The following is a guest blog post by one of the current students in my Mindfulness in Health Care course at the University of Vermont, Melinda Rouille. She is a therapist at a local veteran’s clinic.
Something that we all share in this world is pain, sickness and death. While some of us learn how to cope with this anguish, a vast majority of us suffer tremendously. We often tend to avoid thinking about our suffering or get stuck when it comes knocking at our door. I have worked with people suffering with various debilitating conditions ranging from post-traumatic stress disorder, major depression, anxiety, loss, feelings of failure, and other calamities life hands us. Many find it difficult to stare this suffering in the eye, ultimately avoiding and denying it. The irony of this is, avoidance may blind us to the true exquisiteness of life and keeps us stuck in our suffering.
Recently, I read one of many quotes from the late Steve Jobs that put some perspective on this for me. At the commencement speech at Stanford University in 2005, Steve Jobs exclaimed, “Remembering that I’ll be dead soon is the most important tool I’ve ever encountered to help me make the big choices in life. Because almost everything — all external expectations, all pride, all fear of embarrassment or failure – these things just fall away in the face of death, leaving only what is truly important. Remembering that you are going to die is the best way I know to avoid the trap of thinking you have something to lose. You are already naked.” I grappled with this quote as I thought of those struggling to survive in a war zone, what are their expectations and fears?
How many times have I allowed my external expectations, pride and fears put blinders on me, allowing distractions, labels, criticisms, and judgments ultimately create pain. I’m beginning to learn how to release these concepts and thoughts through acceptance of what is. Through mindfulness-based meditation, I’m beginning to catch the worrying and scurrying going on in my head, these assumptions, beliefs and ruminations. By bringing my attention back to the present moment, over and over again, gently noticing my breath as my anchor, I’m able to “let be” my mind’s automatic pilot and start experiencing the moment-to-moment sensations and reactions, and find myself moving beyond these distractions into a restful feeling of peace.
I came across recent articles about Marines studying mindfulness-based training. With so many suffering from painful disabilities, post-traumatic stress and a record high suicide rate, the Marine Corps is turning to this ancient Eastern-based practice that has made its way into Western psychology. The Marine Corps is using exercises called “Mindfulness-Based Mind Fitness Training”, a series of brain calming exercises to enhance performance as troops continue to endure the mounting stress and pressures of military life (Watson, AP, 1/20/2013).
Although the military seems to be an odd fit for mindfulness, it is hoped mindfulness will help reduce strains on service members with mental preparation to better handle stress, before, during and after war. This piggybacks off from mindfulness-based stress reduction, which has been successful for a multitude of concerns including pain and anxiety disorders. I hope to be able to be trained in the art of mindfulness to become a competent and helpful servant to those suffering both the visible and invisible wounds of war, allowing them to become aware of their own healing powers through mindfulness.