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Saturday, November 24, 2012

Compassion meditation helps veterans

This NPR report describes a program in which the Veterans Administration is using compassion meditation to help war veterans work with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. It's a beautiful example of how meditation can help.

The technique is called "compassion cultivation training." Weiss, who helped develop it, tells the men to think of a person they care about and to "allow yourself to feel the presence of this person." There's a phrase Weiss repeats, like a mantra: "That person is just like me."
"Consider that, just like me, this person's had ups and downs in his or her life. Just like me, this person's had goals and dreams," she says.
The idea here is that in combat, the way to stay safe is to think of everyone as a potential threat. Fear and distrust are default. But with PTSD, it stays that way, even after combat is over. The soldier with PTSD has lost the ability to relate to people as just people. Compassion meditation is about getting that ability back, learning to see oneself in others....
"The idea, of you saying, 'just like me,' that does a lot for me in a sense because I know how I'd like to be treated or how I want to feel," says John Montgomery, who has a bushy gray mustache and a tattoo of a scorpion on each forearm. "So if I'm showing that to somebody else, I find myself looking at me a little better and being satisfied with what I see."
Montgomery says he knows that what the meditation is teaching him sounds incredibly basic: Treat others the way you want to be treated; it's Human Relationships 101. And yet, it's completely at odds with the person the Vietnam War trained him to be.

While most of us don't have to close off to others' humanity to the degree that soldiers do, we all shut down to some extent. Pema Chodron teaches a Buddhist method called tonglen, or exchanging self and other. Written instructions are here.