Hello and welcome to the Mindful Responder Podcast. I am your host, Crawford Coates. I hope this podcast finds you well, wherever you may be. And thank you very much for listening. If you, um, get anything out of this at all, um, do me a favor and subscribe, especially because I think future episodes are gonna be really, really good.
Not that this one won. But, this one’s going to be a little bit different. Different in the sense that it’s just gonna be me talking to you. Um, I’m not super thrilled about that because that’s not really my comfort zone. I’m definitely a person who enjoys and benefits from speaking with others. I, I find that that’s where a lot of growth happens for me and, and I think for others as.
Um, I also know that I can be wrong about stuff, and so it’s good for me to, when I’m talking with somebody, to have someone who can push me a little bit, push back on some of my ideas. I, I really enjoy that and that’s really going to be the format going forward. Uh, the idea with this podcast to talk is to talk with, some of the luminaries that I’ve had the, the privilege to know in my work with, first respond.
And of course the topic is mindfulness and meditation. Um, the world doesn’t need another podcast. That, that is for sure. There are. Thousands and thousands of podcasts out there. So for me to start one now in 2023, it, it does seem a little bit strange, but I also, uh, have reasons for, for doing it. And it’s kind of like, when I think about it, it’s sort of like we’re all getting a lot of email, too much email.
My favorite thing in the world to do is to go through my inbox and just delete almost everything, but. , every once in a while you get an email that’s really good that you, uh, that you’re excited about and,, that’s gonna help you out and, and make your life better. And that’s really my aim for this podcast , is to hit this audience of first responders with,, some, just some conversation around a topic that has not really touched them too much in the past.
I like talking with first responders, . That’s, that’s one of the reasons I like working with them. Um, over the years, I’ve gotten to know how, how it works, what their challenges are, are. I’ve gotten to know,, a lot of cops, firefighters, paramedics, cmts, telecommunicators, uh, uh, people who are on the front lines, people who are chiefs, folks in the middle.
I’ve, I’ve gotten to see the world through their eyes, so to speak. And, and the best thing about working with this audience, well, I shouldn’t say the best thing, but one of my favorite things are the stories. You know, I have had the experience of talking to a banker about what he does for in a day. Not super interesting, uh, but if you give.
A cop from rural America and we can sit down and have a meal together. I’m pretty much guaranteed a, a good story at, at minimum. And, , you know, I’ve also heard, over the course of my career, I’ve heard stories that, that have shocked me, have changed the way I view the world. Stuff you can’t make up. And again, that’s part of the reason I want to have this podcast in a more interviewing format because, Th those stories really are sort of the essence of life.
There’s a reason that they make movies and television series and, and, and web series about first responders, and not very often about bankers. The . It’s, it’s the stuff of life that you do. , I began studying mindfulness and meditation,, because, well, there’s a, there’s a, a teacher named George Mumford. He’s a, a pretty well-known mindfulness teacher, and the reason he is well-known is because he’s taught, he’s taught mindfulness to pretty much every winning franchise in the b a, but not just the mba.
He teaches mindfulness to,, to companies and also to. Figure skaters and, and any sort of athlete out there, , is somebody that, that he would, he could talk to. That’s his audience, his professional athletes. And his, his phrase is, he says, people come to this when their sasses on fire. So I had sort of an ass on fire moment.
,, and what, what had happened, just to, to put it succinctly, and I might touch on this in a future episode, I might not, I’m not really sure because it is sort of personal, but, , just in a nutshell is I had, I had worked really hard. To try and establish a secure and dependable life for myself and my wife and my my child.
And, , I was in a moment where all of a sudden the predictability, the security that I had worked really hard to establish was just pulled out from underneath me. And it was a super jarring experience, as you would imagine. But I realized all of a sudden, How much I had taken for granted, frankly. I was sort of left there to figure out what life was, not just how I was going to move forward in my life, but really on a, on a very existential fundamental level.
What, what does it mean to, to have a human life? The real advantage I had that I think over a lot of people who would’ve found themselves in my situation was that I was working with first responders at that. and I had, what I mean by this is I had known from working with first responders just how fragile life was.
I, I had heard those stories. I had been on ride alongs. I had just been exposed to it. I mean, nobody, nobody gets up in the morning, gets into the card, and expects to get into a crash on the freeway. Nobody goes. For on the town on a Friday night and expects to get mugged or to get raped. Nobody expects that when they leave the house that the cookies they left in the oven are gonna burn down the entire apartment building.
These are things that nobody expects to happen, and yet they happen with regular frequency. That’s why we have first responders. The general public, and I consider myself part of the general public. I am, I am not and have never been a first responder. We have mostly outsourced that really bad, shocking stuff to you.
Uh, the stuff that happens late at night, the stuff that happens behind closed doors, the stuff that doesn’t make the newspapers. There’s, there’s usually a first responder or a team of first responders who are there picking up those pieces from a, from an often senseless situation. And then they’re left to make, try and make sense of them of, of what happened in that situation, but also how it impacts their view of life, how they think about the world.
I was really lucky to work with first responders in this very difficult time for myself because it made me aware I had to just face the facts that as difficult as things may have been for me, I had so many advantages. If I only sort of reframed where things were, um, I was going to be okay. I, I had my wits about me.
My health was good. I had skills that were useful to other people. I had a loving wife. I had a loving daughter. I had a kid on the way. All of these things were really good things for me to have, but it just meant that, that the responsibility was heavier too. I owed things to those people I knew, or I was coming to realize I should say that I needed to learn how to better address stress in my life, and I needed to do it.
uh, what the way I was handling that stress at that time was just not going to, wasn’t gonna cut it in life. The other thing, you know, being at that age early thirties was that I could, I could look forward over. I was getting to the age where I could, I could see myself getting older a little bit, just a little bit, kind of a glimpse.
And I knew that bad stuff was gonna happen or, or not even bad stuff per se, but stuff that I wouldn’t want to happen. Life. Life was not how I designed it. That was just to put it in a nutshell, that that was the lesson for me as much as I wanted it to be. It wasn’t, and so I knew I needed to do something then, right, right then and there.
To help myself better, deal with these challenges that were gonna come up because it wasn’t just me. It was how I was going to treat my wife, my child, my neighbors, my family, the people I worked with, all the people I love in my life. Strangers on the bus, you know, it reverberates out. So I got into mindfulness.
Now, when I say that, what I really mean is that I, I started. More about that in, in future episodes. But the reason I got into mindfulness is kind of a funny story and I’ll, I’ll keep that one real quick too, is that my, my career at that time was in publishing. So I published and edited and wrote for first responders, but prior to that I had worked with neuroscientists.
I worked at a, an academic journal called Brain Research we had multiple titles, but cognitive brain research was the only one that I could make any kind of sense of. The other stuff was way above my pay grade and, cognitive brain research at that time had had some interest in mindfulness and meditation.
Now I need to make an important point here. Um, a scientist at a journal like that, which is a world famous journal. They, they don’t really care how a person meditates. They don’t care how, what a person’s definition of mindfulness is, what they care about are the data that come up in FM r i scans or other, other measurements that look at these very expensive machines that look at your brain and specifically certain parts of your brain that are associated with certain types of behaviors and perceptions, so they don’t care.
if you are meditating in the Zen style, staring at a wall in silence in a monastery, or whether you’re staring at a lava lamp, doesn’t matter to them. What they really want to see is a consistent intervention applied, whatever it may be. So it could be transcendental meditation, it could be mindfulness based stress reduction, which is what we’ll probably talk about a lot in in upcoming episodes.
And then they want to see a difference. And so in the neuroscience world, they were tracking these differences with these expensive machines showing the, the changes that happened in the brain. At the same time, in the world of psychology, there were studies looking at the positive, uh, outcomes associated with interventions such as mindfulness, mindfulness-based stress reduction, transcendental meditation, and so forth.
Again, all of this was foreign to me, and I am, by my nature a skeptical person. I, when I looked at this in my job, I didn’t want to be a meditator. I did not want to learn about what that stuff meant. What I wanted was all the good stuff that came, that purportedly came with it. Specifically, I was interested in
what they call neuroplasticity, the capacity for the brain to sort of relearn things and to get outta your own ruts and patterns of thinking. Because I recognized that I was in, I had patterns of thinking that worked when things were going well, but when things weren’t going well, they did me and everyone around me a great disservice.
So all of this is to say, Decided to start meditating. And that was quite a trip and, and definitely something I’ll touch on in the future, but that was about 10 years ago. And, and the, the meditation, learning to meditate, learning about mindfulness, it has been a trip for me. Again, I’m a skeptical person.
I know that a lot of first responders are too. And, but it has been beneficial to me and, and, and I, I wanted to, I was sort of interested in, in, in my, as my career progressed, I wanted to understand, or I came to wonder, you know, can this be beneficial to the first responders I’m working with? What, what’s kind of interesting to me is that it hasn’t had, there hasn’t been a whole lot of interest in bringing mindfulness and meditation to first responders.
I, I’m definitely not the first person to, to have this idea to, to do this. There, there are a lot of others before me, but it simply hasn’t gotten the sorts of sustained interest in funding to be frank, that other, , cohorts have gotten. For example, one of my mindfulness teachers ran a. Large and successful program teaching mindfulness to school teachers.
And I asked him, you know, well, what do you think about this for first responders? The all, you know, school teachers experience stress, but so do cops, so do firefighters, so do EMTs and paramedics. You know what, what school teachers do is super important. So is what first responders do, especially if you’re that person on the side of the highway who is waiting to be extracted with jaws of life.
You know, you want to know that the person who is there, whose care you’ve been entrusted is, you know, sort of at the top of their. , so the question I had was like, why, why aren’t we teaching this stuff to first responders? I never, it, it didn’t occur to me for a long time that, well, that I might do that.
But, , you know, at first I just thought it was a matter of numbers and, and I thought, well, there’s gotta be a lot more school teachers out there. So I looked into it. According to the US Commerce Department, there are 3.6 million teachers Nation. Well guess how many first responders there are?
According to the Commerce Department, 4.6 million first responders, so a million more first responders, and they define first responders for their purposes as firefighters, law enforcement officers, EMS professionals, and emergency telecommunicators. That’s a pretty fair definition, I would say, but 4.6 million people out there who, who are first responders and of course, Among those disciplines, there are differences, not just differences in the work, but differences in the culture, differences in how they view life.
And so I could see that perhaps being a challenge, but I also just have come to recognize that there are almost 5000001st responders out there, and the, and the challenges of the job are similar. What I mean by that is, There are challenges of shift work. You’re often not, you’re often sleep deprived.
There are challenges of culture. Unfortunately, you often, as a first responder, are not adequately supported from above. And if you are, I’m really glad to hear it and I, and I know there are agencies doing excellent, excellent, exemplary work in that regard. But unfortunately, the culture is often stressful on top of.
there are the calls that you handle as a telecommunicator vicariously, which has its own challenges, but then there are the, the kinds of calls that you go in on day in and day out, and these are calls that you did not ask to be dispatched to. These are things that somebody dialed 9 1 1 and now you need to go and try and make sense of it.
That is challenging and, and the challenge there too is contrary to some of the Hollywood portrayals. A lot of those calls aren’t super exciting. You know, I have, I have a friend who is a firefighter and he said that 80% of his job, he’s in Southern California career firefighter, big agency, 80% of his job is working with the homeless, specifically one homeless encampment, and that that is not what he became a firefighter to.
But it’s what he’s doing and he’s good at it, but it presents its own challenges. There are then those calls that you can’t unsee, the ones that do induce trauma, these tend to be calls where they involve children. They involve somebody who reminds you of somebody that you’ve known or and loved, and these kinds of calls can be just acutely stressful.
traumatic and difficult. And again, the tools to deal with that stress are often too often lacking. So before we go too far into the background of why I’m starting this, let’s just go ahead. I’m gonna just address the idea of what is mindfulness, because this is something that really tripped me up when I was first starting out on my journey.
People would say things like, mindfulness is just being here now, and I would. , where else are you gonna be? You gotta be here now. Like there’s no choice in where you are, you know? But what I was neglecting was that deeper appreciation of what they were trying to say. There are levels to presence. How present are you?
And I think as first responders, certainly something that I did was I, I would sometimes try to avoid being here now because being in that place, and remember the story I told you about why I got into this in the first. Was stressful, it was painful, it induced fear. And for me, fear creates anger and it makes me a very difficult person to be around and not a, not a contributing member of society in any meaningful way.
So the first definition I have. To, to offer is one that I really like, just cuz it’s so simple. It comes from Dr. Ellen Langer. She’s a psychologist at Harvard University. She, she wrote a book on mindfulness and is actually one of the, the first people to write on it in the United States. She comes to this topic not from a background in spirituality, religion,, Really, she comes to, to this from strictly a scientific perspective.
She’s a positive psychologist, meaning she’s not super interested in helping folks , to get over the trauma that they have or the, yeah, get over the trauma that they’ve, um, endured, but rather her approach to psychology is to try and prevent that from ever happening. How do we make people happier, more fulfilled?
Her definition of mindfulness is that it is the opposite of mindlessness. I like it cuz it’s. . What is mindlessness? Mindlessness is, is something that I’m sure you know, I mean, it’s something that I, I certainly have experienced personally. It’s that tendency to not be there, that tendency to ruminate over things I cannot change to have anxiety about things that have not happened.
The tendency to scroll through Instagram when my wife is asking me whether I’ve made a dental appointment for the kids. Avoidance is another way of saying that. And it, and, and another one that, my friend who works with the homeless as a firefighter that I just mentioned is substance abuse, which is a huge issue in our country, not just for citizens, private citizens that first responders are, are, are working with, but also for first responders themselves.
Something we’ll touch on in a future episode, but mindless. Mindfulness is the opposite of that. Okay? That’s our first definition. The second definition is that mindfulness is awareness that arises through paying attention on purpose in the present moment non-judgmentally. This comes from Dr. John Kabat Zinn.
He’s probably the most famous mindfulness teacher out there. He has my respect. Certainly he is a. Just somebody who has done so much to bring, to reduce stress and suffering. That’s how he got started. Was he, he does come from a background in Buddhism. , he was working at UMass General Hospital and he was trying to reduce stress in patients, so he created.
What I think was called the stress reduction there in the 1970s, and basically brought these techniques from Buddhism, made them secular and applied them to folks who were experiencing stressors. Hugely successful, um probably the most successful, , approach. To date in this arena. So mindfulness is awareness that arises through paying attention on purpose in the present moment non-judgmentally.
And Dr. Kazim will sometimes add to this,, as if your life dependent on it, which I think is a flourish that first responders can appreciate it. , it, it kind of adds that urgency and if that helps you. Great. The final definition is one that I really like and it’s the one that I’ve. I guess I’ve landed on increasingly that is, and this comes fromt, not Han t.
Not Han died almost a couple of years ago, so recently. But, , he’s a world famous Buddhist monk from Vietnam, um, nominated in 1967 for the Nobel Peace Prize by none other than Martin Luther King Jr. He, he’s had a huge impact on religious thinking across. religions. He’s the, he is, he’s a lion, let’s put it that way.
And his, his definition is one that I like because it’s simple, , but it’s also, um, it’s simple and yet profound. So his definition is that mindfulness is the capacity to be aware of what is going on and what is there. So what is going on and what is. , you know, his definition of mindfulness is a deeper appreciation of objective reality.
And that’s something I think first responders can really identify with. It goes to the idea of situational awareness, which is something that is so important, , in all that you do. And, , the other thing, aboutt Knot Han, that I think is really interest. . Another topic for another day is that he actually did teach first responders, believe it or not, it’s not well known, but he and a woman named Sherry Maples, who is a lieutenant in Wisconsin, actually brought mindfulness teaching to law enforcement there.
He saw the value the way that I think, I see the value in understanding mindfulness for this audience. Um, the benefits. many, but, and I’m gonna wrap it up here, but one of the things I do want to caution bef at the end of this is just we don’t wanna seek out the benefits. So that’s something I’m going to be very diligent about.
I don’t want to play up the idea that this is gonna make you better or that you’re going to find happiness through this podcast. That would be a fool’s. . What I’m more interested in and what I’ve found in my own life is that you can find happiness more readily when you aren’t looking for it. When you go out there seeking, you tend to be disappointed.
And this is, I should speak for myself, but that has been my, um, a little pearl of wisdom if I, if I may say so. Um, I’m not the first to say it, but it’s something that I have found. . And, with that, thank you for listening. Be safe and I’ll talk to you soon.