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Permission and space to do nothing

Meditation room

The Air National Guard’s training and education center recently opened a meditation room on its campus at McGhee Tyson Air National Guard Base in East Tennessee. The room is a dedicated quiet space that allows Airmen freedom in their day to disconnect, reflect, and recharge. It includes a white noise machine, an essential oils diffuser, and scenic images of the nearby Great Smoky Mountains. TEC is a total force provider of professional military education for thousands of students annually. (U.S. Air National Guard photo by Master Sgt. Mike R. Smith)

An autumn afternoon

An autumn afternoon at the I.G. Brown Training and Education Center campus, November 9, 2021, on McGhee Tyson Air National Guard Base, just outside the Great Smoky Mountains, in East Tennessee. (U.S. Air National Guard photo by Master Sgt. Mike R. Smith)

An autumn afternoon

An autumn afternoon at the I.G. Brown Training and Education Center campus, November 9, 2021, on McGhee Tyson Air National Guard Base, just outside the Great Smoky Mountains, in East Tennessee. (U.S. Air National Guard photo by Master Sgt. Mike R. Smith)

An autumn afternoon

An autumn afternoon at the I.G. Brown Training and Education Center campus, November 9, 2021, on McGhee Tyson Air National Guard Base, just outside the Great Smoky Mountains, in East Tennessee. (U.S. Air National Guard photo by Master Sgt. Mike R. Smith)

MCGHEE TYSON AIR NATIONAL GUARD BASE, Tenn. -- For the would-be meditator, find your space to breathe and do nothing. It's good for you as well as for the mission.

When the leaves on the I.G. Brown Training and Education Center colored the campus recently in their brilliant rust and gold fall blanket, I could not help but look outdoors to feel their glow spread out from our foothills view of the Great Smoky Mountains.

I decided to leave my desk and step out for a moment, taking my camera along, with no particular route around the base of what I would see.

One of my roles is the unit's assigned photographer. So, to all appearances, I was the public affairs person taking pictures of an unknown focus, not seeming unproductive during my duty hours.

We know that it is acceptable at TEC to take time for our well-being, to even sit for seemingly weak moments and do absolutely nothing but clear our minds. An innovative team sought permission and opened a Meditation Room this year just for that. They also gave an introductory lesson on how to meditate.

For the U.S. Air Force Airman who charges through their day - and who wants to practice Mental, Physical, Social, and Spiritual health - permission and space to do nothing mean so much. We use allotted fitness time for physical health. Some want to add a mental break during their day but need more guidance. The concept of meditation - doing it - is vague and feels unproductive.

So I still took my camera along to look busy despite that introspective grace passed down from others.

It's hard to feel correct in doing nothing while in uniform. It seems to go against the grain of what the military traditionally tells service members. But that culture is turning to appreciate contemplative practices that relieve stress and increase good mental health.

I briefly walked the sidewalks, past our brick buildings that never change. The few trees around me dropped their crisp leaves intermittently and covered my path.

I passed the gym in Wilson Hall, where an Airman, one of our staff, smiled at me and said, "good afternoon, Sergeant Smith." She had been exercising. I told her it was beautiful outside, and she agreed.

Turning back, the meditation room inside Spruance Hall was unlit and empty as I ducked inside to consider it. Scenic images that I had helped the team paste on its walls were little competition to the outside brilliance, but I hoped some would appreciate them on other days.

Toward the end of my walk, I climbed the very steep grass hill behind our buildings. It was my first time in years up there in the open air. The few evergreens by the perimeter fence were a bleak company, but the view looking back over the campus was my reward as I inhaled, exhaled, and cleared my thoughts.

Back at my desk, I still felt that energy that I had absorbed outdoors, like a recharged battery, and it then made sense to take that time to appreciate the moment - I got more accomplished because of it.