“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men [and women] are created equal,” endowed with the rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. It’s difficult see how self-evident those truths are, in our country, on its birthday, this year. But mindfulness has some truths that are self-evident and can help with the difficulties.
Consider the “Four Noble Truths.” Translated into legalese, the Four Noble Truths are that (1) life includes suffering, of a particular kind, defined below (“Suffering”), (2) Suffering has a “Proximate Cause,” (3) There’s a remedy for the Suffering, that offers some real freedom (the “Remedy”), and (4) the Remedy is called the “eight-fold path.” I’ll call it the “Path.”
The definition of Suffering (the First Noble Truth) is simple: suffering is not getting what you want, and getting what you don’t want. We suffer when we don’t get the assignment/salary/ruling we want. And we suffer when we get unwanted calls/pushback/frustration. Suffering is part of being a lawyer, and a human.
The Second Noble Truth, the Proximate Cause of Suffering, is simple, too: it’s wanting and not wanting that create Suffering, not the calls and pushback themselves. If we didn’t want and not-want so much, we wouldn’t suffer as much.
The good news – the Third Noble Truth – is that there’s a Remedy.
The Remedy, which is the Fourth Noble Truth, is the Path. The Path is eight ways of seeing and being differently, in law and life.
If you want some freedom from Suffering, and to help reduce Suffering for others (which is, after all, our job), you can start down the eight mindful steps of the Path.
The first three steps focus on point of view. They include:
(1) Taking the wisest possible view, (2) using that wisdom in your thinking, and (3) using it in your communications with others.
The next three steps focus on ethics. Since lawyers are already focused on ethics, these are just reminders to make sure (4) your specific actions are ethical, (5) you’re pointed in an ethical direction in general in your work, and (6) your wisdom is fueling your efforts.
The last two steps on the Path are about training the mind so that (7) mindfulness comes naturally, and (8) you remember to focus on and attune to others.
You can support your way down the Path by counting your blessings. If you can see your practice and life through the lens of its blessings, or gratitude, the Path falls into place more easily.
Gratitude helps you take a wise point of view by reminding you how reliant on and interconnected you are to everyone else, and how that deep sense of “other,” in the law, is, to quote Albert Einstein, an “optical delusion of consciousness.”
This helps remind you to attend to thinking and communication with wisdom, because you see from direct experience that what goes around, comes around. If you’re unkind to a client or colleague, it will come back to bite you. If you’re kind and grateful, sometimes it will be returned, and almost all of the time you’ll feel better.
Gratitude also helps you make more ethical decisions and take more ethical actions. When you’re counting your blessings, you can see how each individual and circumstance has something to teach you. This, in turn, makes you more patient with and respectful of everyone (who is really a teacher) and more curious about everything (which is really a lesson). Patience, respect, and curiosity are the foundations of ethics.
Even when the teachers are harsh and the lessons, painful, if you can train your mind to stay open and grateful, that’s the whole Path right there. That’s the cultivation of a mindful legal mind.
Some of us are naturally grateful. But if you’re like me, counting your blessings is a practice. And that’s great, too. The neuroscience confirms that like all states of mind, the more you practice, the more hard-wired the state of mind becomes. So the more often you count your blessings, the more likely you are to discover things to be grateful for, until maybe, some day, you lose count.
Imagine how self-evident equality, liberty and justice will be in our country, and how much less Suffering there will be, when we all walk the Path and realize we have too many blessings to count.