Send Them Peace

Send Them Peace

STP Bench Number : 2

Entry Date & Time : on 1/17/2016 at 5:03:52 PMElizabeth A. Stanley Ph.D.jpg

Investigation Category Heading : Mindfulness Meditation training for soldiers
Principal Investigator : Elizabeth A. Stanley, Ph.D, Founder & President of Mind Fitness Training Institute (M-Fit)
Domain : Mindfulness, Mind-Body Fitness, Security, Government, Management


Hypothesis Being Tested : Teaching military troops (US Marine and Army Infantry) Mindfulness Meditation practice will result in participants being more completely aware of Self, including auto-assessment and control of autonomic system dysregulation or balance, levels of stress, and can render participants more competent and fit for deployment in combat zones, improving awareness and resilience, and more optimally integrated into society on their return from combat, reducing prevalence of post-combat psychosocial disorders.


Methods Summary : During an eight-week, 8 hour program to assist U.S. soldiers preparing for combat operations, concentration, situational awareness of internal and external stimuli, stress reduction, nonreactivity and focused attention are taught through, and accompanying, daily sessions of Mindfulness Meditation, with simultaneous study of appropriate controls.


Status : After an initial pilot program 5 years ago, the program has encouraging results, and is being further expanded.


Mainstream vs. Frontier vs. Fringe level : If at a Frontier, it would be in applying established techniques with already proven results, to a study group previously essentially devoid of such interventions, unless individually sought and practiced by certain members of the group (the latter appropriately excluded from the study group). Some whose bias would be to question its value or necessity in combat troops would slide this more towards Fringe, and those aware of clear benefits in other disciplines or study groups, would slide this level not far from Mainstream. At STP it is felt to be an important Frontier.


Results Anticipated : better combat competencies, performance and survival rates with reduced KIA, injury/ wounds-sustained rates; improved self-ratings of well-being, and fitness for combat and after; reductions in rates of Post-Traumatic Stress diagnoses; reduction in post combat suicide rates; reduction in psychosocially-linked social dysfunctions (e.g., substance abuse, marital/ partner problems, DUI, anti-social behavior). These results anticipate succesful discharging of huge amounts of energy exposed to and potentially internalized during combat, in acquired non-dysfunctional ways.

Results to Date : these are presented in peer-reviewed literature listed on the MMFT site. Here is an article from February, 2015 on Mindfulness Training Curbing Attention Lapses in a controlled study of a Military Cohort Before Deployment, written in association with Dr. Amishi Jha and others. 


Effect Size : Because the study group is clearly defined, effectiveness demonstrated by positive outcomes of this intervention, could readily lead to similar trainig across military services and in larger groups. The actual size of effect has yet to be completely studied.


Individual vs Global Effects Observed : Both individual and group "fitness" effects are awaiting more complete evaluation and reporting.


Interpretation : Mindfulness Meditation and related techniques can be applied to a study group whose prmary purpose is deployment in combat situations, and this may benefit both the individual before, during and after combat, as well as contributing to success of the combat mission, while reducing levels of several types of casualties, both during and after actual combat.


External Reactions to This Investigation : A mostly positive reaction seems evident. Both from leaders in the Military, as well as elsewhere, and especially if already practitioners of Mindfulness themselves, such as Congressman Tim Ryan. Those who must find themselves in combat situations, and the society that surrounds them during and after, may find and maintain a heightened level of protection from the negative effects of war-related violence on the human body, psyche, and spirit. If frequently prompting initial doubt or outright resistance among trainees, when well integrated and practiced, the benefits soon become self-evident to most participants, though that remains an internal reaction.


Nevertheless, more than one observer has presented the view that increasing the overall or composite, or integrated "fitness" (competencies/ effectiveness) of groups devoted to violent destruction of others when deployed on mission, seems contradictory to the "peaceful presence" qualities usually attributed to Mindfulness. Suggestions are at times presented that the focus should be instead on groups bringing Peace and not War. Such reactions may be founded in an incomplete appreciation or synthesis of the whole for this project. As suggested below, there may be a way around this perceived contradiction that some have voiced.

Dr. Stanley's response to this argument (which she calls "Variant A"), is addressed in a book chapter (p. 979) reviewing this overall topic of Mind-Fitness Training, and MFT's role in developing attentional control, and tolerance for challenging experiences. No, this will not make war any less chaotic, ambiguous or horrible, but simply put, it may reduce the cost through better decision taking when, for better, worse, or even worse than worst things happen on station at the front lines during a mission.


Proposals for Further Research & Directions at STP : While not necessarily in need of being limited to Services within the Department of Defense, (one can imagine a separate and large "Army" of M-Fit graduates, but not necessarily monastics of given religious practices, nor soldiers)... extending what has been here so nicely begun to compassionate mindfulness practice for Peace, not War, ... would be encouraging. Other studies concerned with what such a process would involve, seem to evoke simultaneous consciousness states experienced by large numbers of participants, not small numbers. At the same time, if such training at a more advanced level remained limited to DoD-type agencies, there could still be another advantage beyond the supposed large numbers requirement. If soldiers in Mindfulness practice could bring Peace to a region apparently at markedly increased risk of needing War to bring order, the mission or deployment would take place at a distance, and the risk of being KIA or wounded (during or after exposure to actual combat), would seem to be reduced to zero. A "reward" for effectiveness or competency (in new domains) would be the eradication of the need for deployment, separation from family/ home, and combat-associated risks. This would seem quite an important incentive for developing increased skills to meet the challenge, and obtain "flow." (see STP Bench Number 1).



Here is Dr. Stanley's presentation on her subject, followed by a few images gleaned from that presentation :





Mindfulness - E.A. Stanley.jpg



As Dr. Stanley puts it: 


"Stress + Recovery = Resilience"
"Resilience reduced by Incomplete Recovery = Resilience Undermined."


So this seems to have a logical link to Mihaly Czikszentmilhaly's requisites for "flow" to take place, building increasing levels of skill, to match increasing levels of challenge, and as presented at STP Bench Number 1.


As she also points out, certain positive stresses, translated through the brain's neuroplasticity, will ultimately have a positive effect if one can recover and build resilience. Same principle in weight lifting and other athletic endeavors. Time off = repair time.


She presents a "Tri-partite brain," divided into Brain stem, Limbic  brain, and more evolutionarily recent Cortex (or Neo-Cortex). She groups the first two as "the Survival Brain," and the Cortex = "Thinking brain," where events are recognized by the conscious mind. Her M-Fit program takes aim at the "Survival brain," not usually under conscious control. I added "usually" because we can in fact consciously tell respiratory centers in the brain stem to stop breathing, but not for long.


Her reliance on Mindfulness, and quick pass here at how it works, is based on the following : "We can bring in awareness, and see what's going on in the effects on our survival brain. - like wind across sand, seeing not the wind, but the patterns in the sand." ... and thereby communicate with and train the "survival brain" which is not under our conscious control. 


One can wonder if parts of that Limbic brain need further dissection or division ? 


Here again, a return to the London "black cab" drivers, who, in hyper-studying the streets of London, develop a hypertrophy (enlargement) of a part of the Limbic brain called the parahippocampal (PHC) gyrus. This part, among other functions, contributes to spatial orientation. This same PHC gyrus lights up on functional MRI scans when professional telepathists do their thing in the scanner, and absent of course in controls.  It is located in a very central, basal, protected, evolutionarily "old" part of the brain. Have we been ignoring its education and development, and perhaps, simply because up until fairly recently, we just didn't have a clue?



Here is the same topic, but placed by Dr. Stanley in the context of National Security and Counterinsurgency (PDF).


Mindfitness training - 6 soldier competencies supported.jpg


Clearly, the "Six Competencies" listed above for the "fit" soldier/ warrior, are associated with neuronal clusters in the brain, though certainly, or very likely, not all the same clusters and tracts in our 80 trillion or so brain cells, with about 1,000 different types of neurons. So the same training task presents itself: identifying controlled stressors (i.e., exercises) that can, via the brain's neuroplasticity, with time and repetition, allow the practitioner to accrue the desired competencies.


So what happens if we stretch the boundaries of the participating group being trained, by just a bit ? ...


"OK. Where ya goin' with all of this ?"


So is it possible to develop strengthened "adaptive capacity" by repetitive mini-stresses presented to that part of the brain where Compassionate Action is centered? And, where would that be?


Meditations on the focus of Compassionate Action by the Dalai Lama and his monks show that, irreverantly put, "these guys are experts." Increased gamma waves and other brainwave frequency changes, synchronizations and hemispheric symmetry confirm that something in those brains has been changed. Practice makes perfect, or a lot better than where you were last year.


Can Compassionate Action actually be "delivered" at a distance? Why not? Perhaps, brain underdevelopment resulting from our too materialistic view of brain function, and so, nonexistant education in this domain ?


Does The Challenge here at STP constitute such a mini-stressor (or brain exercise) that will eventually succeed in sending Compassion through Space-Time curved by gravity, as easily as learning Mindfulness if you're a Marine Corps Infantryman? How long would such an evolution in brain function and even structure, be likely to take? A year? 10 years? A lifetime? 10,000 years of human evolutionary change?



Dr. Stanley likes to end her presentation with the following slide :


Darwin survival based on change quote.jpg



Maybe it's time to extend our response.


In fairness to Dr. Stanley, all notes here are taken from her presentations or her publications, but without implying that she has reviewed, corrected, or endorsed any part of this page.


So far, no answer from Dr. Stanley to an email from . Clearly, she has a lot to keep her busy.


If interested in further readings, here is her Recommended Readings List (PDF).





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