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Mindful : February 2015
There, he says: “I came to some realizations. This is not everybody else’s fault. I star ted praying. It was the first time I’d asked for help.” Huffman at tended an HPW rock-climbing event on the advice of his VA counselor. He thought the mindfulness part was silly at first. But as he contin- ued to practice, he realized he’d discovered a bal- ance he’d sought for years as he’d tried, and failed, to mediate between the high of meth and the low of alcohol. Lesser and Fortin noticed his increasing dedication a nd eloquence, and persuaded him to enroll in HPW’s eight-month vetera n leadership program. Subsequently, they chose him to be one of three vet leaders for the river retreat, where he skillfully encourages his fellow travelers to open up with the exa mple of his own rigorous honesty. “ Reach for some water,” he says now, raising his hands and grasping at the air. “Take two handfuls. Slowly pour it over your body. Notice the sounds of the river, a lways flowing, and the sounds of breath coming in and going out of our lungs. Here we are. We’re all alive right here.” A pair of yellow-and-black swallowtail butterflies flit past, but most of the vets don’t see them. Eyes shut, they’re dutifully following Huffman’s directions, splashing the imaginar y water over their chests. “I love you, man!” Jose Arana shouts when he finishes. “ Where’d you learn that, Dude?” calls out Aaron Tozier, who ser ved in Iraq from 2005–6 . Mindfulness masters and philosophers have relied on flowing-water metaphors for millennia. Both the Buddha and Heraclitus compared life to As the vets journey through the wilderness, they learn to work through their life challenges in tandem with the obstacles they face among the rapids—and in frequent moments of silent comtemplation. From left: Cheryl Wachenheim, Chris Fortin, Matt Huffman, Roger Chiprez, Danny Martinez. a n ever-changing river, both vexing and lovely in its impermanence. Throughout the three days of the river journey, Lesser and Fortin a nd their vet leaders draw f requent parallels between the rafters’ experi- ence on the water and the challenges they face in their lives, encourag ing them to face both experiences with the tools of drawing their awareness to their physical sensations, and taking that extra breath. Dawn Marie, also a vet leader, like Huffman, tells how the mindfulness skills the vets call their “tool- box” helped her the day she arrived at the campsite. She survived colon cancer a few years ago, requiring a colostomy. She also has a weak knee from a snow- boarding accident that was compounded by the wear and tear of climbing stairs on her nav y ship. Despite the big blue disabled-parking sticker on her dashboard, a man outside the restaurant in a nearby town where she’d stopped to buy a cup of coffee told her to park in a lot from which she would have to walk upstairs. “A year ago, I would have gotten mad at him and a rgued,” she says. “Instead, I took a breath and told myself I’m about to be on a wonderful trip. I’ll focus on that instead.” Mindfulness on the Rocks Just a few days before the vets began their river trip, University of Virginia and Har vard researchers reported a new study suggesting that many people would prefer to administer painful electric shocks to themselves rather tha n spend time alone with their thoughts. → February 2015 mindful 47