I tend to write less in the summer. I get easily distracted by longer days on the balcony with a. magazine and a drink in my hand, ice cream cones and, well not this summer, but vacations and lounging poolside. This summer, between the seemingly unending pandemic and hell’s front porch heat in Virginia, the writer’s block has been strong! And then I thought, heck I know awesome people out there on the front lines working with people every day in real ways shepherding them through these trying times in different and unique ways.

This week starts a three-part series sharing their wisdom – what they have learned in the past six months and what they have been sharing with others through their day jobs.

First up is my friend Ben King who is an Army veteran and President & Founder of Armor Down and the Mindful Memorial Foundation. He works with veterans and in normal times take schoolchildren to Arlington Cemetery to teach them in real ways the sacrifice of men and women in war for our nation. Ben lives in Richmond, VA which has been grappling with confederate monuments and its history as the Capitol of the Confederacy, and therefore some of his responses have that filter.

CAA: For the benefit of the readers, what do you do?

BK: I teach all warriors how to pay attention – otherwise known as the practice of mindfulness. I bring mindfulness and wellness to combat veterans in ways that are accessible and engaging with the “warrior code.”

You have to get upstream of trauma. The old systems for handling trauma are defunct. I saw it in Iraq. Being tough and just sucking it up only works for a little while. What tends to happen after years of using old coping mechanisms like being tough and self-medicating are ok until they are not. Now because of COVID-19 this applies to everyone else as well. 

CAA: What have you been working on with veterans that you think applies to all of us?

BK: What I have been coaching others to do is really confront the issues that are facing them. The best defense is a good offense. This has really shown up for me individually and in community.  Most notable is the conversation around BLM. For so many of my white colleagues the conversation is too volatile or hard to engage with. [But] I have found that describing this conversation as having strategic value and very helpful. Confronting conflict must be strategic. For so many, their ideas about the world are set pretty strong, and you can’t do that if you want to have any hope of being a bridge builder and being effective at connecting and blending with the conversation to build rapport. I identify myself as a part of someone’s mental health team and not their savior. In order to make that work I have to be very intentional about what conversations I will respond to and what will not. I will talk about mental health, mindfulness and emotions.  

Basically, I have attempted to drop being a meathead!

Between the protests in my home town and the pandemic that has hit all of us, including my nonprofit foundation, I have had to learn how to pivot. The Mindful Memorial Foundation was founded in 2014 to honor heroes in mindful ways, keep their stories alive, help us understand that our gratitude matters and reminds us that we are all responsible for ensuring our freedoms for future generations.  For the past 6 years we honored our Nation’s fallen by being physically present at Arlington National Cemetery and creating a living memorial of yellow ribbons each with the name of a service member. Mindful Memorial Day 2020 was different but the mission remained the same and we were able to harness technology to keep the memories and mindfulness alive and moving forward.  

CAA: What do you think is helpful advice for all of navigating this new normal?

BK: Cultivating relationships over social media and text, but setting appropriate boundaries.

What we are all going through is traumatic. There is no way around it. If you don’t develop coping and resiliency skills now that will last, then there will come a time when a crisis hits and you will be crushed. We saw it with the warriors coming back from Iraq. We’re seeing it in our communities every day. The last decade has been pretty good for most Americans. Typically, crappy coping mechanisms are effective for about 5 years them they stop working. Again, we’re at year 10, so no one should be surprised at what is happening. 

I worry about the suicidal ideation starting to creep in. With no support, probably no job or way to support a family, worried about the future and easy access to firearms, this option becomes too much to resist.  

We all need to be very intentional right now. We all need to begin practicing attention-based coping mechanisms. What do you love? It can be getting in nature, art, music, writing, whatever, be intentional about it and work on it every week if not every day.  

None of us can escape COVID-19, or the trauma that it will continue to bring. We can work on adapting and developing our best selves through mindfulness and other healthy practices. We teach that when you practice mindfulness the armor comes off, and you train your nervous system to respond more smoothly to life’s challenges.

There is no choice here. Life will catch up with you so be ready. One way to be ready? Join us on Facebook for practicing mindfulness! I’m on live every morning at 0700 (that’s 7 am EDT for you civilians). Join us when it is best for your schedule. https://www.facebook.com/Thriveasacivilian?ref=hl