Weekend Resiliency Immersion Training: A Mindfulness Intensive

Colorado Mountain. Photo by Flint Mulder.

There are few training resources, currently, in the mindfulness arena that resonate with police culture.  Most of the resources out there require us to reach into our zone of discomfort to explore the possibilities. This is healthy, however, a small group of us is changing the current landscape of training resources. By the end of 2016, we will have launched seminars, 2 day and 5 day resiliency immersion trainings for police officers. These mindfulness intensives, will offer police officers an opportunity for introspection and transformation. 

These trainings will meet the humanitarian-warrior where they stand, in all that comes with the journey, healthy and unhealthy. We’ll reconnect the officer to the authentic warrior ethos that most of us started our career with, and we will teach skills of resiliency for mind, body, and heart. The journey begins here- this is not mere training, our mission is to facilitate a transformative journey, that we walk together. We build our warrior community.

January 8-10, 2016 in Bend, Oregon

Mindful Justice Conference

Mindful Justice Conference

In collaboration with the Berkeley Initiative for Mindfulness in Law, Prison Mindfulness Institute launched a Mindful Justice Initiative in 2014 and recently convened a Mindful Justice Conference at the Fetzer Institute’s Seasons Retreat Center with 24 influential leaders from the full spectrum of the U.S. criminal justice system, including current police and corrections officials, former judges, prosecutors and public defenders, victim advocates, program providers, law professors, restorative justice advocates and community activists. Meeting over four days, September 17 – 20, 2015, the group explored mindfulness-based approaches to transforming our criminal justice system and creating a system that is more humane, compassionate, effective and sustainable, one that is a force for healing and community resilience. The Seasons retreat and conference center located on a beautiful wooded property outside of Kalamazoo, Michigan, proved to be an ideal contemplative and nurturing environment for our Mindful Justice Conference.

Fetzer 2015

I had the privilege of participating in this conference with some remarkable community leaders. More updates to follow on this groups efforts. For now, here’s the link to some insightful papers on work surrounding mindfulness in criminal justice.

Conference Papers on Mindfulness in Criminal Justice

Warrior Compassion

“Working together, the warriors of strength and heart can make a better world.”

-Richard Strozzi-Heckler (In Search of the Warrior Spirit. 2007)

Police Executive Research Forum released a new report this week. Apparently, this is the best the American Police Institution can do when it comes to forward thinking transformational leadership.


There is some wisdom in this report, to be sure. There is unfortunate political momentum to redact from police culture the notion of warrior ethos. This is unfortunate and will, oddly, only serve to cultivate the divide between police officers and their administrations- and police and their communities.

In our efforts to enhance the humanity of policing, we continue to ignore the human behind the badge.

It is time we translate lessons from contemporary interpersonal neurobiology to appropriate training for police officers; train skills such as mindfulness that allow healing and the cultivation of self awareness, empathy and greater capacity for stronger cognitive decision making under acute stress. This is the only foundation that will allow for transformation of police culture. Change from the inside-out.

Changing what we call ourselves will only be a facade. Let’s bravely face the suffering inside and transform that suffering to compassion and strength.

Every day and night, brave men and women lace up their boots and step into the complex world of policing their communities. They are warriors. As leaders, we have allowed the culture to stray away from one of grounded compassion, wisdom and skillful action.

We can train to these warrior traits and heal the officer, the organization and our communities.

Mindfulness has powerful potential to heal warrior culture.

We find ourselves at the intersection of suffering, ancient warrior wisdom, and contemporary neuroscience. May we find our way forward at this place.

Honoring the men and women of the Thin Blue Line while working to enhance policing in America.

(Originally published at Mindful’s digital magazine: http://www.mindful.org/the-mindful-society/police-culture-in-america-has-lost-its-way)

In the streets of Ferguson, Missouri, and New York City, communities surge with the pain of human loss, and the rage and suffering of people clashing against their government—in this case protesting actions of members of their police force, the men and women sworn to protect democracy, facilitate peace, and protect others when violence is imminent.

For these communities, and others, trust in police officers has been gradually eroding for decades, perhaps longer, exacerbated by a complex set of social, political, and economic forces. Today, we find ourselves in a perfect storm of these forces colliding.

Fear and anger abound, for varied, legitimate reasons, and in this kind of atmosphere, polarity increases. Yet on both sides of the badge is an American. On both sides of the badge there’s deep suffering, yet the thread of humanity is woven through all suffering. Vilifying either the person behind the badge or the person standing before the badge is not going to help us. We need to try to understand each of them and how they got to where they are today.

We need to look at the complex mix of ingredients that brought us here. If we can do that, working together, we can lead our communities and criminal justice system to a place that effects public safety and preserves justice for all. To get to this better place will require all of us to look introspectively, to mindfully listen, to challenge our own values and beliefs, and ultimately to not believe everything we think.

No Simple Answer

I have spent two decades in civilian law enforcement. Sharing my thoughts on this American crisis in public safety is not easy, nor simple. I certainly don’t hold a monopoly on truth. My perspective is solely my own, from my experience, observations, training, education, lifelong learning efforts, and a commitment to social justice and democracy. Given all of this, I still find myself perplexed, as I reach for answers, for solutions, and like everyone else for the simple explanations we’ve grown accustomed to for complex problems in the 21st Century. Who can we blame? What program can we implement to “solve” the problem?

I have concluded that no simple cause and effect can be identified in our police institution’s clash with its public. There are no easy answers, no clear villains. This may be where I depart from my colleagues who are often understandably forced into defensive postures, operationally, politically, and intellectually, and also from some of those citizens who want to go on the offensive against the police without appreciating that we have deep-seated social justices to address. The men and women who do the incredibly difficult and complex work of policing our streets usually joined this profession to do good. Slowly they become shaped by the suffering and trauma they experience in their communities and within their organizations.

If there is any simple assessment it is this: police culture in America has lost its way.

Implicit Bias

To help us find our way, we need the current dialogue to evolve into a mutually respectful, peaceful, and courageous exploration of the forces —social, political, and economic—that have led to the traumatic situations we’re seeing in communities like Ferguson and New York.

Chief among these forces is the implicit bias within police culture toward persons of color and the economically disadvantaged. Implicit bias is the dirty little secret that leads to discriminatory practices, racism, and oppression of those with less power. The legacy of slavery and poverty in our country is felt most strongly in our inner cities and marginalized neighborhoods and towns. For most of us who are privileged to find employment, health care, and life-long education—and who have limited interaction with police—the injustices that currently rally the voices might be what Matt Taibbi calls “basically invisible,” not part of daily reality. For others, there are clear and present dangers right where they live, and these create and fuel the pain that erupts in “I Can’t Breathe” social action. When their voices rise in protest, we need to listen.

We need to listen and pay attention to the all-too-frequent disparity of justice that emerge from actions of our police institutions, the courts, and the apathy of many of us who quietly turn the other way, hoping to elude harm or inconvenience.


In my professional world, we frequently over-simplify the human suffering we see through judgment and candy mantras such as “its all about choices people make.” It’s not this simple, yet we need to go every day into the streets and struggle to make our way within the world we are thrown into. As confrontations emerge and the day-to-day stresses of the job pile up, it may well lead us to divisive attitudes and opinions. For our part, we must listen, find—maybe regain—our humanity, and sustain the drive for social justice that led us to this path of guardianship. We cannot do this alone. We need our communities.

Healing police-community relations will require non-judgmental exploration and dialogue. It will require us to draw on and strengthen our inherent mindfulness. As our political bureaucracy steps up to this challenge—with reinvented community policing strategies and technological solutions—more must be done to align the American Police Institution with the American public. We need community building that involves all of our institutions. Our path to healing and reconciliation must take place at the community level, with strong courage of leadership from police organizations and community groups to step into the center of the suffering. This requires willingness to be uncomfortable in dialogues, to continuous learning, and collaborative innovation. It takes a village to build a village.

Stepping into the Center of discomfort in pursuit of ourselves.

“I am not what happened to me. I am what I choose to become.” – C. G. Jung

On October 24th, 2014 at 2100hrs, twenty people gathered at a riverfront park in Bend, Oregon to join together and endure an overnight, team event that would test their resolve of body, mind and spirit. This essay describes the event and explores what motivates us to step into suffering to find ourselves.

Go Ruck 2014 GR Tough

The prize: The Go Ruck Tough patch.

The late October crisp air meets my nostrils as I step out of my friend’s pick up truck in the Middle Oregon town of Bend. Nearly a half year earlier, I convinced a couple friends to join me for the overnight endurance event known as the Go Ruck Challenge. Earlier that same day I drove over from Portland, missing the afternoon nap I had hoped to get before this gig. I meet Brian and Devin, along with three of their warrior brothers at our informal starting point at Willpower Training Studio.

Go Ruck 2014 Carry

Ally carries Nick.

Go Ruck 2014 Water Immersion #1 Emerging

Emerging from first water immersion as a team. Team synergy came quickly in the cold.

This event promised to be formidable, with the subtle hint that any one of us might not finish; hence the instruction to carry an ID card and twenty bucks cash in a watertight bag. Cab fare. An insurance policy of sort, although I was suspect that cabs would be readily available in the wee hours of the morning in Bend.

Go Ruck 2014 Hustle

Hustle to follow instructions from our Cadre leader, Bert.

Go Ruck 2014 Water Immersion #2 IV

Second cold water immersion. Just a sliver of the training that others go through to secure democracy across the globe.

Go Ruck 2014 Log Carry III

Log carry. One mile along a narrow, rocky river trail.

I followed the careful instructions and duct taped six standard red bricks together, then wrapped them in bubble wrap in a poor attempt to somehow make them easier to carry, and loaded them in my backpack. I also packed a 3-liter water bladder, some food, a dry bag with extra clothing, small flashlight, and a Special Operations Warrior Foundation medallion. I carried this last item in memoriam of my brother, Jonathan, a U.S. Air Force Combat Controller killed in a plane crash years before. I’m sure he was amused at what I was about to step into.

Go Ruck 2014 Night Ruck

Ruck to Pilot Butte to enjoy the sunrise.

The event began in Bend at a nice waterside park (Deschutes River). Most of us had mustered at the training studio, and then migrated down to the park at the same time. We lingered around in nervous conversation and anticipation of what the night would bring, reinforcing first names with redundant handshakes, speaking names out loud as we each found ways to remember who our teammates were. This proved useful later.

Go Ruck 2014 Steve and Douglas

Steve carrying one team weight- firehose. Douglass looks on.

Nineteen other people stood with me in the cold, foggy night as we waited for this gig to begin, each, I began to see and feel, had a unique backstory. The humanity of this group was palpable; this was a team event, and we all knew it. The synergy was simmering. We’d need it later.

Go Ruck 2014 Mountain Top

Surreal photo of the class sitting atop the Butte overlooking the valley. Sunrise pends.

We were each provisioned with our rucksack with weight (bricks or sandbags; yes, we had choices). As a team, we also had a National Ensign and Go Ruck banner that we were to carry, and while not carrying we were to treat the American flag with appropriate customs, courtesies and care. Finally, we had two team weights. One was a portion of a fire hose that rested heavy, yet comfortably (relative term) over the shoulders. The other was a piece of art- a wood carved guerilla head named Bart. He weighed about 25lbs. Each team weight was to be carried throughout the night while the team was moving.

Go Ruck 2014 Down from the Mountain

Rucking down off the mountaintop. Headed to the 2 mile run and the final water challenge.

Go Ruck 2014 Final Ruck to Finish

A few minutes before 9pm, the team quieted as we looked into the fog toward the roadway and watched our Cadre (our Go Ruck Challenge “guide”) member walk toward us then stand in the shadows about 25 yards off. His mysterious presentation was awesome, the night had begun. In the shadows, our Cadre, Bert, claimed one of our teammates for a team leader (there would be many) and began issuing instructions. We learned about Bert over the course of the night, and the morning. His life path as a warrior came to us with clarity and humanity as he journeyed alongside and presented us opportunity to experience life lessons along the way.

Go Ruck 2014 Plz Fucking Quit

Gorilla sculpture- team weight #2. Atop a rucksack. “Please F’n Quit” patch for good measure.

Go Ruck 2014 Brian

Brian carries the team weight.

What ensued over the next 13.5 hours is hard to fully capture. Team work, self-work, discovery, pain, confronting pieces of the shadow self, defeat, victory- all of these and more. This event bled (literally) humanity. I really didn’t expect that; yet, it was inspiring. Go Ruck talks about ‘building better Americans’ through their events. Indeed, this is a path to do so.

Go Ruck 2014 Steve Fireman

Steve carries a teammate’s rucksack; minimum of 40 extra pounds.

Go Ruck 2014 Egg

Egg casualty. Bert gave out over a half dozen eggs that had to be cared for. If broken, the team owed Bert some suffering.

Go Ruck 2014 Nick II

Nick getting in the zone to submerge one final time.

During the first hour of the event, during a particularly trying time for each of us (the moments when you really question why you chose to pay money to be cold, wet and very uncomfortable) Bert made a statement that resonated to the soul of each of us, as each of us struggled to get ourselves oriented to make it through this event, as the team was storming to get to synergy. He said that each one of us is fighting our own battle that no other person knows about. He described options: finance, relationship, addiction, employment (the standard human challenges). He called us out. It was beautiful. The timing, perfect. Shields down. This, I realized then, was why people come to these events. Why I, too, stood there alongside my teammates. We come to step into the center of our dark shadows, to face our demons, to find inner strength that eludes us any other way. We get those things, and more.

Go Ruck 2014 Submersion in Morn

Teamwork. Head submersion for ten seconds. After 13 hours, seconds feel like minutes.

The pinnacle moment of the event was my teammates and I sitting on the parking lot atop the 4,000 foot high Pilot Butte  overlooking the valley. As the sun rose over the valley, Bert demonstrated the incredible humanity of the warrior. Bert had previously asked us to think about the hardest thing we’ve had to do in our lifetime; we’d revisit that on this journey. On top of that mountain, like Socrates, Bert told stories of warrior-humanity that every American should hear. His narrative inspired. He asked each of us to share our most difficult challenge. His response to our answers (some chose to remain silent) was encouraging, helpful, and inspirational.

Go Ruck 2014 Nick

Success never felt so good.

Go Ruck 2014 Finale

Awaiting final approval from Bert.

Go Ruck 2014


We rucked off that mountain with a renewed spiritual energy. This is why we came. We, of course, still had a few hours of teamwork to accomplish before we earned our finish. Everything hurt at this point, but we knew that we had the strength to face our inner shadows, here, and more importantly, later. We just proved that to our teammates and ourselves. Maybe to Bert, too. Building better Americans, one ruck at a time.

Go Ruck 2014 Pilot Butte

10 hours into the challenge. Our cadre leader, Bert, spends some reflective time with the team. An exemplary Warfighter-Poet, Bert shares slivers of his life history with inspiration and humanity. He encourages teammates to share their most difficult life challenge and inspires them to push forward. The sun rises to illuminate each participant’s dark shadow that brought them to this challenge.

War and Peace (of mind)

War and Peace (of mind)

Here’s a great summary of a study published in the May 16, 2014 online issue of the American Journal of Psychiatry. Another great example of how mindfulness training, combined with other wellness interventions, can improve performance and resilience in individuals in high stress, high stakes occupations. 

Excerpt: Researchers from the University of California, San Diego School of Medicine and Naval Health Research Center have found that mindfulness training — a combination of meditation and body awareness exercises — can help U.S. Marine Corps personnel prepare for and recover from stressful combat situations.


Police Chief magazine April 2014

Police Chief magazine April 2014

The International Association of Chiefs of Police have published an article on mindfulness in policing in the April issue of Police Chief magazine. Huge step forward to get mindfulness in front of police leaders worldwide. Thank you to IACP for publishing! 

Mindfulness Based Resilience Training with police in Oregon

Mindfulness Based Resilience Training with police in Oregon

This is a video created by Mr. Brant Rogers, RYT, the contract trainer for mindfulness with the Hillsboro Police Department in Oregon. These officers discuss their experience with mindfulness and how it has impacted their life in positive ways.

Cultural change from the bottom-up; inside-out. This training has tremendous capacity for first responders, organizations and communities.

It took seven years, or perhaps even longer, and lots of tenacious forward leadership to create the opportunity to deliver mindfulness training to police in a formal manner such as this. One year later, three training cohorts, nearly 75 police professionals from three different agencies…we’ve built significant momentum with the application of neuroscience in police training.

More posts to follow on mindfulness; its efficacy and potential to help the profession of policing to evolve forward into the 21st Century.




Floating Meditation in South Carolina

Floating Meditation in South Carolina

Harbor wall in the Holy City.

Harbor wall in the Holy City.

Water. It heals, simply. I’ve been practicing meditation in various forms for several years as a part of my own holistic wellness practice. Just a few days ago I visited Glow Spa in Charleston (Mt. Pleasant), South Carolina for my first ever float experience. The owner, Steve, guided me through the rules of floating and was very helpful. In an effort to offer the health benefits of floating to first responders and military he even offers discounts.

I was a bit apprehensive as I don’t appreciate the value of enclosed spaces. I was relieved to see that my float pod was one that I could stand up in should I find that necessary. When ready, I put in my earplugs (that’s all you wear) settled in the float pod, pushed a watertight light switch on the wall to my left, and floated comfortably for an hour in complete darkness.

Yes, a few times I focused a little extra on my breathing because, well frankly, it takes some getting used to as one floats in water, naked, in the dark. Right? After what seemed like 25 minutes, I was signaled by sound and water movement (jets in the pod) that I reached my one hour mark.

After a shower that left my skin feeling as though I had a salt-skin treatment to boot, I felt remarkably present with my body. Relaxed, yet not sleepy.

It occurred to me that floating like this may well be a ‘gateway’ practice toward meditation and embracing other holistic methods of being well. I’m hoping to visit with the float experts in Portland, Oregon soon.

“Yoga training may have helped Hillsboro cops in deadly shooting”

Local News Story About Mindfulness and Policing

This headline captures my vision. A few thoughts- We may never know the extent of the impact of mindfulness training in this incident, however, it may well have had a measurable impact for several officers on scene who’ve been trained in mindfulness. While a headline like this is exciting, it leads to all manner of conclusions and reactions, some supportive, some not. People respond from their own suffering, often raw and real. There is no pixie dust in this training…much scientific evidence suggests that cognitive performance under acute stress is improved with a practice of mindfulness. And, this isn’t new. Mindfulness has been with our warrior traditions for thousands of years. Simply, we reach back into history to lead forward. What we are doing with mindfulness is building pre-trauma resilience skills in police officers. Something leaders in this industry have failed to do for decades. The impact of pre-trauma resilience training can’t be overstated. This won’t be the last mention of mindfulness training in police work. I hope our communities follow this training and find a way to lead positive change from the outside-in. Peace