NOTE: This post is a revised and expanded version of an earlier Metta Refuge post of mine called Veterans Day-The Wounds of Combat Can Be Healed. I wanted to update and repost this particular message, because I was so disturbed and saddened by the news of so many more military suicides this year. As a recent CNN article (which I discuss below) says:
The U.S. Army reported 32 suicides and potential suicides in the month of July, the highest total since the service began publicly releasing such statistics 2 ½ years ago. And the problem is even worse than the Pentagon’s news releases would indicate
As an ex-GI who served in the Army, I often find my heart and loving-kindness practice embracing our enlisted men and women throughout the world, and especially to those in war zones.
War is hell. That’s no cliché, and only those who have been in combat can truly testify to what that phrase means. I’m grateful I never saw combat, but I know from talking to my fellow soldiers how horrific war can be and how hard it is to deal with the memories and images of combat. That’s why around Veterans Day I always try to post something here at Metta Refuge that can help our military personnel and their families.
For example, I highlighted the amazing book At Hell’s Gate—A Soldier’s Journey from War to Peace by Zen teacher Claude Anshin Thomas. You can read about it here:
And I shared some compassionate and wise teachings from At Hell’s Gate in this post:
While it’s important to honor the service and sacrifices of our military, surely there is more we can do than pay tribute at Veteran’s Day and then go on about our lives as if cost to our enlisted men and women has been taken care of.
The problem is, the physical and mental trauma of war continues long after a soldier leaves the combat zone. Many of our fathers, sons, and brothers become so overwhelmed by their mental pain and aguish that they kill themselves (the suicides are mainly men).
As explained at War News Update in 2009, when I first posted at Metta Refuge about the military suicides:
Shocking new figures show the number of soldiers who committed suicide in January could top the number of soldiers killed in combat in Iraq and Afghanistan last month.
In a rare move, the Army released monthly suicide data Thursday to highlight the growing problem. Last week, Army officials said its suicide rates were at their highest in nearly 30 years.
Sadly, 2010 was little different, with June of 2010 being the worst month on record up to that time, with one G.I. suicide a day. And in 2011, the tragedy of military suicides continues, as this August 16th, 2011 CNN article explains:
The article states:
So far in 2011, the Air Force has had 28 suicides, the Marines 21 and the Navy 33. Even though those three services have a combined total force equal to the Army’s, their number of suicides are about half the Army’s 163.
Clearly, we as a society and our military are not doing enough for our soldiers in terms of compassionate counseling and medical help. Whatever actions we can take individually and as a society to help soldiers deal with the trauma of war, we must take them with a sense of urgency and with great compassion and wisdom. We can’t afford to be so naïve and uncaring about the effects of combat on our sons, fathers, and brothers, and yes, our mothers, sisters, and daughters who serve. We owe this care and help to the young men and women who have sacrifice so much, often for dubious causes.
How You Can Help Yourself and Others with Metta—Loving-kindness Meditation
Aside from individual and political action, what else can we do? As readers of this blog know, I advocate directed, specific metta—loving-kindness meditation. My experience has been that this radiation of love, this light from our hearts, has the power to heal minds and bodies, and not just own own, but others as well.
Personally, I have found metta practice to be especially helpful in dealing with deep emotional trauma and wounds. Often, when one is in great mental anguish and can’t be with oneself or bear the silence of “regular” meditation, one can do loving-kindness meditation, working with loving phrases and images to calm and heal the mind.
Of course, many people pray, but I feel that the metta practice taught in Buddhism offers something unique that’s worth looking into. If specific loving-kindness practice is unfamiliar to you, I recommend this post, The Power of Love to Heal our Bodies which explains how to do metta step by step.
If you already have your own loving-kindness practice, then this post is an invitation to address in earnest the problem of suicide in our armed forces, if you are not already doing so. These suffering hearts and minds, many of whom are on the brink of self-destruction, need love from every avenue, including what we can bring from the radiant love in our own hearts in metta and prayer.
If you wish to learn more about the power of metta to heal your mind and body, these posts here at Metta Refuge should also be of great help:
While not specifically on metta practice, the following list of articles relate directly to trauma and emotional issues like anger, fear, grief, and other powerful emotions that can led to despair and even suicide:
May these teachings be a comfort and aid to you and those you love and care for! May these teachings help keep you safe and show you the way to peace and lasting happiness!