One of the biggest concerns facing U.S. military leaders today is suicide. Just one service branch, the Army, had 40 suspected suicides in July, the most recent month for which figures have been released.
Defense Secretary Leon Panetta used the word “epidemic” when he designated September as suicide prevention month. According to the Pentagon, U.S. troops are taking their own lives at a rate of more than one per day and in larger numbers than combat deaths in Afghanistan. The Pentagon has a vigorous resiliency program aimed at making service members better able to cope with the stresses of military life.
Although military officials use “resiliency” as a synonym for suicide prevention, Jerry Yellin says he wasn’t thinking only of suicide when he wrote The Resilient Warrior (Friendswood, Texas: TotalRecall Publications, 2011).
Yellin wanted to spell out his solution for troops facing all kinds of stresses. Among other options, some military units have embraced Yellin’s small, breezy softcover book as a tool for improving morale, combating post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and, in the extreme, the horror of a military member taking his own life.
Yellin’s answer isn’t for everyone.
It’s transcendental meditation – TM, for short – a trademarked version of ancient meditation techniques with origins in India. Maharishi Mahesh Yogi (1918–2008) introduced the TM technique and movement in India in the mid-1950s and was later a highly visible figure in the United States.
More Than A Technique?
TM “is not a religion,” Yellin writes, “and involves no change in lifestyle. You can even be skeptical that it will work, and it will still work.” Many supporters of TM call it simply a “relaxation technique,” while others argue it does much more, putting mind and body in the right place with just a little self-effort.
Yellin was a P-51 Mustang combat pilot on very long-range operations against Japan in World War II. He came home “wounded, seriously wounded, but it was not a wound that anyone could see and fix.” Before the term PTSD entered the lexicon, Yellin had it.
Marrying and raising children, he felt a “feeling of disconnect, lack of emotions, restlessness and [an] empty feeling of hopelessness.” Playing golf helped. But Yellin did not find a solution for his emotional issues until his wife Helene discovered transcendental meditation and he followed.
“After a few weeks of twice-a-day meditations, my attitude toward myself began to change,” Yellin writes.
Today Yellin is vigorous and active at 88 and is founder and co-chairman of Operation Warrior Wellness, a component of the David Lynch Foundation that offers TM as a tool for service members in emotional turmoil.
The Pentagon is open to a wide range of alternate solutions to the stresses that afflict today’s troops and veterans. Some commanders say Yellin’s approach does, indeed, help to produce more resilient warriors. Says Col. Todd M. Jacobus, chair of the Iowa Commission of Veterans Affairs, “Resiliency efforts can’t succeed without the involvement of the greater community, including programs like Operation Warrior Wellness.”
Yellin argues that his book presents troops with “something they don’t need outside help with. They don’t need a yoga instructor, a counselor or a psychiatrist. This is something they can do on their own.”
Not everyone is a fan of TM. Critics charge that TM is a business posing as a charitable undertaking – and one with a political agenda that includes making inroads in schools and other public institutions.
The Resilient Warrior has many charts and diagrams. They’ll be familiar to readers of literature in this field. Their complex depictions of the workings of the brain are enough to put off even the most ardent supporter of TM. The book also has tables of statistics on military people and how they cope with stress.
TM is just one possible tool and The Resilient Warrior is just one small book, handily priced and easy to read. It gives us one man’s version of how to create a stable and satisfied life after returning from the battlefield.