right livelihood

Mindfulness: twenty ways to bring it to work

Hands working on shaping a clay pot

Bringing mindfulness to work allows us to:

  • be more focused
  • feel less stressed
  • communicate more effectively
  • bring compassion to the workplace and
  • feel confident at work.

When considering how we approach work, we can ask ourselves:

  • How do I relate to myself?
  • Am I aware of my thoughts, feelings and actions or do I run on automatic pilot?
  • How do I relate to my colleagues, coworkers and boss?
  • Am I kind, friendly and compassionate or do I need to have my own way?
  •  How do I relate to my work? Do I bring curiosity and creativity to my work or is it just a means to a paycheck?

Here are twenty ways to bring mindfulness with you to work:

1. Set an intention for the day .  Ask yourself, “What do I want to accomplish today? How will I accomplish it?”
2. Communicate honestly and from the heart.
3. Be friendly.  Not everyone at work is your friend, but we can be friendly to everyone.
4. Bring curiosity to each new day rather than seeing each day as a replica of the past. Look at things in a new way and listen to what your colleagues suggest.
5. Do not believe everything you think!
6. Know yourself.  Be aware when you get distracted and bring your mind back to the task at hand, back to the present moment.
7. Understand the positive effects of teamwork and skillful action.
8. Bring presence, intention and wholeheartedness to your thoughts, actions and speech.
9. Remember to breathe.
10. Be receptive to new ways of doing things.
11. Listen actively.  Focus on what the person is saying, not how you are going to answer.
12. Enjoy your work, find the pleasure in it.  You may not enjoy everything you do at work, but take pleasure in the aspects you appreciate.
13. Let go of attachment to outcomes.
14. Allow creativity to surface by relaxing and being open to possibilities.
15. Ideally whatever we do for work is an integral part of our lives where we incorporate our values, thoughts, words and actions (i.e.greening practices, nonviolence ahimsa).
16. Become a mentor.
17. Be aware of triggers and remember triggers comes from within, not from anyone else.
18. Watch your reactions to triggers and use these instances as opportunities to change, to “let it go”.
19. Remember, we create our worlds and we have the choice to react or respond to a situation. Reacting is an automatic reflex — responding is a thoughtful, reflective response that considers creative alternatives and considering options and consequences.
20. Make a copy of this list and keep it by your desk, and remember to read it often.

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Meditation: a new practice for lawyers

It could have been the usual Type A gathering of lawyers at UC Berkeley School of Law except for the subject matter — yoga in Room 110, Qi Gong in Room 105 followed by guided meditation with well-known Zen Buddhist priest Norman Fischer.
Almost 200 lawyers, law students, judges and law professors from around the country, as well as from Canada and Australia, descended on the Berkeley campus last fall for the first-ever national conference on the legal profession and meditation.

Called “The Mindful Lawyer: Practices & Prospects for Law School, Bench and Bar,” the conference was chaired by Berkeley Law Scholar-in-Residence Charles Halpern, who teaches a seminar on meditation.

Meditation, says Halpern, can hone such traits as focus, creativity, empathy and listening, all of which can make lawyers better at what they do. In addition, meditation reduces stress, hardly unknown in the profession.

Halpern started meditating when he moved from Washington, D.C., to New York to start the City University of New York School of Law as founding dean after teaching at Stanford, Georgetown and Yale. Not only was he to start a new law school, he was to rethink legal education with a commitment to public interest law. “A friend of mine encouraged me to deal with the conflicting pressures and stress of the job with…

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meditation. My first reaction was, ‘What’s that going to do?’” His friend said it might allow Halpern to find a “balanced place to come back to” when he was feeling the pressures of the job in a way that was “responsive to challenges, not just reactive.” Halpern found the meditation helpful. “It wasn’t a cure-all, but sometimes when I was slipping into a confrontation with a member of the board of trustees or something, I could take a breath and catch myself. It was enough that I kept at it.”

That was almost 30 years ago, when a conference like the one at Berkeley would have been unthinkable, Halpern says. Even 15 years ago such a conference would be unlikely. But, today, he notes, meditation doesn’t seem so exotic nor does it have strong religious connotations that may have put off some people. It’s been adopted by many in the secular world as a way to calm down, clear one’s mind and de-stress.

It’s not that lawyers need meditation and people in other professions don’t, says Doug Chermak, an Oakland environmental lawyer and law program director for the Center for Contemplative Mind in Society. It’s just that the common language lawyers speak and a common understanding of how meditation can apply to their jobs makes for a richer experience when attorneys come together.

Web definitions of meditation range from “a state of consciousness, when the mind is free of scattered thoughts and various patterns” to “a means of transforming the mind [to] encourage and develop concentration, clarity, and emotional positivity.” It often involves sitting and concentrating on the breath.

Meditation, says Timothy Tosta, a land use and environmental lawyer at Luce Forward in San Francisco, “is like a free pass to both being a better lawyer and a better human being.” He took it up after he was told almost 20 years ago that he had two years to live because of an undiagnosed melanoma. “That’s an effective way to get your attention,” he says. Like many lawyers, he had spent much of his time “in combat,” a state, he says, that does not promote awareness of the world around you. In addition, Tosta states, it’s not true that a person “can be a raging lunatic during the day and then be demonstrably different at home with the family.” When he got his diagnosis, he started meditating, doing yoga and Qi Gong and “it’s really been kind of a magical experience to try to conduct my life in a different way,” which now includes regular work as a hospice volunteer and as a life coach to colleagues. And he is no less a success as an attorney than he was.

Tosta is aware, as is Halpern, that many lawyers who might especially benefit from meditation, such as litigators for whom confrontation is a daily occurrence, are the least likely to try it. Tosta was once one of those people for whom winning justified some extreme behaviors. But a scorched-earth policy, even if it is part of the legal culture, is harmful both on a psychic and a practical level. “Then you find out [that the person you just humiliated] is a director on a company where you want to be hired. Isn’t that a pisser?” Tosta cracks.

There is a way, he adds, to win in court and still support ongoing relationships and end in a way that isn’t painful. Meditation helps bring that about by letting “you see yourself and your role in the world in a much bigger way.”
Halpern says one of the skills that meditation can provide lawyers — “which I view as a crucial professional skill” — is the capacity to listen. “So many lawyers, by training, are always thinking ahead, specifically thinking about what they’re going to say. As lawyers we’re trained to do that, questioning a witness, interviewing a client. I think that’s a very important skill — thinking ahead — but it’s also an important skill to listen fully, be present.”

He cites focus, the ability to stay really attentive not just in listening but in reading; creativity, looking at a problem more freshly, and empathy, the ability to see different points of view, as other qualities that are important to a lawyer and that can be improved with meditation.

Presentations at the conference included “Alleviating Lawyers’ Stress, Depression and Substance Abuse: Mindfulness and Health,” “Sitting in Meditation, Sitting on the Bench,” “Mindful Emotional Intelligence as a 21st Century Lawyering Skill” and “What Does a Mindful Lawyer’s Practice Look Like?” Neuroscientists also demonstrated how the brain changes when a person is meditating.

UC Hastings College of Law Professor Karen Musalo was on a panel at the conference on mindfulness practice and social justice. Much of her work has been with asylum seekers and refugees who have fled horrific situations. “What has enabled me to remain in this field and do the work I do confronting so much suffering is I have a way that I reflect and process what I see. Mindfulness has helped me to deal with many things I’ve experienced.”

She says meditation means different things to different people, but “it’s generally accepted that meditation is a process of reflection or introspection where one is attempting to slow down the dog chasing its tail, the gerbil on the treadmill that is our mind in its busy state and become calmer and quieter and be in touch with what is real in terms of one’s self.”

Halpern, who meditates with his old friend Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer when he’s in Washington, says that “by any measure” the conference was a success — in attendance, quality of presentations and involvement. Still, he believes that most of the Berkeley law faculty have little interest in meditation. “It’s not just their loss. I think it’s a loss to the profession,” he says.

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Lawyers who meditate

wildmind meditation news

The University of California at Berkeley, Boalt Hall School of Law recently hosted the first national conference on the legal profession and meditation. Yes, I really do mean “meditation,” not “mediation.” Called “The Mindful Lawyer: Practices & Prospects for Law School, Bench, and Bar,” the three-day event brought together lawyers, judges, law faculty, students, and neuroscientists, according to The National Law Journal.

Conference organizer Charles Halpern, who teaches a seminar at Berkeley Law called “Effective and Sustainable Law Practice: The Meditative Perspective,” said that the legal profession is becoming more open to the benefits of meditation.

“At one time it seemed very exotic, but interest in law and meditation has been growing for a decade,” said Halpern, founding dean of the City University of New York School of Law. “Courses have been showing up in law schools across the country, there have been CLE courses on this and gathering of lawyers focusing on meditation.”

But this is not just some California hippie happening. It turns out that the sponsors of the event include law schools from around the country, including the University of Buffalo, University of Florida, and CUNY, according to the Web site of The Mindful Lawyer, which organized the event.

The sessions, which include yoga lessons, “contemplative methods for working with fear, anxiety, and nervousness,” and lots of similar seminars, are definitely New Age. But hey, if it gets you through the stress of law school and practice, why not?

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Dharma in Hell: The Prison Writings of Fleet Maull

Dharma in Hell, Fleet Maull

In a sense we all live in a prison, but a life of literal confinement can force us to confront our existential situation — and our need for change — with unflinching honesty.

As the subtitle indicates, this is a collection of writings; of the nine chapters comprising the body of this text five appear to be written while the author was still in prison. A sixth chapter appears to have been composed within two weeks of his release. The remaining three chapters recount the nature and experience of the author in relation to practicing the Buddha’s path.

Title: Dharma in Hell: The Prison Writings of Fleet Maull
Author: Fleet Maull
Publisher: Prison Dharma Network
ISBN: 0-9718143-1-7
Available from: Amazon.co.uk, and Amazon.com.

Chapter one carries the book’s title and also expands on the theme with the subheading “Practicing in Prisons and Charnel Grounds”. Here, the author compares the experience of living and practicing in prison with doctrinal reasons for and benefits of practicing in charnel grounds, a main point being that both prisons and charnel grounds thrust one directly into experience of mental poisons, that is, into direct contact with greed, anger, and ignorance. The chapter begins by explaining just what is a charnel ground, and by extension what charnel grounds represent. This makes it possible to explain, in Buddhist terms, what is a charnel ground practice, both traditionally and in contemporary terms. Lastly, the reader is given a glimpse inside Fleet Maull’s prison experience, showing just how the prison conditions, both external/physical and internal/psychological, provided him with the opportunity for charnel ground practice.

Chapter two looks at Buddhist practice in prison as a form of monasticism, particularly the author’s experience of taking and applying monastic vows in prison. First we get to see that Buddhist practice in prison is very different from its counterpart in a monastery. “Noise and chaos are a prison’s most pervasive qualities” (p.41). Eventually it becomes evident that while formal practice is very difficult the practice of mindfulness throughout daily life is crucial in prison.

See also:

Chapter three, like the previous chapter, is an edited excerpt of previously published material. It addresses “Money and Livelihood Behind Bars.” There is an economy in prison. Wages can be earned and trade does occur, and there is inevitably a black market where goods and services can be bought. While it is possible to live on very little, everything about prison life and western society at large tends to ensnare us in economic gain. With his pre-incarceration livelihood coming from drug smuggling, the author realized upon entering prison that it would be necessary for him to practice Right Livelihood, with its attendant honesty.

In chapter four the author considers “Death Without Dogma”. In this chapter Maull recounts his interaction with dying inmates while performing hospice work. The stories are very personal and give a real flavor of how he brought practice into his interactions with inmates of other faiths.

Chapter five speaks of the widespread phenomenon of depression. Although this problem is not specific to prison or charnel grounds, in this case prison is the framework for examining and understanding depression. And, although this is the shortest chapter of the book, the author makes quick work of explaining just how potent a steady meditation practice can be at dissolving the life-sapping darkness of depression and hopelessness.

In chapter six, “Rumblings from Inside,” we get a look at the psychology of the incarcerated. Emphasis is placed on considering the effects of penal methods (punishment vs. rehabilitation) for the inmate in terms of taking responsibility for his or her life. Negative mental states abound, and are structurally encouraged, in prison life. The author suggests that real change can come about when inmates learn to be of service to others. He also speaks of the value meditation offers in seeing inmates’ responsibility for their current conditions.

Chapter seven, “A Taste of Freedom” looks at the experience of stepping outside the role of prisoner for a three day unescorted furlough. The author has been in prison for thirteen years by the time we get to this chapter. The sudden shift to experiencing freedom outside of prison prompts the author to reflect on his years of prison conditioning, conditioning that he realizes can be met with mindfulness and emotional receptivity.

Chapter eight sees the author finally released from prison and embarking on life afterward, speaking to a Buddhist audience about “Transforming Obstacles into Path”, and explaining how he came to see that whatever difficulties encountered can be met without reactivity and used as fuel for practice. By this point in the book much of the material has been stated in prior chapters.

And lastly, chapter nine discusses the “Path of Service”. Here Fleet Maull explains how service to others in prison benefited him, allowing him to get beyond his own personal drama. He also explains how he thinks that service to others is offers healing to those still in prison. Getting out of the endless loops of our mind by helping others makes it possible to let go of our own self-perpetuated suffering. As is stated in the opening verse of the Dhammapada:

“Mind precedes all mental states. Mind is their chief; they are all mind-wrought. If with an impure mind a person speaks or acts suffering follows him like the wheel that follows the foot of the ox.”

Life in prison can easily be seen as life in hell, but as Fleet Maull illustrates it need not be so.

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Meditation retreat brings balance

Annelie H. Pelaez, a nurse in Plainview, NY, writes about going on a meditation retreat in order to cope with the stresses of her work.

…At the end of my shift, I was exhausted. With blood spots on my uniform and waste stains on my shoes, I went home. That night I signed up for six-day meditation retreat for healthcare providers with Susan Taylor, PhD, which promised stress reduction through focused awareness.

Self-Preservation
I had seen the ad in Nursing Spectrum more than once. Although tempting, I thought six days was a bit long to be away from the “madding crowd.” But now I was feeling empty, worn out and longed for personal equanimity. I realized that I am my most important patient, and certainly deserving. I knew this retreat would not only make me a better healthcare provider, it also would serve as an intervention for self-preservation.

What attracted me was the promise of stress reduction, clarity of mind and learning to become more aware of my internal, emotional states. That sounded like a prescription for restoring balance when I am bombarded with sensory overload at work and think, “This is it! I cannot spend another day working as a nurse.”

Breathing and attention are the key principles to focused awareness. I learned that, when the breathing is calm and peaceful, the mind and body become calm and peaceful, too. Delivering more oxygen to the cells has a profound effect on the autonomic nervous system. Besides the therapeutic feeling of serenity, it also infuses vital energy. As nurses, we know that, but remembering and putting it into practice when we feel the pressure mounting is another story.

Now, when I have an intense, stressful moment at work caused by unstable patients, busy assignments or demanding family members, I can take two minutes out, establish calm diaphragmatic breathing, focus on my breath, and bring my awareness into the here and now. This reminds me that I am not the chaos around me, and I am not the demanding thoughts that bombard me. I am me, fine enough doing the best that I can, one thing at a time. This brings a sense of peace and stability most of the time.

Common Goals
Another great pleasure of the retreat was having the opportunity to spend time in a group, learning, exploring and seeking common goals. Everyone was there to learn techniques to improve their practice and patients’ conditions, but it also became a road to self-healing and empowerment. “Be true to yourself, know who you are, then commit to a lifestyle that supports your inner balance and well-being.” That was the message I received.

We cannot experience peace and joy trying to make the world what we think it should be, but rather by experiencing life as it already is. Remembering this at work and in daily life provides me with yet another great tool to relieve stress. Although the daily demands of nursing have not changed, my response to them has.

Sometimes we get so involved with mundane daily activities that we forget who we really are. This retreat was a chance to reconnect to my true being. We strive to serve our patients at an optimal level. Yet, since we cannot give what we don’t have, serving ourselves must come first.

Annelie H. Pelaez, RN, works in the ICU at North Shore Long Island Jewish Health System in Plainview, N.Y.

[via Nurse.com]
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What do you think about while DIYing?

Repetitive motions like housework, crafting, building, and fixing are a great way to focus the mind — or clear it into a meditative state. Maybe you think up your best ideas while you work, or a solution to a problem that’s been irking you. We asked a few DIYers what they think about while they work.

When tackling a project like upholstering a headboard, Grace Bonney’s mind always wanders to the same two topics: her dream home and her family. The curator of the popular home décor and DIY site Design*Sponge says, “I’ll pick up some fabric and start to daydream about how I’d use it as a dramatic curtain to separate the living room and the screened-in porch of my imaginary house.” (Grace actually lives in an apartment in Brooklyn, New York). As her tasks near completion, Grace often thinks of her mother, an avid home decorator. “She inspired me to pursue a career in design. When I’m working on a project, I sometimes feel like I’m channeling her abilities.”

It’s well-known that working with your hands is, for many, a way to unwind and help your mind focus, work through problems and hone ideas. It doesn’t matter whether you’re cleaning, crafting, building, fixing — any rhythmic, repetitive motions can act as a form of meditation. And while you’re in that trance-like state, which Harvard doctor Herbert Benson, M.D. coined “the relaxation response,” you tap into the parts of your brain responsible for learning, creativity, and insight. In fact, recent research from the Mayo Clinic found that people who engage in DIY activities like knitting are 30 to 50 percent less likely to experience memory loss.

For Jenny Hart, owner of the hip embroidery pattern company Sublime Stitching in Austin, Texas, DIYing is a form of stress relief. “I first tried embroidery during a very difficult time in my life: my mother was diagnosed with breast cancer, my mother-in-law passed away unexpectedly, and my father was hospitalized,” Jenny recalls. “I thought I wouldn’t have the patience for embroidery, but when I finally gave it a try, I felt my entire world slow down. My body relaxed and my mind became calm and focused.” Jenny found stitching so soothing that she began doing it for 3-4 hours every day.

DIY Life contributor and home improvement professional Brian Kelsey works on building and repair projects in the evening hours while his young children are sleeping, “which allows my my mind to wander, and settle,” he says. To Brian, the act of working with his hands — focusing on creating crisp paint lines or perfectly mitered joints — is in itself meditative. “You simply aren’t able to think about the mortgage [that’s] due, your cranky boss, or whatever other stress you have in your life.”

[via DIY Life]
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Norman Fischer on meditation

A video transcript.

KATE OLSON, correspondent: It’s early morning along the Pacific Coast. Norman Fischer, a Buddhist priest who’s been teaching meditation for over three decades, opens a day of silent meditation for practitioners of Zen Buddhism.

NORMAN FISCHER (speaking to group): Thank you all for coming, and I hope everybody has a good day, a peaceful day, a day in which whatever needs to arise in your heart will do so.

OLSON: Other days, Fischer is at Google in Silicon Valley offering the same meditation practice to employees participating in a class called “Search Inside Yourself.”

FISCHER (speaking to class): Lengthen the spine, open the chest, and let your body pull itself up.

OLSON: Or he may be at a Jewish contemplative retreat sharing the practice with Jews seeking to experience their own faith tradition more deeply.

FISCHER (speaking to retreat): The practice that we’re doing on our cushions is fundamentally the practice of just feeling our life.

OLSON: The various hats that Fischer wears are part of his effort to help enrich everyday life experience by sharing the spirit and practice of Zen with the world.

FISCHER: If you really do the meditation practice and you continue that over time, your life really changes. You really have a sense of purpose, you really have a much greater sense of connection to other people, and loving kindness and interest in others and wanting to help others. Nothing makes us feel better about our own lives than that.

OLSON: At Google, Fischer is helping employees increase their so-called emotional intelligence on the job. Since the class began just over two years ago, close to 600 employees have taken it with the full blessing of management.

FISCHER: At Google it’s very explicit. Our brief is let’s get smarter about our feelings and emotions. Let’s go deeper than we usually go for the purpose of getting closer to ourselves and being able to be more empathetic and more understanding of others, and that’s the whole realm of emotional intelligence. There is no better technique or practice for going into and working through and really understanding our heart and the hearts of others than meditation practice.

OLSON: Developing emotional intelligence is not a cognitive process, Fischer says. Understanding the heart calls for another way.

FISCHER: This doesn’t work by thought and will. It doesn’t disregard thought and will, but thought and will are not the engine that makes this go. The engine that makes this go is taking a step back and trusting the body, trusting the breath, trusting the heart. We’re living our lives madly trying to hold onto everything, and it looks like it might work for awhile but in the end it always fails, and it never was working, and the way to be happy, the way to be loving, the way to be free is to really be willing to let go of everything on every occasion or at least to make that effort.

So the practice really works with sitting down, returning awareness to the body, returning awareness to the breath. It usually involves sitting up straight and opening up the body and lifting the body so that the breath can be unrestrained. And then returning the mind to the present moment of being alive, which is anchored in the breath, in the body.

Then, of course, other things happen. You have thoughts, you have feelings. You might have a pain, an ache, visions, memories, reflections. All these things arise, but instead of applying yourself to them and getting entangled in them, you just bear witness to it, let it go, come back to the breathing and the body, and what happens is you release a whole lot of stuff in yourself. A whole new process comes into being that would not have been there if you were always fixing and choosing and doing and making. This way you’re allowing something to take place within your heart.

OLSON: Fischer says the meditation practice, which includes meditative walking, is not an escape from difficult or painful emotions and negative thoughts, but a way to be present, and not attached, to whatever arises. This open a whole new way of seeing oneself and others.

FISCHER (speaking to class at Google): I begin to notice others are rather like me and I’m rather like them. There’s not so much difference, you know. I’m scared. Well, probably they are too. I have yearnings or longings. Well, maybe they do too. So maybe there’s more of a felt sense, not a theoretical sense, but a felt sense of kinship.

OLSON: And this has implications that go beyond working more effectively for a company.

FISCHER: You end up coming to a place where it becomes more and more difficult to be harmful to others. It becomes more and more difficult not to be kind, more and more difficult to push for a result and not notice the consequences.

OLSON: At the Jewish retreat, Fischer teaches meditation to help Jews experience their own faith more deeply. He draws on traditional Jewish language and imagery in his teaching, such as Jacob’s ladder.

FISCHER (speaking to retreat group): A ladder rooted in the earth and stretching up toward heaven—that’s the human body. The spine is that ladder.

OLSON: Fischer, who is a practicing Jew, feels much of the teaching about Judaism today doesn’t do enough to support a personal connection with God. Meditation not only deepens this relationship but helps one see God in everything, as he says the Torah teaches.

FISCHER: When we sit we recognize the crucial, divine importance of absolutely everything that arises—every thought, every feeling, every truth, every unspeakable, unnameable impulse. But also we recognize the ultimate importance of the others—of the sky, of all the sounds inside and outside the room. As the mind becomes a little more quiet the sacredness of everything within and without becomes clear.

OLSON: So how can a practice from Zen Buddhism, a tradition that does not speak of God, help practitioners from a tradition where God is central?

FISCHER: Buddhism in general is not committed to God or no God. It’s committed to awakening. So taking this practice from Buddhism and applying it to Judaism, it’s a way to go deeper into our heart, our mind, our consciousness and in a Jewish context, when you do that I think, at the bottom, you find the divine. You find God, and there’s nothing in this practice nor is there anything in Buddhist or Zen thought that would deny this possibility.

OLSON: Fischer, who has served as abbot of the San Francisco Zen Center, says it’s important on the spiritual journey not to ignore the emotional realm, which is sometimes overlooked in religious practice.

FISCHER: When we think we’re going to go from, you know, everyday life straight through to the divine, leaving out maybe all the many needs and feelings and human foibles and frailties that are actually there, they need to be processed and dealt with.

(speaking to retreat group): The thing about this practice that is, to me anyway, so sweet is that we are doing it together. We’re walking the big long line all together, like one person walking.

OLSON: Wherever Fischer teaches, he says the practice is an ongoing contemplation that leads beyond the self to a deep connection and compassion for others and all life.

FISCHER: If you stay with this practice long enough, you basically will work through all the knots and confusions that your life has sort of set up within you. The practice will help work through that below, below, below, below to the place where you see what’s really important to you, and what really matters to you is that you are alive, and you are alive in a world with others. You really feel like my life is a life of complete connection and it’s a life of joyful connection and concerned connection, and then you have to act on that.

OLSON: Fischer says the practice he teaches doesn’t conflict with other faith traditions, but can be helpful to anyone on the spiritual journey, a journey he calls “to the bottom of the heart.”

[Kate Olson, Religion and Ethics Newsweekly]
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Colorado’s contemplative lawyers

The Colorado Contemplative Lawyers Society is marking one year of defying lawyer stereotypes. The group was founded last April on the idea that meditation and “contemplative practices” can benefit lawyers in many ways, including helping them become better lawyers. The two dozen lawyers in the group come from firms big and small, as well as government agencies.

“The year has been one of maturing,” said group founder Stephanie West Allen. “We have, over the months, made some changes in format, and now have one that fits the attendees.”

The meetings, which have been held in the offices of Denver law firms Holme Roberts & Owen and Davis Graham & Stubbs as well as in the Colorado Attorney General’s office, involve conversations on topics dealing with the practice of law and meditation, followed by a 15-minute guided group meditation. At the most recent meeting, the contemplative lawyers held a conference call discussion with Rick Hanson, the psychologist author of Buddha’s Brain: The Practical Neuroscience of Happiness, Love and Wisdom, which the group had just finished reading.

“Because [Hanson] is grounded in neuroscience, he helps you understand that this mindfulness stuff is not just something you are being asked to take on faith,” Allen said. “When you have a mindfulness practice, you literally change your brain.”

She said the group talked with Hanson about some lawyer-specific issues, including “research that shows that two indicators for success in the legal profession are pessimism and perfectionism.” Pessimism can be a blessing and a curse for lawyers, Allen said.

“Pessimism really helps you to be a good lawyer, because part of being a lawyer is worrying about everything that can go wrong for your client and then protecting against it,” she said. “So a sunny, Pollyanna lawyer might miss some things because they think everything’s going to turn out all right.”

The “mindfulness” aspect of meditation allows lawyers to become aware of their own thought patterns and prevent their useful pessimism from spilling over into their personal lives.

“The nature of the practice of law is stressful because we’re dealing significantly with other people’s difficulties and their times of stress,” said Colorado Springs attorney John Scorsine, a member of the contemplative lawyers group.

“The mind is very much like Velcro when it comes to bad thoughts and stress, we seem to latch onto that, and with more pleasant experiences the mind seems to treat that like Teflon and they don’t impact us as much. Through contemplative practices you try to reverse that trend,” he said.

Contemplative practices can also help lawyers rewire their brains so they’re not always thinking like a lawyer, Allen said.

“The billable hour gets so ingrained into your brain. You get out of the shower and think, ‘Oh, I just took a .2 shower,” Allen said. “Parents will go off to their child’s soccer game, and all of the time part of their brain is saying, ‘I’ve just spent 1.2 hours where I could have been billing.’”

The first step to stopping that kind of thinking is to become aware of it, Allen said, with meditation being a good way to do that.

The Colorado Contemplative Lawyers Society has its next meeting April 20, from 5:30-7:00 p.m. Contact Stephanie West Allen at stephanie@contemplativelawyers.com for more information.

[via Law Week — link removed Apr 30, 2015, since the site was infected with malware.]
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