Mindfulness is paying attention to your present experience without judgement. It develops your awareness of what is before you, as well as how you relate to it and act or behave as a result.
For lawyers, the capacity to operate in responsive mode (rather than react impulsively to challenging situations) leads to competence, diligence, and other ethical behaviors in law practice.
Mindfulness reduces your preoccupations with thoughts about the past and future, which frequently add to stress, worry and anxiety. With a regular and consistent mindfulness practice, you reap a host of benefits, such as reduced procrastination, increased focus, better decision making, and stronger resilience to stressors.
Here are 3 ways to cultivate mindfulness in law practice:
Meditation is a formal practice of mindfulness. In Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MSBR), Zen practice, and other kinds of meditation forms, there is sitting meditation and sometimes walking meditation. This involves setting aside a time block to sit calmly and quietly or walk slowly and silently.
It’s important to actively engage in meditation by staying open and curious. Sometimes your practice will be frustrating and consist of aches, pain, discomfort and meandering thoughts. Other times it will give you tremendous stress release and bring a sense of peace and equanimity. There’s no point in evaluating whether your meditation session is good or bad; just let it unfold naturally.
Find a meditation teacher who resonates with you. Classes are available at your local yoga studio and meditation center, as well as online. You could also try a mindfulness or guided meditation app like Headspace, Insight Timer and Calm.
Choose a style that works for you and dive deep into it so you can experience significant, long-term shifts. Avoid jumping around quickly from one technique to another or striving to “master” a specific method or form.
Commit to a regular practice, ideally a minimum of 15 minutes every day. Good times to meditate are during your morning routine, over the lunch break, at the end of your work day, and during your evening routine.
If you’re new to meditation, you can keep it brief (e.g. one to five minutes). Experiment with the length of your meditations and don’t be discouraged if there is no noticeable difference after just one or two sessions. It usually takes consistent practice for several weeks before your mindfulness training becomes a habit that brings long-lasting effects.
One of the most common forms of meditation is focused attention. This involves placing your attention on a chosen object, such as the breath, sensations in the body, the sound of a metronome, or a visual piece. When your attention drifts, you bring it back to the object.
Open Monitoring (Open Awareness)
A more advanced form of meditation is open monitoring or open awareness. This involves expanding your attention, as a neutral observer, to the changing flow of experience, such as breath, bodily sensations, and thoughts, as well as external stimuli like sights, sounds, tastes and smells.
You notice the images, stories, judgements, and commentaries your mind generates. You just allow them to be there, as is, without attempting to direct or control them. You don’t try to focus on or hold on to any one thing, but allow your attention to shift naturally, without judgment.
2. Mindfulness in daily life
Mindfulness can be practiced within or added to your normal, daily activities. When you’re doing a task, just do that one thing and pour your attention on it. As you drive, know you’re driving. As you walk, know you’re walking.
Eliminate digital distractions and external stimuli that take you out of the present moment and prevent you from savoring quiet time. Do daily activities – such as like brushing your teeth, eating, waiting in the checkout line and talking with another person — mindfully and deliberately, and not while you’re engaging in other activities. Embrace any boredom or frustration that comes with single tasking and focusing on one experience.
Take a mindfulness pause after every hour or so of focused work or busy work, or when you hear the telephone ring. Notice your breath. Observe your surroundings. Be in the moment before you move on to the next thing.
If necessary, use a mindfulness timer. When it goes off, ask yourself whether what you were doing was the best use of your time and energy. Were you fully attending to it? Does it deserve your ongoing attention?
3. Morning routine (morning rituals) and evening routine (evening rituals)
Although the middle of your day is susceptible to distractions and interruptions, you typically have control over how you start and end your day. In particular, you can bookend your day with a morning routine and evening routine to cultivate mindfulness in your personal and professional life.
Both morning routines and evening routines work best when they include specific rituals done at a specific time period. They also, however, need to adapt to changes in your life and the seasons of your life.
If you start your day off by checking emails, reading news feeds and logging on to social media, you flood your brain with new information that triggers stress hormones and puts you in reactive mode. Having a mindful, morning routine reduces the fight-or-flight instincts and helps you begin your day more calmly and purposefully.
In The Miracle Morning, author Hal Elrod describes 6 steps known as S.A.V.E.R.S. for your morning routine. They are silence, affirmations, visualization, exercise, reading and scribing (writing/journaling). Although Elrod’s method might not work precisely for you, it gives you a solid framework for creating your own morning rituals.
Morning rituals, after you wake up, could be as simple as spending two minutes in bed noticing your breath, followed by feeling your feet on the floor, light stretching, drinking water, and washing your face. After a brief mindfulness practice (e.g. meditation, tai chi, hatha yoga), you review your daily plan and commit to tackling your number one priority.
Evening rituals may include shutting down electronic devices, reviewing your day’s accomplishments, planning for the next day, writing in a gratitude journal, reading poetry, and meditating for 15 minutes before you turn out the lights and go to bed.
A morning routine primes you for a truly productive day. An evening routine puts you in a calm state for deep rest and rejuvenation. Take time to plan and execute morning rituals and evening rituals that bring mindfulness to the start and end of your day, no matter how hectic the middle of it gets.
Formal meditation, mindfulness in daily life, and mindful morning and evening routines are three ways for lawyers to purposely engage with their day and intentionally integrate the professional ethics rules into their practice.
With mindfulness, you are more likely to act in alignment with deeply held ethical principles and the core needs of the situation, rather than rely entirely on transitory thoughts, feelings and emotions that can steer you in a harmful direction.
To learn more, read the related articles, Zeal Meets Zen: How Mindfulness Promotes Competence in Law Practice and Zeal Meets Zen: How Mindfulness Promotes Diligence in Law Practice. Also check out A Beginner’s Guide to Mindfulness & Meditation in Daily Life.
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This article provides general information only. Do not consider it as legal advice for any individual case or situation.
The author, Dyan Williams, is admitted to the Minnesota state bar and focuses on the Minnesota Rules of Professional Conduct, which are subject to change. Check your individual state rules of professional conduct, regulations, ethics opinions and case precedents, instead of relying on this article for specific guidance.
Photo by: Jason Parker-Burlingham