“At any given time, especially when you’re likely to arrest somebody, you have to expect that things could get very ugly, very quickly,” says officer Mindy Winter of Wisconsin’s City of Madison Police Department. “You have to be ready for that,” she says, “but, it’s a fine line to walk. You can’t let your concern for officer safety negatively affect the way you deal with the public.”
Policing is a stressful job, Winter acknowledges. “So, it’s important to find constructive outlets. It’s easy for anyone, not just police, to fall into less healthy ways of dealing with stress.”
Mindfulness is Winter’s constructive outlet. She was introduced to it about seven years ago when her romantic partner took a mindfulness course and came home talking about it. Now, Winter regularly meditates focusing on the breath. Sometimes she practices for just a few moments, sitting at her desk in the middle of her day. At other times she sits for longer periods at home.
“It’s mind-boggling that more people don’t stop and breathe,” says Winter. “Our society is so go-go-go. Do this, do that, do sixteen things at once. I think we all need to take a breather every now and then and not think about things.”
For the first five years that Winter was a police officer, she worked a beat. About a year ago, she became a traffic crash investigation specialist, which means that when there is a major car accident in her area, she’s on the scene. “I’m dealing with people who are in great distress, because a loved one has just died or they or their loved one is in a serious medical situation,” Winter says. “Lives have been turned upside down.”
The trauma of seeing “what’s under the sheet” and dealing with tragedy day in and day out can make some officers shut down emotionally. But, Winter says, mindfulness grounds her and enables her to be there for people in a more compassionate way. “Having a mindful perspective helps me be more patient and understanding than I would be if I weren’t thinking along those lines.”
The City of Madison Police Department is supportive of employees using mindfulness. Last year, her training team even offered a retreat held in Madison as an optional specialized training. This retreat was led by Sharon Salzberg, cofounder of the Insight Meditation Society in Massachusetts, and Cheri Maples, a former officer with the City of Madison Police Department (Salzberg and Maples will be leading a similar retreat at Garrison Institute in January). “It ran the whole gambit,” Winter says. Participants had group discussions, practiced walking and sitting meditation, and listened to talks. The retreat activities “kept your mind going, but relaxed your mind at the same time.”
Winter and several other participants were so inspired by the retreat they decided to continue meeting. “We get together once a month,” she tells me. “We have lunch and talk about meditation. This group has been amazing. We didn’t really know each other before the retreat, but mindfulness has been a way for us to get to know each other.”
This story is one of four inspiring stories, written by Andrea Miller, of how real people are integrating mindfulness into their lives. For more, read about Toni Bernard, Alex Tower Ewers & Patrick Ewers, and Dr. Martin Ehrlich.