February 27, 2020 4 minutes to read · 1000 words

Mindfulness 101: Politics and Mindfulness

By Melanie Bragg

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It goes without saying that politics these days is volatile. And the constant negativity we see on the television, social media, and all types of communication has to be affecting our psyche. It used to be that there was a tolerance for differing opinions. The basis of democracy was: you debate, you explore ideas, you contrast, and then take a vote. Once the vote is taken, you work together to accomplish goals for the greater good until the next vote comes up. The era we are living in now is very different from what it used to be. Many people have stopped listening to other viewpoints.

It is a time when a daily practice of mindfulness can come in handy in a variety of public situations. Recently, I heard a blatantly racist comment while eating at the bar in my favorite local restaurant. Another patron at the bar said to my dining companions that he didn’t go along with a “chocolate world.” I found that remark shocking, and I had the overwhelming desire to leave the premises. The racist remark made me feel bad for members of my family—both blood and non-blood—and my community who are “chocolate.” I wanted to tell him, “Too late, the world is already chocolate.”

I paid my bill and began to leave. He realized I was offended by his remarks, and he did apologize. I began to utilize one of my breathing techniques and we got over the hump of uncomfortableness in that moment. The remark struck a chord in me and my responses was definitely something I might not have done ten years ago. I chalk it up to our heightened sense of political turmoil and unrest.

Breathing techniques help in stressful times, and lately I have found that the fastest and easiest ways to stay out of the fray is to focus on my breath. By taking a couple deep breaths, sometimes when my Apple Watch goes off and reminds me, things become a little more rational and focused. I am able to tell my truth in a way that doesn’t offend or alienate others, but still is honest and authentic.

The more hectic life becomes, especially in an environment of fear that has been spawned in this turbulent time of shooters and potentially lethal illnesses, the more we need to incorporate the practice of mindfulness.

I recently heard a Dan Harris 10% Happier podcast that I really liked. Dan, an ABC News correspondent (Nightline, Good Morning America), interviewed two men who are deeply involved in spreading the word about the practice of mindfulness in politics. When you really think about it, all our environments can benefit from a mindfulness culture. Being problem solvers, as most lawyers are, mindfulness is such a good way to enhance your productivity too. Just think what Congress could accomplish if they were more productive?

The podcast is number 191, “Can Meditation Improve Politics?” Dan interviews Chris Ruane, a member of Parliament, and Jamie Bristow from the Mindfulness Initiative. It was a very interesting conversation.

Chris Ruane used to scream and shout on the floor of Parliament. He was turned on to meditation many years ago and has become the leader in Parliament of bringing mindfulness to the group to help curb the animosity in politics, reduce the stress among lawmakers, and get more done. In the beginning of his journey, he read a book called Happiness: Lessons from a New Science (Penguin, 2005) by Richard Layard, and he listened to more 300 podcasts from Spirit Rock. He contacted Richard Layard, who put him in touch with the Oxford Mindfulness Centre, led by Professor Mark Williams, who in turn put him in touch with Chris Cullen, and they introduced their lessons in January 2013. In the years since then, more than 250 parliamentarians and 350 members of their staff have had mindfulness training.

England has taken the lead in this movement. The project has been so successful there that Australia has implemented it to great success. I am sorry to report that it has not taken root in America. YET! What I am impressed with is how what one man did in his own life spread to a whole government. Ruane discusses in the podcast how he was at the United Nations speaking to the World Health Organization, and it was reported that by 2030 depression will be the biggest health burden on the planet. That is a sobering thought.

What we can do in our law offices with the practice of mindfulness—starting with ourselves and our abilities to interact with our staff and our families, creating optimal environments and working conditions—can spread to our clients and their legal problems. Finding a way to have more public discourse on what we can do to enhance our mental health is helpful to society on all levels. It can eventually spread even further to our courts and working spaces in areas outside our offices. Every little thing we do along these lines can have a ripple effect for good in the world. And, honestly, wouldn’t we all agree that calming down and having everyone take a few deep breaths would help our elected officials in Washington actually get to the work that needs to get done? And wouldn’t more mindfulness in international relations relieve some of the tensions that we are experiencing on a daily basis? Food for thought.

Start now at home. Do your daily meditations. Listen to a mindful podcast every chance you get. Take care of your mind, body, and soul first. And together, let’s make the world a better place.

Until next time . . . namaste. Please let me know if you have any tips, sources, or experiences with mindfulness you want to share at melanie@bragglawpc.com.

“You should sit in meditation for 20 minutes a day, unless you’re too busy; then you should sit for an hour.”—Zen proverb

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Melanie Bragg has long enjoyed a reputation as one of Houston’s fiercest attorneys in her representation of children, the elderly, and mentally disadvantaged people. Her firm, Bragg Law PC, is a general civil firm in Houston, Texas. She also writes and produces legal education programs through Legal Insight, Inc. (founded by Bragg in 1993). Her writing credits include Crosstown Park, an Alex Stockton legal thriller; HIPAA for the General Practitioner; chapters in How to Capture and Keep Clients, Second Edition; Effortless Marketing: Putting Your Unique Qualities to Work, Second Edition; and The Conscious Lawyer: How the Practice of Mindfulness Will Increase Your Bottom Line; as well as the forthcoming ABA book, Defining Moments: Insights into the Lawyer’s Soul. When she is not writing, Melanie devotes her time to her work as Immediate Past Chair of the Solo, Small Firm and General Practice (GPSolo) Division and to sharing ideas with fellow authors. She is interested in your feedback and ideas about how solos, small firms, military, and government lawyers can lead richer, happier lives and thereby improve the delivery of legal services to the public. Melanie can be reached at melanie@bragglawpc.com.

Published in GPSolo eReport, Volume 9, Number 7, February 2020. © 2020 by the American Bar Association. Reproduced with permission. All rights reserved. This information or any portion thereof may not be copied or disseminated in any form or by any means or stored in an electronic database or retrieval system without the express written consent of the American Bar Association. The views expressed in this article are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the positions or policies of the American Bar Association or the Solo, Small Firm and General Practice Division.