Beliefnet
Daniel Sees, a Beliefnet member, served on the USS Boxer during the war in Iraq. In between his duties on the ship, he stayed in touch with an online community of friends and supporters by posting on Beliefnet's discussion boards. Sees believes "there is no monopoly on truth or reality," and considers himself a student of many religions. We asked LCpl Sees to expand on the spiritual challenges he confronted in the face of war. He sent this essay from overseas.

I am a United States Marine, deployed to the Middle East in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom.

I left for the Gulf mid-January aboard the USS Boxer: an Amphibious Assault Ship of the U.S. Navy. My preparation for this was filled with countless mixed emotions -- leaving behind a big, comfortable bed, great homemade meals, cable TV, mountains, and most important, my wife and daughter. From the get-go, I knew that inner strength was going to be far more important than outer strength. I put my the support and love of my family and my country deep in my heart and I let go of all else as I began my mission at hand.

Before I left, I was very unsure at times about the specific reasons and morality behind this war. Once on the ship however, I learned more and more about the (now) former Iraqi regime and I weighed the situation in light of the principles and teachings of all the religions and philosophies I had studied in the past. I contemplated what each might say about it, and what my own heart was telling me. I sifted through all the options and critically studied our actions and plans. I knew either way I would have to act on any orders I was given; as a junior enlisted member of the Marine Corps, I have to humbly accept my place and realize not everyone will have a say in the decisions. That is just how it must be.

My fellow shipmates and I watched attentively each time our Commander in Chief addressed our Nation and the world in live television broadcasts. I could see and hear some of those around me brimming over with aggression and anxiety, wanting to fight regardless. The closer we got to day one of the bombing and troop advancement, the more expressions of prejudice against Middle-Eastern people I heard.

There were many upset faces on my fellow Marines and the sailors on board as we also watched the anti-war protestors and the antics of celebrities on TV during our off-hours. I realized that this war was truly a process, something that comes from all of our minds and hearts. It didn't just happen. We built it. No matter what nation, job, sex, age, race, or creed, we all have the seeds of dark emotions like greed, hate, and anger, which can grow and become dominant if we don't personally take care of them.International peace starts with each individual's heart and attitude toward others in everyday life. A thousand mile journey begins with one small step.

I asked myself how I apply this in my own daily life. When someone bumps into me, do I react aggressively or in a compassionate and controlled manner? DoI frequently miss opportunities to return smiles or give a greeting tosomeone looking down and stressed out?

I shared some of these thoughts on Beliefnet as time and chance permitted and I received advice on such things as practicing loving-kindness meditations, even with Saddam Hussein in mind. To those few I reached online back in the States I wanted to convey that whether they supported our Nation's military actions or not, it was my wish that they evolve personally and look within their own heart and avoid the little wars in their daily lives with neighbors, family, friends, co-workers and even strangers.

I continue to do my best to practice simplicity and compassion. I try to quietly lead by example and let some of my inner peace touch those around me. I wish that we all focused more on our unity instead of our differences: putting more energy into positive, thoughtful actions and words than condemning and criticizing. That we live mindful of our sharing of each other's ups and downs, each other's breath and actions. That we all try to leave behind all self-centered thoughts, petty desires, and anger.

We can learn from so many things. As I am writing this, the movie 'Two Weeks Notice' is playing in the background. One of the characters says: "If people can change, the world can change." It's my wish that we get much more from thistime than just death and suffering. That we make the necessary transformation in each of our own hearts and souls. Maybe in war we can learn a little more about kindness and compassion and apply it to our own lives.

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