When I graduated from Emory University School of Law some 25 years ago, the term “mindfulness” was not yet part of the modern lexicon. But today, where I lecture at Berkeley Law, it’s employed in a variety of ways to enhance learning, student well-being, and deepen understanding of ourselves and others. It is encouraged and taught, in both for credit and noncredit courses, as part of the curriculum.
It’s 2020 – a new year, and time for a broader group of academics to understand how mindfulness can transform their professional lives, and those of their law students. It’s about much more than mental health; it’s about teaching a new way to approach challenges of any kind.
Mindfulness is about creating freedom from stress. Less stress means less anxiety and depression, more joyful engagement, and smarter work. The three most important mindfulness practices to reduce stress in this political and legal moment are meditation, mindful communication, and discernment.
A few minutes a day of meditation each day results in a calmer, more focused mind. Lawyers work in six-minute increments, so learn to meditate and develop a daily practice in short bites. Then take your practice to the next level and learn to lead short, six-minute meditations for your students. You can even record them and assign your students to “sit” for two six-minute periods each day. They may grouse or snicker at first. But by the end of the semester, every one of them will thank you.
Mindful communication is the best way to get to the end of each day knowing you’ve done your absolute best – and sleep well at night. Its elements include speaking, writing, and posting only what’s true, kind, not gossipy, and doing that with patience. Study and practice mindful communication yourself, first. Then, train in how to offer mindful communication in the classroom, and in how to offer your students the skills and confidence to use it outside the classroom as well, at work and at home.
Last but not least, weave discernment into your teaching, interactions, and writing. Discernment is a portable mindfulness practice that includes understanding both interdependence, and the impact, or “boomerang effect,” of our choices. Become fluent with the concept and learn how to practice discernment throughout your day. Model discernment in your classroom, at faculty meetings, and in your own work. Finally, teach your students how to use this classical mindfulness tool so they can move out into the legal world with less stress, more joy, and greater effectiveness, by remaining in alignment with their own intrinsic values.
If you already have a dedicated meditation practice, mindful communication, and discernment in your toolbox, share them! If you don’t, consider taking a mindfulness teacher training designed for the legal mind. It’s high time we incorporated these crucial tools in our classrooms, our own work, and our lives. Maybe it’s even now or never.