“I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived. I did not wish to live what was not life, living is so dear; nor did I wish to practice resignation, unless it was quite necessary. I wanted to live deep and suck out all the marrow of life. . .”
~ Henry David Thoreau
Lawyers Are Really Unhappy
We live in a world of high demands and instant gratification. We are driven to succeed. Here in Washington, DC the life of a lawyer can be brutal. It starts with competition. Washington has more lawyers than any city on the planet. Psychology Today reports that 1 out of every 10 people walking the streets of our fair city is an attorney. We work long hours, sometimes for less than gracious or appreciative superiors and for corporate clients who, ever increasingly, want us to “do more with less.” This life takes a toll and can cause despair. The American Psychological Association reports that lawyers are 3.6 times more likely to have depression than the general population. The American Bar Association’s Young Lawyers Division found in a recent survey that a staggering 41% of female attorneys are “unhappy” with their careers. In 2011, 70% of California lawyers who participated in a magazine survey said they would “change careers” if they had the opportunity. Just in case these statistics are not bleak enough for you, the American Bar Association reports that 15-20% of U.S. lawyers suffer from alcoholism or some form of substance abuse. Recently, eight State Bar Associations including California, Florida, Iowa, Kentucky, Montana, Mississippi, North Carolina, and South Carolina have added some form of mental health training to their continuing legal education programs. Of those states, all but Kentucky has made it mandatory.
A Better Way to Live
We’ve all been there. Whether it’s a lawyer colleague who snaps at you, a judge who unleashes his or her anger on you for a minor inconvenience, or that deposition which almost turns into a bad episode of The Sopranos – we all need to step back and take a deep breath. Inhale. Now, I have been practicing law for 12 years, in some extremely stressful settings, and I am not naïve enough to think if we all just think happy thoughts the deadlines and demands will just melt away. However, we can regain that joy and inner peace that will allow us to focus on what drew us to the practice of law in the first place. The answer for me has been one word: Meditation. First practiced by ancient monks in China and India, meditation has spread all over the world and recently became a global phenomenon. If you don’t believe me, just look at the evidence around you. In an August 8, 2014 episode of the NPR Program Inter-faith Voices, Jeff Wilson, a researcher at Waterloo University in Canada who is an expert on meditation estimated that meditation has become a “billion dollar global industry.” The Huffington Post recently reported that the Yoga industry, a first cousin to meditation, grosses $27 billion dollars annually.
Recently, Time Magazine’s February 2014 cover read, “The Mindful Revolution: the science of finding focus in a stressed out multi-task culture.” I don’t know about you, but when something makes the cover of Time Magazine, I take notice. Additionally, the medical evidence on the benefits of meditation is stacking up. Forbes Magazine recently reported on a study conducted at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine and published in the Journal of the American Medical Association Internal Medicine which indicated that meditation may rival anti-depression medications in its effectiveness on the brain in relieving depression and anxiety.
I have been a practitioner of meditation for 7 years. It all started very innocently. I was stressed out and looking for a better way to live. I was working at a large law firm and not really getting the satisfaction I believed I deserved from life. It was a drag every morning for me to get out of bed. My work did not inspire me. Yet, I was forced to work long hours to keep up with the demands of working at a big law firm. Something had to give or else I was headed to an early stroke. Then one sleepless night after choking down too many Starbuck’s coffees during the work day to keep my eyes focused on a mind-numbing document review project, I saw a television interview with Deepak Chopra that changed my life. He talked about self-healing, about letting go of doubt, disappointment, self-hatred and stress. He spoke of an existence where one lives in the present, where we accept life for what it is, good or bad, and most importantly letting go. He didn’t have to sign me up, I was sold. Pretty soon I had soft cushions, incenses, a meditation gong and guided meditation CDs. I read every meditation and self-help book I could get my hands on, from Wayne Dyer to Richard Carlson, from His Holiness the Dalai Lama to Shunryu Suzuki. I recommend a great beginner’s book called The Zen Book by Daniel Levine.
How Can I Get Started: What do I have to lose?
By now you have either decided that I am a fringe hippie, you are inspired to get started meditating, or you are somewhere in between. Meditation simply put is clearing your mind of all worries, stresses, anxieties and doubts and just be in the moment. It is what Eckhart Tolle describes as the “Power of Now.” You don’t need to sit for hours with your legs crossed or buy a bunch of “meditation stuff” to get started. All you need is a quiet room, your office at lunch will do. Just turn off the lights and close the door and close your eyes. Focus on your breathing and notice your breath inhale and exhale. See if you can isolate the sound of your heartbeat. Make a list, in your mind, of all of the things in life for which you are thankful. Make a list, in your mind, of all of the people who have helped your career, inspired you, or driven you to be the very best you can be.
I understand that meditation is not for everyone, nor is it the only remedy to bring about inner peace. Exercise, yoga, prayer and a multitude of other activities can achieve the same results. I also do not suggest that meditation is a substitute for medicine or competent medical advice. On the contrary, anyone who suffers from physical or mental health problems should consult a licensed medical professional and follow their advice. I do believe, however, that meditation has helped me deal with the stress of being a trial lawyer, has helped me achieve mental clarity, and has improved the quality of my life. If you are curious, try it. What do you have to lose? Meditation costs you nothing and has no side effects. Who knows, it just might work. One of the greatest thinkers of all time, Albert Einstein said it best when he opined, “When we are clear in heart and mind, only then shall we find courage to surmount the fear which haunts our world.”
Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff: It’s All Small Stuff by Richard Carlson
Change Your Thoughts Change Your Life by Dr. Wayne Dyer
How to See Yourself As You Really Are by His Holiness the Dalai Lama
The Traveler’s Gift & The Noticer by Andy Andrews
Being Peace by Thich Nhat Hanh
The Shift (2009)
Conversations with God (2006)