Newsletter – July 2021
Spotlight on… mindfulness for lawyers
What is mindfulness?
Mindfulness refers to the practice of paying attention to the present moment, on purpose and non-judgmentally. Put another way, it means kindly paying attention to what you’re doing, when you’re actually doing it.
Although mindfulness is a trait that all of us inherently ‘have’, in a world where the draw of multitasking, and our use of technology, place constant competing demands on our attention, paying attention to the present moment can seem easier said than done.
So often we can find our minds catapulting ahead to the (usually fairly unknown) future, or stuck ruminating over something that has happened in the past. And it’s often at those times that we can feel more negative, anxious, or stressed.
At the moment, life is challenging for many. Those working in the legal profession are, like a lot of people in the country, largely working from home, trying to juggle work and family life as best they can, and unable to plan ahead with the same sense of certainty they would usually have. Mindfulness has been shown through research to help some people with depression, stress and anxiety. It can also help people with focus and attention, which may be particularly useful for people at the moment with little or no physical distance between their work and the rest of their lives, but who still want to have some emotional ‘headspace’.
Mindfulness is not a panacea or quick fix: it takes patience, regularity and practice. It is not right for everyone. But it has the potential to help a lot of us with our wellbeing and the approach we take to what’s going on around us, as well as offering the opportunity for us to connect with others through group practices and sessions.
How do you practise it?
Kindly! On a practical note, many people practise mindfulness through breathing, body and movement exercises during which they gently bring their focus and attention back to an anchor point, again and again – noticing when their mind wanders off to a thought, or a sound, or a distraction, and then gently guiding their minds back to the anchor point.
However, you can also practise being mindful with everyday activities. You can be mindful while taking a shower, having a cup of tea, or even… eating some chocolate! With each activity, the invitation is the same: bring your attention to the sensations of the activity that you’re engaged in (what can you see, hear, feel, touch and smell), notice when your mind wanders off to something else, and then gently, without telling yourself off, guide your mind back to the direct experience of the activity again.
Importantly, mindfulness is not about ‘clearing your mind’ or just being relaxed or feeling calm: it is about noticing when and where your mind goes off to, being aware of it, and kindly bringing your attention back to where the focus was.
If you sit down to notice your breath, and then two seconds later your mind wanders off to what’s happening in the news, or what you need to add to your online shop, or whether you sent the email you were thinking about earlier, then that’s completely normal. Our minds wander: it’s what they do. A study by Harvard academics a few years ago found that on average our minds wander around 47% of the time.
Practising mindfulness encourages you to respond skilfully to what your mind and body need in any given moment. Having the ability to choose non-judgmentally where we place our attention is something that can have a profound and transformative impact on our wellbeing during times of crisis but also in noticing and approaching our everyday lives differently when they go back to ‘normal’, whatever that might be.
A short mindfulness session to try
Ruth Ormston and Tessa Hollingsworth, Founding Members, Mindfulness in Law Group*
*This article was originally written for The Law Society and has been adapted for the Costs Lawyer Standards Board with The Law Society’s permission (the original article is available here). We are grateful to The Law Society for allowing the Mindfulness in Law Group to share this work with our community.