SWG holds AAPI heritage observance

District receives a lesson in mindfulness, meditation, living in the moment

U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Galveston District
Published May 18, 2023
Updated: May 18, 2023

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) Galveston District held an Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) Heritage Month observance with a ceremony and presentation at the District headquarters.

This year’s designated theme for AAPI Heritage Month is “Advancing Leaders Through Opportunity.”

Thanh Nguyen, Galveston’s information technology chief and AAPI program manager, welcomed guests to the observance and introduced the guest speaker, Dr. Rev. Thich Hang Dat.

Dat began his presentation with a Buddhist prayer in Vietnamese.

Dat then told the story of how he arrived to the United States. In 1984, he left Vietnam—along with millions of other Vietnamese people—hoping to escape communist rule. “We left searching for freedom of choice … freedom of religion,” Dat said.

He also sought higher education and enrolled in Penn State University in 1986. After earning a degree in electric engineering, Dat then turned his efforts toward obtaining a master’s degree and doctorate in religious studies at the University of the West in California. This pursuit brought him to where his current phase in life: teaching Buddhism, Buddhist meditation, and Asian religions at the University of Houston and Indiana University Southeast.

“Meditation is being mindful about what is around you,” Dat said, expressing how much he tries to expound that onto his students. “Meditation is about focus.”

He related the concepts of meditation and focus to what USACE engineers and project delivery teams do in their daily work. “When you are working on a big project, focus is very important,” Dat said.

Engineers—and the general work force—much like his students, are no strangers to stress, he continued. However, Dat expressed his concern for his students and the youth of today. “Stress is affecting them harder than ever,” he said, adding the COVID-19 pandemic as one of the most recent, significant stressors of the newest generation. Dat also mentioned a rising number in teenage and adolescent suicide being of great concern.

Dat relayed how he hopes to use the Buddhist approach to meditation and mindfulness to help his students find inner peace in the growing number of stressors within everyday modern life.

“When we have anger in our minds, that is what we tend to see in our world,” Dat said. The same can also be said when we are at peace in the mind, he continued. He shared with the audience a variety of meditation techniques he personally uses and teaches his students to achieve mindfulness. “The mind’s power to affect the body must not be underestimated,” he said, citing the benefits of meditation, which include improved memory, increased energy levels, and enhanced mood.

In fact, frequent meditation can even ‘rewire’ the brain and strengthen neural connections, Dat said, referencing recent scientific research.

“Mindfulness is living in the present,” Dat continued. “Sometimes, we don’t live in the moment. We are either living in the past or in the future.” Living in either the past or future can disrupt peace in the present moment, he said. Meditation can help learn from the past and—eventually—let go of it, Dat said. Meditation can also relieve the anxiety people feel from the expectations of future outcomes.

“The past is a mind-made rerun. The future is a mind-made projection,” Dat explained from the Buddhist perspective. Most of the time spent living in the past is focused on regret and guilt, he continued. Most of the time spent living in the future is focused on worrying and projecting an unwanted picture of what may happen.

Dat closed with a truth he makes a point of conveying to his students: “The most powerful indication as to your level of presence in the now is your inner peace.”

May has been designated as AAPI Heritage Month since 1992. The month of May was selected in recognition of the first Japanese immigrants’ arrival to the United States on May 7, 1843, and the significant contributions of Chinese pioneers to the completion of North America’s transcontinental railroad on May 10, 1869. The observance recognizing AAPI Heritage Month was established by Title 36, U.S. Code, Section 102.

For more resources on meditation and mindfulness, visit Military One Source’s non-medical counseling page at https://www.militaryonesource.mil/non-medical-counseling/military-onesource/.