Home – Caution: Read This Before Shaving Your Head—Mindfulness for Attorneys and Legal Executives

Caution: Read This Before Shaving Your Head—Mindfulness for Attorneys and Legal Executives

By Tom Hagy of HB Litigation Conferences


It was hard not to feel weird. I was sitting silently on a folding chair with my eyes closed in the middle of 800 strangers in a Midtown Manhattan ballroom. But there I was, attending a conference on the intersection of Western psychology and Buddhism, and, ostensibly, meditating.


Two leading voices in Western Buddhism and meditation were overseeing the event—Jack Kornfield and Tara Brach.  And, yes, they did their “seven years in Tibet.” For Kornfield it was Thailand, India, Burma and beyond. For Brach, it was 10 years in an ashram followed by study with Joseph Goldstein, a prominent teacher of meditation and Buddhism, whose cadre of students also included Kornfield.


Fortunately, meditation is losing—or has lost—its exclusive association with Buddhist monks, or silly stereotypes about humming shut-eyed practitioners (like me), and the perception that it is some mysteriously cosmic practice beyond the reach, let alone desire, of the Western man or woman. It’s taking place in elementary schools, yoga studios, living rooms, parks and corporate office buildings. Sometimes even in cars and on sidewalks.


During a break at the conference, I overheard a woman on her cell phone telling someone she wasn’t coming back for the second day because, as she put it, “I think it’s for people advanced in meditation.”  I wanted to say, “Trust me, unless you stand up and announce it, no one will know if your mind wanders.” Unlike practicing law, doing back-flips or playing the trombone, it’s very hard to distinguish beginners from veterans.


I’m sure she is not alone. I thought the same thing at one point. So let’s get some myths out of the way. And let’s number them, because the Buddha himself loved numbering his lists, like The Four Noble Truths, The Eightfold Path to Enlightenment, The Three Jewels, etc.  


Here are Hagy’s Five Myths of Meditation:


  1. I must sit cross-legged on the floor, like a yogi, until my hips dislodge.
  2. I must be able to empty my mind of all thought, completely and entirely; otherwise I have failed; I am a failure at meditation.
  3. I must do this for an hour or two or three.
  4. I need years of training and classes, with books and lectures and workshops and seminars in Midtown Manhattan.
  5. I must move to Tibet, my new home for seven years, where I will live in silence, avoiding meat and meat by-products.


Yes, all of these are myths. You can certainly choose to do all of these, but they are by no means required or even recommended.


One thing is certain, from my experience and study of the subject, it is worth doing. I started in 2009 after I launched my business. It was, you may recall, the worst economic period since the Great Depression. Panic, anxiety and insomnia were becoming part of my daily routine. And then I had lunch.


The science is there too, if you believe in that kind of thing. In a December 2015 article for the Harvard Business Review,  Stanford University’s Emma Seppälä, PhD., said meditation has been shown to:


  • Build resilience and reduce anxiety
  • Boost one’s ability to “regulate your emotions,” proven by brain-imaging research
  • Enhance creativity, confirmed by research from the cognitive neuroscience lab at Northwestern University
  • Improve relationships by countering the wear and tear that empathy stress can cause and elevating your mood
  • Help you focus. Dr. Seppälä cites research that shows our minds tend to wander about half the time, a reality made worse by the many distractions from streams of emails, texts, calls and a knock on the door which is immediately followed by, “Gotta minute?” or “I don’t mean to interrupt but ….”


Dr. Seppälä, who is Science Director of Stanford’s Center for Compassion and Altruism Research and Education, concluded her HBR piece by saying that meditation is not “just one more thing for you to do,” because “the only thing to ‘do’ in meditation is nothing.” She added that “both research and experience show, doing nothing can have real results.”


In a Sept. 17, 2016, post on her blog, Dr. Seppälä cited an extensive IBM CEO survey which concluded that the number-one attribute CEOs seek is creativity, something aided by meditation.  [For more details, you might check out her book, The Happiness Track: How to Apply the Science of Happiness to Accelerate Your Success.  It’s getting solid reviews.]


To get started you can find hundreds of articles if you search “meditation for beginners” on the web. I just did and it came back with 2.4 million results.  And, no surprise, there are meditation apps, and many podcasts. Consider checking out the books, podcasts and blogs created by Kornfield and Brach. They are the real deal.


In the spirit of time, since you have none, here is a way to get started.  


Get ready  . . .

  • Find a quiet place where you won’t be disturbed.
  • If you can do it at the same time each day, that’s best, but do what works. Even a couple short sessions a day is great to re-set your brain and slow down the pinball machine your mind has become.
  • Shut off beeping and dinging devices.
  • Tip: If a quiet place is impossible, try noise cancelling headphones and white noise or earth sounds, like oceans and streams. Chimes, Tibetan “singing bowls,” or temple gongs work too. Remember, 800 of us did this in Midtown.


Get set  . . .

  • Sit comfortably, or even lie down. And, yes, if you have the flexibility, by all means sit yogi style.
  • Take a few slow deep breaths.
  • Prepare to let go of your thoughts. Get in the mindset.
  • Warning: You will not stop thinking so don’t focus on trying not to think. That, in itself, is thinking, and kind of annoying. The idea is to minimize thought and give your brain time to settle. If you find yourself entertaining a thought, don’t worry about it. Acknowledge the thought and move on. Or devote a couple breaths to it, and breath it out. By all means, don’t let it stress you out. That’s sort of the opposite of what we’re trying to do here.
  • Tip: Make sure you are comfortable enough that you can stay in that position for 5 or 10 minutes, or 20 or 30 or 60, whatever you choose.



Now you have some choices. First a tip: Smile gently during your practice. Don’t put on a scary clown kind of smile, just sport a contented face. I don’t know, maybe it’s a “fake it until you make it” technique. The scientific jury is deliberating on whether smiling tricks your brain into thinking you’re happy, like a reverse message  but it’s recommended and never hurts.


  • Seated meditation. Concentrate on your breath. Feel the air passing through your nostrils and into your lungs. Feel how your abdomen expands. Count if you want to. Maybe pick a goal like 10 or 15 breaths. Softly repeat a word, a mantra, or just think it in your head. Picture a favorite object and study it. Listen to the sounds near you, and further out, and further out still. You can even say “ohm” as you exhale. See what works.
  • Lie down and try guided meditation. You can find all kinds of downloads where people with soothing voices walk you through your meditation. Yoga Nidra, for example, is one of my favorites. It’s a way of guiding your mind to concentrate on every part of your body. It also encourages you to state how you want to be in life. On her recording, Xenia Splawinksi, who teaches others to teach yoga and more, gives as an example, “I am living my life with joy and enthusiasm.” That’s a pretty good one, actually, but make up your own. She suggests you say it to yourself three times before following her guidance through Yoga Nidra. Kornfield and Brach also offer guided meditations. You can use guided meditation in any position, though. It’s not just for the prostrate anymore.
  • Walk to Nirvana. You can perform walking meditation as a set part of your day, or when you’re walking to work. With your eyes open (obviously), walk and think about what you’re doing. What your body is doing. How your feet and knees feel, your hips, your back, your breath. Try keeping your eyes focused on a spot ahead, like a stop sign or mail box. Listen to the sounds around you. Cars, rustling leaves, children in the distance. Feel the temperature on your skin and your face.


Meditation goes hand in hand with mindfulness, which means being present (or only thinking about this moment), not dwelling or dreading, just being where you are, doing what you’re doing, which is as close to nothing as a living person can get. Sometimes when I eat, for example, I wonder about the path the food took from the farm to my fork, where it came from, the people who had a part in getting it to my table, like the farmers and truckers.


After some practice you will find you can be mindful throughout the day. In a meeting with someone irritating, pause your thoughts and think about what’s happening. Step outside yourself and the situation and observe it. Observe them and observe yourself. It can be calming and lead you to a more thoughtful response, if one is required.


When you’re about to shoot out an important email, pause and ask yourself a few questions.  Am I sending this to the right people? Is there someone on there who shouldn’t see it, like opposing counsel? Did I mean to attach a document? Does my subject line make sense? Might any of my phrasing seem snarky? (See our article on the ethical risks of mindless email practices.)


I’ve heard both Jack Kornfield and Tara Brach tell this story, but they replaced the rabbi in the original with a meditation master to fit their theme. The meditation student asks the master, “Master, is it ok if I smoke when I meditate?” The master replied, “No, you must focus on your meditation.” The student paused and asked a second question. “Master, when I go out for a cigarette, is it ok if I meditate?” Without hesitation, the master said, “Sure, meditation is always good!”


My take on that is, while there are many forms of meditation and many practices you can choose to follow, try to be still, wherever you are, for how much time you like or have.  At its core, the goal is to give your thoughts a rest, let your brain re-set, and enjoy a more thoughtful day. With the addition of regular moments of peace you may just find a happier, creative and more effective version of yourself.


I’ve dropped a couple names here of people who provide guidance in this area, but I’d be happy to share others or some of my favorite books, podcasts or guided meditations. Just email me at [email protected].