“Who better to carry a gun than someone who does so mindfully?”
That powerful question helped former police officer Cheri Maples face her own skepticism about combining mindfulness practices and police work. After sustaining a back injury on the job, she found herself reading a copy of Thich Nhat Hanh’s Being Peace in the waiting room of a chiropractor’s office. She was impressed. “It was so simple, so no-nonsense…He described what mindfulness and meditation actually look like in day-to-day life. It gave me the desire to know more.”
She attended her first retreat with Thich Nhat Hanh in 1991, and was transformed. She started applying mindfulness practices to her work in the criminal justice system as a police officer, Head of Probations and Parole for the Wisconsin Dept. of Corrections, and Assistant Attorney General in the Wisconsin Dept. of Justice. In 2003 she organized a retreat for criminal justice workers with Thich Nhat Hanh, hoping to share her enthusiasm for the practice of mindfulness, and show how useful it can be for people who work in highly stressful fields.
After 25 years working in the criminal justice system, Cheri Maples was ordained a Buddhist dharma teacher by Thich Nhat Hanh. This poem, which she wrote at the time of her ordination, beautifully sums up her vision of combining mindfulness practice with criminal justice work.
Breathing in, I know that mindfulness is the path to peace.
Breathing out, I know that peace is the path to mindfulness.
Breathing in, I know that peace is the path to justice.
Breathing out, I know that justice is the path to peace.
Breathing in, I know my duty is to provide safety and protection to all beings.
Breathing out, I am humbled and honored by my duty as a peace officer.
Breathing in, I choose mindfulness as my armor and compassion as my weapon.
Breathing out, I aspire to bring love and understanding to all I serve.
In 2009 she founded The Center for Mindfulness and Justice, which provides non-sectarian mindfulness training to police departments and correctional officers, in the form of workshops, retreats, and mentoring. “A cop’s life is hard,” she says. “There’s a lot of stress, trauma, and emotional shutting down…The workshops give cops the tools to examine their own intentions and biases—to approach their job not with anger and cynicism but love and fierce compassion.”
So far she has trained more than 1000 police officers in mindfulness techniques, and has a full calendar of workshops and retreats scheduled across America. To find out more about the Center, her vision and offerings, check out www.mindfulnessandjustice.org.