appeared. Understanding beyond his own ken typified the seeker’s treks to Warrior’s campfire. At these times in sitting with Warrior, the seeker’s self merged with the universal and the realization he sought arrived like a lost relative.

KR: Your quest to understand your experiences in Vietnam and to relay your observations to others obviously led you to write this book. Did you have any other motivations or issues that inspired you to pick up a pen and move beyond your aspirations as a poet?
CH:  Vietnam was not simply a crucible for survival, but, more important, a spiritual lathe cutting so deep that I couldn’t ignore it. There was a triumphant feeling that surrounded my going and returning that was unexplained by the usual measures assigned to taking up arms: moral justification, victory-defeat, honor-dishonor, worthiness-unworthiness. Getting to the source and the reason for my lingering sense of positive accomplishment, despite contrary messaging, was important to me.

I journaled about the war for years, seeking not simply to record my experience, but to scale down its enormity into a manageable size I could get a handle on. The other thing that pushed me into this direction was that I couldn’t hear my own voice in the body of writing on Vietnam. Something was missing from it for me, something I thought was not only essential to my story, but to others’, as well. Not merely veterans, but all Americans, perhaps all the world.
KR: You did that brilliantly. Any other thoughts?
CH:  Another important reason for my wanting to bring the book out at this time was to help present military personnel returning from Afghanistan and Iraq. While their reception is far more positive than we ‘Nam vets experienced, they nevertheless will have their own readjustment issues to contend with. Many realizations they will have are still years off, so that the initial body of their writing and sharing is not fully mature. I think my sharing will broaden their maturing voice more quickly.
KR: I think many will be grateful that you took the time and put forth the energy to publish this book. Do you have anything in progress?
CH:  I’ve been so consumed with promoting Warrior that I haven’t directed much time to other specific writing projects. However, I keep exhorting myself to put the finishing touches on my poetry manuscript, Shades of Light, and get it circulating among first-time poetry book contests.
KR: I’m also curious about your feelings toward war. If you could wave a wand and end all wars today, would you do that and why?
CH:  Rather than wave a wand to end all wars, I would rather reveal the seed of war, which I believe is the misunderstanding and concomitant misuse of our natural drive to perfection. The need to change things, improve on things, to manage things is, at its deepest root,  a desire to bring more perfected form into being. Distrusting life and other life forms, because of life’s seeming uncertainty, prods in us a desire to control the process, to eliminate the uncertainty. This puts life—human, animal—in opposition to itself. This is the perversion of the warrior-within, the narrowing down of “us” into “us and them.”

To explain this in an ultimate, effective way that would touch people not as an idea, but as the self-revealing nature of their inner selves . . . well that would be the next book. If only I could pull it off.
KR:  I bet you can – and will. You have readers waiting!

Direct comments and questions to drumtalk at

UPDATE: See also - 

"The Hero's Journey"  at



©  2011, Kate Robinson & Carl Hitchens

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