Motivational writers and “transformational” leaders talk a lot about “mindfulness” and “spirituality.” Having been a lawyer for over 40 years, I often questioned whether that type of philosophy was useful in my life.
After all, being a lawyer was always about study, work, client and community relationships. I was a Christian, and this new age way of looking at life seemed irrelevant to me at the time.
In 2004, I stopped practicing law to jump into the world of mindfulness, wellness and spirituality and I have found that most of the philosophy of mindfulness is highly relevant and useful to lawyers.
The core of the mindfulness philosophy is the concept of awareness. It is critical to a well-lived life. In an essay, Bessie A. Stanley wrote: “The man is a success who has lived well, laughed often, and loved much; who has gained the respect of intelligent men and the love of children; who has filled his niche and accomplished his task; who leaves the world better than he found it, whether by an improved poppy, a perfect poem, or a rescued soul; who never lacked appreciation of earth’s beauty or failed to express it; who looked for the best in others and gave the best he had.”
Or as Mae West said: “You only live once, but if you do it right, once is enough.”
In order to achieve success or to live rightly, you must have awareness. You may ask, “Awareness of what?” The eastern gurus would say “everything.” Are you aware of how you speak to others and how your words affect others? Are you aware of what you are putting into your body? Are you aware of what you are thinking?
The mindfulness movement is focused on being aware of what you are thinking and how that affects your life. This has been a part of our lexicon for over 100 years, beginning with Napoleon Hill’s books on positive thinking.
Aristotle once said: “Knowing yourself is the beginning of all wisdom,” while Socrates said, “An unexamined life is not worth living.” Obviously, the ancient Greek philosophers had nothing better to do than sitting around thinking about themselves.
Lawyers need to be aware of how their philosophy—no matter what it is—affects their lives and the lives of others. If you are always criticizing yourself or others, suffering will be yours. If you are always comparing yourself with others and making judgments about who is better, suffering will be yours. If you are focused on making a lot of money, like my father, and willing to sacrifice happiness to achieve a large bank account, suffering will be yours. The fable about King Midas is actually a metaphor for this principle.
There are certain steps that lawyers can take to achieve mindfulness.
• First, think about what you are going to do before you do it. Is it helpful or hurtful? Does it reflect integrity or conflict? Is it going to resolve an issue or exacerbate it? Lawyers should seek solutions, not endless conflict.
• Second, lawyers should look at their relationships with others. Are you isolated and alone or do you have genuine friendships with people? Is your focus to help others or make money? Being kind does not make you weak. Some of the most successful lawyers I know have empathy and compassion for both their clients and their opponents. Psychologists will tell you that there is nothing more important for mental and emotional health than healthy close relationships with others. If you want to know how successful you are, count the number of close friends you have.
• Third, in all things seek balance. Are you a workaholic or do you have a life? Are your significant relationships harmonious or in chaos? Do you balance your professional life, emotional life, exercise, nutrition and spiritual life? These pillars are the foundation of your success. Like furniture, if you are out of balance, life doesn’t work so well. Get outside once and awhile, take your shoes off and wiggle your toes in the sunlight.
Only any given lawyer can say whether he or she is happy. If you say you are happy, don’t forget to tell your face that you are happy. People would ask me what was wrong because I was frowning all of the time. My response was “I am focusing on ________.” LOL. Lawyers who claim they are happy but suffer from stress, addictions or health issues are lying to themselves. We have to honor our profession, our bodies, our families and our communities but should not sacrifice our happiness to do so.
There is nothing more powerful than a happy lawyer. There are no holes in their armor; there is no way to compromise a happy lawyer. I wonder whether lawyers who violate their ethical principles and duties in a misguided attempt for fame and fortune would say they are happy. I would say that they will find out when the consequences of their actions manifest.
Many lawyers can tell you what they did. However, they rarely can tell you what they were thinking while they were doing it. When we do something for the right reasons and with positive thoughts, the results will inevitably be rewarding. When we do something for the reward, otherwise known as “reaching for the fruits of our labor,” oftentimes we will be disappointed. It is more important to know why we do something than what we are doing. When we can reach this level of consciousness, our success (as defined by Bessie A. Stanley) is guaranteed.
Every thought we think has a consequence. Science tells us we have about 64,000 thoughts a day. Many times, we aren’t aware of our thoughts, and if they are critical and unhappy thoughts, this will have a consequence. If we focus on what we lack, we are creating a life of lack. What we perceive is projection. If we are aware of our thoughts and discipline our minds to think only grateful, happy thoughts (even when we aren’t getting what we want), we will be happy and successful.
The most powerful prayer is “Thank you.” Even if we are faced with challenges, whether the challenges are professional, personal, health or relationships, say “Thank you.” It will change how you think about your challenges and more than likely change the possible outcomes. Gratitude changes everything. To be able to change everything is why mindfulness and spirituality are important.
James Gray Robinson, a third-generation trial attorney and expert in family law, practiced for 27 years in his native North Carolina until 2004. Since then, he has become an individual and business consultant who works with a wide range of people, professional organizations and leading corporations. Robinson’s mission is for all people to have fulfilling, peaceful career experiences and work environments. At age 64, Robinson passed the Oregon bar exam and is again a licensed attorney. Learn more about his work at jamesgrayrobinson.com or email him at [email protected].