what soldiers say
Mark Curtis, Ex Royal Marine (Falklands Veteran), 2011
Meditation is helping me in profound ways to manage my combat related mental health problems. I would argue that working with buddhists has been far more effective treatment than any of the conventionally available treatments I have been offered in the past. More than that I am exploring a philosophy of life that helps me to think about life in new ways. The type of meditation I have been introduced to is called 'calm abiding'. This is a process of sitting where the focus is on the breath and relaxing the body. Allowing the mind to drift from time to time as it does but gently bringing the focus back to the breath. Teaching is always conducted with what the instructors call gentle kindness. This type of meditation can be practiced by very disabled veterans like myself. I have a 100% disability assessment by the Veterans Agency. I meditate sitting in a chair with my hands resting on my knees. The process helps in the management of pain by what is called breathing through the pain. This helps to manage discomfort and pain without drugs, helping to reduce the use of painkillers. I have learned to use meditation to bring myself into a calmer state at least for a while. It requires some time, training, support and encouragement, commitment and hard work but it can be done.
It should be noted that buddhists have been developing meditation practices for almost 2500 years. They have developed a whole range of techniques to help develop inner peace, wisdom and awareness in practitioners. I find the conversations I have with buddhist meditation instructors helps me to reduce my anger and increase inner peace. They have given me what I describe as profound insights into my thinking. One example of this is the management of my anger. For many years I had asked myself and those around me how to deal with the anger of injustice from which I suffer. Many people told me they don't know, or use alcohol or stiff up a lip etc. However when I discussed the matter with a buddhist meditation instructor he told me I was lucky because the pain I carry can help me to understand other people's pain and help me to become a more compassionate and beautiful person. The burden of injustice is still there but the way I feel about that burden has changed in me. I now realise I have a way of tapping into compassion because of my burdens. This gives me hope of becoming a more beautiful and understanding person. These changes in perception help me to feel more positive about myself.
I would strongly encourage other traumatised and disabled veterans to explore the possibilities of buddhist meditation practices.
Combat veteran, participant of Peace of Mind meditation course and day retreat, 2011
After being diagnosed with PTSD four and a half years ago I was sent away by the NHS and told there was a three year waiting list for any treatment. I was not able to sleep, and having frequent flashbacks. I have been struggling to function in normal society for all this time. I have seen counsellors and doctors and been given all sorts of medication, which have never stopped the flashbacks or helped with sleep. Most recently I have had EMDR therapy which has only seemed to make the flashbacks worse.
In the day when the flashbacks happen I can usually ground myself and get back to reality, but at night when I fall asleep I cannot manage to do this. For this reason I only manage 3 hours sleep throughout the night and it has been like this for me since 2006. This year I was given access to Surf Action by my mental health team and they were about to run a meditation group with the London Meditation Project's 'Peace of Mind' project for military veterans. I was asked if I would like to try it. After all the counselling and EMDR therapy, I was willing to try anything that may make a difference to my sleep patten and and the flashbacks, so I started meditation sessions about five weeks ago, for two hours at a time. I found this started to have a positive affect on my behavior and my sleep patterns. I felt safe within the group and found that I was able to relax at the time of the meditation. This was something that I started to try at home and found that I was relaxing more and having fewer flashbacks at nights. After all the other therapies I have tried this is by far the best therapy for me so far. It has not been a cure but has definitely had a positive impact on my PTSD.
Royal Navy veteran, 2011
I started a meditation course on 18/07/2011 and the first technique I learnt was to focus on my own breathing, a simple thing!!! But not something I had done before. This was then expanded on to include an awareness of the world, outside the room we were in, going about its daily business and meaning us no harm. The sense of calmness and peace that this engendered was immense and I would recommend it to anyone. But for those who have seen and been through traumatic events and experiences this is a truly wonderful feeling. To then be able to take the ability to reconnect with that feeling forward into your everyday life is an invaluable help in maintaining your own sense of wellbeing and something to be treasured.
Combat veteran, participant of Peace of Mind meditation course, 2011
The methods I have learnt from attending the 'Peace of Mind' veterans' meditation group have taught me a safe way to try and find peace. Being safe is most important and being able to talk about what I felt at the time, and being able to find peace and quiet even though at times I found it difficult to let go of my thoughts and be present in the moment. The grounding techniques were important. I enjoy the sessions and found the starting, middle and the end pleasurable. I found I could communicate slightly better, I was relaxed at the end, and yes energised, for a short while away from the real world and at peace with myself. I would like the sessions to be longer as I do find it difficult to unwind totally. I would like to thank Catherine for her devotion, trust and energy to help, guide and reassure us.
Combat veteran, participant of Peace of Mind meditation course, 2011
I think meditation can help me and other veterans with relaxation and reconnection with myself. The teaching is very clear with good feedback. It is important to me to be with others in an environment of trust and openness, with the opportunity to share with others. The meditation is teaching me to relax and let go of the emotional drag of life. At the end of the session i feel more relaxed and composed. I would definitely recommend meditation to other veterans. I think a structured residential meditation retreat would be great.
Andy Power, a British ex-serviceman
As a serviceman, I was used to a very disciplined and focussed life where the priority always lay with doing the job in hand, whatever I felt or thought. While I still care about having a level of personal discipline, about doing things properly, and about doing what I have undertaken to do, meditation has helped me to come to acknowledge and integrate the emotional content of my life. This helps with moving a potentially over-zealous and task-driven life towards greater depth, colour and space. Sometimes this is pleasant, sometimes beautiful, sometimes painful, often vulnerable, but it feels undeniably human; like a maturity that I had so far missed out on.
A Soldier's experience with Meditation
by Chris Ruggerio
Major Christopher Ruggerio of the US Army, writes a message to British soldiers about meditation in his own experience. He is happy for you to contact him and to answer your questions about meditation. Please send messages marked 'FAO Chris Ruggerio' to and they will be forwarded to him.
When people ask I always explain that meditation to me has become a warrior's journey, not only because I am a soldier. As Soldiers we have seen and felt the camaraderie, brotherhood, pain, joy, sadness, guilt, loneliness, and anger of war. These emotions are each of ours to carry in our own way, NO MATTER what experience we each had while deployed. As Warriors, we were well trained and sent off to deal with the crisis or mission at hand, and we take on that mission very seriously. So I ask just for you to listen, and allow your heart and mind to take on the "mission of self-care" just as seriously. Meditation can be a part of that mission.
Often we return from duty overseas and try to find normalcy, try to find the joy we once found in things. For some this comes easy, but it can also fade fast, and for others it will be a long and arduous journey..... I personally have found the frustration in trying things that don't work, or work for a bit and then nothing. This can come in many forms.... for some it could be felt as that urge to want to go back on another mission (immediately), for others it could be the unconscious need to live recklessly and endanger ourselves unknowingly back here at home. Yet others will find a spiritual path that may help them and some will talk with counsellors or need to be around other veterans and talk about our pain. I have tried these also. Others will let it up to doctors to numb the pain with medication (yet another route I have tried).
Some of these paths are good starting points and some will put soldiers in unknowing danger. Other soldiers won't feel like they need to do anything, and that they feel OK, which is good, but why not use meditation as a future preventative? On my path of meditation I have found what works for me, is following the "Path of the Warrior". Oh, in case you haven't figured it out we are all Warriors... we were Warriors before we left and we will forever be Warriors. We soldiers have a path a little more complex than others and this path of meditation I feel caters to Warriors, but you will see why for yourself, it is an ancient honorable path, I promise.
The reason I use meditation and it has become part of my path is sometimes unclear to me. I tried so many other things first, but what I liked about meditation is that you can jump all-in, or part way-in, you can even fall off-and-on and it is all OK. Meditation gives me the opportunity to stop and hear what I am thinking, not get angry at myself for thinking it, and then allow myself to continue to think crazy thoughts but not judge myself, and finally learn how to turn the volume down so I can make better decisions right now, in the present and not be stuck thinking about the past or the future. And being kind to yourself the entire time.....Not "kind" in the sense that you need to be soft or sweet, but respect yourself the way we soldiers respect a rifle. Only by doing this have I been able to finally see the Warrior in me, and once you meet the warrior inside, it is not always the warrior we portray on the outside. Don't let this fool you, this DOES NOT mean you are weak, but shows the depth, breath and the range of our "warriorship".
Meditation and the path of the Warrior, like all things you may try, is not guaranteed success, but it will put you on a path towards understanding the warrior in you. This path is now 3 years old for me and I have by no-means mastered anything, but I am able to explain my Warrior path to you, so that is a start for me... as before I could not! This path is not critical of my faults and failures, but continuously supports the Warrior in me and helps to me to pick myself up again and again.
I will leave you with one last thing that will help you on your path. The road ahead is filled with people to help support you on this critical, most important mission of self-care, just like the person encouraging me to write this to you. These warriors beside us are there to help us, so listening to yourself and them is critical on our Warrior's path.
Veteran, Northern Ireland
It is good - it helps me with all the things I have been bottling up for years on end. I feel it is helping a lot and I feel a little bit better after each session. We should learn it from day one to help with the PTSD.
Veteran, Iraq and Afghanistan
I think meditation could help me and other combat veterans with managing memories and triggers, and with sleep and relaxation. I have found the meditation teaching very clear and the most important thing about the sessions is the relaxation and calmness. I found the meditation useful, relaxing, and it was good to have other thoughts.
Veteran, Northern Ireland
Meditation can help you relax and come to terms with yourself. All the parts of the session are helpful in their own part - quiet time, learning new relaxation and meditation skills, open discussion, and being together in an atmosphere of trust. I am enjoying the practices and I would definitely recommend this to other veterans.
RAF helicopter pilot
When my wife suggested a meditation day for veterans and those returning from ops in Afghanistan, the first thought that went through my mind was ' I am not a veteran and I haven't just returned from AFG!", but then I am a stressed out bunny right now, the cumulated stress of a couple of years in Northern Ireland, a det to Sierra Leone, a Bosnian det, 4 dets in Iraq and about to embark on my 7th Afghan det (most of my dets are 8-11 weeks long, by the way). So, as I am an enlightened, open minded serviceman, I thought I would give it a go.....not afraid of trying it, just afraid of liking it........
Once we had got past the stress of realising we were probably going to be late, as the clocks had gone back that night, and we had obviously forgotten, and through the stress of driving into London then trying to find a parking space, I was ready for some serious chill out time! The London Meditation centre is an oasis of calm and as soon as we were through the door, I began to relax. Cat and the the other 'specialists' were quick to put us and the only other serviceman there, a fellow of the medical profession, nicely at ease, I began to wonder just what this bunch of new age hippies could provide to help de-stress a chap like me? We talked for a while and shared experiences, with everyone introducing themselves and giving a brief history of why they were there, before we moved downstairs to the meditation room to begin the first 'practice' which involved a cushion, a blanket, a soft carpet and lying down in a warm room....nice.....and normally guaranteed to get me to sleep! However, what followed, with a softly spoken voice and some breathing advice, was a lovely mentally relaxing experience. More talk and then more practices followed, interspersed with a delicious veggie cottage pie and crisp fresh veg, before the final practice of the day was upon us. This one involved simply breathing out, then in and counting each breath, trying to get to 10. I couldn't do it! My mind kept wandering off, in a nice way, by the time I got to 6 at the most! An interesting experience.
An honest debrief (with tea & coffee and some cracking biccies) of what the guys could actually provide for the military followed and then we were off home, to get re-stressed in the queue of traffic as Twickers emptied out......
So, what can Cat and her team offer the mob? I think if they position meditation as a tool to help de-stress and to help keep your thoughts in perspective, then they have a wonderful opportunity to help service people out here. I have no doubt there are considerably more stress issues in the mob than people are willing to 'fess up to, and the problem is only going to get bigger and bigger. I am not talking PTSD or even PTSR here, more simply cumulative stress from the strain of being in the military right now. We suffer a great deal, so I think we should try to keep an open mind and look for more opportunities like this one (free by the way as it is lottery funded) to help those who know they need it and those who don't yet know they need it, but one day soon will.