home
RSS
Seeking Serenity: When lawyers go zen
Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer started meditation "because it’s good for my health."
May 11th, 2011
11:15 AM ET

Seeking Serenity: When lawyers go zen

Editor's note: Beginning today, CNN contributor Amanda Enayati ponders the theme  of "Seeking Serenity: The quest for well-being and life balance in stressful times."

“Does scratching my eyes out count as a stress reliever?” asks Pamela, an attorney with whom I am discussing ways in which lawyers attempt to alleviate anxiety.

“Well, no,” I say. “It’s quite the opposite, really.”

“That’s all I know,” shrugs Pamela, done with the topic. “And don’t use my last name cause of, you know, the law firm mafia.”

I had been searching for meditating lawyers - yes, I mean meditation, not mediation - since a few days earlier when I happened to meet one in a parking lot. The woman - Barbara, a managing partner at a hedge fund - was in the throes of a merger when I met her. And yet she was like no attorney I have ever known.

She seemed centered and eerily calm, with undertones of joy. When I made that observation, she talked about her longtime yoga regimen, begun in college and continued while she was a law student at the University of Chicago, and the meditation practice it evolved into over the years. She also had attended continuing legal education courses that incorporated elements of meditation and mindfulness. Meditation, she said, helped her practice law in a way that “shuts out a lot of the static, the noise, the irrelevant.”

As a recovering ex-attorney, I found myself listening with a degree of skepticism. In all my years in and around the legal profession, I have met scores of attorneys who feel as Pamela does and almost none like Barbara.

After all, misery is implicit in lawyering, isn’t it? They virtually said so in law school. And the statistics certainly bear that out: A well-known Johns Hopkins study found that lawyers are more prone to depression than members of any other profession.

According to the American Bar Association, as many as 20 percent of American lawyers abuse alcohol or other substances. And an often-cited study undertaken by the National Institute for Safety and Health two decades ago found that male lawyers between the ages of 20 and 64 are more than twice as likely to die from suicide than their counterparts in other occupations. In a recent article called "The Depressed Lawyer," a clinical psychologist asked: Why are so many lawyers so unhappy?

Dig a bit further, though, and a different picture emerges. Ms. Ethereal from the parking lot is not such an anomaly, but part of a growing nationwide trend that may indeed transform the landscape of the law.

The earliest organized meditation retreat for lawyers was held in October 1998 for Yale law students and faculty. Since then, mindfulness practices have popped up with increasing frequency - from national conferences on mindful lawyering to courses in law schools (CUNY and the University of Miami, among them) to retreats for trial lawyers, workshops for judges, and continuing legal education for practicing attorneys at Zen and Buddhist centers.

Growing numbers of attorneys are embracing some form of practice to achieve mindfulness. Their reasons for doing so are varied, but chief among them are stress management and improved mental and physical health - benefits backed by research findings from scientists at Harvard and University of Pennsylvania, among others.

In the most recent study, Harvard researchers found that practicing a form of mindful meditation for as little as 30 minutes a day for eight weeks resulted in measurable changes in the brain regions involved in learning, memory, emotion regulation and stress.

Charles Halpern, a trailblazing public interest lawyer and law professor described as the “granddaddy of the movement,” notes that while a growing openness to the practice of mindfulness arose out of high levels of stress associated with the legal profession and the overwhelming cost it can take on the lives of many, it also benefits lawyers in other ways.

“It is making us more skilled and effective as lawyers, more focused, more active listeners, better at helping our clients and serving justice, and doing it in a way that is sustainable.”

Environmental lawyer and director of the law program at the Center for Contemplative Mind in Society, Doug Chermak, agrees. He adds that the mindfulness movement may serve as an important foundation for innovations in the law, including “collaborative law,” a less acrimonious, downright enlightened alternative to a typical divorce (trouble-shoot and problem-solve, rather than fight to win); and “restorative justice,” a criminal law approach that emphasizes reconciliation, restoration, healing and rehabilitation.

The growing inclination among attorneys to rethink some of the more traditional aspects of law practice has the potential to make way for the emergence of “law as a healing profession and lawyers as peacemakers” - associations that, frankly, would seem near-blasphemous to most.

I had it on good authority (Google) that one of the country’s lawyers-in-chief, Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer, is a “big meditator” and so a few days later I found myself channeling my best Oprah on the other end of a telephone line with Justice Breyer, asking in what may have been a slightly over-dramatic tone: “How, sir, did you first arrive at your meditation practice?”

“To say that I am a meditator is overstating it,” he replied in his elegant baritone, instantly dashing any hopes I may have had of anointing him the Patron Saint of Meditating Lawyers. “I don’t know that what I do is meditation, or even whether it has a name. For 10 or 15 minutes twice a day I sit peacefully. I relax and think about nothing or as little as possible. And that is what I’ve done for a couple of years.”

But wait! I thought. Isn’t that the definition of meditation?

He continued: “And really I started because it’s good for my health. My wife said this would be good for your blood pressure and she was right. It really works. I read once that the practice of law is like attempting to drink water from a fire hose. And if you are under stress, meditation - or whatever you choose to call it - helps. Very often I find myself in circumstances that may be considered stressful, say in oral arguments where I have to concentrate very hard for extended periods. If I come back at lunchtime, I sit for 15 minutes and perhaps another 15 minutes later. Doing this makes me feel more peaceful, focused and better able to do my work.”

I thanked the justice and hung up in a slight huff. It was not until later that I grasped the full wisdom of what he had told me: It doesn’t matter what your meditation or mindfulness practice looks like, where and how you do it, what you choose to call it, or whether you choose to call it anything at all. Research shows that you will reap the benefits regardless.

The most important thing is undertaking some form of reflective silence, active and open attention on the present, and freedom from judgment on a regular basis.

Are mindful lawyers - present, peaceful and peppy - the way of the future? There is no way to know for sure, but in the meantime there may be a small wave of happier, less stressed-out and adversarial, and more effective attorneys coming our way. And they are most welcome.

Want to get zen at your job? Watch the video below.

Amanda Enayati’s essays have appeared on CNN, Time, Salon, Washington Post and Zomppa. She's on Twitter @AmandaEnayati and keeps a blog at PracticalMagicforBeginners.com.


soundoff (475 Responses)
  1. adhd training

    I quite like reading a post that will make people think. Also, thank you for allowing me to comment!

    https://fr.zilok.com/partners/url/?item_id=305538&location_id=5420&url=https://realchrisburns.com

    May 6, 2021 at 10:49 | Report abuse | Reply
  2. gas station near me

    Spot on with this write-up, I truly believe that this web site needs far more attention. I’ll probably be returning to read through more, thanks for the information!

    http://abiplast.abiplast.org.br/registra_clique.php?id=TH|teste|149962|2862&url=http://www.reedthomas.com2Ppvro1

    May 6, 2021 at 13:12 | Report abuse | Reply
  3. google

    I constantly spent my half an hour to read this weblog's posts everyday along with
    a mug of coffee.

    Stop by my web site google

    May 6, 2021 at 14:37 | Report abuse | Reply
  4. ashley furniture near me

    http://www.osbar.org/secured/plf/remote_logout.asp?returnurl=http://www.wholesalenearme.com

    May 6, 2021 at 17:10 | Report abuse | Reply
  5. Forklift For Sale Los Angeles

    http://agri-ardestan.ir/LinkClick.aspx?link=http3A2F2Fsocalforklifttraining.com&mid=20685

    May 6, 2021 at 17:19 | Report abuse | Reply
  6. Forklift Cylinders Los Angeles

    https://www.musiclessons.com/youtube/watch?v=hFYSMBB4r54

    May 6, 2021 at 17:48 | Report abuse | Reply
  7. Eisbock Beer

    https://www.arbamakmur.com/redirect.php?link=https://allbrewsupplies.com

    May 6, 2021 at 17:50 | Report abuse | Reply
  8. wendys near me

    I love reading an article that can make people think. Also, many thanks for permitting me to comment!

    https://aro.lfv.se/ViewSwitcher/SwitchView?mobile=True&returnUrl=http://www.paradisepoolandspa.org

    May 7, 2021 at 04:03 | Report abuse | Reply
  9. rv water leak repair

    I blog frequently and I seriously appreciate your information. This article has truly peaked my interest. I will bookmark your blog and keep checking for new information about once per week. I subscribed to your Feed as well.

    http://www.wastedhumanity.com/mxg56z0lgWo

    May 7, 2021 at 06:26 | Report abuse | Reply
  10. Forklift Extensions Los Angeles

    http://r18.kurikore.com/rank.cgi?mode=link&id=84&url=https://forkliftrentalorangecounty.com

    May 7, 2021 at 06:32 | Report abuse | Reply
  11. Forklift Maintenance Shop California

    Aw, this was a very good post. Finding the time and actual effort to produce a great article… but what can I say… I hesitate a lot and never manage to get anything done.

    http://video.abdouexpress.com/watch?v=kS-DB09uj-0

    May 7, 2021 at 08:30 | Report abuse | Reply
  12. Liquor Stores Nearby

    http://www.longagri.com/__media__/js/netsoltrademark.php?d=www.craftbrewersofboise.com

    May 7, 2021 at 08:30 | Report abuse | Reply
  13. mariachis precios

    You're so interesting! I don't believe I have read something like that before.
    So great to find someone with unique thoughts on this subject
    matter. Really.. thank you for starting this up. This site
    is one thing that's needed on the internet, someone with a bit of originality!

    May 7, 2021 at 09:44 | Report abuse | Reply
  14. atm near me

    http://www.justsay.ru/redirect.php?url=https://seopostfalls.com

    May 7, 2021 at 14:56 | Report abuse | Reply
  15. tv repair orange county

    This is a good tip particularly to those fresh to the blogosphere. Simple but very accurate information… Appreciate your sharing this one. A must read article!

    https://vid.to/play/watch/q9XxtBsSYXk

    May 7, 2021 at 19:41 | Report abuse | Reply
  16. Social Media Marketing Brea

    http://lionelgibbons.biz/__media__/js/netsoltrademark.php?d=affordableranking.com

    May 7, 2021 at 23:07 | Report abuse | Reply
  17. repairing rv blinds

    http://www.hyoito-fda.com/out.php?url=https://ocrvcenter.com

    May 7, 2021 at 23:24 | Report abuse | Reply
  18. Internet Marketing Cypress

    I blog quite often and I seriously thank you for your information. This article has really peaked my interest. I will book mark your website and keep checking for new information about once per week. I subscribed to your RSS feed as well.

    http://www.developerfees.com/__media__/js/netsoltrademark.php?d=affordableranking.com

    May 8, 2021 at 01:22 | Report abuse | Reply
  19. Internet Marketing Companies

    https://www.oceanofhope.org/__media__/js/netsoltrademark.php?d=affordableranking.com

    May 8, 2021 at 02:05 | Report abuse | Reply
  20. Digital Marketing Agency Near Me

    http://mednetca.com/__media__/js/netsoltrademark.php?d=affordableranking.com

    May 8, 2021 at 03:07 | Report abuse | Reply
  21. Social Media Marketing Reviews

    http://www.internetmarketingmastery.wellymulia.zaxaa.com/b/66851136?s=1&redir=http://www.affordableranking.com

    May 8, 2021 at 08:08 | Report abuse | Reply
  22. kq xsmb minh ngoc

    Good day! I could have sworn I've been to this site before but after checking through some of the post
    I realized it's new to me. Anyhow, I'm definitely delighted I found it
    and I'll be bookmarking and checking back often!

    May 8, 2021 at 08:08 | Report abuse | Reply
  23. Digital Marketing Events Near Me

    http://www.youa.eu/r.php?u=http://www.affordableranking.com

    May 8, 2021 at 08:38 | Report abuse | Reply
  24. Social Media Marketing Agency Around Me

    I’m amazed, I must say. Rarely do I come across a blog that’s both equally educative and amusing, and without a doubt, you've hit the nail on the head. The issue is something not enough people are speaking intelligently about. I am very happy that I came across this during my search for something concerning this.

    http://488217.com/__media__/js/netsoltrademark.php?d=affordableranking.com

    May 8, 2021 at 13:16 | Report abuse | Reply
  25. Social Media Marketing Agency California

    I seriously love your site.. Great colors & theme. Did you build this web site yourself? Please reply back as I’m attempting to create my very own website and want to find out where you got this from or what the theme is called. Many thanks!

    http://www.miamidade.county-taxes.com/public/moved?url=http://www.affordableranking.com

    May 8, 2021 at 14:52 | Report abuse | Reply
  26. RV TV Orange County

    Everything is very open with a clear description of the challenges. It was really informative. Your website is very useful. Many thanks for sharing!

    https://rebrand.ly/qg9r0a0

    May 8, 2021 at 17:40 | Report abuse | Reply
  27. Seo Marketing Jobs

    Hi, I do think this is an excellent site. I stumbledupon it 😉 I'm going to come back once again since I book-marked it. Money and freedom is the best way to change, may you be rich and continue to help other people.

    https://findmeid.net/__media__/js/netsoltrademark.php?d=affordableranking.com

    May 8, 2021 at 18:47 | Report abuse | Reply
  28. releasebb

    We're a group of volunteers and opening a new scheme in our community.
    Your website offered us with valuable information to work on. You have done a formidable job and our entire community will be thankful to you.

    May 8, 2021 at 19:03 | Report abuse | Reply
  29. Content Marketing Pictures

    http://longislandcanopy.com/__media__/js/netsoltrademark.php?d=affordableranking.com

    May 8, 2021 at 19:26 | Report abuse | Reply
  30. s1288

    Oh my goodness! Amazing article dude! Thank you, However I am experiencing problems with your RSS.

    I don't understand the reason why I cannot subscribe to it.

    Is there anybody else having similar RSS problems? Anybody who knows
    the solution can you kindly respond? Thanks!!

    May 8, 2021 at 22:40 | Report abuse | Reply
  31. RV Center Riverside

    I needed to thank you for this fantastic read!! I definitely loved every little bit of it. I have got you book-marked to check out new stuff you post…

    https://shrinke.me/6bHc0lcN

    May 8, 2021 at 22:59 | Report abuse | Reply
  32. Google Marketing Contractor

    After going over a handful of the blog posts on your website, I really appreciate your technique of writing a blog. I book-marked it to my bookmark website list and will be checking back soon. Please check out my web site too and let me know your opinion.

    http://www.charisma.ms/r/out.cgi?url=http://www.affordableranking.com

    May 9, 2021 at 00:28 | Report abuse | Reply
  33. judi bola

    It's actually a great and helpful piece of information. I am
    glad that you shared this useful info with us.
    Please stay us informed like this. Thanks for sharing.

    May 9, 2021 at 01:33 | Report abuse | Reply
  34. Internet Marketing Studio

    I'm extremely pleased to uncover this web site. I want to to thank you for ones time for this wonderful read!! I definitely appreciated every bit of it and i also have you bookmarked to check out new information in your web site.

    https://burnschurchofchrist.org/resources/recorded-sermons/?show&url=https://affordableranking.com

    May 9, 2021 at 02:45 | Report abuse | Reply
  35. Internet Marketing Tustin

    https://baptistdoctorsonline.com/__media__/js/netsoltrademark.php?d=affordableranking.com

    May 9, 2021 at 05:46 | Report abuse | Reply
  36. Seo Marketing Companies Near Me

    http://thefirststatebankofrosemount.com/__media__/js/netsoltrademark.php?d=affordableranking.com

    May 9, 2021 at 08:01 | Report abuse | Reply
  37. Internet Marketing Quotes

    This website was... how do I say it? Relevant!! Finally I've found something which helped me. Thanks!

    https://fitness.flexybox.com/foreverfit/ViewSwitcher/SwitchView?mobile=True&returnUrl=https://affordableranking.com&lang=da

    May 9, 2021 at 09:50 | Report abuse | Reply
  38. Internet Marketing Jobs San Clemente

    https://www.letskringbreda.nl/data/index.php?option=com_wrapper&view=wrapper&Itemid=2&goto=https://www.affordableranking.com

    May 9, 2021 at 10:59 | Report abuse | Reply
  39. Money

    Hi, I think your site might be having browser compatibility issues.
    When I look at your website in Ie, it looks fine but when opening in Internet Explorer,
    it has some overlapping. I just wanted to gve you a quick heads up!
    Other then that, very good blog!

    May 9, 2021 at 11:11 | Report abuse | Reply
  40. Social Media Marketing Firms Near Me

    Pretty! This was an extremely wonderful article. Thank you for supplying this info.

    https://www.sacroadstore.com/__media__/js/netsoltrademark.php?d=affordableranking.com

    May 9, 2021 at 13:55 | Report abuse | Reply
  41. Local Marketing California

    Very good article. I certainly love this website. Keep writing!

    https://www.maxurservis.ru/goto.php?url=http3A2F2Faffordableranking.com

    May 9, 2021 at 16:43 | Report abuse | Reply
  42. Digital Marketing Experts

    http://avbypass2.millercoors.com/av/gate/?url=https3A//affordableranking.com2F/

    May 9, 2021 at 21:46 | Report abuse | Reply
  43. Seo Marketing Deal

    bookmarked!!, I love your website!

    http://www.westernherbal.info/__media__/js/netsoltrademark.php?d=affordableranking.com

    May 10, 2021 at 14:25 | Report abuse | Reply
  44. Social Media Marketing Experts

    https://www.grrlaw.com/__media__/js/netsoltrademark.php?d=affordableranking.com

    May 10, 2021 at 14:41 | Report abuse | Reply
  45. Video Marketing Pro

    http://childsheroes.co.uk/Products/SetCulture?culture=en-US&returnURL=http://affordableranking.com

    May 10, 2021 at 14:53 | Report abuse | Reply
  46. Internet Marketing Tustin

    https://www.energeticmedicine.com/__media__/js/netsoltrademark.php?d=www.affordableranking.com

    May 10, 2021 at 16:28 | Report abuse | Reply
  47. Social Media Marketing Job Orange County

    https://www.sjsmanagement.com/__media__/js/netsoltrademark.php?d=affordableranking.com

    May 10, 2021 at 19:56 | Report abuse | Reply
  48. Local Marketing Videos

    I truly love your blog.. Excellent colors & theme. Did you build this site yourself? Please reply back as I’m looking to create my own blog and would like to find out where you got this from or just what the theme is called. Cheers!

    https://jeffkoonsfoundation.com/__media__/js/netsoltrademark.php?d=affordableranking.com

    May 10, 2021 at 23:15 | Report abuse | Reply
  49. Content Marketing Pictures

    http://www.androidos.net.cn/redirecturl.do?url=http://affordableranking.com

    May 11, 2021 at 00:03 | Report abuse | Reply
  50. Content Marketing California

    https://www.jennison.biz/__media__/js/netsoltrademark.php?d=affordableranking.com

    May 11, 2021 at 02:29 | Report abuse | Reply
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10

Post a comment


 

CNN welcomes a lively and courteous discussion as long as you follow the Rules of Conduct set forth in our Terms of Service. Comments are not pre-screened before they post. You agree that anything you post may be used, along with your name and profile picture, in accordance with our Privacy Policy and the license you have granted pursuant to our Terms of Service.

Advertisement
About this blog

Get a behind-the-scenes look at the latest stories from CNN Chief Medical Correspondent, Dr. Sanjay Gupta, Senior Medical Correspondent Elizabeth Cohen and the CNN Medical Unit producers. They'll share news and views on health and medical trends - info that will help you take better care of yourself and the people you love.