(And you don't even have to be good at it!)
Have you noticed that lawyers have a reputation for taking out their negative emotions on other people or numbing out with alcohol or other substances? This isn’t surprising since lawyering is a very high-pressure profession. Every day attorneys face extreme demands to make important decisions and perform well in front of clients, opposing counsel, judges, members of their own firms, and full courtrooms. And they do this in high stakes scenarios with risks around money, freedom, and reputations. This big pressure comes with big costs.
Anyone under this type of chronic stress can expect to experience discomfort on mental, emotional, physical, and spiritual levels. Facing such daily discomfort, lawyers need ways to dispel their negative feelings. And “numbing out” and “acting out” are two very common methods for stress release in the profession. “Numbing out” includes engaging in behavior that overrides stress feelings, like ingesting drugs or alcohol or eating high quantities of food. “Acting out” is a stress-release technique that involves otherwise good and kind people yelling at others or throwing physical objects as a way to release stress. While “numbing out” and “acting out” do relieve stress, they come with unpleasant consequences. And so, better methods are needed for dealing with pressure and stress.
Enter: meditation. Meditation is the practice of sitting in a quiet state doing nothing and with the intention of being present in the moment. The benefits are many, and science is proving more every day, like: increased emotional well being, heightened feelings of peacefulness, boost in positive moods, increased self-awareness, increased feelings of compassion, greater focus, improved physical health, improved sleep, and reduced anxiety. With all these wonderful sounding benefits, why aren’t more lawyers meditating?
People who know the benefits of meditation but who don’t do it report that they don’t think they can get benefits because they don’t think they can do it well. Logically, this makes sense. And we know lawyers love logic! But this lack of futility argument does not apply to meditation. It turns out, the opposite is actually true.
The practice of even attempting to still our minds is the beginning of calming ourselves. Consider how you feel calmer after taking a few deep breaths. Meditation is all about this steadying effect. Meditation helps us even when we don’t feel like we’re doing it well. In fact, that we can’t do meditation well is a sign that we need it the most. The more we feel “all over the place” with our thoughts and emotions, the more we benefit from even small doses of stillness.
Here’s why. We all suffer from what the Buddhists call the “monkey mind.” This is the racing feeling inside our minds. Our thoughts move quickly, akin to a monkey swinging from one vine to another. And with this, in our minds, we feel unsettled, restless, indecisive, and worried.
In the beginning as a new meditator, we may only be able to start with sitting in silence for one minute or simply by taking one conscious breath, and anything more seems impossible. But with time, we’ll work our way up to 5 minutes, 10 minutes, an hour! It’s just like beginning to train for a marathon. The first time you run, you can maybe only get around the block. And that’s ok. You’re not expected to be good at it. But getting up and going every day helps you to grow and improve.
With a steady practice of meditation - even just 5 minutes a day - that monkey mind begins to experience less volatility and more peace. And then all that stress of client needs, firm demands, crowded courtrooms, and the high stakes; well that doesn’t bother you as much any more. You become calm and present and focused from the get go.
And just imagine that lawyer who used to yell at everyone and sometimes even throw things when he got overly stressed, or the lawyer who turned to the bar (the one with alcohol) every time she felt the intense pressure of her professional responsibilities. Now, they are more at peace. They use meditation to steady themselves everyday.
Wow! What would happen if all lawyers started meditating? The whole profession would be calm, respectful, and more willing to listen. We’d all bring our A game and justice would win. That dream begins with each of us, one conscious breath at a time.
Want to learn the basics or deepen your meditation practice? Here are some resources that I know and recommend:
Mindfulness for Beginners: Reclaiming the Present Moment and Your Life
A great book or audio book to introduce you to mindfulness by Jon Kabat-Zinn, PhD, a world-renown expert. He is the founder and director of the Stress Reduction Clinic at the University of Massachusetts Medical Center and associate professor of medicine in the Division of Preventative and Behavioral Medicine.
Insight Timer App
A free app with thousands of meditations and a wide variety of options such as guided meditation, listening to sacred music, and talks with masters about meditation. Meditations start as little as 3 minutes and everything is timed. I often catch a meditation on my train commute to the office.
Meditation classes with a Zen Buddhist Monk, Chicago, IL
This is where I first studied meditation. I did the overnight retreat to learn how to meditate and attended sittings on Sundays.
About the Author
Gina Marotta is a former criminal defense lawyer who is now a career coach and motivational speaker for lawyers and other professionals. A thought leader, Gina writes, speaks, and coaches around what she believes is the most essential element for work to be fun, fulfilling, and fruitful: knowing and expressing one’s own inner genius. Gina has been featured in media outlets such as The Huffington Post, Thrive Global, and WGN Radio. She has also been recognized as one of the Top 100 Emerging Leaders Under 50 by Diversity MBA magazine and as one of 100 Women Making a Difference by Today’s Chicago Woman Magazine. Gina remains active in the legal community in restorative justice projects aimed to transform the criminal justice system from focusing on punishment to focus on peace-making.