By Charlsy Panzino
Cmdr. Jon Macaskill, USN (Ret), originally brushed off the idea of using meditation and mindfulness to guide him to a healthier life, but after it helped him through a difficult time, the onetime Navy SEAL and MOAA member hopes to encourage others to use it in their daily lives.
[AUG. 2 WEBINAR: The Science and Benefits of Mindfulness]
About four years after graduating as part of the Class of 2001 from the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis, Md., Macaskill was involved with Operation Red Wings, where 19 American servicemembers were killed during a mission to target Taliban leader Ahmad Shah in Afghanistan.
Eleven Navy SEALs died in the operation, along with eight soldiers from the Army’s 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment (Airborne).
“That caused me a lot of survivor guilt and depression and anxiety,” Macaskill said. “I carried that with me for quite a while.”
He tried to self-medicate with alcohol and prescription medication before hitting a “pretty dark spot” and eventually seeking out counseling.
One of his counselors wanted Macaskill to try mindfulness and meditation.
“When he first told me that, I actually laughed at him,” Macaskill said. “In my mind, that was only associated with hippies and monks.”
A Slow Start
Macaskill said he failed the first time he tried to sit for an hour, but his counselor recommended shorter, easier meditations.
“The effects started to last a couple minutes, then a couple of hours,” Macaskill said. “I could really see a difference in how I was feeling, how I perceived myself, and how I perceived the world.”
By 2017, Macaskill had started heavily practicing mindfulness and meditation. He retired in 2020 and knew he wanted to keep serving out of uniform. But after working with nonprofits and starting his own consulting business, Macaskill realized what he really wanted was to help guide others through their struggles.
“I could make a living teaching mindfulness and meditation to people,” he said.
Keeping an Open Mind
Although meditation and mindfulness are used in the same sentence, Macaskill said meditation is a formal practice, whereas mindfulness is a way of living.
“You can have a mindful meal — turn off your phone, turn off your computer … pay attention to shapes, colors, textures,” Macaskill said. “Notice smells, all the sensations that come into play.”
After working on paying attention to surroundings, Macaskill said it’s easier to step into meditation.
“So you know, starting just like you would go into the gym or just like you would start training for a marathon,” he said. “Starting small, starting short, and work your way up.”
Macaskill also runs a podcast called Men Talking Mindfulness with the goal of opening people’s minds, especially men’s, to the idea. There used to be a stigma around men talking about or practicing meditation and mindfulness, but that’s changing, he said.
“The military has started practicing it, and organizations are teaching it to veterans to deal with post-traumatic stress, depression, anxiety,” Macaskill said. “It’s definitely becoming more mainstream.”
Register to hear Macaskill speak about his experience during an Aug. 2 virtual event hosted by MOAA.
Charlsy Panzino is a freelance writer based in Idaho.