Mindfulness over matter

JOINT BASE MCGUIRE-DIX-LAKEHURST, N.J. — At 10 a.m. on any given Wednesday, one could walk into the 305th Operations Support Squadron’s leadership meeting and see a strange sight.

Airmen sit around the conference room table and in chairs along the walls, variously clothed in a sea of green flight suits and Airman battle uniforms. Each has their eyes closed, boot heels planted on the floor, palms flat against their thighs.

Hush reigns. Only the sound of each person’s gentle, deep breathing can be heard.

A moment passes, a gong sounds. Eyes flutter open and Lt. Col. Janelle Macaulay, the 305th OSS commander, begins the meeting. Her voice is gentle, soothing and does nothing to disturb the calm from a moment before.

She calls it the “mindful minute,” and it is an initiative that has been implemented throughout the squadron during her tenure there. During her year in command, members have incorporated the practice into their personal and profession lives; it has been instituted in flights, commander’s calls, meetings and physical training sessions.

“It’s kind of like the oxygen mask analogy in an aircraft,” Macaulay said. “We are always asked to secure our own oxygen mask before securing others. I’m trying to teach the members of my unit to take care of themselves. Mindfulness is one way of doing that.”

With a master’s degree in exercise physiology and a doctorate in strategic health and human performance, Macaulay passionately believes in the importance of what she calls a “leadership and human performance culture.” The culture she has in mind focuses on ensuring the mental health and fitness of the whole person, leading to each Airman being the best they can in their personal and professional lives by incorporating meditation into their routines.

“Back in the 1960s and ’70s, if you were to tell somebody you wanted to go running, they would have said ‘Why? Is someone chasing you?’ ” Macaulay said. “Then a bunch of scientists started to look into this running concept and determined that it’s actually really good for our health and that we need to get out and exercise. I think mindfulness is that next revolution.”

The practice encourages taking a mindful minute to go to the “cloud.” What this means for the uninitiated, is taking a step back from what is going on at the time, taking deep breaths and allowing oneself to be in the present in a judgment- and reactive-free manner.

“If you think of our minds like iPods, we spend a lot of time in fast forward, worrying about the future. We spend a lot of time in rewind, ruminating over the past. We never really sit in play,” Macaulay explained.

According to Macaulay, meditation should be practiced daily in order to be most effective. The more it is done, the more quickly a moment can be taken during times of stress.

Capt. William Macvittie, a 305th OSS C-17 Globemaster III instructor pilot and aircrew flight equipment flight commander, said the practice helped his unit get through a challenging time in the past year, which included a stressful inspection and re-inspection and the passing of a team member. He believes that employing the tools that mindfulness has given him and helping his Airmen do the same allowed his unit to confront a difficult time with a positive outlook.

“You may not be able to control your environment but you can control the attitude with which you face it,” Macvittie said. “As a flight commander, when I talk to my Airmen, I talk about dwelling on all that is good. That which is beautiful and lovely, and that which is admirable and courageous. Dwell on those thoughts and you will see results.”

The practice can also be used to set and achieve goals, bettering each Airman as an individual, and in turn, bettering the unit as a whole.

“This is a deliberate development of mindfulness for our Airmen, for our people,” said Senior Master Sgt. Michael English, the 305th OSS Air Traffic Control Landing Systems flight chief. “I think it’s effective because it’s not just a buzzword. This is how you get a mind developed and cultivated where it can take challenges on, work through creative solutions and deliberately try to find their role to help the team achieve the mission.”

While implementing mindfulness at the squadron level, Macaulay hopes the initiative is one that will soon be implemented in work centers throughout the Air Force, the military and society as a whole.

Perhaps soon, the uncommon sight of uniformed service members engaged in deep, calming meditation will become a commonplace occurrence.

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