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 two of these lessons: developing fierce as well as gentle compassion and learning that violence does not resolve violence.
An essential part of any mindfulness practice or spiritual transformation is learning to water the seeds of joy. It is important to take back our lives by participating in things that bring us joy. Thay (Thich Nhat Hanh) continually brings inspiration to those of us who are his students by talking about using mindfulness to water the seeds of joy.
I remember him telling a story about how a visiting friend suggested that it really was a waste of Thay’s time to be gardening and growing lettuce. He should be using his time, the friend said, to write poetry and books for others to read, because what he had to say was very important. Thay’s response was that if he did not grow lettuce, he could not cultivate the energy of mindfulness that produces the poems and books he writes. In other words, enlightenment is not separate from growing lettuce, if that is what brings you joy and wonder and the ability to be present in the moment. We all should think about what activities bring us in touch with the tenderness and mystery of life so that you fall into a space of joy and gratitude when participating in those activities.
These are the doors to a mindfulness practice. When we enter into any activity with our whole heart, we awaken, deepen, and sustain the contemplative experience in the present moment. These are what I call our Zen activities, because we are completely absorbed in the moment when participating in them. These activities develop the same quality that a mindfulness practice does for concentration: a deep sense of enjoyment, gratitude, and the ability to be completely in the present moment.
My first Zen activity was baseball. I started playing baseball when I was 5 or 6 years old and I started rooting for the Milwaukee Braves at about that age. When I couldn’t play baseball, I used my little, tinny transistor radio and took it out in the backyard, behind my trailer, and turned it on, and I picked one player to be. If it was Eddie Matthews, I went to the bench when Eddie Matthews went to the bench. I went to the on-deck circle when he went to the on-deck circle. I went to the plate when he went to plate and I took the field when he took the field and I had a blast. Later, I played competitive, semi-pro fast pitch. I coached my kids’ teams. I coached other teams. I enjoyed being a spectator, and a fan, and now I love playing fantasy baseball-I was a half a point away from beating the 12 other guys in my league. Very disappointing, but a lot of fun!
After all, what better Buddhist activity is there to enjoy than baseball. It is the only sport in which there is no clock and the goal is to come home. If you go to our Center for Mindfulness & Justice web site, I am proud to say that you will find a link to Major League Baseball under “Resources.” Our Zen activities can be sports, gardening, cooking, being in nature, or any activity that resonates for us personally and nurtures a sense of faith, joy, and gratitude. If we are faithful to the practice and the things that bring us joy, our practice will be faithful to us. And when we participate in the things that we enjoy deeply, we’re participating in our own enlightenment.
Now here’s the ironic and paradoxical thing about this-if you wait until you feel like doing the things that bring you joy, given the frantic pace at which most of us are living, you won’t do them. So this is the trick I’ve learned and I urge all of you to do this. I bought my 2010 calendar in July or August and I put in it all the things that I want to do in 2010. Now I can schedule everything else around dates and they are no longer at the mercy of the things that just come up. Doing this requires some proactive time management. Go get your 2010 calendars now and put in it all the things that you want to do. It’s the most important trick that I’ve discovered for making sure that the things that matter the most are not at the mercy of the things that matter the least.
Mindfulness can also be found in the mundane activities of our daily life. It’s the old Zen lesson that enlightenment can be found in how we chop wood and carry water. It can also be found in how we drive, how we do the dishes, and especially in how we engage with others. For example, when you do the dishes, can you feel the water or you are you lost in thought? This is how we miss our life, by not being aware of what we are doing in the present moment.
If we can be truly present to our own lives, then we can find the courage to have our hearts broken open in love, rather than protected. We can enjoy feeling deeply and to continually work on the capacity to understand and love others. We can do this by simply planting the intention to do so in our minds and hearts. Our intention always sets the course.
We can simplify things a great deal by simply asking ourselves if what we are saying or doing in any given moment is making us kinder, more understanding, and more loving. My partner has one of the most wonderful mothers, even though she’s deceased now, that I have ever met in my life. Mary Brady’s spirit is alive every day and in every way through her eight wonderful children. She told them that every time they walked out to the door in the morning to be kind to everybody. We can simplify things a great deal by asking ourselves if what we are saying or doing in any given moment is making us kinder, more understanding, and more loving.
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 left column to which you wish to go directly.
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