The Mindful Lawyer
The Mindful Lawyer
Finding time to practice
Special to the News
As we welcome the New Year, many of us will explore ways of starting a mindfulness practice or endeavoring to deepen a practice, amid the business of our lives. One common approach is to establish a daily sitting practice by sitting for between five and 20 minutes, placing attention on an object, like the breath, and when one notices the mind wandering, returning attention to the object. But even with the best of intentions, this can be challenging to execute and maintain.
One meaningful aspect to daily practice is the broad range of informal exercises that can be brought into the day and practiced for a few moments. These exercises offer a “wedge of awareness” from which we can wake up, albeit briefly, from a mind’s meandering and gather ourselves a little more fully in the present moment. Informal practices both stand on their own and help support longer practice opportunities.
This month’s question is posed by an attorney who comments on how challenging it can be to find time to practice, and comes at a time that may be useful for many of us.
I am interested in practicing mindfulness but I get so caught up in my work that often I don’t notice lunch time has come and gone. How will I ever manage time for mindfulness when I just barely manage my caseload?
I shared Andrea’s question with Sarah Stuart, a lawyer, formerly with Reebok, who shares mindfulness with members of the legal profession, and offers classes at Harvard Law School. She offers this reply:
Thank you for your question, Andrea. You are definitely not alone! I teach mindfulness to lawyers around the country and people often ask how they can possibly add mindfulness to their already overloaded “To Do” list. As a recovering perfectionist, entrepreneur, and mother of four children and a puppy, I also struggle regularly with feelings of being overwhelmed.
Fortunately, mindfulness practice does not necessarily require you to fit more things into your busy day. Mindfulness is simply paying attention in the present moment and can be done in the midst of a hectic work day, by simply noticing thoughts going through your head or simply feeling sensations in your body. I use the word “simply” as a reminder that nothing actually needs to be done to practice, though because we can be so immersed in our stress, shifting our attention in this way may not feel simple or be easy.
As an example, when you notice that lunch time has come and gone and you still have not managed to eat, you can pause for just a moment and become aware of what you are thinking and what you are feeling in your body. Notice whether you feel any constriction in your chest as thoughts may be arising, like how quickly your day is passing. Perhaps you feel tension in your jaw, neck, back or hands. One can practice mindfulness, even if for a few brief moments by paying attention to those sensations. Doing so, you may create a moment’s pause in which you can breathe into any constriction or tension that you discovered in your body, allowing your out-breath to be slightly longer than your in-breath. This can help establish a moment of greater awareness during which you may feel the tension beginning to melt away, just a little.
After this short practice, return your attention to the task at hand, to the rest of your day. By practicing this short exercise amid moments that feel rushed, you may find that you begin to feel just a bit more calm and better able to focus. Mindfulness can be that simple. It might not even require another item to be added to your already long “To Do” list.
Thank you, Andrea, for submitting a timely — and timeless question. And thank you, Sarah, for reflecting on Andrea’s question and offering a thoughtful reply and helpful mindfulness tip.
If you have a question about integrating mindfulness into the practice of law that you would like answered in this column, send it to [email protected].
Scott Rogers, M.S., J.D., is a nationally recognized leader in the area of mindfulness in law and founded and directs the University of Miami School of Law’s Mindfulness in Law Program where he teaches mindful ethics, mindful leadership, and mindfulness in law. He is the creator of Jurisight, one of the first CLE programs in the country to integrate mindfulness and neuroscience and conducts workshops and presentations on the role of mindfulness in legal education and across the legal profession. He is author of the recently released, “The Elements of Mindfulness.”