Mindfulness Meditation

The following contains an excerpt from Leonard L. Riskin, The Contemplative Lawyer: On the Potential Contributions of Mindfulness Meditation to Law Students, Lawyers, and their Clients (View Article)

In mindfulness meditation, a person seeks to develop “bare attention,” or presence, i.e., to notice without judging and with equanimity, whatever passes through her awareness-bodily sensations, emotions, sounds, and thoughts. The cultivation of this awareness-formal practice-can be done sitting, standing, walking or moving in other ways, such as in yoga.

The sitting practice, which is the most common, usually beings with learning to concentrate by paying attention to one’s breathing. Next, the meditator gradually expands her awareness to include bodily sensations, emotions, thought, and eventually, consciousness itself-or the operation of the mind.

This is what came into the awareness of one meditator, as she narrated it to a reporter:
…fear …it’s O.K. …compassion … butterflies in belly …fear … kindness…, compassion…, hearing…, bird, house finch …naming … thinking … joy…

Any of these thoughts might hook the thinker’s attention into a long sequence of worries, reveries, fantasies and emotions linked to the past or future. Of course, it is easy and normal for people-while meditating and in every day life-to get caught up in and attached to such chains of thoughts, feelings, and emotions and their associated bodily sensations.

When this happens, however, we lose track of what is going on in the moment. For a lawyer, this can mean thinking about client X while listening to client Y, and not noticing negative thoughts or feelings toward client Y. A law student, while reading Hadley v. Baxendale for Contracts, might be worrying about Pennoyer v. Neff for Civil Procedure-or anticipating weekend social activities or regretting not going to business school or joining the Peace Corps.

Mindfulness meditation can produce important insights as well as practical benefits. Just as practice drills help basketball players hone their jump-shots, which they can use in games, mindfulness meditation can help people develop an ability to pay attention, calmly, in each moment, which they can apply in everyday life. It enables us to see how our minds work, to experience our lives more fully.

Mindfulness mediation, in short is a systematic process of investigation that can affect perception and behavior. The Buddha understood the practice as part of a path to relieve suffering and produce happiness. In this view, life involves a great deal of suffering; the cause of suffering is craving; the way to eliminate suffering is to eliminate craving or detach from it; and the way to eliminate or detach from craving is to adopt a series of attitudes and practices involving wisdom, morality and meditation.

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