The Inner Peacekeeping Program: Giving Humanitarians and Refugees the Tools of Inner Peace
By Amandine Roche
Teaching yoga and meditation in Afghanistan gave me so much joy. As I was practicing yoga asanas with women in shelters, I understood that after 25 years of war, they were completely disconnected — mind from body —and, just by doing some flexibility exercises, I could see on their faces that they felt alive again. When you suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), you are kind of 75 percent dead; these techniques help bring you back to the present moment.
When Rada came to my house in Kabul, she hadn’t slept for 42 days. She looked like she was out of Auschwitz. I asked her to close her eyes and taught her mindfulness meditation. She couldn’t close her eyes, because every time she closed her eyes, she was back at the restaurant, the one where she celebrated her husband’s birthday outside Kabul. During the party, three Taliban in disguise, wearing burkas, came inside and started shooting everybody in the crowd. They assassinated her husband right in front of her. And the same bullet that killed her husband in her face hit her in her eyebrow. As she was bleeding, she took the blood and smeared it on the faces of her three daughters. For the next 10 hours, while the Taliban was still shooting around, they lay perfectly still and pretended they were dead. She witnessed many Afghans at the party jump into the lake, but they didn’t know how to swim, so they drowned. They just floated on the lake.
We were seating on a bench in my garden’s house and I said to her, “If you are too scared to close your eyes, we are going to meditate with our eyes open. Take a deep breath, and tell me what you hear.”
“I can hear the birds singing.” she said.
“What do you smell?”
“I smell the flowers blossoming,” she said.
"What do you see in front of you?"
“I see the leaves in the tree moving with the wind,” she said.
“What do you feel on your bare feet?’”
“I can feel the wet grass,” she said.
After our session, her face, though it was very tense, started to open up. She called me back the following day to say that it was the first time she had managed to sleep. This is the power of mindfulness — the very simple technique of learning how to breathe and be in the here and now. That’s where real peace is. Honestly, it doesn’t cost anything to inhale and exhale. Americans spent more than one trillion dollars in Afghanistan in the war. War doesn’t bring peace, obviously. It doesn’t cost anything to teach someone how to breathe and how to be present, but it brings peace of mind that leads to real peace. When you are at peace with yourself, you raise the level of consciousness of your family and your society. It’s very simple, actually.
Amandine teaching the Inner Peacekeeping program to Syrian women refugees suffering from PTSD in a Zaatari refugee camp in Jordan in February 2018.
The idea for starting my own foundation in Afghanistan and the Inner Peacekeeping program came to me during a 10-day Vipassana meditation retreat. Meditation helps you to tame your mind — your monkey mind, as the Buddhists say — and reconnect with your soul purpose. After I started to practice meditation, I was no longer stuck in the past or projecting myself in the future. I was able to fully reconnect with the present moment. Right now, there is no trauma, and right now, there is no drama, and right now, there is no pain and suffering. It all belongs to the past. This helps you turn the page and fully live your life.
There are so many scientific studies now that prove that meditation helps you recover from trauma and PTSD. It’s a wave — the wave started in India, moved through California, and now it’s reaching Europe and the Middle East as well.
It was the former UN Secretary General Dag Hammarskjöld who renovated the meditation room at the United Nations headquarters in the 1950s. He emphasized the fact that, “Each UN member should take time to sit in silence and stillness, and reconnect with themselves to better serve the world.” He got it, and with the Inner Peacekeeping curriculum I created, I wanted to wake up his legacy.
The Inner Peacekeeping training program allows humanitarians to recognize the symptoms of burnout and anxiety, and prevent PTSD. Having worked 14 years on and off in Afghanistan, I have faced many traumas: I was exchanged by the Taliban just before the American bombings in September 2001, then witnessed the kidnapping and assassination of my colleagues and experienced many intimidations, burglaries, death threats, and evacuations. I was — without knowing it — suffering for years from PTSD. I was feeling off and disconnected. I had nightmares and flashbacks. I was living in the past, not grounded and not centered. I had lost a sense of meaning in my life, felt locked in an inner jail, and didn’t want to be in my body anymore. I was always finding a distraction or an escape to run away from the present moment in order to not face my pain and my suffering.
Because I was the one helping and serving others, I wanted to remain strong, so — as a coping mechanism — I shut down my connection to my emotions, and remained in my head. But in the end, I couldn’t keep on faking it anymore and asked myself, "Who was I to work for peace in the world if I was not at peace with myself first?" So I let down my guard, allowed myself to be vulnerable, and finally opened up the “Pandora's box” of my pain and emotions. Initially, I felt like a truck had driven over my body. This was how my healing journey started, and it continued with years of Ayurveda/Thai massages, Erickson hypnotherapy, EMDR, EFT, acupuncture, plant medicine, dance, yoga, meditation, Reiki, Qigong, PNL, energy work... you name it, I think I tried everything!
The Inner Peacekeeping program was designed to give humanitarians the tools of inner peace, and to help them cope with all the stress they face on a daily basis. It provides a model of mindfulness, emotional intelligence, stress management, neuroscience, yoga, and meditation — to prevent burnout and recognize the symptoms of PTSD.
In the program, we look at what it means to work for the United Nations, what it means to work for peace, and how you can connect the mind with the body. It’s a very complete program in two days, and we do a one-month follow-up online where we train people to create a habit and put into practice the 20 inner peace tools that we’ve taught them.
Everyone who enters the program must be selected by their supervisor; otherwise it’s voluntary. Sometimes there is a long waiting list. The supervisor decides, and chooses first the ones who works in a refugee camp. And with the Inner Peace Corps, we are now offering some healing tools to refugees.
I’ve been working on the peace processes, democratization, women's empowerment, and human rights for almost 20 years with the UN, USAID, and EU, and I have learned that peace is not in the head. Peace is in the heart. Einstein said, “The longest distance in the world is from the head to the heart.” This is the longest way to peace too. You can train the brain and learn about democratization and human rights, but if you don’t incarnate it within yourself, you are a fraud.
Amandine in a Zaatari refugee camp in Jordan in February 2018, where she was teaching inner peace tools to women refugees. Here she poses with the children of those women.
Amandine Roche is a hatha yoga and meditation teacher, a Search Inside Yourself instructor, and a specialist in mindfulness, compassion, neuroscience, conscious leadership, and emotional intelligence.
Amandine spent time in India learning the teachings of inner peace and non-violence from spiritual Masters such as HH the Dalai Lama, S.N. Goenka, and Amma. The author of three books, she is the founder of the Amanuddin Foundation in Kabul to develop the culture of peace and to promote wellness through yoga and meditation to prisoners, women, soldiers, and kids.
She created the Inner Peacekeeping program for humanitarians who are suffering from burnout, post-traumatic stress disorder, depression, and anxiety. She is creating the Inner Peace Corps to heal the invisible wounds of war and restore human dignity to refugees.
Click here to visit Amandine’s website.
Click here to visit the website of the Amanuddin Foundation.
Click here to watch Amandine’s TEDx Talk, “Inner Peacekeeping for Global Peacekeepers.”
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This article appears in: 2019 Catalyst, Issue 11: Yoga of Healing and Awakening Summit