Mindfulness can help those of us in stressful occupations – the practice of law, for example – cope with the pressures and complexities of daily life.
By Steve Bienstock, Lawyer
“Space. The final frontier. These are the voyages of the Starship Enterprise…”
With all due respect for Mr. Roddenberry, Star Trek’s genius father, Time is the final frontier – not Space. As we ride our individual starship through life we have many Time choices: Manage it well. Waste it. Budget it. Accomplish goals with it. Use it to relax. Enjoy it with our family and friends. Spend it working. (However, NB: no one ever said on his/her deathbed “I wish I had spent more time at the office.”)
The summer that once seemed to be an endless expanse in front of us has given way to the crisp days of autumn – a reminder that time has a way of slipping past. Each of us has an unknown timeline ahead, but it is a finite one. Will we live mindfully in the moment? Will we be so busy anticipating tomorrow that we don’t pay attention to today? Will we immerse ourselves in work, or balance our lives with family and friend time? Jim Croce talked about saving time in a bottle, because “…there never seems to be enough time/To do the things you want to do,/Once you find them…” He died at age 30.
When you go to a friend’s or relative’s funeral, you reflect on how quickly time passes, and may come away with a renewed appreciation for life, and a resolve to make good use of your time. That resolve usually fades quickly. After a day or so, you’re back to your routine. Your unexamined life. Taking your health for granted, until you get sick. Taking your happiness for granted, until you’re sad. Taking your relationships for granted, until you lose one.
Mindfulness and Stress Reduction: How Do You Want to Live Your Life?
So, do you want to be the driver in your life, or a passenger? You have the power to live your life any way you want. So, what do you want? Decide when you get up each day what that day will be like. Remove distractions. Set goals. Keep your life in balance, with a mixture of work, family, friends, spirituality, play, service, etc. Check in with yourself during your day. Are you sticking to your intention for that day? Are you happy? Notice and applaud all of your successes, your achievements, big and small, and your content moments. Cherish them. Don’t rush through the day. Make a Gratitude List of people and things for which you’re grateful. Tell someone “thank you” every day. Forgive yourself. Be patient with others. Stay in the moment, focusing on the now. Do something special for yourself each day. Take a short walk at lunch. Smile a lot.
Staying in the present is a great way to reduce stress, improve productivity, and increase resilience. It’s often called “mindfulness”: being aware of what we’re thinking and feeling, paying attention to our experience as it happens without judgment, and, rather than worrying about what has happened or might happen, responding skillfully to whatever IS happening at the moment. Our social dynamics are now more complex and distracting, with the virtual world imposing an additional layer of interaction on us all.
Mindfulness Can Help Family Lawyers Cope with Stress
Mindfulness is one tool that helps those of us in stressful occupations – the practice of law, for example – cope with the pressures and complexities of daily life. It is now taught in many law schools: Stanford, Berkeley, Harvard, Yale, Georgetown, and the University of Miami (which has one of the most expansive programs in the country), to name a few. It has been implemented in multinational corporations, written into legislation for veterans, used by PTSD sufferers, integrated into National Football League training, adopted in medical school curricula and prescribed by doctors. Mindfulness meditation is now being introduced into classrooms across the country, including Montgomery County, Maryland’s. The Mindful Minute, a few moments of reflection, breathing, and focus on the present, was introduced in MoCo’s public schools a number of years ago. It’s been shown to help students stay calm and focused. You can download mindfulness apps, such as Headspace and Calm, on your phone. Mindfulness for Lawyers, a program developed by Jon Krop, a Harvard-educated lawyer, has been taught at the world’s top law firms, the Pentagon, and other national, state, and local organizations.
The Benefits of Meditation for Busy Professionals
Meditation, a part of mindfulness, has come a long way from its hippie days of Transcendental Meditation. Harvard’s Dr. Herbert Benson first demonstrated the scientific benefits of what he called the “relaxation response” in his 1975 book of the same name. The daily “quieting” of our minds has been shown to create inner peace and better health. Meditation increases our immune functions, decreases pain and inflammation, releases endorphins which make us happier and decreases depression, stress, and anxiety. Meditation makes us more compassionate, boosts our self-esteem, helps us regulate our emotions, improves our ability to think and make decisions (physically increases our “grey matter”), improves our productivity, our memory, our creativity (thinking outside the box), and our ability to process information, to focus and multitask. It reduces our blood pressure. Meditation helps us sleep better. In short, meditation is mental hygiene: a clearing out of our mental “junk” and a tune-up for both body and mind.
We may not be able to control what others do, but we can control our minds – which can be a very useful skill for lawyers. We work to help our clients get what they want, but we don’t control what happened before they walked into our office, nor do we control what the Court, opposing counsel, or even our witnesses and clients do. No matter how good we are, the reality is that our ability to affect the outcome is limited. Getting to know, understand and control ourselves gives us the best shot at a successful ending, and, in the process, preserves our sanity.
So, getting back to Mr. Roddenberry, “Live long and prosper.” You can start today.
Steve Bienstock heads up Bienstock Law, LLC, a full-service firm based in Rockville, Maryland. He is president of the Bar Association of Montgomery County, MD, and a sought-after speaker. www.bienstocklegal.com
Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction
Mindfulness meditation teaches you to approach each moment with more calmness, clarity, and wisdom.