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Mindful : August 2019
Amishi Jha, Director of Contemplative Neuroscience and associate professor at the University of Miami, has been at the forefront of studying how mindfulness can best serve military service members. ago with resistance of her own. She didn’t know any- one in the military then, and she was raised Hindu, with a strong adherence to nonviolence. “ Working with warriors is a really new experience for me, but what I’ve come to understand about many of the people I’ve met is peace is more important to them, because they’re the front line of having to actually play a role in achieving it.” For Jha, that makes the work she’s doing all the more vital, though it brings with it challenges her peers don’t necessarily face in their labs, where tightly controlled studies are carried out with the par ticipation of volunteer subjects. “I don’t have that. I have to work with the timeline militar y leaders offer me. I get the visits that I get. But we are helping real people in their real lives be better able to face the challenges that we as a nation are asking them to endure.” And Jha hears from those real people about the impact mindfulness has had on their lives, like the helicopter pilot who got in touch to say, “Literally, mindfulness saved my life. I heard your podcast, and I asked my brigade surgeon to teach me about mindfulness and I gained an understanding of my mind that helped me not only in my job, but in my marriage.” Jha says, “Obviously that’s not me, that’s the practice, but it does make me feel like the effor t that has gone into it—and it is a difficult journey to bring these practices into communities that don’t always feel that they need them—when you hear that it gives people something of their own capacity back, that’s really exciting.” That helicopter pilot isn’t an outlier. Jha says she regularly hears from military personnel who have had mindfulness training that they are able to be in the joyful, human moments of their lives with attention—as well as have tools at their disposal to reach for in the life-and-death moments they may face in the field. “You want to be there for the joys in your life, but the distractibility, the demand, and the rumination can just suck you away from those moments, and you don’t know how to get back, and what I feel we get the privilege to hear from people is: I am able to be attentive and present for these precious moments of my life as well. It’s not just the job, it’s the whole person benefiting from this.” Jha says those benefits apply equally to leaders as they do to soldiers. “It has a positive contagion for the entire organization when the leader is informed and able to practice mindfulness,” she says. She was invited to give a keynote address at a sympo- sium called Evidence-based Leader Interventions for Health and Wellness as par t of a NATO confer- ence in Berlin, Germany, in April. And some military leaders are already on board. Jha remembers a conversation she had with a former US Surgeon General. “ When he left the Army, they did an exit interview with him and asked what is one thing we could have offered you that would have helped you be an even better leader, and he said, ‘I wish I had learned mindfulness earlier in my career.’ That meant a lot to me,” Jha says. “He sees it.” m A Guided Brain Training Practice Neuroscientist Amishi Jha guides you through a mindful cog- nitive training exercise, help- ing you learn how to sustain and strengthen your attention. mindful.org/ train-brain August 2019 mindful 55