Ashley Collette is a commander in the Canadian military. She was on tour in Afghanistan from May-December 2010 as an infantry platoon commander in one of the most dangerous areas of the country. Her platoon suffered many losses while they were there.
Just before leaving for Afghanistan, Ashley came to visit me in Costa Rica where I was teaching yoga. We talked about a simple yoga sequence that she could do on her own every day while she was on tour. A few months later she sent me a picture of the most incredible sunset over the dessert of Afghanistan and said that this was her view when she opened her eyes from meditation.
I have had the privilege of knowing Ashley as a teacher for what it means to live a life of compassion. To say that a soldier is my teacher of compassion is not something I would have expected to say of my path. But more than once our conversations have led me to deeper truths and challenges of the practice of ahimsa. Before these conversations my view were simpler, yes, but also lacked the depth and intention that I now feel and continue to pursue.
I can only speak for myself when I say I believed that of all the careers and identities, soldier seems to be the most antithetical to yogi. Not only is Ashley in a certification program to be a yoga teacher, but in the very fabric of our friendship she has exuded qualities that I hope to embody on my yogic path. Our friendship has led me to question my assumptions about war, violence and the path of the soldier.
Ashley and I still hold our values and beliefs in tension, but it is a tension that has sharpened our focus and intentions, not one that has brought anxiety or trouble.
I think that Ashley would be the first to admit that her practice and value of compassion is not always common and she does not speak on behalf of anyone else. However, I hope that this interview will offer you a source to deepen your understanding of this career and culture, especially if like me your assumptions lead you to categorize groups of people in certain ways.
I had a conversation with Ashley a couple of weeks ago in which she talks about being both a military and yogi warrior. Stay tuned for the full interview.