Post Authored by Jeffrey Bunn
Prolonged isolation can give rise to a whole host of emotions. The good news is that remote research and remote conferencing have kept the flow of information going, so we can remain productive. On the other hand, the emotions churned up by that productivity are not easily dealt with remotely. Emotions can be tricky in that way.
The CBA Record’s recent YLS issue subtitled, “The Balanced Lawyer” contains a number of tremendous pieces. Related to some of the concerns addressed in those articles are two things very near and dear to me—things that can help us deal with the range of emotions that confront us as we shelter at home. I refer to mindfulness and meditation.
First, a question I often hear: Are mindfulness and meditation the same thing? The short answer, for me, is “no.” Meditation is a practice that is the means to an end, and that end is the state of awareness known as mindfulness. There are many different practices/traditions, including mindfulness meditation. There is much more to be said about meditation. If you’re interested, you might register for the meditation course that I am co-leading this Summer and Fall, at the Chicago Botanic Garden. However, this article is about managing emotion, which I believe one particularly effective method of addressing that concern—personally and professionally—is meditation.
First, adopt a relaxed, but dignified, posture—erect (sitting, standing, kneeling) but not stiff. Close your eyes in order to encourage relaxation and minimize distraction. Find your breath, and begin to observe your mind as it does what it does: Thinking thoughts. Be curious as you observe your thoughts. Notice the thoughts, then let them pass, as you return to your chosen anchor– be it a silent mantra or chant, a visual point of focus, or my preferred anchor—the breath. Then wait for the next thought, repeat and rinse, so to speak. The more practiced we become, the better we will become at letting our emotions run their course, without letting them rule our behavior. Again, a lot more to be said about that!
Emotions are regarded by some as an extension of thought, and if that helps us connect with the practice, then let it be. One of the obvious differences between thought and emotion is the manner in which we experience them, and where we feel them. By “where” we feel them I mean, where, in the body. Typically, we do not feel our thoughts. Conversely, we do feel our emotions, and because of that difference, we experience them differently. We also meditate on them differently.
Because we feel our emotions, they seem to be more real, and I suppose they are “real” in the same way that rainbows are real. They appear to have substance, despite not having any true substance. Take a few steps in one direction or the other, and they vanish. Now you see it, now you don’t. Now you feel it— but in an hour, or tomorrow, or next week—you won’t. You will still be here, but your emotions will pass, and so will the feelings stirred up by those emotions. That’s one of the lessons we can learn, through mindfulness and meditation.
Self-regulation, or managing emotion, is an important skill that we can develop through a regular meditation practice. And it serves us not only in isolation but also in our professional life after we return to the professional world. Self-regulation can serve us well in dealing with excited clients, concerned judges, confrontative opposing counsel, supervising partners who are dealing with pressures we do not have to confront, or difficult work peers. Self-regulation and managing emotions can also help us deal with ourselves.
That’s one reason why. What is “regular” meditation, and how long do I need to meditate in order to experience the benefit? How long should I meditate in any one session, and more fundamentally, how do I meditate? These are all good questions that a coach or teacher can help you answer. Keep asking these questions. The answers are there if you really care, and I think you should.
Jeffrey H. Bunn is the founding member of The Mindful Law Coaching & Consulting Group, LLC (“MLCCG”). Prior to its founding, he was a litigation attorney who practiced in both State and Federal courts for nearly 40 years, and was previously a member of a Management Committee for a Chicago law firm. Jeff was prior chair of the Chicago Bar Association (“CBA”) Commercial Litigation committee, and more recently, the founder and chair of the CBA committee on Mindfulness and the Law.
Jeff was the initial vice-chair of the Lawyers’ Assistance Program (“LAP”) Illinois Task Force for Lawyer Well-Being (modeled after the National Task Force that was formed by the American Bar Association (“ABA”), which issued a written Report in late 2017). He has led guided meditation sessions for the American Association of Law Schools (“AALS”), the ABA Women in Litigation section, as well as the State Bar of Nevada. In addition, Jeff has presented on matters concerning the incorporation of mindfulness and meditation into the practice of law for the CBA, Chicago Volunteer Legal Services (“CVLS”) and the National Association of Bar Executives (“NABE”), as well as other professional organizations. He has also presented to and led group meditation sessions for private law firms, including the office of a BigLaw firm in Warsaw, Poland. Most recently, Jeff was featured in a CLE piece posted by the Illinois Commission on Professionalism, on it’s 2Civility website.
Jeff’s signature talk addresses the business case for introducing mindfulness and meditation as part of the business models of law firms (listen to Episode 24 of the “in brief” podcast of ALPS Insurance–the United States’ largest direct writer of lawyer malpractice insurance).
Jeff was previous blogger-in-chief of the, “The Mindful Law Guy” blog, and has written two books (Canary In The Coalmine and Res Ipsa Loquitor [“The Thing Speaks for Itself”]) that are both submitted for publication, as well as a screenplay (The Meditation Hesitation Blues ), that has been submitted for sale and production.