Lately there has been a great deal of oxygen in the air for conversations about the plight of our new generation of combat veterans. While stories about moldy outpatient clinics and traumatic brain injury compete for (much deserved) attention, there is another, underground story going on.

We're at war. Really at war. We have over one hundred thousand volunteer troops in Iraq and Afghanistan and many of them are seeing real combat. By now it's too clear- this isn't a big sweep like Grenada or a laser-guided 3 mile high war like Gulf One. In this war we have boots on the ground "in the shit". Since the beginning of our major deployment in Operation Iraqi Freedom, I have been thinking. Of course, I've been thinking of the case for war, and whether or not I believe in it or if I agree with the way the war is being carried out and so on, but more than that, I've been thinking about the human heart.

When I see footage of the war in Iraq- the burnt out cars, the skinny men with dirty dress pants and white stretchers picking people out of rubble, the defiant face of a cleric leader, a bleacher full of troops listening to a president or an official, I think of the same thing. Its hard for me not to look at the car or the skinny man or the official or the stoic marine sergeant without imagining what is going on inside the hearts involved in the scenes.

This angle - the heart angle- is a tricky one. There are some obviously difficult questions- like what's going on in the hearts of ordinary Iraqis as they watch their already troubled country devolve into deeper and deeper levels of mess. And there are the hearts of the leaders leading the war who have to make decisions about how to proceed and how to cut losses and how to speak publicly about their process of trial and error. One could only imagine what's going on below the surface there.

For me, the compelling part of the whole equation lies in between the suited leaders and the skinny guys in Baghdad. For me the heart of the heart story lies about four feet above the "boots on the ground" in the War on Terror.

These are men and women- all volunteers- who have chosen to enroll in the military and have put themselves through training and who are now there, in vehicles patrolling or searching a house, or manning a checkpoint, or fighting with bullets and bombs and artillery. These men and women grew up watching the A-Team like I did. They rode BMX bikes and ate Captain Crunch like we did and now they're there with rifles - and sometimes blood- in their hands. They're in military hospitals being fitted for artificial limbs and joining veterans' groups and trying to make sense of it all.

In working with a few of these men, I can see. They're changed by their experience. Some are diagnosed as changed- they have PTSD- a label that makes it seem like something has gone wrong with them. From my point of view they are completely normal. Normal men and women having a perfectly normal reaction to a very extreme experience. There are dreams and intruding memories and bouts of depression and anger. There are fits of rage and hyper vigilance and immobilizing feelings of loss.

Some of these changes are in the brain. In some cases these are the kinds of changes that happen when the brain operates under extreme conditions for extended periods of time. Sometimes time alone can sort those processes out. When time is not available or is not enough, there are also great drug therapies available to help get people over the humps of their symptoms. But there is something else available too.

In many cases, our minds just need a chance to sort themselves out. Our minds and brains are incredibly resilient. If left alone, they will often mend their own wounds and turn lemons into lemonade, trauma into strength, struggle into wisdom. But they are also wired in such a way that they can cause more problems. When something happens once "in reality", it often is replayed again and again in our minds. Think of a harsh word spoken to you by someone who matters- you may replay that word hundreds, thousands of times silently in your memory. Your brain and body sometimes cannot distinguish the difference between a real time insult and the reruns you play in your head.

We also live in a culture that rarely gives us a chance to just sort ourselves out. Many of our leisure time activities -playing video games, watching TV, going out to clubs, surfing the net -are often more stimulating than the original stimulus we're trying to recuperate from.

I would like to make a case for meditation as way for our vets to rest their minds and reconnect with their hearts. While they're in the flow of their lives, as they find jobs and reconnect with their families, as little as 20 minutes of sitting meditation per day can do wonders for their process of reintegration.

When we meditate, we still our bodies and quiet our senses and let our minds go into a kind of maintenance mode We watch our breath and make it even and complete and give our bodies a chance to fully relax while remaining awake. Its like a bath for our minds. Its like a Zamboni machine.

Have you ever seen a Zamboni machine? A Zamboni machine is the big vehicle they use to clean the ice on a skating rink. After hours of skating, the ice gets all cut up and rough- so many grooves in it left from the skate blades. The zamboni machine comes in and smooths them out and restores the ice to a pristine condition.

From the POV of meditation- the mind is very similar to the ice of a ice rink. The various experiences we have- along with the thoughts we think and the words we hear and images we see- leave imprints on our consciousness. Think of all the work a mind does under normal circumstances. Imagine what the mind goes through in a time of war- of combat. These experiences and stress-ors leave imprints like grooves and gashes in the ice of our minds.

Most of us- whether we are veterans or not- live our lives with zillions of imprints- grooves there in our ?ice? some big and some small. Then something happens- we experience a miracle, or go through some kind of healing experience or go into some kind of theraputic work -and the ice gets smoothed a little bit. Then we go back and refill our ice with grooves again.

Big things- violence, heartbreak, tragedy- religious experiences leave deeper grooves- like huge gashes in our ice. Some of them never go away. These deeper grooves in part make us who we are. Running the Zamboni machine over the big gashes doesn't erase them- but it does smooth their edges and make the surrounding area smooth again.

Meditation is like a Zamboni machine for our mind. Really simple exercises, done regularly can do for us what the deep therapy or healing experiences do. The good thing is- we can control it, we can do it whenever we want, and it's free.

Here in New York, I and and my team are trying to find ways to train veterans of the "War on Terror" in these simple techniques. Its not about becoming a yogi or a Buddhist. Its just about learning how to do this simple mind maintenance on a daily basis- and seeing what happens. Seeing what shifts. For some people meditation creates a very simple -almost imperceptible- shift. For others, it radically changes and enriches the way they experience their life.

As 2008 rolls on, we are finding better and better ways to connect to vets and active duty troops. If you are in the military or have served in the War on Terror- please email us and let us know.

The government will do what it thinks is best. Our families will do their part, and hopefully, we will find ways to do our part here at Banyan as well.

In the meantime, I invite everyone who reads this to simply consider the Hearts involved in this conflict. Consider the Iraqis, the Americans at home, the leaders, what's going on there- beneath the surface, about four feet above our 150,000 + "boots on the ground".

Author's Bio: 

D. Harshada Wagner is a meditation teacher and author based in New York City. Considered among the top teachers of his generation, Harshada travels widely teaching meditation and leading deep meditation workshops and retreats. He is the founding director of Banyan Education, an organization whose mission is to promote meditation and help people from all walks of life cultivate happiness and enjoy a rich inner life.