Being Mindful; it is a phrase that is part of our lexicon. Despite its commonness, it at times can be conceptually difficult to understand, or implement. What does it mean? I know what it doesn’t mean; getting riled up when a call comes in from opposing counsel regarding an issue you think shouldn’t be an issue, your outburst to your computer to an unrealistic demand from a client, or walking to court and not having looked up once from your phone because you are too busy firing off responses to emails just to get them out of your inbox. When we sit down and review our days, we may tend to notice that we are in a perpetual state of reactiveness. Over time these repetitive responses stress our minds and bodies.
The practice of law can be stressful, but let’s be realistic, so are many many many other professions. Also, stress is a fact of life. It is in the way we respond that can make all the difference.
Even as I sit down to write this, I find it very hard to concentrate on my thoughts. I find myself wandering around the papers on my desk, the to-do list for the week, and the emails I need to respond to.
Which brings me to the reason mindfulness can be such a good tool for human beings, whether you are an attorney who lives and breathes law, or you work and live on planet Earth.
Another fact of life is conflict. Where there are two different people, there will usually be two different points of views. and positions. This is especially true in the adversarial systems of law we practice in. There can be no avoiding the conflict that inevitably arises in litigation.
It is how we respond to the conflict that reveals who we are. Some lawyers have learned to equate each conflict that arises as a battle that must be won at all costs. If that is the case, there is not much that can be done in terms of being mindful. It is usually the opposing counsel on the other side of that situation who can benefit much more so in carefully measuring their responses to such situations.
Being mindful can then mean taking time out of your day to put away the stressful episode and if possible not dealing with it immediately. How many times have we shot off responses to e-mails we may not have had we placed space in between the event and the reaction? We are all guilty of such behavior, as humans, we have operated on fight or flight mode for eons. Most of those times, looking back, have not been our best or brightest moments. When we do not think through our responses to any given situation, we tend to be short, caustic, rude or offensive. That does not ultimately serve our reputation, practice or most importantly, our clients. And it also does not serve our physical or mental well-being. At the end of the day, we are no good to anyone, if we are sick, burnt-out or so stressed out, the practice has become a heavy chain around our necks.
But being mindful doesn’t mean going to find yourself on a sabbatical to India, or meditating an hour a day. Mindfulness provides us tools we can use to overcome stress or at least begin to take the edge out of conflicts and confrontational situations.
It can be as simple as taking a few deep breaths. It can be a promise to yourself that when you begin to feel the indignation climb up your neck, feel your body begin to tense up, or feeling like you want to run away, you listen to your body. Running away never solves a problem and neither does blowing up. The best and effective way is to let those emotions wash over you. If you were swimming in an ocean and the waters got rough, you would not swim against the waves, you would let them wash over you until they passed though. (hopefully). The same thing with reactions to stress and conflict. Respect what you are feeling, but don’t respond to it right away. It is amazing how waiting it out can produce such drastic results. Responding immediately and out of anger may feel “good” to us at the time, but it almost guaranteed that it will not produce the optimal results for you or your client.
Look, we cannot control how others will behave but we can start with ourselves, being aware of how we are practicing and making an effort to be mindful. It really does benefit all parties in the litigation process.