Toronto Police Officer Shares the Value of Mindfulness
Having studied mindfulness and meditation for several years, Jon Carson, a police officer in Toronto, Canada, is now sharing the value of the practice with fellow law enforcers.
Carson, who has been a police officer with York Regional Police for nearly two decades, suffers from post-traumatic stress after 20 years of active duty that includes investigating a harrowing murder case in 2009. On the advice of his neurologist, Carson found a new way to overcome the trauma with mindfulness meditation, which he has begun sharing with the police department’s recruits. He now trains all new recruits in the region, aiming to introduce new tools that police officers can use in high-stress situations on the streets.
With the help of psychotherapist Dale Curd, Carson developed a training system he calls the C.A.L.M. method, which teaches police officers to use mindfulness to de-escalate agitated people in crisis situations by maintaining a calm demeanor and listening to the person. “Our whole approach to mental health is a bit of a fallacy,” Carson said of conventional police training. “I think we need to give people the skills up front, before the trauma actually takes place. We only treat things once they become a pathology. In my mind, that’s a bit too late.” (CBC News)
The positive benefits of mindfulness for emergency services personnel were also reflected in the theme of the 10th Global Conference on Buddhism, which ran from 17–18 June at the Ontario Science Centre in Toronto. The conference, held in North America for the first time, brought together 15 speakers comprised of a mix of Buddhist philosophers, scientists, and mental health professionals, who shared how the practice of mindfulness can have a direct and beneficial impact on mental health, and drawing connections between Buddhism and science.
Bangladesh-born Theravada monk Bhante Saranapala,* Buddhist chaplain to the University of Toronto, was a speaker at the conference. He also teaches mindfulness to Toronto’s police officers, aiming to help bring calm and clarity to their minds before deciding to pull the trigger during active duty, and has received positive feedback from his police students. Speaking of the benefits of mindfulness training, Bhante Saranapala said the art of “kindfulness” could give police officers a more compassionate perspective and help when situations may require the use of force, helping them make decisions with more self-awareness.
“Police are human beings. They might get upset. They might get angry, or feel fear. All these emotions could blind them,” the monk observed. “Before taking an action, if you could take deep breaths and let yourself settle down, then you realize whether you're doing the right thing or the wrong thing.” The moment of self-reflection, he said, can help police to “avoid unnecessary violence and killings.” (ABC News)
According to Carson, although there is a wealth of scientific evidence supporting the benefits of mindfulness meditation, “[some] people have this conception that mindfulness is sitting under the Bodhi tree.” For that reason, he has so far been reluctant to make mindfulness a mandatory feature of police training. “It really came down to verbiage,” Carson said about introducing mindfulness to members of the police department. “We try not to scare people away.” (CBC News)
“We don’t try to force it on people; it’s hard to tell police officers they have to do something,” especially when it comes to sharing emotions, Carson explained, emphasizing that instead he hoped to engender trust and confidence in his method one police officer at a time, and thereby engender a cultural change. (CBC News)
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