If you can’t tell by the tonality of the previous articles, I have a soft spot for our Armed Forces both domestic here in the UK and worldwide. It comes from a previous life in which I served 3 years in the Royal Navy post-University. Once you have been part of a large organisation, you take on some of its better aspects and meld them into your own character, but also develop the understanding of being a part of a greater whole. Though you may not (and likely will not) agree with everything the organisation stands for, there is something very important to be said for the strength of a tribe.
Yet for all its cutting-edge technology and weapons systems, there is a massive need for redundancy and resilience. The systems approach in the military is based on previous wars, and so these approaches only modernise when they have to or are forced to evolve. And this applies to all domains, not solely the systems – it also impacts the methods of physical preparedness which I’m sure to drill down on at a later date, as well as the mental, emotional and spiritual dimensions.
Now an age-old approach can be readily taken in creating physical preparedness. Group PT, weighted runs and plenty of calisthenics does breed a well-rounded athlete from any foundation. Coupled with a high-caloric diet consisting mainly of healthy staples, a base for physical fitness and health is created for all serving individuals in a way that provides them with the capability at the very base level to do what they need to do. Beyond this point, the impetus is on the individual.
When it comes to the mental and spiritual domains though, the age-old approach does not necessarily work quite so well. As the physical threats to the vast majority of individuals have lessened over the past 50 years with an increased understanding of ageing and disease and advances in medical science and technology, so too have the mental stresses grown to fill the void. As a society as a whole, we have become less mindful and more mind-full day by day.
“If you live in America in the 21st century you’ve probably had to listen to a lot of people tell you how busy they are. It’s become the default response when you ask anyone how they’re doing: “Busy!” “So busy.” “Crazy Busy.” It is, pretty obviously, a boast disguised as a complaint. And the stock response is a kind of congratulation: “That’s a good problem to have,” or “Better than the opposite.”
This frantic, self-congratulatory busyness is a distinctly upscale affliction. Notice it isn’t generally people pulling back-to-back shifts in the ICU, taking care of their senescent parents, or holding down three minimum-wage jobs they have to commute to by bus who need to tell you how busy they are; what those people are is not busy but tired. Exhausted. Dead on their feet. It’s most often said by people whose lamented busyness is purely self-imposed: work and obligations they’ve taken on voluntarily, classes and activities they’re “encouraged” their kids to participate in. They’re busy because of their own ambition or drive or anxiety, because they are addicted to busyness and dread what they might have to face in its absence.”
“Lazy: A Manifesto” by Tim Kreider
The above is an excerpt from the book “We Learn Nothing” by Tim Kreider, with the excerpt itself being released in podcast format on the Tim Ferriss show. It cuts directly into the nature of modern societal existence, with a wit and humour that only a comedic writer could bring. It also lambasts the need for purposeless busyness. In his own words, Tim refers to himself as “the laziest ambitious person” he knows, saying “I’ll say it: I am not busy.” and that “like most writers, I feel like a reprobate who does not deserve to live on any day that I do not write.” The essay goes on to discuss the merits of what in this instance I’ll refer to as mindful laziness and its necessity.
On to the reason for this post. I was lucky enough to attend a seminar on Thursday (15th of February 2018) in MOD Main Building, Whitehall, London. I was invited by a good friend from my Navy days, who is an Army physiotherapist. The reason for her interest is mindfulness is one of the most common methods used for treating persistent pain in physiotherapy patients, with a proven track record – the reason for mine is the statistic I purported so happily when reviewing Tim Ferriss’ “Tools of Titans” about the high percentage of successful people across all fields who use meditation or a meditative practice, of which mindfulness is a prominent member.
It was in fact a serendipitous chance that I even heard about it, as the aforementioned friend happened to have seen a post on this blog and had some questions regarding starting her own. But the day was fantastic. A multi-disciplinary set of presentations included, but were not limited to;
- Clinical psychologists presenting the data of pre-pilot studies conducted into use of mindfulness training in Phase 1 training establishments.
- Serving medical personnel from the British Army and Royal Air Force presenting on medical stigma, current practices and understandings and mindfulness’ place amongst the existing.
- The Buddhist Chaplain to HM Forces on the traditional meaning of mindfulness when compared with the modern popular version, and its place in developing spiritual resilience in all people, not just the military.
- The current Chief of Defence Personnel (a Lieutenant-General) presenting on why he has sponsored the developments into mindfulness.
One of the most pleasing statistics that I drew from the day was presented by one of the clinical psychologists, working in partnership between Cranfield University and BAE Systems – it was that mindfulness-based Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) is as effective in treating anxiety and depression as anti-depressants (although with a substantially smaller portfolio of side effects). This may seem a disappointing result, when many believed that the CBT would be more effective, but with the absence of side effects this is still groundbreaking research.
I will be posting more on mindfulness, as it is a subject of great personal interest to myself, but consider this an appeal that if you don’t know what mindfulness is, to look it up. The non-secular philosophies of Buddhist teachings can make anyone a more spiritually- and mentally-resilient being, and also arguably a better Christian/Muslim/Agnostic/Atheist/[INSERT RELIGION HERE].