CBA Record May-June 2021
Four Building Blocks to Mindfulness: Present Yourself with a Present of the Present By Brendan Cournane
I t was a cloudless autumn night; I was running through Lincoln Park unwinding after a long day in the office. Yet instead of enjoying the moment, my shoulders were up, my fists tightened into balls, and my breathing was labored. I was consumed with thoughts about the pressing issues of the day – the documents that needed revising, the irate client who called as I was trying to get out the door, the lunch that was only half eaten when I turned back to the immediate problems that just had to be resolved – “NOW”! As I glanced over my shoulder, I saw on the horizon a supermoon, hauntingly orange in color forming a full figure 8 with the bottom of the moon touching the mir- rored ink black water of Lake Michigan. I was transfixed. I couldn’t recall ever seeing a sight so vivid. I crossed Lake Shore Drive to stand on the beach for a better view, but in those few minutes the moon had risen a little higher in the sky and the perfect figure 8 was gone. The moon seemed much smaller, and its orange hue faded into a greyish haze. The moment was gone. All that remained was the image in my mind’s eye. Yet, by being in the moment just a few minutes before, I was aware of a calm and serene presence in the middle of a bustling city. And as I returned to my run, I was more relaxed, and the problems of the day diminished. Howmany moments like that full moon have passed me unawares when I was self- absorbed in the crises typical of a lawyer’s trade? In that moment on the beach, long- ing for another fewmoments of that perfect supermoon, I thought about the conflu- ence of events that came together at just the moment I glanced over my shoulder: it was the evening of a supermoon; the sky was cloudless, and the lake water was smooth as glass. My glance was synchronous with the point of the moon touching the horizon. Most fortuitous, I paid attention to what happened – in that moment. That was but one example of “being in the moment” or, as Jon Kabat-Zinn, the
The result is a great deal of negative stress which, over time, negatively impacts our health and performance. I now try to approach life by setting my internal GPS through mindfulness. I practice taking time out from a whirling dervish existence to set my navigation – taking time to reflect on where I want to go, and to determine where I am at the moment because, just like a GPS, in order to get to the destination, I need to know where I’m starting. Re-read Kabat-Zinn’s definition. Paying attention on purpose can be thought of as focus and concentration. Concentration is paying attention to something for a period of time. Focus is the something we pay attention to during that time. As lawyers, we are trained to focus on the issues and solve problems; that is not too difficult. However, staying in the present moment and being non-judgmental are the keys to mindfulness. It is easy to look at the object of our attention and immediately think it is good or bad, right or wrong, left or right. Mindfulness, in contrast, is looking at the object and observing it, and noticing all there is about it, using all five senses for understanding. Not thinking about the past or the future, or how the object was
founder of MBSR (mindfulness-based stress reduction) put it about being mind- ful: “the awareness that arises from paying attention on purpose, in the present moment, non-judgmentally.” It sounds so simple that even a child could be mindful. Simple, but not easy. When asked, most lawyers will tell you they are mindful, meaning they are meticulous and detail-oriented; focused and highly concentrated; perfectionist even. Yet these traits are antithetical to the meaning of Kabat-Zinn’s definition of mindfulness. True mindfulness is being childlike. Think of the look on a child’s face as she opens birthday presents, or the joy when he sees an elephant or a polar bear up close at the zoo, or when blowing bubbles. The child is not worried about how long the bubble lasts, just that it is fun and floats until it pops. Truly, the child is “in the moment” and flits from one moment to the next. Yet for most lawyers, we take on the problems of our clients. Our training and our desire to please take away joy as we are not in the present moment but trapped in the past or afraid of what the future will bring, and the need to control everything.
22 May/June 2021
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