After 25 years of police and criminal justice work, Cheri Maples co-founded the Center for Mindfulness & Justice to coordinate her work in criminal justice training, organizational consulting, and mindfulness workshops. Cheri has worked as a police officer and detective in Madison, Wisconsin, Wisconsin Assistant Attorney General, and head of Probation and Parole for the Wisconsin Department of Corrections. In 2008, she was ordained a dharma teacher by Zen Master Thich Nhat Hanh, her long-time spiritual teacher, prolific author, poet, and peace activist.
In the course of my chaotic journey to becoming a “mindful street cop,” about which you can read elsewhere on this web site, I slowly learned several lessons that seem essential to truly mindful living. I think of them as the seven lessons from my own spiritual transformation. In this article, I discuss one of these lessons: develop a sense of openness to whatever arises.
There are multiple spiritual doors; truth is many sided and can be approached from multiple perspectives. The sense of openness I am talking about is not simply being open to the viewpoints of others, but it is also a commitment to exploring the mystery in life’s non-dualities. It is learning to hang out in the gray areas and finding the middle way between fear and faith, between self-acceptance and self-indulgence, between inertia and compulsion, between doing the right thing and righteousness, between opening one’s heart endlessly and accepting the limits of what one can do, between caring without being overwhelmed and being unable to cope because of that caring. Most important of all, openness requires learning to find a good balance between doing and being.
To me, any door that helps people lead an ethical and compassionate life is a legitimate spiritual door and as a student of the teachings, my challenge is to discover the door or doors that work best for me. For me, it is Buddhism because I rely on my direct experiences and it urges me to do that. I have also begun to creatively blend its teachings with my own roots because that works best for me. It doesn’t have to be one or the other. From a continual adult learner perspective, it makes sense to take what I can use and let the rest go.
As a spiritual teacher, my challenge is twofold. First, it is to find and invite people to the spiritual doors to which they can relate by translating the teachings into a language they can understand.
I have a special affiliation with people in the criminal justice system because I have worked in different parts of the system for a long time. I have worked as a police officer, as the head of probation and parole for the Wisconsin Department of Corrections, and in the Wisconsin Department of Justice, so I understand the culture and the language of that system. I can help people in that system find another way to do things and relate to things by using my experience. Likewise, everyone has special skills and experiences upon which they can draw in relating to others.
My second challenge as a spiritual teacher is to encourage people to take responsibility for their own learning, not to turn it over to somebody else. Part of the challenge in helping others is to trust yourself enough to question and investigate what you are being told–to trust your own experiences and find the unique doors that work best for you.
If you are interested in learning more about Cheri Maples views on the seven most important elements of spiritual transformation, you can find them in articles on this web site. We suggest reading them in the order they appear in the table below. Click on the article title in the lefthand column to which you wish to go directly.
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