For Lawyers, Meditation Might Just Be as Important as Mediation
“The mind is a wonderful servant and a terrible master,” wrote Robin Sharma, best-selling author and former litigation lawyer. While it might not only take a fellow lawyer to understand the doubled-edged knife of an overly critical mind, few professions are as cerebral and mentally exacting. Recently the American Bar Association’s National Task Force on Lawyer Well Being issued a major study that found that lawyers experienced much greater rates of depression, anxiety, and alcohol abuse than the general population. A critical mind, when rightly applied to a problem, can be helpful but when it’s turned towards ourselves with unyielding aggression or slices apart the fabric of our lives harshly, it’s a weapon of destruction and suffering.
In Eastern philosophy, where the tradition of meditation was born, the mental projections of the mind are attributed to the source of all suffering. In meditation, the “goal” (if there is one) is simply to observe the fluctuations of the mind and its thoughts without interference or judgment. Or, as the contemporary Indian guru Sadghuru says, “to pay attention without making conclusions.” Since deft conclusions and complicated mental gymnastics are often the name of the game for successful lawyers, can you sense the conundrum?
When it is the swiftness and cleverness of your mind that carried you through academic years and brought prowess to your profession, being told not to value it over a deeper wisdom can be difficult to grasp. That is because it cannot be grasped mentally but only experientially. As Albert Einstein said “we cannot solve our problems with the same thinking we used when we created them” – in other words if your depression, anxiety, or addiction are caused by thinking it’s unlikely you’ll be able to think your way out of it. What you might have to do is breathe your way through it, moment by moment, in a gentle and expansive stillness.
Of course, there are many ways to get out of our heads and into our hearts. Some of which include intense physical exercise (or movement of any kind), being in nature, around animals or pets, spending time with loved ones, getting lost in a good book, film, or music, creating something, praying, or attending a spiritual or religious ceremony. However, all of these still rely on some external thing, movement, or action. In meditation not doing is the key factor. The not doing allows the spaciousness for the thoughts of the mind to bubble up to the surface for our deeper self to witness and hold in loving awareness. The persistence and unrelenting nature of thoughts is often noted as the most uncomfortable part of meditation (second only to stiff joints!) This can be especially daunting if you are just beginning and believe that the objective of meditation is to turn off the mind or the thoughts. This is impossible. Much like any tool or device, the mind has a function – to think. It will always think and thus we can never “turn it off.” Again, the goal (if there is one) is just to witness its movements with a certain lightness. Much like how we watch the clouds in a blue sky move and shift, or watch the waves of the ocean churn and tumble onto the surf. The key is to allow it all to happen without doing anything about it or with it, without turning it into a story, and without the story then hijacking our limbic system into an agitated state. Sometimes the grip of the mind can be so intense and powerful that we are more aware of its effect than the origination of the thought/mind pattern that results in a reaction of the parasympathetic nervous system, which we call stress: elevated heart rate, sweating, tightness in the chest, shortness of breath, etc. The symbiotic effect of the nervous system on breath and breath on the nervous system is why many meditative practices often use the breath as an anchor or focus. Deepening and equalizing our in and out breath calms the nervous system, which can calm and soothe the feedback loop occurring in the mind.
If you are interested in trying out meditation for the first time, there are many options available to you. Likewise, if you’ve tried meditation before and struggled, there are various forms for you to experiment with and different kinds to try. The other important thing to note is that much like physical exercise, if you are doing it correctly, it technically never becomes “easy.” It will always be a unique challenge to sit with yourself and your mind every single time you do it. The practice itself is the end result. If meditation seems too daunting, you can always start with a yoga class. Many people don’t know this but yoga is simply the stretching or asanas (poses) that spiritual monks would do before meditation in order to prepare their bodies to sit for long periods. The way that yoga connects the movement of the body to the breath and the final resting pose, savasana, are ways that can gently acclimate you to the experience of stillness and breathe awareness. You can even start meditating right now – either by finding a short YouTube video, Spotify, or Apple meditation or by downloading a meditation app on your phone. Starting out with even just one minute of awareness is still progress. And remember, no one is asking you to get rid of your beloved mind knife, just to put it down every once in a while for some space and a good, honest rest.