My friend, Tahmina Watson, is one of the most accomplished lawyers I know. She’s an immigration lawyer, mom, community leader, podcaster, as of today, the author of three books, and an avid birdwatcher and photographer. Like me, meditation has been part of what helps her balance all of these demands and interests. In celebration of her latest book, which is released appropriately today on July 4th, I offer this interview to share information about a different style of meditation and a new story showcasing the benefits of meditation for lawyers.
Q. Tahmina, can you tell me a little bit about yourself?
A. I’m an immigration attorney in Seattle, Washington. My firm, Watson Immigration Law, is a boutique firm that focuses on business immigration law, which primarily serves small to mid-size businesses. And within business immigration I have a specific focus on startups and visas. We do a little bit of family-based immigration (parents, spouses, children) and some citizenship work as well. I don’t normally do defense in immigration court, but as a community leader I have volunteered to serve humanitarian interests relating to immigration. I’m also the author of three books, a podcaster, a columnist for Above the Law, a bar leader, and an avid birdwatcher.
Q. How did you become interested in immigration law?
It was very random. I moved from the United Kingdom to be with my American husband, and I really didn’t want to practice immigration law. When I moved from the UK, my UK law degree and experience as a barrister did not mean I could obtain a license to practice in the U.S. I took the New York bar exam because it was the one that I could take without going to law school again. But that limited my practice options to federal law since I lived in Washington State. Immigration matters kept coming my way, even though I said no to it about four times. And then the fifth time I said, Okay, well, let’s just do this.
The first day of practicing immigration law made me realize I wanted to keep going. It’s fast paced and intellectually challenging. I’m touching people’s hearts and minds and lives very tangibly. I can see the results of the work and I’m really helping people’s lives for generations to come. It allows me to work with intelligent people who have ambitious goals of changing the world every day, and that really fulfills me in trying to make their dreams come true.
Q. I know you had a really positive experience with meditation. Can you tell me a little bit about your practice and how you got started with it?
Political turmoil over the last several years has created a lot of stress in my law practice. It was overwhelming to be able to practice law, serve my community, be a mother and a wife, and do all the things I do. I was stressed and the stress kept building. And I didn’t really know what the answer was, but I considered meditation even though I wasn’t really sure what it was. I used the Insight Timer app on my phone informally and as needed for a while and that was an entry point for me. But, I had a few incidents where I realized I really needed to have a more robust meditation practice.
I kept wondering am I doing it right? Why are all these thoughts in my head? Isn’t it supposed to be completely silent? I Googled meditation lessons and what kept coming up for me was Transcendental Meditation (“TM”) lessons and it was available in my area. Even though I wasn’t used to spending money on myself much, I thought, “I’m just going to try this because I know what’s going to help me.” And I also realized that if I didn’t do something about it for me, I would not be able to help my children learn how to manage their own stress.
One of the things that initially concerned me was how do I even find time to go to this training? Because I think one of the things that we all think about is we don’t have time to do extra things, but I put it on the calendar and I attended all of the classes. The TM method recommends two 20-minue meditation sessions a day. Though I confess that I still don’t have that second meditation block, but my first meditation block has served me very well.
Now, once I went through the training, I had to find that 20-minute block of time for practice through trial and error and trial and error. It took me about nine months, believe it or not, to find that practice time. Where was my space? Where was my time? Where was the moment that I could actually have that block without somebody bothering me or a kid jumping in and saying I need this or a client calling or an email popping up? Where was that? I eventually found solace in my parking garage, where it was dark but I have come to cherish that time. So it became my practice of doing TM 20 minutes a day, first thing in the morning after dropping my child off at school.
Q. For those of us who don’t do TM, can you explain procedurally what the practice consists of and how you use the practice in your life?
TM starts with completing a questionnaire with the trained teachers. Based on your answers, they assign a mantra (word or small phrase) that is unique to you. You’re not supposed to share it. When you sit down to meditate you’re supposed to repeat that mantra over and over again. It doesn’t mean that the monkey mind won’t wander, but when it does you come back to your mantra. The mantra is almost like the guiding force for you. The practice method is very simple; you sit down for 20 minutes and repeat that mantra in your head.
Q. What did you do to bring your meditation practice back or shift it to make it work for your life as it is now?
I think what happened during COVID, and we all experienced it, was that suddenly our lives changed. Suddenly there were two kids having school in my house and my husband and I figuring out how to practice law at home. This made it challenging to find a quiet time in the house again. At first, I actually started to stand on my deck and just be outside and we take a few moments to take some deep breaths and that allowed me to really be out in nature. Eventually, I began waking up earlier in the day before the kids woke up so I could resume formal meditation practice. I have gone through various iterations, but I had been able to finally incorporate meditation back into my life with a daily practice of 20 minutes or getting outside. Sometimes my meditation is walking outside in nature and sometimes I do TM for 20 minutes.
Q. How does meditation help you balance everything?
When I was working on one of my books, I was already waking up early to meditate and had to get up even earlier to get in some time for writing. Once I got on this routine established, I didn’t want to break the chain that developed. I continued with that early morning rising and that’s how I would incorporate my meditation first and then my writing. This was never a perfect schedule and sometimes I slept in, but meditation for me was a constant.
Even if it was only a few minutes, meditation became the foundation to continue to be calm and proactive and not reactive, but reflective. And that helped with everything around me. It helps me stay steady when the clients are anxious because their lives or their livelihoods are at stake. Like me, they are often high achievers who are naturally anxious people. And I didn’t really realize how much anxiety I was taking on with each anxious client. But then I realized this meditation was my shield, but also my mirror for them. And so the meditation is really the beginning and end of everything I do, because it’s the foundation to be able to handle as much as you know, that life throws at me all you when I believe that’s how you are able to deal with everything.
To learn more about Tahmina, you can connect with her on LinkedIn. You can read her column on Above the Law or find all of her books on Amazon, including The Start Up Visa: US Immigration Guide for Startups and Founders, which releases today.
Want to learn more about mindfulness and compassion? Check out my new book, How to Be a Badass Lawyer, for a simple guide to creating a meditation practice of your own in 30 days. And to share mindfulness with your little one, check out my new children’s book, Mommy Needs a Minute.
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