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Mindful : August 2019
Mindfulness, a basic human capability that can be culti- vated through meditation, has historically been asso- ciated with various forms of Buddhist practice. Some within that community have questioned whether it’s appropriate to use meditation in secular institutions with different values. That’s at the hear t of an ongoing debate over the use of such training in the military. To neuroscientist Amishi Jha, the answer lies in the evidence. In lab experiments measuring attention, service members trained in mind- fulness make fewer testing errors. “They’re less likely to press the button when they shouldn’t,” she says. “When people turn that task into a shoot/no-shoot version, we can hope they’ll be less likely to pull the trigger when they shouldn’t.” Still, some practitioners in the Buddhist tradition have challenged the premise of Jha’s research. In 2014, the now-defunct journal Inquiring Minds published a commen- tary by dharma instructor Ronald Purser, who lamented the reframing of mindful- ness as a “decontextualized, ethically neutral, attention- enhancement technique” rather than a spiritual practice. Fundamental to Buddhist mindfulness, Purser wrote, is “a cardinal prohibition against intentionally killing a living being.” That, argued the San Francisco State University management professor, makes it incompatible with military training. In the armed forces, “new recruits are systemati- cally trained to kill, maim, and inflict harm when ordered through desensitization, operational conditioning, and denial defense mechanisms.” The journal also published a counterpoint by George- town University’s Elizabeth THE DEBATE Stanley, who has done inten- sive mindfulness practice in Myanmar, and whose family has served in the US Army since the Revolutionary War. “If the nation’s leaders have decided to send troops into harm’s way, those troops’ hear ts, minds, and bodies will experience the stressors of war—whether they are mindfully paying attention or not,” wrote the former Army intelligence officer. “With mindfulness, however, they are more likely to see the envi- ronment around them clearly, without being influenced by unconscious ‘survival brain’ filters that can exaggerate what’s really there. They are more likely to regulate their hard-wired stress response and the reactive impulses this stress response can create.” As a result, Stanley wrote, “ they are more likely to pull the trigger only when they really need to—when immi- nent harm to themselves or those they are protecting actually exists.” — Barry Yeoman SHOULD MINDFULNESS BE TAUGHT TO THE MILITARY?