“To affect the quality of the day, that is the highest of all arts.”–Thoreau
I struggle with simply sitting still and trying not to think. The second I close my eyes and try to quiet my mind, I begin to think about the phone call I need to make or the email I need to return. I am good for about 12 seconds before I start making my to-do list for the rest of the day or replaying a conversation from the day before. Advanced Calculus is easier than sitting still and trying not to think.
Judging from what I read, I’m not alone. Many of us struggle with “being” and not “doing.”
Lawyers especially are not very good at just “sitting there.” We are hard-wired for action. We
have to always be doing something. Look at how we order our work day–accounting for every
1/10th of an hour so as to maximize our productivity. The idea of just being quiet and doing
nothing is anathema to everything we’re about.
But it’s not simply that lawyers are genetically predisposed toward action. It’s a little more
complicated than that. Lawyers are also taught to keep their minds operating in a perpetual
state of over-drive–always trying to be two or three moves ahead of the other guy, anticipating
every eventuality. Isn’t that, after all, what most of us are paid to do?
The problem with operating in a perpetual state of thinking is that we’re prone to begin believing
that what we are thinking (that is, the ideas and opinions that we harbor at any given time) is the
“truth” about what’s out there in the world. And almost all of the time, that is simply not the case.
Our thoughts come to us through a lens of fears and complexes…thoughts that are forged by
bias and the expectations of others–with the result that what we think and what is real are
frequently two different things.
Lawyers pay a high price for this mistaken assumption, and that is why mindfulness practices
like meditation are so important to a profession like ours. Meditation enables us to scramble out of the raging river of thoughts and impulses. We can climb out of the torrent of who we imagine
ourselves to be, and simply sit on the bank, observing the raging water from a distance.
Learning from that river and using its energy to guide rather than drown us.
O.K.,but how do you do it?
Well that’s the hard part. You see, you don’t exactly “do” meditation. Meditation is not an
activity. It’s actually simply stopping and being fully present to the moment at hand. It’s nothing
more than deciding to stop it all–to stop doing, to stop thinking, to stop obsessing and to simply
experience what this moment feels like.
It might be as simple as pausing before you leave your house in the morning, closing your eyes
and letting yourself be still before you enter your day. It may be simply sitting down and
becoming aware of your breathing once a day–giving yourself permission to allow the moment
to be exactly as it is and to allow yourself to be exactly as you are. Or it may be going out to the
park on your lunch hour, closing your eyes and letting yourself feel the sun on your face (or–if
you’re feeling really adventurous–taking off your shoes and feeling the grass and warm earth
under your feet).
Who knows, if we can do those kinds of things enough, it might not be long before we’re carving
out 20 minutes a day to simply turn off our thoughts. And maybe from such a practice, a new
clarity of mind and purpose.
Let’s try it. The worst thing that happens is that we lose a lousy 3/10ths of a billable hour. But if we’re lucky…maybe we achieve that highest of all arts. Maybe we “affect the quality of the