Teaching Meditation at the FBI
Daniel O’Grady, Ph.D. (’17)
On November 15, 2017, after months of delays and set-backs, I began teaching my first meditation class with agents and support staff at the Chicago office of the FBI. As a psychologist, for many years I had received referrals from the FBI’s Employee Assistance Program. In June 2017, I met with five FBI agents and staff members to talk about the benefits of offering a Mindfulness Meditation Program. They were very open and receptive to my proposal. Their only request was that I try to make it “practical” and not too theoretical. They also made it clear that I could not present from a religious perspective.
I come from a police family. My father, uncle, and two cousins were members of the Chicago Police Department for many years. As a psychologist in private practice, I have worked for years with numerous police departments in the Chicago area, conducting fitness for duty evaluations and psychological consultations. So on both a personal and professional level, I am very aware of the stressors and challenges facing law enforcement personnel and how meditation can be a tremendously helpful resource for them.
The program for Chicago’s FBI, titled “Mindfulness Meditation for Stress Management,” ran for six weeks, with one 60-minute session each week. I had no idea how many people would be interested in participating. To my delight (and relief), the first session had 24 attendees and it grew to 35 by the fourth session. The diverse blend of supervisors, agents, analysts, and support staff seemed open and eager to learn.
Each of the six sessions consisted of a brief intro meditation to clear the mind, become conscious of one’s body, and set a personal intention for that session. I then shared some didactic teaching, followed by an individual exercise or small group reflection, ending with 8-10 minutes of mindful meditation. We would close with silent gratitude and dedication. In each session the time just flew by.
My Living School experience influenced how I conducted this meditation program. I recalled the NATO concept Fr. Richard taught us during the intensive: Not Attached To Outcomes. He explained that the contemplative stance is the “non-need” to determine outcomes. Rather, decide to love in order to love. Be a conduit of grace and let go of needing to control. That was my guiding principle throughout the program.
I also talked about non-dual thinking and how meditation/contemplation changes our brain to see the bigger picture. I never used the word God, but I talked about “deepening consciousness” and personal transformation as opposed to just learning meditation techniques.
I felt a sense of gratitude to be part of this new experience—the first time a meditation program was offered—at the Chicago FBI office. At the last session the group offered positive feedback and expressed a strong interest in additional meditation programs. While driving home afterward, I thought of another thing I learned from Fr. Richard. Echoing Catherine of Genoa, he said, “My deepest me is God.” Participants were clearly beginning to learn and be conscious of their deeper self. And they wanted more. Or as St. Augustine expressed, “You have made us for Yourself, O Lord. And our heart is restless until it rests in you.”