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Dear Jenni: YSP 1:35


Objective sensory perception stabilizes and focuses thought.

Yoga Sutras of Patanjali I:35 — Bouanchaud translation

The single minded state is frankly delicious. It’s a state I’ve enjoyed a lot in my capacity as a police dispatcher.

Dispatching police car and other emergency services workers is in one respect the toughest job I can imagine and at the same time, the easiest job in the universe. It really consists of being able to match up a bunch of unrelated problems (bar fight, lost kid, shoplifting, traffic accident, traffic accident, suicidal individual, traffic accident, heart attack) with the available resources… usually defined as police cars, fire trucks and ambulance crews that not enough, not close enough and definitely not where you want them to be when you want them to be there.  You could always do with fewer problems and more resources, but alas, the Universe seldom accommodates that position.

Watching a truly excellent police dispatcher handle this informational chaos is like watching Lance Armstrong ride a bike up the side of a mountain. To the observer, it looks effortless when the truth of the matter is it’s anything but effortless. Instead, it is a single minded concentrated effort with everything, every molecule of being, being brought to bear at the task at hand.

For a dispatcher, it’s about what do you hear and what do you see. In my work world, I understand the nature of the world through my ears. When I’m working the phone lines, my entire work unit depends on my capacity to listen, really listen, to everything going on through that phone line. We listen to the words that are said, the words that aren’t said, the tone, the pace, the background noise, the lack of background noise, the overall sense of a call. Sometimes, it’s pretty easy to figure out what’s going on. People yelling, crying for help, screaming “I want the cops, NOW” with background noises of furniture being tipped over on end is a sure indication of a fight in progress.

Sometimes it’s not so simple. Sometimes you can never point to the clue that just made you sit up and listen. The example I’ve always given was a phone call I received from a woman in the early part of the evening, on a regular police administration line, asking to speak with an officer who was off duty at the time. She was very calm, nothing in her voice to indicate trouble when she asked “May I speak with Sgt Johnson, please?”  I replied that he wasn’t on duty at the moment and asked if I could take a message when as clear as a bell, I KNEW there was something more involved in this call than a simple phone message. I switched vocal tones and said rather softly but very crisply “There’s something else going on here. You need to tell what’s wrong, right now.” It turned out she had been held hostage at gunpoint for several hours by her abusive husband who had finally passed out long enough for her to call. In her psychologically traumatized mind, she didn’t think to call 9-1-1. She called and asked for the only police officer she knew by name.

The point here isn’t that I’m some kind of freaky super dispatcher/call-taking riding the psychic realms to super-hero (or should that be Super-Hear-O) status. It was her good luck that I was on my game 100% when I picked up that line. Unfortunately, I also have memories of having disregarded that same sense of “there’s something here” that ended very badly because I ignored that inner sense of urgency.

The difference between the two calls? In one call, I was fully awake and present to the task at hand. In the other, the mind was distracted by elements of “mental fat” as Christine named them – projections, rationalizations and assumptions.

For the record, I’ve listened to recordings of both calls a number of times since they happened. In neither case, have I been able to determine what it was that triggered my sense of “ding-ding, pay attention here”. There were neither words nor tone nor anything else that would have offered a clue upon second and third and more listening s to the tapes. Now that I understand more from yoga studies, I’m convinced that it’s entirely about stilling the ‘fluctuations of the mind” that lets these fragments of clarity poke through.

Without realizing it, Christine frequently reminds me, like every second week or so, this is why we practice yoga. It’s surely not about being able to stand on our heads, as laudable as that physical goal may be for a myriad of reasons. We practice yoga because Life is structured so we never know when it’s going to be Game Day. Most days, we all can coast through in our typical scattered, distracted, Mind as story teller entertaining itself in the never ending opera of its own creation.

We practice yoga for the day when it does count. We practice it for the day when being on our game is literally the difference between life and death.  We practice for that moment when we see our attachments, our addictions, our Kleshas for what they are and make a conscious decision to change the rut of habit.  We practice because sometimes clarity counts for everything. As Jenni puts it, we practice to develop perspective.

It’s a skill I’ve honed a lot at work. Yoga is teaching me the value of extending it elsewhere in my life. Today’s aphorism is about training our minds to categorize and discriminate between what I know    from what I think.  “I heard a loud, sharp crack of noise” describes a perception. “I heard a gunshot” is reporting a mental assumption of context.

I’m now at a stage in my career when I spend a lot of time teaching this skill set to more junior dispatchers and my first words of advice are always “Let go. Let go of everything. Let go of your assumptions and your projections and the Monday morning quarterbacking and just deal with what you hear”.  I coach them into constantly making the conscious distinction between what is known (sensory perception) and what is mental projection (the story that the mind makes up to give a narrative pattern to the perceptions).

Listening to a good police dispatcher doing a background briefing to senior police personnel is instructive to us all. An example of what comes to mind is listening to a good dispatcher brief the commander of the tactical unit, also known as SWAT or ERT. In a very short period of time, a huge amount of information is relayed and it’s all categorized. This is what we know — this is what we heard… this is information we gathered from data bases about names and addresses…this is what we’re presuming at this point…these are the assumptions we’ve made so far …

Try it out a few times this week. What do you know? What are you projecting? What is past history?  What portions are fears and hopes and dreams? Take any situation you want and really bring about the full power of Mind to it.  The ability to analyze and discriminate can often being a shortcut to clarity. We meditate in order to sharpen these skills so we’re good to go come Game Day, however it plays out.

Thanks for reading and Namaste,

Kate

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About Kate MacKay

I'm a certified Viniyoga teacher, in Fredericton, NB. I was a 9-1-1 operator and emergency services dispatcher for 22 years. Surprisingly, the two worked well together, or as I liked to put it, from the sublime to the ridiculous -- all in a day's work. I'm currently off work as a result of a stress-induced cardiac condition that's thrown a few crimps in my lifestyle. I'm not actively teaching yoga in the classroom right now and probably won't for several more months. That said, this blog is one of the forms of practice I can do and I thank you for joining me in this exploration of all things yoga.

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