Taken from a mindfulness talk to attorneys, January 31, 2016
First, I would like to say that I am thrilled that you are here. Your presence, with some intention to find or heighten inner peace, is presenting one more opportunity to improve conditions for you, for me, and for everyone and every thing with whom and what you and I deal. In this way, what we are doing right now may be the most important and valuable thing that each of us could be doing at this particular moment in time.
Now, take a few seconds to scan your thoughts arising in reaction to what I just said.
Skepticism? Grandiosity? Arrogance? Idealism? Doubt?
At earlier points in my life, I probably would have had the same or similar thoughts. I would have been put back on my heels from a reaction that the teacher was going to try and indoctrinate me with ideas and beliefs. And although I was not conscious of these fears at the time, my ego was going to militantly reject any sort of ideas or view(s) of the world that would threaten its existence forged over decades of conditioning.
But one of the beauties of what we are doing is that it is mindfulness practice. It is not mindfulness learning, it is not mindfulness believing, it is not mindfulness indoctrination. This type of approach may seem very puzzling to attorneys who have spent so much time in analytical thought and cerebral exercises. You might question the value of any sort of “training” that is not primarily based on learning, intellectually analyzing, or memorizing content. How then am I going to know that I am doing it right? What will motivate or sustain me if I cannot identify a concrete goal for which to strive? How will I know when I “get there?”
In fact, the “end game” of mindfulness is not the achievement or attainment of anything. It is actually the end of something: The End of Suffering. The end game is not a mind that thinks only happy thoughts, or a life in which nothing bothers us. This process has more to do with coming to understand and accept reality. In mindfulness practice dating back more than 2,000 years, this “reality” stresses the impermanent nature of everything, the certainty of sickness, death, and the loss of everything to which you are close. These are certainties.
How depressing, right? I did not come here to dwell on things like impermanence, sickness, and death. What is this? Let me out.
But, again, the end result of sustained and committed mindfulness practice is the end of suffering, not the escape of pain, or the creation of everlasting pleasure.
Since everything is impermanent, any attempts we make to cling to positive or pleasurable experiences, or to avoid painful or unpleasant experiences will be for naught. These things will happen anyway. They will happen to you, they will happen to me, and they will happen to everyone in this room. They will happen to Mark Zuckerberg, they will happen to Tom Brady, they will happen to Oprah Winfrey. They will happen to the most experienced, committed mindfulness practitioner.
So how will mindfulness practice facilitate the acceptance of the impermanence of all the situations that will arise in a lifetime?
By helping to deepen our connection to present-moment experience, mindfulness practice – including but not limited to meditation – allows us to bear more meaningful witness to the fleeting nature of our thoughts, and of all other phenomena of life: sights, sounds, smells, aches, itches, desires, vendettas, etc. When we can come to truly internalize the transitory nature of all of these phenomena and are freed from the grasping, aversion, defensive and habitual reactions, we then have true choice in how to respond to our life situations. Only then do we have true “response-ability.”
In the context of law practice, being freed from your preconceived notions, conditions and habitual reactions, you will become far better able to connect with your clients. Your clients will viscerally sense this openness and relate to you on a more meaningful level. This far more open and authentic exchange will give rise to solutions in a legal context that you would have never envisioned while trapped in habitual approaches.
But what you can learn as an attorney through mindfulness training will extend beyond your interactions with clients, opposing counsel, judges, etc. In coming to view every moment as an opportunity to deepen practice, you will begin to notice that almost every situation or interaction in your life will have new depth – you will feel more alive. If you have had challenges with addictions of any kind, you will come to sense an awareness that the relief afforded by these behaviors pales in comparison to the depth of connection you will feel through sustained mindfulness practice.
What you will come to realize will be entirely experiential. This concept is simple, but is by no means easy. Ways in which you may come to orient yourself to your experience will be strongly contrary to much of what our conditioning in this society dictates that we should want, which so often includes incessant wanting and grasping, and instant gratification or instant alleviation of unpleasant experiences. This is why ongoing support is so important. But by taking this first step here today, we are both moving toward a world with one more mindful person, and a legal system with one more mindful practitioner, and that is a step in a positive direction.