(Editor Note; SOFREP invites our readers to submit articles for consideration for publication. Today we bring you this fascinating essay by Marine and law enforcement officer Jeff Takeda on how meditation helped him to become a better cop in situations of extreme stress on the job. Send your submissions to [email protected] and please include a brief bio and picture with your contact information)
Burning Incense And Wearing Birkenstocks
My name is Jeff Takeda, I’m a former US Marine infantryman and a 20 year veteran of law enforcement. I have been a patrol officer, range master, field training officer, SWAT team member, major crimes detective, and worked in a federal counter-terrorism task force. I’m
currently assigned as a detective in a crisis intervention team, a co-responder model in which I contact subjects in crisis in the field, conduct threat assessments, and liaison with state, county, and federal agencies as well as non-profit groups.
I’m also a regular practitioner and teacher of mindfulness meditation. I started meditating about 7 years ago. When I mention meditation to most cops and veterans, after they get done rolling their eyes, and making a joke about burning incense and wearing Birkenstocks, they
usually ask, “Why?” There are a lot of reasons why, but my short answer is because it makes me a better cop. Here’s an example I like to use.
A couple of years ago I was working an overtime patrol shift. My partner and I were called to a domestic violence incident at a local hotel. A guest in room 101 reported hearing a man and woman screaming in room 103. My partner and I stopped at the front desk, found out who was in room 103, and ran a database check on the names. The male in the room, who we will call John, returned on active probation.
We approached room 103; I stopped and listened silence. I knocked, the door opened, and a scared-looking middle-aged woman, wrapped in a towel, poked her head out. “Hi ma’am, is everything ok? We got a call about an argument?” I asked. “Oh, uh hello, an argument?” she
replied in a low, hushed tone, she looked worried. I then heard a male voice yell, angrily “Who the f**k is it?” “Oh really?” I thought to myself, incensed, and I stepped into the room, answering, “Hi John! It’s the police.” I saw John, shirtless, standing in the middle of the room.
“Hey you can’t come in here!” he yelled. I replied, “You’re John right? You’re on probation.” A look of surprise washed across his face. “Uh, yeah, but you can’t just come in here!” I could feel anger rising, welling up in my chest, as he challenged me. I gave John a warning, “Actually, I can come in here, we are investigating a domestic violence incident, AND you’re on probation, AND you’re going to do what I tell you to. Sit down in that chair until we figure out what is going on.” John remained tense and defiant, “F**k you! I didn’t do anything! I don’t have to sit down.” John clenched his fists and tensed his body, indicating that he was likely going to fight us. I heard my partner get on the radio and ask for an additional officer, as he could sense a fight was about to go down.
A Rush Of Anger And Resisting The Impulse Of Violence
I felt the rush of anger come up, as my mind quickly went through my “justification to use force checklist”; a non-cooperative subject, who is on probation (and legally required to submit to my orders) refusing to comply with lawful commands, check. A non-cooperative subject who is also obstructing my investigation, of domestic violence, in violation of penal code section 148(a) PC, check.
As my mind ran through the checklist, it was carried by the rush of anger and annoyance, which seemed to feed the justification to go “hands on” with John. But I noticed the physical sensations of anger, heart rate increasing, tension, breathing faster. A hundred times before I’ve let that wave of anger take me into going hands-on. But this time, I took a breath and let it pass.
I observed John, not just his “pre-assaultive behaviors”, but I got the sense from him that he did not really want to fight. It was his ego. He didn’t want to be challenged in this way, and he would go down fighting to save face. In those few seconds, I checked in with myself. I was
feeling the same way. I did not want to fight, but I had been challenged and I was angry. Even though I felt I was right, and legally justified to go “hands-on”, I knew that the anger was really “driving the bus” here, and I had the power to slow this whole thing down.
I looked at John and said, “Hey man, I think we got off on the wrong foot. Why don’t we re-set, let’s have a do-over.” John’s body immediately relaxed, “Yeah, you’re right. I was really disrespectful to you officer, I’m sorry.” The tension in the room lifted. We were able to
determine that there was just an intense verbal argument between him and the woman. As we left, it felt as if the tension between John and the woman had melted away as well.
So what does this story have to do with meditation? Well, everything. For me, meditation has been a tool of self-awareness. Through the practice, I have developed more clarity of my internal experiences. I am able to notice these experiences/phenomena without getting
tangled up in them. I am able to notice them, decide if they are helpful or not, and then make better wiser decisions. And well, that’s kind of like a super-power.
Clarity is Key
How has meditation done this? There’s more to it, but here is part of it. Meditation helps to develop attentional skills, one of them being sense clarity. In this incident with John, having that clarity was key. I was able to notice the physical sensations of anger (increased heart rate, breathing, tension) and “see” the anger, without getting caught up in it. With meditation, we learn to notice things as they are, without adding to them, without being tangled up in them. When I first started meditating, I was able to observe my mind and I found that it was out of control. It was easily carried away by the next shiny thing. Or worse, too easily influenced by anger and annoyance. With regular, daily practice, I have been able to better “control” my mind, by simply noticing what is there.
It sounds simple, and it is. But it is not necessarily easy. It just takes practice, lots of practice. Like going to the gym or dojo every day to train your body, meditation is the way to train your mind. I did it, and so can you.
How To Meditate
Let’s start with this simple breathing-focused practice. Start with just five minutes.
1. Set a timer, so you don’t have to keep looking at your watch.
2. Sit in a chair in a relaxed, but alert position, with your spine as upright and straight as
possible. Think of the spine as a pillar and the rest of the body relaxing around it.
3. Place your hands on your knees or fold them in your lap.
4. You can keep your eyes open or close them. If you keep the eyes open, soften the gaze,
without focusing on anything in particular and taking in the whole visual plane.
5. Focus the attention on the physical sensation of breathing, not changing or controlling
the breath, just feeling it. Like Bruce Lee says in Enter The Dragon, “Don’t think,
feeeeeeeel.” The breath is our focus or the “anchor”, the thing we decide to pay
attention to on purpose. When the mind wanders away, with a thought, feeling, or
emotion, gently let it go, and gently direct the attention back to the breath and begin
again. Over and over.
6. The attention will wander over and over. It’s not a problem, just re-direct the attention
back to the breath.
Try this practice every day for a couple of weeks, and see how you feel. If you can, try to get
your time up to at least 12 minutes per session. The most recent science says that a minimum
of 12 minutes per day is just enough training to start seeing significant positive changes in the
brain. The more time the better. It is also helpful to meditate at the same time and in the
same place every day. Having a regular “meditation spot” is helpful in cueing your mind that it’s
time to meditate and help you get settled in and focused more easily.
Meditation practice really helped me in both my professional and personal life. It not only has
made me better at my job but also made me less of an a-hole around the people that matter
most to me. I can say without exaggeration that it changed my life for the better. But don’t
take my word for it, just try it yourself and see if it works for you.
Jeff Takeda is a veteran of the United States Marine Corps and an active law enforcement officer with over 20 years of experience. His assignments have included patrol officer, field training officer, SWAT team member, major crimes detective, and task force officer with a federal counter-terrorism task force.
In 2020 Jeff started Takeda Training Concepts, which provides meditation training to first responders and veterans. Jeff is a trained mindfulness facilitator through the UCLA Mindful Awareness Research Center and a member of the International Mindfulness Teachers Association. He co-founded a mindfulness program at his police department.
In addition, Jeff has taught TTC programs to physicians, federal law enforcement personnel, executive protection professionals, social workers, and community groups.