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Mindful : October 2013
October 2013 mindful 49 community Lieutenant Richard Goerling assists in instructing a mindful- ness class at Hillsboro Police Department in a suburb of Portland, Oregon. “The mind- fulness class isn’t about being relaxed. It isn’t about eliminat- ing stress. It’s about being aware of what stress is doing and mitigating its impact.” Louie, who in his retirement was teaching a class on “tactical communication” at Portland State University, was the son of Chinese immig rants. As a rookie cop in Palo Alto in the 1970s, he was among a handful of officers selected for an experimental program: they were sent off to a monastery, where psychologists trained them in a new way to ha ndle difficult calls. “Instead of wa lking into a crisis, taking out the baton, and throwing everybody in jail, we’d communicate,” says Louie. “Remember, this was a new thing in the seventies.” Today, much of what he learned is widely accepted. Still, when cops conf ront bad guys, the first thing on their minds isn’t always reasoned discussion. It’s maintaining control. “Most cops yell commands like crazy,” Louie says. “Drop the knife! Drop the knife! Drop the #*$% knife!” Louie was interested in Goerling ’s ideas. The department was clearly in need of some help, and with a six-month interim appointment, he had noth- ing to lose. “One of the first things he did when he became chief,” Goerling recalls, “was to call me and say, let’s make this mindfulness thing happen.” What resulted was a nine-week class called Mindfulness-Based Resiliency Training, taught mostly by Rogers but with other experts brought in. Rogers would teach meditation, breathing, and other mindfulness techniques and throw in a little yoga, too. Officers would have homework, including readings and daily mindfulness practices, and would eventually engage in a daylong silent retreat. A few officers, like Sergeant Case, who had already taken an MBSR course from Rogers at Goerling ’s sug- gestion, decided to go through it again. The first time around, most of the benefits she noticed were in her personal life—in particular, when trying to get back on a horse after being thrown from the bucking animal. “Every time I’d get back on, my whole body would shake,” Case says. “ I couldn’t control the physical elements of the stress, no matter how badly I wanted this. “There’s a lready sha me attached to fear in my profession,” she continues. “Mindfulness practice allowed me to accept the feeling and not judge it— accept it and move forward instead of getting stuck.” If this could help with such a powerful emotion as fear—that “body wash of terror,” as Case calls it—then she figured it could also help deal with the stresses of police work. Many officers remained skeptical. Goerling wasn’t going to order a nyone to sig n up. Instead, he asked for volunteers, taking care to pitch the class as the stuff of warriors. “It’s the graduate school of tactical breathing,” he told them in an email. That was something Slade, the SWAT team member, understood. As a sniper, you’re taught to control your breath, to squeeze the trigger during the few-seconds pause after you’ve fully exhaled. You have to keep your eye on a target. You have to sit still for hours. Maybe mindfulness, being “pres- ent” in the moment, would be useful for that. It might also help ease stress, as studies have shown. “Maybe this will help me,” he thought. He agreed to sign up. On the third day of mindfulness class, Chief Louie looked a round the room approvingly. There → “The outcome of the police/ citizen encounter is dependent onhowwellIamasapolice officer. If I’m not holistically well, I’m not going to regulate my emotions very effectively. I’m not going to be empathetic.” Lieutenant Richard Goerling