Throughout the workday, there are moments when I am waiting for something. Waiting for the computer to start, waiting for a document or email to open, on hold on the phone, waiting for the elevator. Rather than get frustrated or annoyed, which I used to do, I now use it as an opportunity to practice a mindfulness exercise known as “STOP.” Stop. Take a Breath (or two or 10). Observe. Proceed. I turn what was otherwise an annoying moment into one that is very refreshing. It allows me to check in with myself, dispel any stress or anxiety, take a mini vacation, then get back to work.
Sometimes when the phone rings or I am about to make a call, I put my hand on it and pause for a moment (one ring’s worth will do) and notice the experience of mindful presence. Then I pick up the phone and proceed.
I have found it helpful to pause and sense my breath, body, and the activity of my mind between tasks. Doing so contributes to deliberate and clear thought, the efficient structuring of work projects and time management, lower levels of stress, and overall satisfaction during the day. The pause helps me remember during overwhelming times that I am doing my very best (which, of course, is all that I can do), and during times of tedium or elation that “this too shall pass.” I have also found that this pause helps me be less reactive to another’s hostility.
Before entering any situation you anticipate to be stressful, like a difficult hearing or a telephone call with a contentious adversary, pause for a moment, feeling your feet making contact with the floor and coming into awareness of your body as a whole, letting go of any sensations of physical and mental tension while taking a few, deep breaths.
Every day for 20 minutes I practice mindfulness in my office, usually by listening to a guided recording. I have done this for many years and find the following to be helpful: 1) Pick a time each day; 2) make it a habit; 3) let people know — they will be sympathetic; 4) close your door; and 5) just do it. Not perfectly; just regularly.
For 10 or 15 minutes twice a day I sit peacefully. I relax and think about nothing or as little as possible.
CNN interview with Amanda Enayati, “Seeking Serenity: When Lawyers Go Zen,” May 11, 2011
Since consistency is key, I have found the greatest success in waking up a little earlier than normal and meditating in the morning, before the caffeine, emails, phone calls, deadlines, and deliverables render meditating unlikely or impossible.
“Listen to your breath” is a mantra frequently repeated by my yoga teacher. For me, that act of listening to my breath is one of my most centering acts. We have many ways to make this personal connection with our breath. For me, I am committed to daily walking. During my daily walks, I enjoy the sounds of nature around me. Sometimes I walk with close friends, and sometimes I walk alone. I never ever listen to music when I walk. I love music, but during my walks I prefer to hear my breath, and also my thoughts, and take the opportunity to use the time to reflect on dreams and goals, as well as personal challenges. The movement of walking stimulates the breath, as well as the occasion for me to listen deeply to that breath. Whether you walk, or engage in another form of daily practice, keep listening to that breath. Observing and remaining aware of your breath enhances every moment in life and awakens us, as Mary Oliver so eloquently notes, to “the unexpected joy of being alive.”
I find it helpful to create white space on my calendar; space in between appointments, depositions, and court appearances when there is nothing scheduled. Even just 15 or 20 minutes of white space makes a huge difference in my day. That way I’m not running flat out; and when things run over, I’m less stressed. Those white spaces — small oases — give me time to slow down, think, reflect… and just breathe.
I try to practice amazement at the commonplace. When I am amazed that clean water flows out of my tap with the gentle twist of a nozzle, doing the dishes is much more enjoyable.
Prior to any calendar in which I have to meet with two other judges to tentatively resolve five to 12 appeals and hear oral arguments, I leave my house very early and stop to sit and meditate over tea or coffee at a quiet vegan restaurant. This helps me to relieve the stress of the calendar and to center my thoughts. Also, during exhausting days, I will close my door, ask my staff not to interrupt, and I sit for 15-20 minutes, focusing on my breath.
I try to bring mindfulness to the walking I do during the day. I have a tendency to walk fast and mindlessly, usually thinking about the next thing I have to do. So when I am walking, I try to just walk — no emails, calls, or texts on my cellphone. I try to feel my feet on the floor and perhaps say hello or smile to people walking by. This helps me to slow down and bring more mindfulness into the flow of my day.
Often I will look up from my desk or look around while I’m walking or driving, get someone in my line of sight, and say, silently, to myself, “I wish you well,” or “have a really nice day.” Just thinking about someone else and wishing them well relieves stress. It fosters a positive state of mind that helps me turn back to the task at hand (thinking or planning) with open-mindedness and greater care for the other people involved.
When I find myself starting to experience stress, I stop, take a breath, and try to look at the situation objectively, getting the sense I am observing it from the outside. This is crucial to my getting out of the reactive mode. Having engaged with stressful situations in this way over many years, it is much easier now to step back and get this perspective, and respond (rather than react) to challenging situations. I am grateful every day for the benefits of my mindfulness practice and in particular for the space and calm it brings to my life.
I find that body awareness and physical movement can break the daily rut and bring a fresh perspective on life. The movement can be vigorous, like jumping, or subtle, like deep breathing. Sometimes, during the day, when I am getting tired or feel stuck, I move my body for a few minutes and inevitably feel energized, more alert, and even happier.
When I want to practice mindfulness during the day, I make sure to do a sitting before lunch because I know that I will feel the benefits for the rest of the day. One can always find a couple of minutes.
Mindfulness helps me to listen carefully to others and to listen to my own body. Many of those who appear before me appear without a lawyer. People in court without a lawyer tend to be very emotional and may not present their arguments in a coherent or logical way. In addition to outbursts, many self-represented repeat themselves over and over, even if I have already ruled. Practicing mindfulness gives me the ability to listen carefully through the emotions to try to understand the underlying argument and also helps me measure my response when I become frustrated — breathing, listening, and consciously controlling my voice and reaction. This helps me avoid escalating a tense situation, which is good for the nonlawyer, for me, and for others in court.
I was mortified when I started my journey of the study and practice of mindfulness by how often I interrupted others. I have worked hard to reduce my interruption rate by staying more present in my communications with others. One tip that I use and recommend is to keep track of how long I can go without interrupting. I suggest that if you are like me, it will be harder than you might think. In addition to being more courteous and less rude, I have gathered more and better data about myself, my counter-party, and the environment around me by listening and observing more intently and interrupting less.
When I find myself in a situation where I feel irritated by someone’s actions, I notice my thoughts and emotions, pause, and internally encourage myself to find compassion for that person and where he or she may be coming from…and sometimes that person is myself. consciously infusing compassion into moments when I’d least expect to feel it, I diffuse my irritation and more thoughtfully, calmly, and productively address situations.
I like to take five deep, slow breaths before I begin an assignment. It is a brief exercise that I can practice multiple times a day for every assignment. These breaths do not take up much time, and they help focus my thoughts on the task at hand.