August 01, 2018 Practice Management

Mindfulness 101: Mindfulness in the Law - Fact or Fiction?

By Debi Galler

As you read this article, wiggle your toes. Feel the way they push against your shoes, feel the weight of your feet on the floor. Really think about how your feet feel right at this moment.

Congratulations, you have just done your first mindfulness meditation.

So what exactly is mindfulness, and what does it have to do with the practice of law, you ask? While there are many different definitions, perhaps the most straightforward is the definition used by Jon Kabat-Zinn: “paying attention in a particular way, on purpose, in the present moment, and nonjudgmentally.”

As attorneys we are faced with a continual barrage of demands from our clients, our colleagues, opposing counsel, judges . . . it is never ending. It is a 24/7, 365-day world we live in. Amid this constant overload, we are expected always to perform at our best.

How many times have you been paying careful attention to your client, a colleague, an adversary, or even a judge only to find that your mind has wandered and you did not fully hear what was being said?

How many times have you been faced with an irritating adversary or received some undesirable news and just lost it?

Lawyers tend to be classic “type A” personalities, and early on many of us suffered from a fear of looking silly, a fear of losing, a fear of being disliked. If you add to this mix adrenaline and ego, it is no wonder that lawyers as a group are perhaps the most dissatisfied with their chosen profession and are, in general, getting a bad rap in the world at large. Lawyers are 3.6 times more likely to suffer from depression (one of the most likely triggers for suicide) than non-lawyers, and the suicide rate for lawyers is on the rise. So, in light of this alarming trend, what can we do to help ourselves?

As Mark Twain used to say, “I am an old man and have known many troubles, but most of them never happened.” There is no question that we lawyers must deal with many real troubles. But if we were to pause for a moment, many of our troubles never happened. For many of us, there is a constant monologue going on in our heads, and most of it negative—the judge isn’t going to buy my argument, my client will think I’m stupid, what if I don’t win, I’m never going to finish that contract, I can’t . . . I doubt . . . I fear. . . .

And on and on it goes.

This negative-speak and inner monologue often develops a life of its own, and what we think tempers our view. So, rather seeing what is really going on around us, we have developed an image in our mind and have superimposed that image onto reality.

So, back to the original question, what can we do to break this cycle? What can we do to help ourselves?

You have a choice. You can continue on your path (some would argue to self-destruction), or you can make a change, a change that comes from within, a change that gives you time to reflect and respond, rather than just react. How, you ask? It starts by just taking a breath. When your inner monologue starts, take a breath. When your mind wonders, take a breath. When you get irritated, take a breath.

From there start paying attention to the present moment, on purpose, without judgment. One exercise to do that, as suggested by Mark Williams and Danny Penman in their book Mindfulness: An Eight-Week Plan for Finding Peace in a Frantic World, is to take a snack (Williams and Penman suggest a raisin or a piece of dark chocolate), set an alarm for five or ten minutes, sit in a quiet place away from all distractions, and really observe your snack. Spend a few minutes with each step. If it comes in a package, first look at the package, really look at it. Next, take it out of its package and look at your snack. Really see it, observe its size, shape, color, texture. Smell your snack, perhaps close your eyes as you do so. Then place your snack in your mouth, slowly and deliberately. Feel the sensation of the snack in your mouth, slowly chew your snack (or if it is chocolate, let it melt in your mouth). Observe the sensations; observe any thoughts you may be having. Finally, observe as you swallow your snack. This process should have taken up the entire time you allotted (five or ten minutes). Take a moment and reflect on the exercise. Perhaps you thought it was infuriating to take so long to eat one raisin. That’s okay. Perhaps it brought you greater pleasure (or displeasure) to what you were eating—either is okay.

With this (and other practices) you will hopefully become more mindful and not know many troubles, most of which never happen.

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Debi Galler is general counsel for Green Street Power Partners (the company is based in New York; she works in the Tallahassee, Florida, office). She has an extensive background in real estate, as well as transactional and corporate bankruptcy matters. She writes and teaches on mindfulness. She may be reached at dgaller@greenstreetsolarpower.com.