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Buddhist Chaplaincy in Law Enforcement: Qalvy Grainzvolt's Journey

Updated: 3 days ago

Chaplain Qalvy Grainzvolt is a native New Yorker, an ordained Shinnyo-en Buddhist priest and lead meditation guide at The Shinnyo Center for Meditation and Wellbeing. Qalvy is also a U.S. Army National Guard veteran, a uniformed chaplain for the Port Chester Police department in Westchester County, New York, and the first Buddhist chaplain for the New York City Transit system, including its MTA police department. He has provided mindfulness training to NYPD officers.

Rev. Grainzvolt shares his experience as a Buddhist priest and meditation doing law enforcement chaplaincy and teaching mindfulness to police officers. The importance of work-life balance for first responder spiritual fitness and resilience. The power of conscious breathing and mindfulness in managing transitions from home to work and work to home as well as the power of connecting with nature for spiritual resilience. A brief guided mindfulness meditation practice making use of images from the natural world.

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Buddhist Chaplaincy in Law Enforcement: Qalvy Grainzvolt's Journey Transcript


John McAdams:  

Hello, everyone, and welcome to another session on day four of the Global First Responder  Resilience Summit. My name is John McAdams with the Centre for Mindfulness and Public  Safety. I'll be your co-host for this session. Today's theme is spiritual fitness and resilience. I'm  very excited to be here today with Qalvy Grainzvolt. Welcome, Qalvy.  


Rev. Qalvy Grainzvolt: 

Hey, John. It's wonderful to be here.  


John McAdams: 

Great. Well, Qalvy. If it's okay with you, I'm going to read your bio and let our audience get to  know a little bit about you, and then we can move into our conversation. How does that sound?  


Rev. Qalvy Grainzvolt: 

That sounds great. Thank you so much.  


John McAdams: 

Great. Reverend Qalvy Grainzvolt is a native New Yorker and ordained Shinto and Buddhist  priest and lead meditation guide at the Shinto Centre for Meditation and Well-being. Qalvy is  also a US Army National Guard veteran, the uniformed chaplain for the Port Chester Police  Department in Westchester County, New York, and the first Buddhist chaplain for the New York  City transit system, including its MTA Police Department.  

In 2018, Qalvy helped bring mindfulness to the NYPD, the New York City Police  Department, as part of its CIT (Crisis Intervention Team). Qalvy holds a master's degree in clinical  mental health counseling and serves as a mindfulness instructor at New York University. Again  Qalvy, very good to have you.  


Rev. Qalvy Grainzvolt: 

It's my pleasure to be here. My honor. Thank you, John. 


John McAdams: 

Thanks, Qalvy. Well, I thought that we would start with hearing about the work that you have  done with NYPD. The NYPD is known across the globe as one of our foremost police  departments here in the United States. Can you tell us a little bit about the work? I know you  have a story about some training that you did in part of your Academy. Could you share that with us?  


Rev. Qalvy Grainzvolt:  

Thank you, John. Thanks for allowing me to share some of this. I can't go into particulars of  training, but I think one of the things that I was really sort of proud of and impressed by the  Academy and sort of how they've been forming and growing their training curriculum is that  they included mindfulness. And so, I had a great opportunity to be a part of that formation  process and to train all the trainers. All those officers and staff that are assigned to the Academy  to lead those training In mindfulness. 


And so, it was my first day there, actually. I was introducing myself, and there were maybe about 20 officers in the room and some other clinicians. I just asked for everyone's name.  Most folks were willing to give it, and I think one officer who maybe just felt a little apprehensive  about what my purpose there really was. This is under the radar psych evaluation. Who knows? But I mean, it sort of speaks to, I think, some of the universal apprehension in first responder  culture that their fitness will be challenged or will be evaluated in some way.  


Anyway, I never learned his name. He told me that his name was Yoda. And so, a little  bit of science fiction trivia, if you don't know, Yoda is a Jedi Master in the Star Wars trilogy. He is  the little green guy that's quite powerful, actually. But that was sort of my introduction. "Oh,  boy. This is not off to a great start. Not only do I not have rapport and trust, but I'm starting to  talk about mindfulness in the context of make-believe science fiction." 


What impressed me, and I didn't see this coming, was that this officer, by the end of our  time together, even after it, became one of the biggest proponents of mindfulness training at the  NYPD. I think that's because of the energy and the passion that he put into sort of protecting  himself and creating a boundary in a sense. He was able to pour that into a practice that he saw  is empirically validated and actually was helping, even in the course of training himself and his  colleagues. Seeing how it helped them in some ways to get better sleep and to be more fit. Not  necessarily physically, but in what I would say, it's a sort of intimate mental, psychological, and dare I say spiritual way.


John McAdams:  

Great. Great. How do you think that this actually benefited him? So, he spoke a little bit about sleep and maybe a level of mental and emotional balance that comes through mindfulness. But  I'm wondering, as a chaplain, mindfulness is certainly known and brought to law enforcement  and first responders, certainly by our organization as a completely secular approach to resilience  building. But I'm interested in you coming in as a chaplain. How do you see this as a way for first  responders, LDS, particularly, to work at nurturing their spirituality?  


Rev. Qalvy Grainzvolt:  

So yeah, that's a really good question, John. I guess in some ways, I was also cognizant that I  was there wearing two hats. So, you're absolutely right. One hat was a mental health  professional. As a clinician, as a mindfulness instructor that's focused on making the practice  secular. No one feels sort of pigeonholed into some sort of religious orientation or spiritual  information.  


I couldn't deny the fact that I was there, not officially as a chaplain, but that's part of my  story. And certainly a part of how I've been able to engage with mindfulness. And so, how it  helped, I think, is that because we were in such a sort of intimate setting for a pretty short period of time to fitness training, and, yeah, they were sort of the first guinea pigs, if you will, in giving  us a try.  


We were talking about things that people can't see. We don't even see necessarily all  the time what's happening in our minds and our hearts. We were then directly talking about and  engaging in practices that sort of gave us not only the wherewithal to step into that space, but I  think, some of the courage and resilience, as you said, John, to live in a space that is very private that we don't share.  


And so, I think that alone already started to open something up. And then, it certainly  points to what are the behaviors that we have? What are the reactions, especially as first  responders? Do we have first reactions to the stressors that we experience? And certainly, for  members of law enforcement. But I would say the same for corrections officers, for fire, for EMTs,  for healthcare workers, ER nurses, and so forth, and physicians that they are in a shift schedule.  Having sleep and having continuity and stability can be a very elusive thing.  


Certainly, sort of finding a way to approach sleep was one of the things that I was hearing  not just from this officer but actually from others in this cohort that I was helping to train. That  was something that was improved. It seems so simple, but actually, not always. It's a very nuanced thing to sort of create the approach to a good, I'm not going to say good night's sleep,  but to good sleep, whether it's happening in the day or night.  


The last thing I would just add to that, it's certainly also having an awareness. Holding  awareness is a very courageous act. I think they were able to do that. And even seeing some of  the habits that weren't so great. And, you know, and being able to address that and maybe sort  of create some new pathways for new habits was something that really impressed me. I'm so  inspired and will never forget meeting Yoda in real life.  


John McAdams:  

I want to key on you on the word courage that you used twice in your response. I wanted to ask  you to talk about some of the interactions you've had. You're working with Westchester County. You're working with MTA. You're working directly with officers. We know across the field that  there can be a lot of reticence to reaching out for help and reaching out for whatever. We don't  have to call it help. It could be just a conversation or just some support somewhere. 


Does that equal "I'm broken, and I'm weak, and I'm the broken toy, and I need to get  fixed."? Or is it really something else? Is it really this idea of building spiritual fitness, building  spiritual resilience, right? This is a path for our whole life. I'm wondering if you can share some  specific phone calls or interactions that you've had. Where the people that you work with have  been courageous enough just to pick up the phone and call Qalvy? What sort of situations do  they bring to you? What are you finding that's been helpful responding back?  


Rev. Qalvy Grainzvolt:  

John, you used the exact word that I was thinking of, which is broken. I don't mean that to be a  downer in this conversation. I think this concept of being broken is actually a very liberating thing.  


When we think about spirituality, when we think about reaching out and connecting, I  always come back not that I'm sharing this as a talk on religion, but can never give up or let go  of the fact that religion comes from this Latin root to re-ligament. And I had a wonderful  conversation with the professor of Islamic Studies in Oxford a number of years back. He was  sharing with me what that word religion means originally. One of the theories is to reconnect  that which was once whole.  


When you use the word broken, John, it brings to mind the quote. I think it was Ernest  Hemingway that said it. Please don't quote me on it. He said something like, "The world breaks everyone. And afterward, many are stronger at the broken spots or the broken places." I think  the rest of the quote goes something like, "Those who don't break, the world kills." I know I'm  using very existential words, things that are not pleasant to hear. But I think this is the reality of  the first responder sort of ethos that it is the courage to step into a line of work and an  environment every single day or every shift, and have the courage to be present with one's mortality, and certainly the mortality and well being of others.  


So, if we're not looking at the brokenness and sort of seeing how that's part of the  courage that we may not always realize we're carrying into everyday life even if we're scared,  even if we're apprehensive about more mundane things, financial bills, and childcare. Just  domestic peace with one's partner or spouse, perhaps. That, I think, takes a great deal of courage.  It's one of the reasons why, yes, just like you said, John, people do reach out and call me. We're  usually meeting one another in a very broken place. I would say that it's not the beautiful part, but sort of the unique part of this is that the way that you might break or the way that I might  break shows something really unique about who we are.  


I think in that sense if we're going to build resilience, it's not that we're building it on a  perfect structure or perfect presence that has never broken before. But it's actually an act of  rebuilding and re-ligamenting. And that that process certainly gives harvest to not only  resilience, but I think an awareness of one's most intimate definition of spirituality and  wholeness.  


John McAdams: 

Great, thank you. Thank you, Qalvy. So, are you willing to share a couple of those calls when  people are reaching out?  


Rev. Qalvy Grainzvolt:  

Absolutely. I gotten, especially in this age of COVID-19, things have changed a little bit. So, where I would normally go out for coffee or sit somewhere with an officer, for example, I had  gotten, I think it was a phone call, which then morphed into Zoom ultimately so that we could  see one another.  


This officer sort of hit the checklist of many of the challenges that come up, which is, he  had sustained an injury. He then was looking at his sense. He's left that law enforcement agency before he hit 20 years, so he didn't have a pension to draw from. So, there was that anxiety as  well. And then, going through a divorce at the same time with a number of kids sort of hanging  in the balance of where they were going to find stability and support. So, just as I was saying before. I was meeting him at a very broken place. I immediately said that courage just to reach  out and share that brokenness with me. Because I, too, am broken, I too am searching for a way  to make more whole and stable this experience of life. And how inspired I was just by him  showing up. I think, certainly, having that human connection is a form of connectivity. That is a  form of making more whole sort of the fragmentations of thoughts, the personal narratives that  we may not share. Sort of, as I was mentioning earlier, this is a very intimate place in here. We  don't always, certainly see ourselves or share with others. So, just the act of reaching out in a  confidential, trust-oriented way is a very powerful first step.  


He was doing many of the other things that he could do within his power and control.  Right? He's seeing a therapist as well. He had his attorney and all these moving parts. And so, in the end, what was he looking for? It was a sense of personal wholeness when so many other  things beyond his control were a little bit broken. And so, I talked to him a little bit about a form  of Japanese pottery called Kinsky, which celebrates almost the natural breakages in a piece of  pottery. What happens is in those cracks, it gets inlaid in an amalgam of Platinum or silver or  gold, such that it transforms into this beautiful work of art. The breaks are not to be disguised or  swept under the rug or drank away with a beverage of choice. But it is something to be seen and  sort of respected. That's part of the history, part of the process of that work of art.  


And so, we started to do a number of things. We did meditation, mindfulness practices.  But I think one of the more powerful things for him was where we would do it, the choice of  where to bring ourselves. We would often turn to nature. He would take me on the phone as he  went out to a park, sat in the sun. That alone, again, was a form of reaching out and changing  that which is within our power to connect with something.  


And so, we found for him that connecting with nature, connecting with sort of an  empowered state of being through mindfulness, and the courage that it takes to sit with things.  And then perhaps sometimes with that the clarity that arises with just as you said, John, what  action will we take not ultimately just to sit there indefinitely? But then, how are we going to not  react? But what will be our first response, in a sense? Not onto those stressors but the next step  of moving forward?  


John McAdams:  

This is a fascinating story. Well, what I think I'm hearing is that this particular gentleman included  you in his team of support. He had a support team. He had his lawyer. He had what Richard  Goerling calls his mental health coaches, his counselor. He had you in a sort of a spiritual support  role. I'm sure that he had the friends and family members, but that just seems like such a great healthy way to approach moving forward through these challenges that we're all experiencing,  and particularly as you said, those courageous people who go into danger, right? That's what  they go towards. They go towards the danger.  


Anyway, so I love this correlation between the courage it takes to show up every day on your  shift, go towards danger at every call, and then take that courage and also use it to go towards  those places that you feel dangerously. Internally, they can feel that those are dangerous, those  places where you can apply the silver or the Platinum or the gold. 

 

Rev. Qalvy Grainzvolt:  

What I didn't expect is how one person's courage can actually connect with the courage of  others. I didn't send them a check in the mail or anything. But he started to say, "Hey, you know  what, you should go speak to the chaplain." Some of the other officers he knew well. 

And so, I started to get phone calls. He, in some ways, single-handedly, started to change  what I think is some of the unfortunate sorts of the cultural stigma of first responder life that at  all times you have to show you are powerful, you're not broken, we're ready and willing and  able to step forward.  


That makes this sort of amalgam of this compassionate warrior come in the research  article, not a police psychologist talking about the expectation of being this compassionate  warrior. It's an incredible thing to be able to do that. But how long can it be sustained? And if  the expectation is to sustain that for the duration of one shift, okay, but what about the times  when you're not on shifts? Does one ever take the armor off? Does one ever sort of air out the  other stories that make up who they are? 


So, I was really impressed that I started to get other calls and reach outs from his  colleagues and that he was able to have the courage to share, "Hey, I'm talking to someone. I  think it's helping me. I think it may help you." He sort of touched on the universality, that as  human beings, we are all broken in some way. But it means that we can connect with what's  unique. And that's a very powerful place to be if you want to use it to grow. 


John McAdams:  

This gentleman reached out to you at a point in his life when there were a lot of challenges. It's very interesting to hear. Anyways, it makes you feel good that he spoke with some of his people, and they started to reach out to you. 


I guess some of the work we're doing here with the Summit, and some of the work that  we're trying to do is to normalize having these sorts of people, like yourself, as just part of your  team, part of your support team. We don't necessarily have to get to those points of really  extreme challenge. Can this become more of just part of what I do? Part of my program to  maintain my resilience, to maintain my fitness? So, would you like to share a phone call that was  pretty mundane? Somebody reached out, and there wasn't a huge crisis going on.  


Rev. Qalvy Grainzvolt:  

John, thank you so much for mentioning that. You're absolutely right. And actually, this is not a  phone call, but I was teaching a class of new recruits at the Westchester County Police Academy. The stressors are a little bit different. I think, in some ways, there was so much hope. The things  that were a sort of a mundane form of worry, where, you know, "Will I pass the fitness test?" "Will I pass this or that?" It's a long journey to get to the starting point, in some ways.  


And so, one of the recruits came up to me afterward and sort of shared how  overwhelmed she was and all these little things. It doesn't always have to be a big thing that sort of galvanizes one's life into motion. It can be kind of like a syrup painting made in a point or a style. Just a thousand little dots can still take up an entire canvas just as much as a few broad brushstrokes.  


And so, we are really sort of talking about why these things are so heavy and so big. We  realized as we talked that a lot of it has to do with what are the stories that we tell ourselves. Who do we believe that we are? What meaning do we hold in life? Meeting a recruit at the start  of his or her or their career is also a very powerful place because often it is a place where  meaning is being formed. It's jelling. They're starting to discover how hard the dream of even  getting to the start line might be. And so, it starts to challenge certain ideas of, "Am I good  enough? Am I not good enough to sort of very binary space?"  


And so, that took some time to kind of scale-out the camera lens of the consciousness, if  you will, to sort of see things with a fisheye lens and recognize that who one is, is not just this job, for example. I was very touched when the senior trainers of the Academy had said that if  you go into his house, you would never know that he's a cop. You'll never know. He doesn't have  a police scanner going 24 hours a day. He doesn't have any certificates on the wall. He doesn't  have any of his commendations. And that's a personal choice. It doesn't mean he doesn't have  pride, but he sort of consecrated his home as a sacred space. He lives enough. He carries a shield  all the time. He has his firearm. Even when it's not there, you can almost feel the imprint of those  items on the body. And if you're in fire, corrections, or in healthcare, you can perhaps almost feel the gear that you wear even when it's not there. Almost like a TV that even after it's turned off,  some of the residual images are still there. And so, kind of expanding that narrative. That  storytelling piece that we do, not only as the main character in our own stories but also as the  narrator, was a very powerful thing.  


Obviously, we walked away with this recruit that, "Listen, you wouldn't even be here if  you weren't already qualified. You wouldn't be talking to me if you weren't already embodying  courage." I think she wound up doing just fine. But it's moments of doubt. It's moments of pause  in the sentence of our lives, whatever it is, that sometimes will benefit from looking at all the  mundane things, all the small things that are kind of challenging, causing doubt. Having a  broader perspective about what we mean to ourselves, what we mean to the world. Not just by  what we do, but who we are beyond that.  


Sorry, that may not have been as crystallized as I had hoped. I don't want to get into too  many details for confidentiality, but perhaps certainly your background in corrections and  chaplaincy, maybe glean from that some of the challenges of finding meaning in one's work and  their self-worth stories.

 

John McAdams:  

Well, I think one of the aspects that you brought in which is so important is developing this  balance between work and life, or work and home life. To have these balances, to have some  boundaries between work and not work, on shift or off shift. And so, your description of the  senior trainer and something about his residents and how he holds that as a place to not be at work.  


As a chaplain, how are you working to help bridge that? That seems to me to be one  aspect of spiritual fitness is that one way we look at spirituality, of course, is that we're  connected to something bigger than ourselves. Right? That certainly our work and being of  service to the community and protecting the community is something bigger than ourselves. It's huge. It's an incredibly powerful way to dedicate your life and to serve your fellow citizens.  Beyond that, my question is, as a chaplain, how do you feel that you're working with helping  people to have that work-life balance or expand that sort of the way you're describing as a band  that view of their entire life? 


Rev. Qalvy Grainzvolt:  

You know, what comes to mind are some of the techniques that I have tried to bring in. Now, how do we feel that sense of togetherness to a mission, to a cause, but also the self-differentiation? I think a lot of that has to do with constructing a boundary. I think that's what my  good friend Yoda sort of instinctively did. But that creating boundaries are not a bad thing, that  the element of self-care is, in fact, a way of treasuring, whether we call it one spirit, or mind, or  heart. Something that we know is intangible. That's not the biochemistry of our brain necessarily but is really precious, really worth protecting because it allows us to bring something so unique that no one else in the world has it.  


And so, with some officers that I've worked with, one of the techniques is, well, once you  drive past a certain road sign, if you take a car to work, if you're on a train or bus. Once you pass  a certain landmark, see if you can very consciously kind of exhale and just let go of that part of  the day. Not forget, but then open yourself up to a broader sense of who you are beyond the  challenge, the stress, that you may have experienced at that moment. 

One of the other things that have been really meaningful for me, and I found it to be  meaningful for many first responders that I've worked with, is their interpersonal relationships. The ones that, yes, are at work, but not just at work. Even at home in family situations. I think  that's where mindfulness is really powerful.  


I was sharing how being able to apologize to someone that I really, really don't want to  apologize to. It's still so hard, but it's one of the most powerful things that I think I've been able  to use. The courage and resilience, I think, come from that practice. For me, I found that that has  been effective as well.  


Recently, an officer reached out and was just saying. He actually said, "Would you mind  speaking to my wife about mindfulness?" He participated in a training that I did. Well, I think I've  met her once before to picnic or something together with them. I said, "Yeah. We could speak." He was going to be on the call, but he really wanted it to be for her. So I thought, it's a nice thing.  It was over Zoom. But it turned into a sort of a couples counseling/chaplaincy session because  they both started to air grievances about one another. They illustrated that they have kids. One  was working during the day. He works midnights. And so, they don't really have like, two hours  in a day where their tabs kind of intersect. And it was so full always of routine to-do lists, making  lunch. It was almost a clerical time. It started to erode their relationship.  


And so, just to be able to sit there and have the power of presence to slow down and  say, "You know what? We're not going to fix this all tonight." But to validate one another's  challenge and to even sort of conjure up the beginnings of an apology because there was a little  spark of disagreement that precipitated our meeting. That was a really powerful thing. I guess what I'm saying here is to look for ways that we can actually integrate the care. If you say someone is spiritually inclined or inclined, if you go to that definition of religion, to re legion, to  re ligament something that was once whole. 


Even if it's a relationship with another, looking for those small boundaries that we can  create, the boundary where I'm going to hold back some toxicity, and I'm going to try and create  a buffer space for an apology can come out, where I can look at a road sign, and just sort of let  go temporarily. That's self-differentiation. Even when you're a part of a dyad or a collective, that  is a very powerful place to be and something that has certainly come up.  


John McAdams:  

So this is quite a range. There's quite a range of work that you do, Qalvy. And so, we've heard  some great stories. I'm wondering about leadership. Have you had leadership reach out to you?  


Rev. Qalvy Grainzvolt: 

Yeah. Yeah. I was impressed. Not everyone is on board. I think many people can appreciate that a chaplain is good to use language. Being a part of a support team, if not for an individual officer to have for a department. That's amazing.  

As a Buddhist member of the clergy, my services as a Buddhist are not as needed,  certainly, in sort of the Judeo-Christian environment that I've learned. It is, at least, in the  agencies that I am privileged to be a part of. Certainly, there are members who identify as  Buddhists and so forth. But really, it's more of this kind of human approach. This wish to see a  kind of universal form of care that can come when someone is there and present and would  make it their mission to listen, to validate, to be accepting, and to be dedicated to healing. 


And so, I think that transcends any particular religion, any particular tradition, or even  notion of spirituality. And then, so yes, to go back to what I said. I was really impressed, at least  with agencies that I'm with, that they are supportive and encouraging of their training, creating  and sort of calling the best techniques, the best curriculums that can be had. Because ultimately,  any agency is only as good as each member of the team. It's not like I sit down and have tea with  the commissioner's agency, but certainly, their executive leaders have been that. 


One story if you can just share quickly, the newly retired chief of transit New York City  Police Department, his name is Joe Fox, really wonderful, warm leader. He brought me on board  to start doing orientations. He's the bureau chief for the new sergeant's mindfulness, just  creating an atmosphere of care. I think to recognize that that is the undercurrent of service was a really powerful message. And so, to see who do leaders bring into the team, now that speaks  volumes. 


John McAdams:  

You've spoken with me a few times in the past. I think this is leading very much towards your  approach to the understanding of diversity. And obviously, you agree on a somewhat diverse  approach to chaplaincy and spirituality in the departments that you're working with. So, can you  talk a little bit about that and how you see that as potentially, I guess, building openness towards  further diversity with officers in the community, with agencies across our communities? 


Rev. Qalvy Grainzvolt:  

Yeah. I think that's a really important thing because the world is, in many ways, reflecting greater  and more diversity, for sure. Depending on the size of the department, but certainly, it can be  very reflective of its community, not always. One of the things that I've found, though, is, diversity  brings a lot of opportunities to try new things, almost like two ecosystems coming together and  blending and creating new traditions and a new culture, if you will. We're talking about a culture  of stigma before that can be a resisting force to change to defining new pathways for healing and for recognizing our sense of brokenness.  


So, I think for me, because I'm not needed. There's one department I'm thinking of. Not  necessarily needed as a Buddhist chaplain, per se. But as you said, John, bringing the practice of  mindfulness, which is an aspect of my tradition that goes back millennia in a way that feels  inclusive, that feels secular enough that everyone can enjoy, and that they can make it as spiritual as they want in their intimate space within their buffer zone. So, part of what I've been doing is  bringing practices to them. I want to show up to where they are. Nobody wants to have one  more thing that I now have to do, one more thing that's going to take me away from the million  things that I already have.  


And so, I've been doing a lot of mindfulness at roll calls, which are traditionally pretty  short, 5-10-15 minutes. Standing in formation, holding on to the 30 pounds of gear. And just to  do a brief practice, five minutes of mindfulness. One of the things that were really kind of  beautiful for me, I was at the 32 Precinct in Harlem, and the precinct commander brought me up  to the roof. I said, "What are we going to do up here?" 


When I got up to the roof of the precinct, they had, and this is actually on Twitter. He posted it on Twitter, but every officer on duty is standing in formation, and because of COVID,  we're trying to be careful and mindful. And so, since we were outside and this is something they're already doing, the instance to change their relationship with sound. And that means not  turning off the sound of the world, but to listen to one sound that requires all of their focus and  having that relationship with focus, with care. And to do that before they go out on their tour.  


What we were amazed about was, you know, in the middle of Harlem, on a weekday  afternoon, with the buses going by, we could hear the sound of birds. I asked every officer to  just listen to that for the next minute. I saw them pouring every ounce of attention, like one glass  of water into another. And there's nothing necessarily religious or spiritual about it. But for some  folks, it was. And that connection to nature, that connection to the ecosystem that we're part of, it becomes a kind of grounding.  


It's hard to be able to pinpoint what that means for someone or why that is. But I think it  harkens back to this notion that we're expected to be such self-sufficient and compassionate  warriors. But we have to recharge somehow. We have to reconnect. A tree doesn't grow in  isolation underneath the ground. We know that its root network is almost as vast as the size of  the tree above.  


So, bringing practices, bringing care to moments that they're already in, not to create  extra work, I think, for me as a chaplain, that's a form of respect and how I can show my care for  the challenges of a shift schedule and the sort of the uncertainty of what that shift might hold.  


John McAdams: 

Well, I'm really intrigued now. I'm really intrigued. Would you be willing to share a practice that  you would do a roll call? Could you share that with us now?  


Rev. Qalvy Grainzvolt: 

Yeah. I'm going to try to make it really short, like five minutes. I'll compress that to five minutes as much as I can. I really try to keep it to that. So yeah, what I would invite you to do is we just  dive right into it. I invite you to immediately change your relationship with the world by gently  closing your eyes. If you find that takes you off balance or feel a little bit unstable, then you're  welcome to look at an image. 


I've often used an image of nature, roadside grass, a blade of grass, a tree. Something  that feels rooted, feels stable, and feels growing. Whether you can see that in front of you or  you can just visualize it in your mind, I invite you to breathe naturally in, out, maybe in triplicate.  So, three opening breaths authentically at your own pace. 


In this very brief, guided meditation that I often do, the opening invitation is this, that we  meet ourselves in very fragmented ways because we aren't expected to multitask. But for these next few minutes, the invitation is to slow things down to sort of collect, root all of the attention, all the awareness that we have, and all the courage and resilience that we may or may not know we have harvested.  


So, we begin by noticing what, if any, thoughts we bring into the mind. There's no right  or wrong. Just know we're visiting. We're walking past a patch of the grass field. Notice what's  growing, if anything at all, but thoughts are routed there. If you find any judgment arising. Exhale  it with each output.  


Begin to notice any stillness in the body, but not looking for an absolute sense of stillness,  breathing, and movement. Just looking to slow things down. Maybe beginning to notice the  feeling of your clothing on the skin. The texture, the weight, the breathability.  


If you can notice the feeling of your clothing gear, whatever it is that adorns the skin,  perhaps you can start to notice that stillness that adorns the body as well. And so that too is an  article of clothing. I invite you to notice not just who you are when you begin to slow down or  even attempt to slow down but who you are when we exercise the power of your attention. I invite you to tune into any silence that you can glean within. Not the ambient sounds around  you, but by choosing to listen to one sound that is so faint that it requires your full attention,  such as your own breathing. In the next 10 to 20 seconds, listen to the sound of each in-breath and each out-breath. And so, that is your only job.  


As you do this, maybe we start to become more awake to the sensation of being seated  or supported by whatever surface is giving foundation to the body. I invite you to feel the uplift  of your seat, whatever is giving your body support and as you breathe naturally in and out, just  consider, to whom have you given support like this seat is doing for you now? What the ground  is doing for you now. There is no right or wrong answer. Surely you have been a part of  someone's life. And then, let's flip it around. Who or what has given you support? Whether it  was today, ten years ago, a lifetime ago. It's impossible to think of everything or everyone, but  you see what comes up in mind, in the heart. 


If not a person, maybe a mission. Some cause or some inspiration. Some aspiration. Notice  that you are connecting yourself to something whole as you do this. You're grounding. I invite  you to close this meditation by taking three closing breaths. Just letting go of anything that you  don't need with each exhale.


As you feel ready, those of you who did participate and join in on this, I invite you to  reopen your eyes, reconnect with the world visually. Remember where you are, what you're  doing. If your body is tense, you need to shake anything out. Be kind. Be compassionate to yourselves. And thank you for indulging me in that short, but most likely not five minutes, if I  look back at the clock, but what was meant to be a brief foray into a moment of mindfulness. 

 

John McAdams: 

Thank you, Qalvy. I really enjoyed that. That was great. I have a question for you. 

 

Rev. Qalvy Grainzvolt: 

Sure.  


John McAdams: 

We were, potentially, in a roll call situation. I mean, I really enjoyed doing this practice myself  here in my office. But we may have an entire shift. It's about to now go on to their motors or into  their vehicles out on the shift. How do you see this is making a better officer? 


Rev. Qalvy Grainzvolt: 

I was teaching up in Massachusetts for a sort of mindfulness and healing festival. There was an EMS worker that was attending. She taught me something that she felt was reflected in what  we had done. She said, when she responds to a crisis or to an emergency, yes, she's aware that  she's responding to something, that she's meeting someone at their worst moment. But before  she stepped out of her vehicle, just like you were saying, John, she took a breath, just one breath.  It may seem like you're wasting valuable seconds. But that one breath is not just an act of  oxygenating the tissues of the body. It is a moment of just being with the courage, the  apprehension, all the biochemical processes that are happening at that moment, different  hormones, whether it's cortisol and so forth, they're happening. But it's a moment of  intentionality. It's a moment of trying to encapsulate the care that she wanted to bring to that patient.  


She had talks with their supervisor, who recommended the same thing. He said, "Listen,  you are not wasting time. You are going to show up so much more prepared." It almost sounds  surreal. "Really? You just want me to take one breath, and that's going to make all the difference? And so, I'm not saying that it's something that happens overnight. But it's a certain orientation  that you bring and the acceptance of your own anxiety, your own hormones going in that sort of 

cascade of emotions that would be going on just for a brief second. I'm saying, you know, half a  second, as a practice going over and over it. For her, it was something that was really powerful.  


I'd never really thought about that. I always thought that first responders get up and go.  But she'd found that she was more collected when she showed up, rather than sort of bumbling  around or not being quite ready. I'm not saying that's the solution to every moment of crisis. But  it was a way to kind of interweave things to those, as you said, John, who may be stepping out  into uncertain moments.  


And so for that reason, beyond doing a roll call meditation or mindfulness practice, some  of the other ways that we've been trying to integrate this is to bring that those elements of care  and to make it a mindful practice, spiritual practice, whatever you want to call it. So, for example,  before you get into a patrol car. I think the manual kind of says, procedures and policies manual.  After you finish, fuel it up. Make sure it's clean of debris. And every time I bring that up, I say,  when you get into your sector car or patrol car, it's already clean, right? The previous tour spot checked it. I always get laughs, groans because the fact of the matter is, there are probably soda  cans and debris, and the gas tank is not topped off. So, that becomes a part of their day.  


And so, if we can use those moments to harness, sort of the mundane as a gateway, into  a moment of mindfulness, a moment of connecting with one spirit, with one's care, I think that's  a very powerful thing to do that doesn't take time away. It transforms everyday work into  something a little bit more, I use the word, careful in that it's full of care. It's a moment to be  present with nature in terms of our own human nature and how we can infuse that into the  culture of what we do.  


One of the things that I can share really quickly, I was watching a video the other day of  who's in the room with us when we are kind of exploring existential topics when we're reading  sacred texts. I was talking to some seminary students. In this video, they were saying, "You're  not just you. You're there. At any moment, you're there with your parents, with voices that were  influential to you. You're there with other members of the community who kind of co-script the environment that we're in." 


And then it was saying, there is also the spirit that can be there. I'm not suggesting Holy  Spirit. I'm not suggesting something that's Judeo-Christian in nature, even though the video was  in that context. And when it talked about that, they had this animated bird fly down. It's so  interesting that somehow part of nature can sort of spark or represent something transcendence that is beyond ourselves. 


And so, as I said earlier, you're tuning into nature is a really important thing. But those  granular moments when we're at work, when we're doing things that don't feel special or don't  feel full of character, it is a time to be with nature. It is our human nature. It's an opportunity, I  think, in some small way embody that care. And I think over time, it is a culturally transformative  process that we can contribute. So, I know that may sound abstract, but that's something that  I've found has been a powerful pathway into making do with the limited time that we all have.  


John McAdams:  

Thank you, Qalvy. Thank you so much for your time today and for the conversation. I've learned  a lot about the work that you do specifically, and I love your orientation towards connection with  nature and the image of everybody up on the roof and being able through all that urban  soundscape to be able to get a bird call. And that it's all part of the same thing. I mean, that is  the natural environment with the buses and the honking horns and the bird calls. The sirens and  everything else that's going on. But interestingly, there was a bird animation in the video you  just described. I'm a big bird fan. We have five different types of feeders in our yard. I love to see  the birds. 

 

Anyways, thank you so much. I just really appreciate the work that you do. I really want  to thank you for stepping into this role with a number of different agencies. I wish you all the  best to continue to extend this good work. Thank you so much for being with us today.  


Rev. Qalvy Grainzvolt:  

If I can just say, John, thank you for all that you do in your work as a chaplain and all the training  that you do. And for anyone that's listening here, I really thank you for what you've dedicated  your lives to doing. I just feel an immense amount of gratitude for being here. It's a real privilege.  Thank you.  


John McAdams:  

Absolutely. Thanks, Qalvy. Bye now.

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