Teaching police mindfulness

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Jan 10, 2010 Teaching police mindfulness


Claude AnShin Thomas became a mendicant Buddhist monk years after killing hundreds of people in Vietnam. I met Mr. Thomas in 2005 during his speaking tour, and was taken by his dual approach of not denying or suppressing the anger that he still lives with — which for quite some time led him to soak himself in drugs, alcohol, and sex — but also doing his best to dissipate and reduce the pain and anger. When he is about to get angry, he accepts the feeling, but tries to dissipate it by focusing on his breath and on the sound of a bell, which I suppose helps get him back to concentrating on his breath and calm rather than on anger.

Brother Thomas was heavily influenced by Thich Nhat Hanh in his healing process. He was long out of the military at the time, which was sixteen years after the United States military finally pulled out of Vietnam in 1975.

Curiously, Cheri Maples remained a gun-toting police officer and police trainer during and after her first meeting with Thich Nhat Hanh. She found a way to inject the Buddhist approach of mindfulness into her training of police officers, including encouraging them to talk directly to other police personnel with whom they had beefs, rather than to let it boil into gossip and worse.

Ms. Maples ended up attending law school while working at night as a police officer, and eventually becoming an attorney with the Wisconsin Department of Justice. She also previously headed the Wisconsin probation and parole system.

Ms. Maples is currently involved in running the Center for Mindfulness and Justice, which includes incorporating her mindfulness training when she provides presentations to police, prosecutors, criminal defense lawyers and judges.

I just learned about Ms. Maples this weekend, through a Tricycle magazine article about her, which confirms that Thich Nhat Hanh was supportive of having a gun-toting police officer who understood mindfulness, than to have no such gun-toting police officer. See her speaking here.

In 2003, the Associate Press reported that Cheri Maples "said she struggles with ways to help officers handle the stress of police work. Instinct and training teaches them to take charge – which is good for police work but can be hard on relationships, she said. ‘What police officers deal with over and over and over again is misplaced anger,’ Maples said. “And then our families deal with our misplaced anger and frustration.’"

I was blown away that such transformations are happening among some police at the systemic level this many decades after the Sixties. I wish to know how widespread are the efforts to bring such teachings to police.

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