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    Meditation and healing combats stress

    Meditation and healing combats stress

    Photo By Sgt. 1st Class Margaret Taylor | U.S. Army Spc. Melanie McConathy, an information technology specialist, 25th Signal...... read more read more

    BAGRAM AIR FIELD, Afghanistan – Combat stress; traumatic brain injury; close calls; friends lost; friends hurt; repeat deployments to war zones; and being away from loved ones for long stretches of time, these are just some of the painful stressors service members may face.

    After more than a decade of combat engagements in Iraq and Afghanistan, service members with scars from stressors, particularly internal scars, are not uncommon. And it’s not always post-traumatic stress disorder, the aches and pains of everyday life can pile up too.

    “For some, these scars spur a crisis of faith,” said U.S. Army Capt. Thomas Dyer, a chaplain from Memphis, Tenn., who serves with the 25th Signal Battalion, 160th Signal Brigade, at Bagram Airfield.

    An Iraq War veteran, Dyer said his services, both at home and overseas, have become increasingly popular in the last few years.

    Dyer, a man of medium build with a shaved head, was stationed at Fort Benning, Ga., from 2011 until his current deployment to Afghanistan, in 2012. He offered weekly services for soldiers in training, drawing crowds of more than one hundred attendees each time. The attendees included U.S. Army Rangers, bomb disposal technicians, and infantry Soldiers.

    His faith: Buddhism. His teaching: Meditation.

    Dyer said his teachings spring from Vajrayana Buddhism and centers on meditation. These meditative traditions are calming and focusing, as well as religious, which is why he is currently in Afghanistan.

    “Buddhist fundamentals can relieve and prevent a lot of unnecessary suffering,” he said. “So I volunteered for another combat deployment.”

    Dyer is one of two Buddhists in the U.S. Army Chaplain Corps. There are only three in the U.S. military. He is also the only Buddhist chaplain currently serving in Afghanistan. In addition, Dyer’s role has seen many challenges, namely, cultural demands and translating a tradition of peace for service members at war.

    Buddhism is Asian in origin and more than two thousand years old. The Asian culture, as it is seen through Buddhism is passive, Dyer said, and American culture is active – aggressive even. But the cultural aspects found in traditional Buddhism are not necessary to its practice.

    “I cut out Asian culture in my teaching,” he said, “and reduce Buddhism to its essence.”

    Aside from translating Buddhism for Americans, Dyer said he has also run into a similar issue with military culture. The U.S. military established chaplain slots for the Buddhist religion until recently. The Army’s Buddhist chaplaincy remained vacant from its creation in the late 1990s until Dyer was accessioned (made a chaplain) in 2008.

    Gaining a foothold in the establishment for his services has been a long battle at times, since habits and traditions in the military are often slow to change. Nevertheless, his perseverance has paid- off.

    “It took a lot of time to go through the pipeline,” Dyer said. “But now it’s starting to spread.”

    Another major challenge Dyer has faced: teaching Buddhism in a way that works for soldiers.

    “It must be a Buddhism that’s not ridiculous,” he said, “that carries itself in step with the left-right-left-daily routine of the military.”

    For instance, he said, Buddhists traditionally do not kill. Ever. Even bugs are off-limits. But for a soldier who has a poisonous spider in his boot, the option to shoo the spider out non-violently may not be appropriate. Nevertheless, a good soldier can still be a good Buddhist.

    Spc. Melanie McConathy, an information technology specialist from Salida, Colo., also with the 25th Signal Bn., 160th Signal Bde., agreed.

    “It’s important to be able to grasp it and apply it to our lives here,” she said.

    McConathy said she was introduced to the Buddhist meditative tradition while in basic combat training, but her conversion didn’t occur until her current tour in Afghanistan. A trauma she underwent led her to question what she knew and thought about the world. Instead of spiraling downward, she used her experience as a catalyst for growth.

    For her, growth was a turn to Buddhism.

    “I was drawn to this as a holistic, spiritual worldview,” she said.

    Participants like McConathy – soldiers with scars – may find peace in the Buddhist meditative practices. But the techniques are not just for those who have suffered or are suffering.

    Meditation, regardless of the person’s religion, increases focus and serves to calm an individual, Dyer said. This is especially beneficial for service members whose jobs require them to remain calm and focused under extreme pressure. Anyone, however, can make use of Buddhist meditative techniques to gain peace and cope with life’s curveballs.

    Sharing these traditions is one of the primary reasons Dyer chose to be in Afghanistan now.

    Dyer said he is also here to protect the first amendment rights of his Buddhist service members. To worship as they ought, Buddhist practitioners must have a priest to lead them.

    “I’m a white boy from Tennessee: you tell me I can’t practice Buddhism and I say ‘Oh no you didn’t!’ he said, his Southern drawl exaggerated. “I stand up for the rights of my Soldiers.”

    Dyer’s work has borne fruit: since he has come to Afghanistan, attendance at his services has grown by leaps and bounds, and a new Buddhist Meditation Center, the first ever in U.S. military history, is set to open at Bagram Air Field in May of this year.

    More importantly, however, is healing those like McConathy, through the meditation practices Dyer teaches.

    McConathy said, “It’s allowed me to become centered.”



    Date Taken: 04.04.2013
    Date Posted: 04.10.2013 14:06
    Story ID: 104942
    Location: AF
    Hometown: MEMPHIS, TN, US
    Hometown: SALIDA, CO, US

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