The Oxford Dictionary defines a paradigm shift as “A fundamental change in approach or underlying assumptions.” Given the shift in attitudes, meditation appears to be quietly approaching paradigm shift status. Traditionally, Western society has viewed meditation with skepticism; only within the last few decades has meditation become more mainstream. More recently, meditation has undergone gradual acceptance by some of its toughest skeptics, the military and law enforcement.
Why has the military and law enforcement been largely unreceptive to meditation? The answer to that question is the same answer for why anyone believes what they do. From the time that we are born, we cannot help but become socialized by society; part of that socialization process includes how we perceive ourselves and the world around us. From the time we were children, we became conditioned by adopting the beliefs held by our parents, our communities, and the larger society. It is these beliefs that shape and color our perceptions of life. Based on this conditioning, we attempt to make sense of the world, which we do by determining the meaning for our experiences.
We develop beliefs or meanings as to what it means to be male or female, if we are a good person or a bad person, if we are lovable or unlovable, as well as more existential questions such as the reason for our existence.
There is no inherent meaning that exists beyond ourselves; the source of all meaning is the mind. Our minds project meaning on to our experience. We are like the beam of light from a slide projector, and our thoughts are the slides. It is our attention that energizes our thoughts, which are then projected upon the screen that we refer to as our experience.
As long as we identity with our mind’s functions, our sense of identity and well being will not be stable; it will fluctuate with the quality of our thoughts as well as with the meaning that we attach to our experience. But what if we could dissolve our identification with our thoughts? What if we could develop the knowing that we are greater than our thoughts? What if we could calmly observe our thoughts while remaining peaceful within?
Meditation makes all of this possible. When we learn to practice meditation, we become like a birdwatcher observing a bird from the distance. Anyone can develop the mental skill to observe the arising and dissipating of thought as it transverses the skies of our consciousness. The ability to gain distance and objectivity of our thoughts is why the military and law enforcement is beginning to experiment with meditation. Both soldiers and law enforcement officers are at risk for PTSD, substance abuse, high stress, depression, and relationship difficulties. All of these problems have their origin in our identification with our thoughts.
Fort Bragg, located in North Carolina, is starting a meditation program, and the Defense Department is expressing interest in including meditation in its “mental combat” program. The army is planning to teach soldiers meditation through the “mental toughness” program that it is developing, while the University of Pittsburg is undergoing studies on how sleep disruption and fatigue by service members is affected by meditation. Programs such as Warrior Mind Training and Warriors at Ease are partnering with the military and universities in order to make meditation training more available to service personal (Rochman 2009).
For those who are familiar with meditation, the increased interest by the military and law enforcement is not surprising. Anyone who is skilled in meditation will tell you that thoughts lack any power of their own. The power that our thoughts seem to have over us is just an illusion; our thoughts get all their power from the attention that we give them.
Each one of us possesses the greatest power of all, the ability to direct our attention. No thought can hold up when we deprive it of our attention, and meditation is the tool for developing greater mastery in controlling our attention. With patience and persistence, you will be able to achieve a state of calm, even when your thoughts are on the warpath.