I first became aware of meditation as a tool for lawyers in the late 1980s when, during a lecture, a now retired Supreme Court judge enthusiastically urged students to consider “the power of Zen.” His Honour explained this as a form of meditation which helped alleviate the stressors of daily legal practice. At the time, my meditation knowledge was limited save for the occasional reference in the media, particularly in the late 1960s when The Beatles travelled to India to participate in Transcendental Meditation.
At the time I didn’t take up his invitation, viewing meditation as being for those living an alternative lifestyle. Around 30 years later, my then trainee, Olivia Lilly, in the early stages of the COVID-19 restrictions, suggested that meditation could be of assistance to me, given she’d benefited from it herself.
I was initially apprehensive but Olivia assured me it would be beneficial and suggested I investigate an app called Calm. As any good lawyer would, I undertook extensive research (via Google), ascertaining that there were numerous resources available.
On Olivia’s recommendation, I decided in the midst of strict lockdown in 2020 to buy a yearly subscription to Calm – a meditation and sleep app that supports people to become happier and healthier. Features include classes and sleep stories of variable lengths, flexible for any period of time available (even if only five minutes). Additionally, the daily meditations offer sage advice to respond more calmly to stressors, enhance relaxation and strengthen awareness. The skills acquired through practising mindfulness have assisted me greatly professionally and personally.
The foundation of mindfulness encourages us to observe feelings and allow them to pass. This promotes greater perspective and the ability to respond and cope with life’s unexpected events and crises, which might otherwise impact productivity and happiness. Human nature ensures occasions will still arise where we act impulsively and later reflect that a mindful technique would have been preferable. However, consistently engaging in mindfulness largely allows one the ability to be happier and better deal with life and its quandaries.
Glenn Harvey is a partner at Pearce Webster Dugdales.
We can likely all recall moments feeling complete peace, albeit fleetingly, such as looking at a sunset. Meditation and pursuing mindful living fosters the ability to experience these moments far more frequently, even daily. While meditation is not a panacea, evidence-based research has cemented its prominence as a wellbeing tool in modern society. In 2011, Sara W Lazar, an associate researcher and assistant professor in psychology at Harvard Medical School, found meditation can alter the structure of the brain. Her team found intensive mindfulness training increased cortical thickness in areas governing learning and memory, and reduced brain cell volume in the amygdala, responsible for fear, anxiety and stress.
Meditation has become eminent as a result of COVID-19, however most do not realise it is only one facet of mindfulness. Mindfulness is defined by the American Psychological Association as “a moment-to-moment awareness of one’s experience without judgment”. It “is a state and not a trait” and while it may be supported by practices like meditation, “it is not equivalent to or synonymous with them”.
I was first introduced to meditation in 2018, and while I admit the first practice felt useless, it wasn’t until trying again a few months later that I viscerally noticed a breakthrough after around 10 consecutive days. Meditation has offered many benefits to my life, such as reduced anxiety, calming an unsettled headspace and increasing capacity for concentration. However, the most profound difference has been lessened reactivity in personal and professional contexts. After years of consistent practice, meditation has afforded me a level of conscious awareness in real-time that I previously had not experienced. In summary; meditation gives us space to be cognisant of our reactions and have more discernment in our responses.
When the pandemic lockdown began I was happy to share my meditation experience and benefits with colleagues, and most notably my supervisor Glenn Harvey. In a profession where practitioners seek perfection, meditative benefits can forge not only more productive internal workplace discussions, but fruitful interactions with demanding clients and argumentative adversaries. I am grateful that sharing my meditation experience has largely been welcomed and that as a newly admitted solicitor, I’m starting my career armed with a mindful toolkit to help manage the transition from trainee to professional practice.
With so many free resources available, meditation is accessible to all. We encourage colleagues in the legal profession to make the time and effort to start any form of mindfulness – you won’t be disappointed.
Olivia Lilly is a solicitor at Pearce Webster Dugdales.
* This article first appeared in the June 2021 edition of the Law Institute Journal Article.