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Besides fame, what do George Stephanopoulos, 50 Cent and Lena Dunham have in common? According to an article in last Sunday’s New York Times, they all practice meditation. The article profiles a program called Wisdom 2.0, a series of panel discussions and conferences with a waiting list in the hundreds that teaches professionals “how we can live with technology without it swallowing us whole.” Programs like Wisdom 2.0 that teach the practice of mindfulness meditation have become increasingly popular amongst high-powered professionals, especially those in technology and other related industries on the cutting edge of workplace innovation. Google offers an in-house course on mindfulness called “Search Inside Yourself,” and Wisdom 2.0’s customers include top execs at Facebook, Twitter, eBay and PayPal.
It is no wonder that professionals in top positions are drawn to the benefits of meditation. Studies show that meditation practice can increase productivity and energy while reducing stress and building immunity. While attorneys may not be catching the mindfulness meditation bug at the same rate as tech professionals and celebrities, some law schools are certainly ahead of the curve. The Berkeley Institute for Mindfulness in Law, which defines mindfulness as “the simple practice of moment-to-moment, non-judgmental attention,” offers for-credit and non-credit courses for students, meditation retreats, and on-campus talks about mindful legal practice. Georgetown Law runs a program called Lawyers in Balance (LIB) which offers a free eight-week extracurricular course on mindfulness meditation and the mind-body connection. As legal jobs become increasingly elusive and the atmosphere at law schools more competitive, initiatives like those at Georgetown and Berkeley provide a welcome support system for students seeking inner calmness.
I enrolled in LIB during my second year at Georgetown Law. Each Wednesday evening our group of approximately 12 students and two facilitators met in a quiet lounge in the student center from 6pm to 8pm. We began each session with a guided meditation and would then learn a different mindfulness technique – a way to be totally focused on the present moment and to set aside, at least temporarily, the worries of the day. Our facilitators led us through a walking meditation one week, a drawing meditation the next, and even an eating meditation, instructing us to eat a grape, focusing on nothing else but its shape, taste and texture. We also went around the room and shared our experiences dealing with the pressures of law school and, as the course progressed, we discussed our efforts to integrate mindfulness into our lives. LIB trained us to alleviate anxiety about the past and future by focusing on the present moment, and helped us realize that taking time out of our hectic schedules to “do nothing” for just a short while would ultimately help us study more efficiently.
Michael Goldman, Co-Founder of LIB, remarks that those dealing with high stress levels are often advised to “put it all in perspective” as a way of calming down. But that’s easier said than done, especially when you have an exam starting in 12 hours or a court deadline to meet. “Mindfulness,” says Goldman, “is as close to instant perspective as you can ever get.” LIB teaches students how to manage law school nerves by applying just a few simple techniques such as slow, deep breathing and guided imagery. As Goldman remarks, “How do you see the whole picture when you’re in the middle of it? The answer is to breathe.”
Mindfulness is more than just a relaxation technique. Programs like those at Georgetown and Berkeley seek to bring mindfulness into the practice of law and the justice system. This fall, for example, Berkley Law hosted a psychologist who has run successful mindfulness programs at California correctional facilities as part of its ongoing criminal justice working group. According to the Berkeley Institute website, mindfulness practice “can lead to a healthier, more just and compassionate legal system.” The program aims to equip legal professionals with tools to improve not just their mental well-being, but the way they engage with their work: “As more lawyers embrace mindfulness, we expect to see legal processes and institutions become less adversarial, to cause less suffering, and to produce more compassionate and effective laws and policies.”
No mindfulness programs at your law school yet? You can still learn how to incorporate simple meditation techniques into your study or work routine. To get started, check out this 15-Minute Relaxation Technique on LIB’s website, or choose from eight types of guided meditations provided by the UCLA Mindful Awareness Research Center.
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