“Do not dwell in the past, do not dream of the future, concentrate the mind on the present moment.” – Budda
Many of us who hear ‘meditation practices‘ immediately equate it to some new-age mumbo-jumbo. Right off the bat, many of us would dismiss it through the many variations of ‘I don’t have time’ or ‘it’s not for me.’
Let’s dispel that notion quickly: meditation isn’t solely about ’emptying the mind’ or going into a trance. Mindfulness, in particular, is about being aware of what’s in front of you. It’s about being present, something many of us likely don’t do regularly. Life and its obligations consume us so much that we forget to stop and smell the roses, literally and figuratively.
Soldiers need to practice mindfulness, too. You go into battle with an absent mind and risk being in a seriously compromising situation that’s a matter of life and death. It’s a simple yet often-downplayed truth.
As the title suggests, we’re here to demystify meditation practices and hopefully translate them into our daily lives.
Mindfulness vs. Meditation Practices
“Mindfulness is useful, and for many, is all that they need. But it does not deal with the underlying issues of the pain of the past and the stress of the future.”
“That is where meditation can take you to a completely different level of consciousness and spirituality. Meditation takes those intrusive thoughts, feelings, or stress and simply asks a question: ‘Why is this bothering me?'”
Simply put, mindfulness is being in the zone. Have you ever been in a flow state? You’re too engrossed in the current activity that you lose track of time. You’re not ruminating about the past or worrying about the future. You’re simply present.
In a way, being in the zone is a meditative practice. But meditation is more of a practice, a muscle you work on for the longer term.
Commander William McNulty of the United States Public Health Service compared mindfulness and meditation practices to doing push-ups.
“You might not drop and do push-ups when you’re in a gunfight, but you have increased capacity,” he said, adding that mental focus can become a transferable skill across different activities.
Mindfulness For Soldiers
So how exactly do mindfulness and meditation apply in a military setting? All veterans and active service members know a combat environment’s volatility, uncertainty, and stressfulness.
Your senses have to be on high alert at all times. There is zero room for distractions. One slip-up can lead to dire, irreparable repercussions. Here’s what the CHAMP Uniformed Services University has to say about mindfulness in battle.
“Mind-wandering and judging an experience can create unnecessary stimuli that interfere with your ability to connect with the resources you need to accomplish tasks, avert disaster, or respond to crisis. Warfighters are less lethal and less resourceful in combat when their minds wander, and they’re unable to fully focus on a situation.”
There’s also the long-standing issue of post-traumatic stress disorder among veterans, and that’s not something to dismiss. According to statistics, 7 out of 1oo veterans experience some form of PTSD. For the most recent war in Iraq, 29 out of 100 went through trauma at one point.
But recent research also showed the potential of mindfulness and meditation practices for dealing with PTSD. Specifically, breathing exercises became the highlight of the 2014 study.
Because of this, mindfulness became the advocacy of veterans like Commander Tim Boughton to help his fellow soldiers, past and present.
“The amount of brain power it frees by not being trapped in the past or the future is incredible. The military is seeing the mass benefits of this,” he said.
Mindfulness and Meditation Practices For the Modern Warrior
Mindfulness is about awareness. It’s about knowing when you’re straying off course and getting back. Even trained professionals experience distractions during a ten-minute meditation session.
But whenever these distractions happen, Francis and Dr. Santee advise note-taking. Keep a journal with you and track those moments when you feel like you’re veering away from the meditative state.
Consistency is vital when it comes to mindfulness and meditation. A journal notebook is a helpful tool.
Give In to Discomfort
Most meditation practices require keeping a still position for a short but extended period. It’s a literal and figurative way of finding your center and grounding yourself in the present moment.
Keeping still isn’t natural for us human beings. You will feel discomfort and ultimately lose focus. But according to Dr. Santee, it’s all part of the process.
His most significant piece of wisdom: find comfort in discomfort. As a soldier, you will go through such moments in battle where being in a neutral stance is commonplace. You can’t let a minor ache get to you. Instead, find a way to live through these moments and make it your new normal.
If you’re practicing meditation in the comfort of your home, get yourself a dedicated cushion. Some come with back support if you’re dealing with lumbar issues. They’re cheap, durable, and easily accessible, thanks to Amazon. You can even pick out a design that fits your home’s aesthetics well.
Walk It Off
There is such a thing as mindful walking. Instead of thoughtlessly trotting your way toward your destination, you notice each step. You’re moving much slower than usual but conscious about every single motion.
A similar activity would be savoring each bite of food or feeling each strand as you brush your tooth. They seem mundane, but they’re the simplest ways to keep yourself in the moment, even just for a few minutes.
But let’s get back to mindful walking. If you plan to do this for a prolonged period, getting yourself a pair of comfortable walking shoes would be best. You’ll find affordable but durable brands to get the job done.
Don’t Be Afraid to Start Slow
Simple mindfulness meditation practices only take ten minutes of your day. That’s more than enough to get you through your first few sessions. As you get used to the routine, gradually prolong these sessions.
But don’t be afraid to start slow. Everyone goes through being a novice, a white belt. You won’t be as fluid as seasoned practitioners, and that’s OK. You’ll get there.
If you need some assistance, there are guided meditation apps like Headspace. Think of it like the hand-holding everyone needs while learning how to walk. It may initially make you feel helpless, but it’s a necessary support form.
Meditation Practices Demystified For the Mindful Soldier
If you’ve read through this far, congratulations. You kept yourself open to meditation practices, and that’s a huge first step.
But if you’re already on the path to mindfulness, keep up the good work, soldier. It’s only a matter of time before you feel these improvements. But even if you don’t, you’ve already planted the seeds. That’s better than nothing.
Whether you’re journaling, doing breathing exercises, or taking a walk, make these mindfulness and meditation practices a part of your routine. You’ll thank yourself later.