David Wood presented an excellent series of articles touching on the subject of what has come to be called “moral injury.” He explains that many of our combat veterans suffer from this. It is the pain that results from damage to a person’s moral foundation. Moral injury, like PTSD which Wood notes is different, is probably experienced by more than just combat service personnel. This condition has probably existed for as long as men and women have done harm to each other for some ideology, jealousy, anger or greed. Can meditation help one rise above this condition?
In the article Wood presents the case of an ordinary guy serving his country and forced to face an extraordinary situation where the outcome troubled his conscience. In the spiritual psychology described in texts related to meditation like the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, there is an explanation of a quality called dispassion which is useful in situations such as moral injury. Dispassion is an important part of mastering meditation. Dispassion is broken down into stages. The first stage, requiring the most effort, is consciously letting go of the painful thought that comes before the minds-eye, easier said than done as most anyone will attest. The second stage for our needy veterans would be relating to those aspects of their service experience that are the most positive and uplifting, like the camaraderie that accrues when service personnel act together towards a mission. Wood notes this as a significant aid, and goes on to say that most combat veterans know the futility of armed conflict, in that the result of violence seems to be a dead end with no resolution. The ultimate goal indicated in the final stage of dispassion is being totally neutral about all that has happened both good and bad. This final goal, ultimate dispassion, requires no effort. Meditation helps people develop this dispassion and its initial stages can all be related to the breath.
Here is an exercise to begin the preparation for such dispassion, one that has been traditionally used in meditation training. This is something that meditation masters would recommend as an aid to veterans or anyone suffering from moral injury. It proceeds as follows:
- A person is to sit and observe the breath, feeling the breath at their nostrils, noticing the qualities of the breath.
- As the person sits comfortably, they observe the flow of thoughts in the mind.
- What they do next is to let come before their minds-eye a thought of some neutral event while noticing what happens to the breath. Then they are to let the thought go and let their awareness be solely with the breath at the nostrils again.
- Next, they are to think of something that is uncomfortable and observe its effect on the breath. Then letting go of this thought, they again come back to a neutral thought, and then breath awareness at the nostrils.
- Next, they are to consider something that has a pleasant association, and notice what happens to the breath. Then they come back to simple breath awareness at the nostrils.
The breath is an excellent tool for helping the novice to understand the mind: breath follows the mind – mind follows the breath. The lesson about dispassion to take from this simple exercise is how the breathing affects the mind. This is quite a profound awareness for the novice. If a person can observe their breath, and the breath remains unchanged as all three of these thoughts come before the minds-eye, they gain an important insight into developing the dispassion needed to overcome such things as moral injury and eventually to recognize the bliss and happiness that is their true nature.
If there are difficulties with this type of exercise then meditation related techniques like this should be learned in the presence of a qualified teacher or one can get an easy to read book like EFT for Meditation. Tools like EFT (tapping), hypnosis and Neuro-linguistic Programming can also be extremely helpful as adjuncts to meditation, as aids in the process of recovery for those suffering with moral injury.