meditation and the military

Military Buddhist chapel represents tolerance

NPR: The Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs, Colo., is home to the only Buddhist chapel on a U.S. military base. After a controversy over religious intolerance during the summer of 2005, the chapel was built in the basement of the academy’s iconic Cadet Chapel.

In 2005, conservative evangelical Christians were accused of trying to force their religion on others. According to current and recently graduated cadets, the religious climate has improved substantially since then.

Chapel Construction

The controversy prompted the Air Force to issue guidelines for religious expression. The military also has made efforts to accommodate all faiths. These include the construction of the 300-square-foot Buddhist chapel at the Air Force Academy paid for by the Frederick P. Lenz Foundation for American Buddhism.

Read the rest of this story…

The floor is bamboo, and the walls are Port Orford cedar. The focal point is a cherry and ash altar with a Burmese Buddha statue on top.

Curiosity Trumps Judgment

During services, which are held Wednesday evenings, about half of the 18 pillows on the floor are usually occupied.

Tanner Faulkner, an 18-year-old student attending the prep school at the academy, says he feels encouraged to explore his religious curiosity.

“They let us know, ‘We have this available for you, and it is possible for you to go to different services, whether you’re Jewish faith or Buddhist or Christian or whatever,’ ” Faulkner says.

Sophomore cadet Dan Dwyer says his fellow cadets seem to have respect for his religion.

“People wonder where I go every Wednesday,” Dwyer says. “I tell them I go to the Buddhist service, and it’s just more of a curiosity rather than judgment.”

Buddhism And Military Service — A Discordant Pair?

Out of 1.4 million people in the military, 5,287 identified themselves as Buddhists as of June 2009. For these folks, questions inevitably arise about whether Buddhism — a pacifist religion — is even compatible with military service.

Sarah Bender is the Buddhist program leader at the Air Force Academy. She says she has plenty of questions herself about whether it’s ever right to kill in order to stop further harm. But, Bender says, she leaves the academy every Wednesday evening feeling like this is where she’s supposed to be.

“People in the military come up — for real — against questions that most of us just consider abstractly,” Bender says. “The questions of Buddhism are the questions of life and death. So, where else would you want Buddhism than right there where those questions are most vivid?”

Bender says the academy is now a place where cadets and staff are free to practice any religion they choose.

Read More

Former soldier meditates with inmates

Independent Florida Alligator: As they walk into the stark gray room at the Lowell Correctional Institution in Ocala, K.C. Walpole greets each inmate with the grace of a mentor and the sternness of a soldier. Dressed in all black, his head shaved smooth and his broad shoulders fit into perfect posture.

“Are you full of fire and brimstone?” he asks a woman as a smile dimples his aging face.

She nods at him.

“Is there anything we can do to fix that today?”

She points to her head, grabs an imaginary object from it then tosses it away.

“Yeah, let’s get rid of those thoughts,” Walpole agrees.

Walpole, 66, visits the female inmates at Lowell every Friday at 9 a.m. He teaches them to sit for 15 minutes or more without moving, talking or thinking — the Buddhist practice of meditation.

Walpole, who leads monks at the Gateless Gate Zen Center in Gainesville, has held about 1,800 meditation and Zen programs for inmates at 25 of Florida’s prisons. In a state where the inmate population nears 100,000 and where one-third of released inmates are jailed again within three years, his programs aim to reduce the number of inmates who end up back behind bars.

He uses meditation to help the prisoners develop self-discipline and impulse control to reveal the reason they first entered prison.

“If people are at peace with themselves, then they’re at peace with the world, and they can handle the world,” Walpole said.

Walpole founded the Gateless Gate in High Springs in 1997. At his first meditation session there, a man brought a letter from an inmate at Marion Correctional Institution asking for someone to teach him. Walpole agreed, and within a year or two, he was visiting prisons.

Walpole didn’t always live the meditative life of the Buddhist faith, though. He served in the military for nearly 25 years, working in the mid-’70s and early ’80s as a Green Beret, training commandos in El Salvador as the country erupted with violence.

When guerrillas assassinated one of his closest friends, a life filled with grief, violence and paranoia caught up with him.

“I guess you could say I was enjoying some of the aftereffects of military service in the fast lane,” Walpole said. “You could call it [post-traumatic stress disorder].”

He turned to yoga and meditation and retired from the military in 1985.

“Twenty-fours years of soldiering was enough,” Walpole said.

Marcia Frazier, who attended a meditation program at Broward Correctional Institution, said Walpole is a “stealth bomber” when it comes to teaching her life lessons.

“He gets in exactly where he needs to be without you even knowing it,” Frazier said.

Sitting at the mom-and-pop bagel shop where she works as a cook, Frazier rolled up her sleeves and twisted her stringy, long brown hair into a bun as she recalls her first meditation practice.

“It was hard, man,” she said as she tapped her pack of Marlboros on the table. “Meditation for me is very, very difficult. I can’t even sit still here.”

During her first meditation, the instructor told Frazier to stay present with the moment, but she couldn’t.

Her sentence had just been reduced, and she could see the finish line. She didn’t know where she would go or how she would get her life together.

She tried to stop thinking and focus on her breath. She heard a guard outside yell, “Inmate, get in line!”

“Oh my God,” she remembered. “I’m in prison.”

She still can’t achieve a clear mind during meditation, she said, but Walpole calms her. He tells her everything is as it should be, and we are all perfect in this moment.

Frazier met Walpole at a ceremony at the prison where she vowed to live a wholesome, ethical life.

He walked in with his “Obi-Wan Kenobi” robes, his Buddha statues and some incense. He called her name, then whacked a wooden stick and startled her.

But it was during the end of the ceremony, when she was supposed to receive a burn on her hand, that Walpole showed his true colors.

The department of corrections didn’t allow the burn.

“It was considered destruction of state property,” Frazier said. “I have never in my entire life known such compassion, total compassion, he had in his eyes when he told me that he was taking my burn for me.”

Walpole burned himself once for Frazier then 11 more times for the other inmates at the ceremony.

Two years ago, Walpole visited any prisoner who asked.

He bought cars, drove them until they nearly broke down, then traded them for new ones. In three years, he clocked at least 100,000 miles a car.

But two years ago, Walpole had stents put in his heart, and his doctor told him he had to cut back on his prison service. Then, about a year ago, Walpole had an aneurysm and came back with three more pieces of metal in his heart.

Now Walpole only visits two programs and helps run five others.

He has to start paying more attention to himself, he says. The wall of a tiny blood vessel in his heart has stretched and ballooned to the point where it could burst, and he could bleed out before any help could get to him.

He doesn’t know when it could rupture. It could be tomorrow, or it could be in 10 years.

“I have to focus on developing leadership potential so that the place will survive if I don’t,” Walpole said.

Walpole says he will do whatever he can until, as he likes to call it, he stops “sucking air.”

“I haven’t half-stepped any part of my life up ’til now,” Walpole said. “No point in starting.”

Read More

Samurai mind training for modern American warriors

Time: Not long ago at Fort Bragg, N.C., the country’s largest military base, seven soldiers sat in a semi-circle, lights dimmed, eyes closed, two fingertips lightly pressed beneath their belly buttons to activate their “core.” Electronic music thumped as the soldiers tried to silence their thoughts, the key to Warrior Mind Training, a form of meditation slowly making inroads on military bases across the country. “This is mental push-ups,” Sarah Ernst told the weekly class she leads for soldiers at Fort Bragg. “There’s a certain burn. It’s a workout.”

Think military and you think macho, not meditation, but that’s about to change now that the Army intends to train its 1.1 million soldiers in the art of mental toughness. The Defense Department hopes that giving soldiers tools to fend off mental stress will toughen its troops at war and at home. It’s the first time mental combat is being mandated on a large scale, but a few thousand soldiers who have participated in a voluntary program called Warrior Mind Training have already gotten a taste of how strengthening the mind is way different — dare we say harder? — than pounding out the push-ups. Read more here.

Warrior Mind Training is the brainchild of Ernst and two friends, who were teaching meditation and mind-training in California. In 2005, a Marine attended a class in San Diego and suggested expanding onto military bases. Ernst and her colleagues researched the military mindset, consulting with veterans who had practiced meditation on the battlefield and back home. She also delved into the science behind mind training to analyze how meditation tactics could help treat — and maybe even help prevent — post-traumatic stress disorder.

Rooted in the ancient Samurai code of self-discipline, Warrior Mind Training draws on the image of the mythic Japanese fighter, an elite swordsman who honed his battle skills along with his mental precision. The premise? Razor-sharp attention plus razor-sharp marksmanship equals fearsome warrior.

The Samurai image was selected after careful deliberation; it was certifiably anti-sissy. “We took a long time to decide how we were going to package this,” says Ernst, who moved to North Carolina in 2006 and teaches classes at Fort Bragg as well as Camp Lejeune, a Marine base near the coast. “There are a lot of ways you could describe the benefits of doing mind training and meditation. Maybe from a civilian approach we would emphasize cultivating happiness or peace. But that’s not generally what a young soldier is interested in. They want to become the best warrior they can be.”

The benefits of Warrior Mind Training, students have told instructors, are impressive: better aim on the shooting range, higher test scores, enhanced ability to handle combat stress and slip back into life at home. No comprehensive studies have been done, though a poll of 25 participants showed 70% said they felt better able to handle stressful situations and 65% had improved self-control.

The results were intriguing enough that Warrior Mind Training has been selected to participate in a University of Pittsburgh study on sleep disruption and fatigue in service members that will kick off early next year.

For now, success is measured anecdotally.

On patrol in Iraq two years ago, John Way would notice his mind straying. “Maybe I should be watching some guy over there and instead I’m thinking, ‘I’m hungry. Where’s my next Twinkie?'”

With privacy at a premium, he’d often retreat to a Port-A-Potty to practice the focusing skills he’d learned from Ernst at Fort Bragg. “To have a way to shut all this off is invaluable,” says Way.

The importance of the mind-body connection is being acknowledged at the highest levels of the military. The West Point-based Army Center for Enhanced Performance (ACEP), which draws on performance psychology to teach soldiers how to build confidence, set goals and channel their energy, has expanded to nine army bases in the past three years since the Army’s chief-of-staff praised the program.

“The Army has always believed if we just train ’em harder, the mental toughness will come,” says Lorene Petta, a psychologist at Fort Bragg who works for ACEP. “A lot of times with this population, because they’re so rough and tough, they tend to say, ‘This is too touchy-feely for me. No thanks.’ But we talk about the importance of being a good mental warrior too.”

Free to members of the military and their relatives, Warrior Mind Training classes are offered at 11 U.S. military installations and veterans centers across the country; an online option opened up this spring. At Naval Amphibious Base Coronado in California, for example, Warrior Mind instructors prep elite Navy SEALS candidates for Hell Week, when potential newbies are vetted in a 5 ½-day sleepless trial of physical and mental endurance.

Beefing up the brain for combat is one aspect of the training; another is decompression. If one day you’re dodging snipers in Iraq and the next you’re strolling the aisles at Wal-Mart, Warrior Mind Training techniques can ease the transition.

“It’s kind of like a reset button,” says Erick Burgos, a military paramedic who takes classes at Coronado. “It’s a time-out for you to take a break from the chaos in your life.”

If the Army’s new mental-toughness initiative, set to kick off in October, is to be successful, it needs buy-in from the people it plans to train. It can be a tough sell. At Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune, in N.C., Adam Credle, who teaches military, law enforcement and Coast Guard personnel how to drive boats equipped with machine guns really fast, has encouraged his students to try out the meditative techniques. So far, he’s been rebuffed, though he continues to try to persuade them to give the discipline’s central exercise a chance. The mental focusing technique is called deep listening and it sounds super-simple but — unless you’re accustomed to meditation — it requires exquisite concentration.

To help develop this skill, Warrior Mind, relies upon music. The idea is to listen, really listen, to the wail of the guitar or the staccato tap of the drums instead of letting your mind wander. In athletics, this concept is called being in “the zone.”

As with anything, practice makes perfect, which is reassuring for rookies — like me — who find it next to impossible to rein in their thoughts at first. During the course of one five-minute song, I thought repeatedly about whether I’d remembered to lock my car and turn my cell phone to vibrate. And, because I’m a reporter, I thought about what everyone else might be thinking about, which, if they were doing it right, should have been nothing at all.

Read More

Ten most popular posts on Wildmind this year

Top TenJust to help you keep track of what’s hot on Wildmind at the moment, we’ve put together this list of the ten blog posts that have received the most visitors this year. Enjoy!

10. Naming negative emotions makes them weaker Wired Magazine reports on research that’s of relevance to meditators — especially those that use the vipassana technique of “noting,” where we name the most prominent aspect of our experience, saying inwardly, for example, “anger, anger” when we recognize that that emotion is present.

9. Top 10 Myths About Meditation Bodhipaksa debunks the ten most common meditation myths.

8. The Buddha as Warrior It might seem strange to think of the Buddha as a “warrior” when he is rightly seen as above all a figure of peace. Lieutenant (jg) Jeanette Shin, the US military’s first Buddhist chaplain, looks at the Buddha’s martial background.

7. Infinity in the palm of your hand Would you like to see the world in a new way? A way that’s more authentic and satisfying? A way that taps into your infinite potential and helps others to realize theirs?

6. “It is no measure of health to be well adjusted to a profoundly sick society” (Krishnamurti) Bodhipaksa explores the uncomfortable notion that we are all trapped in a world of delusions.

5. “And the day came when the risk to remain tight in a bud was more painful than the risk it took to blossom” (Anaïs Nin) Bodhipaksa explores a quote by Anaïs Nin.

4. The joys of Zen Coffee There are many paths to Awakening, including the path of Zen Coffee, Gloria Chadwick’s hip new take on Zen mindfulness.

3. Love, Sex, and Non-Attachment Is it possible to be in a committed sexual relationship and follow the Buddha’s teaching on non-attachment? Does loving someone deeply by definition mean we’re attached to them? Sunada doesn’t see these ideas as contradictory, and explores what an enlightened relationship might look like.

2. The 12-Step Buddhist Alcoholics Anonymous’ 12-Step Program offers a path of escape from the cycle of dependency, but it’s a path that’s heavily reliant on belief in a deity. Can Buddhism provide an alternative approach to addiction? Buddhist and incarcerated drug-offender Rich Cormier investigates “12-Step Buddhism” as outlined in a new book by Darren Littlejohn.

1. Top 10 celebrity Buddhists When we started putting this list together it seemed like it was going to be nothing more than a shallow, trivial — although perhaps welcome — distraction from all the news about disastrous wars and sordid political scandals, but as we dug deeper into the web we found that we felt at times inspired by reading about the practice of famous Buddhists, some of whom have had their trials. We hope that you too will be inspired — and entertained — by Wildmind’s Top Ten List of Celebrity Buddhists.

Read More

“In Search of the Warrior Spirit: Teaching Awareness Disciplines to the Green Berets,” Strozzi-Heckler

In Search of the Warrior Spirit

Available on and

Note to Hollywood: this book would make a great movie. Take a bunch of aggressively skeptical and highly macho Green Berets, the U.S. Army’s elite special forces unit, and throw them into intensive training in meditation, aikido, and biofeedback — led by a bunch of guys heavily influenced by Eastern philosophy and wearing, believe it or not, lilac uniforms — stand back, and wait for all hell to break loose. Which promptly happens.

Some of the instructors are virtually eaten alive by the troops, who are on high alert for any sign of insincerity or lack of integrity, and who have a talent for finding buttons to press. At one point the Green Berets, on an intensive meditation retreat, are in open revolt, crowding round and yelling at the instructors in the middle of a “silent” meditation period. One of the soldiers steps forward menacingly and gives each of the three retreat leaders the finger, yelling, “F___ you and f___ you and f___ you!”

Fast-forward to a quieter moment on retreat, and Strozzi-Heckler opens his eyes to see a Green Beret sitting in blissful meditation. Below the still, relaxed, and concentrated face of the warrior is a T-shirt that reads, “82nd AIRBORNE DIVISION: DEATH FROM ABOVE”. And so on… Not your average meditation retreat.

Lest you think that the program was all confrontation and culture clash, the program, stormy as it was, produced stunning results, with massive increases for example in the soldiers’ abilities to control their body temperature in extreme conditions and to recuperate quickly after exercise. And on a more personal level, it’s fascinating to witness these warriors contact their softer sides. One of the soldiers, who was a Christian, is thrown into turmoil because he’s unsure whether he could kill someone now that he’s learned to meditate and come to a deeper appreciation of the compassion taught in his own faith.

This kind of quandary represents the central question that Strozzi-Heckler returns to over and over in his writings, which are based on a daily journal he kept over the six months of the project. Can he teach these men to be warriors rather than soldiers — fully feeling human beings rather than alienated killing machines — and have them still function as soldiers? It’s not a question that is ever likely to be resolved, but nonetheless this is a fascinating account of a bold experiment in bringing awareness disciplines to the U.S. Special Forces.

Oh, and Hollywood, Kevin Costner is a natural to play Strozzi-Heckler.

Read More

New Age techniques for a new age of soldiers (Chicago Tribune)

Rick Jervis, Chicago Tribune: Lt. Col. Damon Arnold’s hands spin magic in this northern Iraqi city.

They unlock backs twisted from carrying too much gear and body armor. They ease stomach pains and knotted necks. Sometimes they even chase away the nightmares.

As medical director of the first aid station at Camp Freedom, headquarters for the 7,500 American troops in northern Iraq, Arnold leads a team of seven medics who treat the usual cases of dehydration, diarrhea, rashes and allergies. They also treat the wounds of soldiers returning from battle.

But his specialty has turned increasingly toward curing common combat ailments, such as hurt backs and combat fatigue, through a medley of deep-tissue massage therapy, acupressure, acupuncture, Eastern philosophy and meditation. A medical director at Mercy Hospital and Medical Center in Chicago, Arnold picked up the alternative techniques during a two-year course at the Chicago School of Massage Therapy.

Now the methods are reaping impressive results, he said, on patients ranging from infantry soldiers to civilians to Iraqi prisoners of war. Arnold has made believers out of skeptics and has become known as an unconventional doctor in an unconventional war.

“Skin is the window to the soul,” said Arnold, 47, an Illinois Army National Guardsman working with the Army’s 118th Medical Brigade attached to the 3rd Brigade, 2nd Infantry Division, also known as the Stryker Brigade.

“We concentrate so much on the longevity of life, keeping people alive, and not the quality of that life,” he said.

Holistic medicine has enjoyed a steady rise in popularity in the U.S. A recent study commissioned by the National Institutes of Health’s National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine showed that 36 percent of adults nationwide use some sort of “complementary and alternative medicine.” That number jumps to 62 percent when prayer is included.

But the holistic approach is still relatively unused in the U.S. military, Arnold said. He said that when he volunteered to come to Iraq in February, he wanted to try his alternative techniques on soldiers.

His first chance arrived shortly after he did in June, when a soldier visited him complaining of sharp pain in his lower back. He was an infantry soldier and had spent months jumping in and out of Strykers, the Army’s new assault vehicle, loaded with gear and body armor.

Arnold said he performed shiatsu massage techniques, working pressure points from the upper to the lower spine. The next day, the soldier told him the pain was gone, said Arnold.

“He started ringing the bell,” Arnold said. “Then everyone started coming in.”

His next patient, also an infantry soldier, had abdominal pain for three years and nothing helped, Arnold said. Arnold said he applied a deep-tissue massage, coaxing a tightened groin muscle to relax. Five days later, the soldier reported no more pain, Arnold said.

Soon he was seeing more soldiers, civilians and POWs and had to put aside two days a week for massages and other alternative treatments.

Arnold said he also has treated soldiers suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder with massages, acupuncture and tips on meditation.

Originally from Brooklyn, N.Y., Arnold graduated with a degree in chemistry at Howard University in Washington before studying medicine at the University of Illinois in Chicago. While in medical school, he signed up for the Illinois National Guard to help pay his tuition, he said.

Also during medical school, Arnold said he started taking tae kwon do classes to relieve the stress of his studies. That training led him to Eastern philosophy and practice such as Zen Buddhism and meditation. The more he studied, the more his interest grew, he said.

He did his residency at Cook County Hospital and then got a master’s degree in public health at UIC. He was studying for his law degree at DePaul University, to learn more about occupational medicine and rights issues, when the first Gulf War broke out.

When he returned, he started working at Mercy Hospital and is now the director of physicians for MercyWorks, the hospital’s occupational health center. Shortly after joining Mercy, Arnold signed up for courses at the Chicago School of Massage Therapy.

In February, two months after getting a radical prostatectomy to eradicate a small tumor in his prostate, Arnold heard the Army was looking for physicians to be deployed to Iraq. He talked his doctor into signing off on his health and signed his deployment papers by March. He arrived in Mosul in June for a tour that ends in October.

“I felt like I should go,” said Arnold, who lives in Hyde Park, Ill., with his wife, Sharon Johnson-Arnold. “I didn’t want these young people coming over here with no one here for them.”

Recently, Arnold launched an hour-long show on the local Army radio station. Half the broadcast discusses theories and benefits of meditation while the other half guides soldiers through a meditation session to soothing New Age music.

Arnold said he hopes the military follows his lead and embraces alternative medicine.

He said he realizes that could take a while, though, given most of the medical community’s reluctance to accept holistic techniques.

“I could see a place for dogma. You want to have a certain sense of security,” he said. “But you still have to remain open as a scientist to new phenomena and alternate explanations for the unexplainable.”

Original article no longer available…

Read More

Wildmind is a Community-Supported Meditation Initiative. Explore the benefits of becoming a supporter.