By James Pond, US Marine Corps Veteran
Executive Director, Veteran’s PATH
The mission statement at Veteran’s PATH is that we “enable returning veterans to rediscover meaning, purpose, and joy in their lives through mindfulness, meditation, and a safe community. Through practical tools of meditation and mindfulness, physical and outdoor experiences, and a community of camaraderie, veterans rediscover peace, acceptance, transformation, and honor in a new journey forward.” The question that often arises for many is – what is mediation and mindfulness?
John Kabat Zinn had an iconic answer stating, “Mindfulness is awareness that arises through paying attention, on purpose, in the present moment, non-judgmentally.” For me, a simpler explanation is that mindfulness is “knowing what is happening while it’s happening.” So many of us, particularly veterans, live our lives on ‘autopilot’ without the ability to be in the moment and experience what we are experiencing, whether it’s time with our family, focusing on work, or other situations that require our attention. We are constantly oscillating between regret or thoughts about the past and anxiety and stress about the future. Meditation is a practice that brings the mind into a place of clarity and learning to be truly present and distinguish between reality and perception. We hear again and again about how these practices have impacted the lives of veterans; often times saving their lives from suicide, self-destructive behavior, or posttraumatic stress.
Gabe, an Air Force veteran that served in Afghanistan, said, “Veteran’s PATH has provided me clarity and the confidence to look within and make sense of things. It has allowed me to love myself, to be a better husband and a better father.” Another veteran Fran, who served in the Army during IOF said, “Mindfulness and mediation have allowed me to work through some difficult issues in my life and has allowed me to process my thoughts, my actions and helped me to stay in the present. It has changed my life, my kids see it, my husband sees it; my family sees it as well.” This is what we are about; taking what might seem esoteric and making it practical for veterans to journey forward.
Mindfulness and meditation are slowly becoming more mainstream terms in society, with a greater understanding and acceptance of these as helpful practices. Time Magazine, New York Times, and many other outlets have done articles on the health and social benefits of meditation. A little more than 15 years ago, mindfulness was almost unheard of and the word meditation often conjured images of a guy in a cave, wearing a loincloth and chanting like a crazy person. Today, we are beginning to understand the practical aspects of mindfulness and meditation, but science is just catching up.
Several studies produced in the past 5 years have outlined the efficacy of mindfulness in addressing suicidality, post-traumatic stress, as well as, anxiety, stress, and
depression.1 While we are excited about the science and the validation of the work we do, as well as being actively engaged with the University of Alaska in doing research around our programs, it is more important that what we do is impacting the lives of the veterans that we serve. We provide these programs because they work. Veterans across the country have sought us out and we continue to look for new ways to help more veterans each year.