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A Police Lieutenant Shares His Unique Perspective on Mindfulness & Compassion

Lt. Travis Higgins | June 21, 2024

How can mindfulness and compassion support wellness for law enforcement personnel? Lieutenant Travis Higgins — of the City of La Mesa P.D. and a Certified Courageous Heart (CH) Instructor — shares his unique perspective on this and more.

So in 2019, I really had no experience with mindfulness or Compassion Cultivation Training© (CCT™). I would say the course probably came at a good time in my life. I had been in the law enforcement profession for 18 years and I was very stressed — working busy night shifts, working overtime and suffering from serious sleep deprivation.


I responded to an email invitation to attend a Courageous Heart 3-Day Immersion. I didn’t know what the 3-Day Immersion training was, but it indicated leaders — particularly sergeants (as I was at the time) — should please consider it. So I read the information and said, “Oh. I’m gonna go try this out!” But really, the reason I signed up was because I wanted to be off of the night shift for a week!


I knew nothing really about yoga, meditation, mindfulness, or compassion. But the description said there was going to be yoga and meditation, and I just thought, “Okay, well, I could go do a cool thing like that for a couple of days.”


When I got to the class, I’m not joking when I say within about 20 minutes, I was hooked. And I’m not a person that’s typically drawn in like that. But the workshop just spoke to some of the things I was going through. And at that point, I didn’t even realize that I couldn’t articulate what I was going through exactly. But I was dealing with sleepless nights and chronic stress.


I couldn’t sleep during my work week because I was getting home at 6:00am. I had a young daughter, and I was trying to get her ready to go to daycare because my wife was working at the time. And then I was getting to bed at about 8:00am and found myself wide awake again at 11:00am! I had insomnia, and no idea why. So, you try everything to try to go to sleep — sleep aids, a beer before bed— and nothing works. The impact of that [the lack of sleep] was felt in both my professional and personal life; on the weekdays as well as the weekends.


On the very first morning of that training we talked about sleep. So that was one of the main hooks for me. I was already going through extreme sleep deprivation, and didn’t know how to change things. We started talking about mindfulness and began to be trained in several practices. I saw a major change in my ability to handle stress, the way I thought about stress, and the way I handled sleep. And then some of the other things that were going on with me, physiologically, began to improve.


I just found a huge benefit to practicing mindfulness. It just really made me so much calmer and happier, and I was really able to connect negative feelings that I was going through with their causes. I learned that if I knew the cause, I could deal with those things.

Awareness & Self-Regulation

Coming out of the immersion, I really focused on a specific meditation, and tried to do it as much as I could. Even though I wasn’t doing a daily practice per se, I was doing it when I could — especially when I would get in stressful situations. I did find that equanimity between a situation and my response to the situation, which I wasn’t able to do very well prior to Courageous Heart training.


Previously, I wasn’t able to be aware and self-regulate as well. I was just basically masking my feelings. I didn’t pay attention to my thoughts and emotions, I ignored them. I had to get through my work week, and then I hoped I could try to relax or reset on my weekends by doing the things that I love to do. I’ve always had a passion for running and endurance-type sports, so I always had that aside from work; and also my family. But it was at work where I really struggled to make it through. But in 2019, I learned this whole new approach to things. And it also helped me in my personal life.

A Turning Point

I was particularly impacted by stress from late 2020 to the beginning of 2021. And I had really wanted to leave law enforcement. However, I was a sergeant at the time and didn’t want to leave the people I worked with. But I lost my passion for law enforcement. I really wanted to find something else. I didn’t like the effect that it had on my life.


I went through some other leadership classes and got back into the mindfulness and compassion sphere in 2021. I started to develop that part of who I was going to be. I also was promoted during that period, so my perspective totally changed. And then you [Julie Learmond-Criqui] reached out to me — and it was perfect timing because I was working on some ways to bring mindfulness and compassion to my agency. And I just remembered how impactful this course, Courageous Heart, was to me. I recall going home and telling my wife that this amazing instructor training was going to happen. I really wanted to be part of Courageous Heart from the instructor development side for a couple reasons:

1. The whole course was so amazing. I remembered the “a-ha” moments and the “light bulbs” turning on. I also remembered feeling a lot calmer, smiling more, and talking to people about the course.

2. The second amazing fact about the program is it is certified by the Commission on Peace Officer Standards and Training (POST). That was a huge component. It might seem bureaucratic, but it’s so important as a manager to be involved in programs that are certified by this organization.

Supporting Others on Their Journey

It was an absolute blessing that I was able to get involved in Courageous Heart. And I could talk for 60 minutes on how great the facilitation program was. I think everybody in that program really appreciated the whole experience that we went through together.

I’ve been a Courageous Heart facilitator for two years now. I really enjoy supporting the participants as they go through their own journey with this work — learning skills and tools that can really help them in their profession as well as in their personal life.