Just Learning to Say “This Is Hard” Can Change Your Life

My favorite unintended side effect of my mindfulness practice is that it gives me all kinds of opportunities to laugh at myself. I don’t mean mock myself in a cold or cutting way. Rather, I mean laugh out loud at how silly this thing I call my self can be. To be sure, there are times when my practice has called on me to go and find my inner child curled up on the floor in the dark recesses of my mind and stroke its hair and tell it that it’s beautiful and things will be alright. But some of the time, the only logical response to myself is to just say “Girl, I love you, but you are a goofy” and laugh.

My journey to learn to say “this is hard” is one of those things. Yes, you got it right. I’m not talking about enlightenment here or some vision quest type situation. I am telling you that I struggled for years (read: decades) to learn to (a) observe a difficult personal experience; and (b) acknowledge in the present moment that the experience was difficult. We are talking very basic stuff right here. But hallelujah when I finally learned to do this it was like I had worked a miracle.

Like most lawyers I’ve struggled with perfectionism most of my life. I’ve been the “smart” girl in school and the “good” girl in my family. And somewhere along the way, that got confused with the idea that I had to be innately good at anything I ever did. When I started practicing law and raising kids, I really struggled because—newsflash—those things are hard. As a new mom and lawyer, I was still in the mode of pretending like things were “fine” and that I was “on top of things” and, through gritted teeth, that it was all a “piece of cake.” How did that work out for me? Terribly. I totally fell apart and that’s when I turned to meditation to put myself back together.

Meditation is sometimes presented like magic but it’s actually much more like those times when you are running out the door looking frantically for your car keys and your spouse or child says “you are holding them.” Learning to say “this is hard” is a car key situation for me. It was right there all along and I was too busy trying to look like I knew what I was doing to see it. By learning to sit in silence, I saw my thoughts, I felt my body, and let my emotions have a voice. I suddenly started to see that—holy crap!—all kinds of hard stuff happened to me all the time. I would struggle to focus, I would have nasty voices in my head saying mean things, my foot would fall asleep, my knee would hurt, and my ego would be bruised and battered because I wasn’t the stoic meditator I had set out to be.

Do you know what all of this taught me? That just saying “this is hard” really, really helped. When I acknowledged the hard stuff, I was able to stop struggling against it. I could stop pretending it wasn’t there. I could stop putting on a brave face. By just letting go of that, I saved so much energy and opened up so much space. That extra energy and space left room to just experience the situation. Many times I would see that the situation passed on its own and that I didn’t have to do anything. On other occasions, I saw clearly what I needed to do to care for myself. For example, if my foot fell asleep, maybe I might just wiggle my toes or move my leg. In the case of an attack of the nasty voice in my head, I might just focus more on my breath or hold my own hand as I watched it rage in my mind like a child throwing a tantrum on the floor.

After I practiced this enough in meditation, I noticed it started to happen on its own in my life. When I notice my own struggle during a workout, admitting that my situation is hard helps my inner cheerleader come out and say “you got this!” When my daughter throws a real live tantrum on the floor, it helps just to take a breath in and internally say “ouch.” These moments of recognition are often enough to steady me so that I can respond with some semblance of calm. In my law practice, acknowledging when things are hard helps me manage my schedule to make my days easier or ask for help from a colleague on a tricky problem or when dealing with difficult opposing counsel. In other words, letting myself admit that things are sometimes hard was the necessary first step for managing my life and law practice more effectively.

This is why I have to laugh at myself because the thing I was running from my whole life is what I needed all along. It was so simple and so small that I kept overlooking it, so the only way I could see it was to stop everything, sit down for a while, and do nothing. When I did, I finally let the truth of life come raining down: that life is hard and pretending it’s not makes it harder. So, when life is hard, just admit it if you can because saying “this is hard” is the first step of self-compassion. But, if even that is hard for you, laughing at yourself is always an option too.

Self-Compassion Is the Path Out of Mom Guilt and Into a Better World

“Am I a bad mom . . . ”

I cannot tell you how many times I have sent texts starting with this phrase to friends when life feels like a mess. I’ve seen countless posts in Facebook moms groups that start this way too. These questions about one’s quality as a mother may finish with anything from missing a child’s school event because of work, to forgetting a child’s lunch when rushing out the door, or even for far less dire things like bringing store bought treats to the bake sale. When I ask the question myself, I usually couch it as a joke, though I am seeking some level of real-world affirmation or at least sympathy from my friends. So, when I see other moms ask this question, my answer is always “no” and I’m usually part of a chorus of other moms who, in unison, proclaim “hell no!”

I’m glad these supports are out there. I appreciate it when my loved ones come to my aid when I get down on myself. But I hate seeing so much evidence that wonderful women are seriously considering whether they are good mothers every time life happens. I’ve struggled with this myself in the past and occasionally still do. In fact, mom guilt is why I started meditating in the first place. I had it so bad when my first daughter was born that I developed post-partum depression and it took years to work out of my self-judgmental tendencies. How did I do it? Self-compassion.

Self-compassion is the way out of mom-guilt. Am I saying it is the only way? Absolutely not. It’s no secret that moms, and parents for that matter, are doing far more on their own than they have ever done before. Our modern culture has lost many of the supports for parents we enjoyed in more traditional times. Unfortunately, legal and social networks in the United States have not progressed to fill in the gap with things like paid family leave and corporate cultures that really walk the walk in terms of respecting the demands of working caregivers. As a society, we’ve got to do better for moms and caregivers overall.

But self-compassion isn’t at odds with that. Self-compassion is what we can do right now to care for ourselves in the imperfect world in which we live. It’s not a vague platitude to “make time for self-care”. Rather, it’s a practice that you can bring into your life to care for yourself even when you have no time. More importantly, the practices are based on traits we all have as humans, so we can all cultivate them with subtle shifts in mindset and practice.

So what is self-compassion? It’s the same compassion you offer to everyone else in your life. The only difference is that you offer it to yourself. Compassion is nothing more than presence with suffering and the willingness to help. Researcher Kristin Neff, Ph.D. breaks down the elements as (1) awareness/mindfulness; (2) kindness; and (3) common humanity. If anyone understands compassion, it’s moms. For cultural reasons and maybe because our time and energy are often so short, the hard part is factoring ourselves in.

How can moms bring in self-compassion to reduce mom guilt? They just need to remember one rule: self-compassion is always the answer. By that, I don’t mean the only answer but it’s always the first response. I bet this sets off all sorts of alarm bells and “buts” and “what ifs” in your mind. So let me break it down.

First, let’s start with the easy one: a situation where you feel guilty or bad about your performance as a mom, but your better angels (and maybe loved ones) are telling you that you didn’t do anything wrong. As an example, maybe you were tickling your child and they fell back and hurt themselves. It’s totally normal to get down on yourself about this situation but it’s not really something morally bad, is it? I mean, it’s actually good that you were playing with your child, right? So why the bad feelings? Because our brains are trained to react to bad things and assign blame. If there’s no one else around, we are the only targets. So we blame and attack ourselves. The problem is, of course, that our kids being hurt causes pain for us too. We may comfort our kids in that situation, but who’s comforting us?

That’s where self-compassion comes in. We can use awareness to recognize that we hurt too. We can offer ourselves care just by experiencing the pain and reminding ourselves that all we can do is our best. And we can remember the common humanity: how many parents across time and the world have done the same thing? We aren’t alone in this struggle. It’s a human struggle. We aren’t bad at life; life is hard. Going through this process feels a lot better than guilt and it keeps the mind rooted in the present so it doesn’t go down the path of blame, shame, and rumination about the past.

Now, you are probably thinking: “Hold your horses on all of this self-compassion business. If I did something wrong, I deserve a kick in the ass.” Yeah, I struggled with this one too. It’s true that even us moms screw up sometimes. We lose our cool. We make bad choices. We say and do hurtful things to people we love. You know why that is? Because we are not superheroes, or saints, or martyrs, or TV moms with a makeup artist just outside of camera view. We are humans. And humans make mistakes.

Guess what? When we humans make mistakes, we get a kick in the ass in the form of consequences and bad feelings. As an expert at losing my cool with my kids, I can tell you I always get payback. They react to my anger with anger and bad conduct that I have to eventually control. And then I get treated to a nice tepid bath of shame and regret. In those situations, I don’t really need to pile on by kicking myself while I am down. Instead, what I really need is to restore calm, forgive myself, recognize what caused the problem, make amends, and move forward.

Will nasty internal comments help me do that? Hell no. So I have learned to recognize instead that parenting is hard, that I do a lot, that my limits get tested and pushed every day, and that me breaking sometimes is what most other moms and parents around the world experience too. Then I remember how good I am, how much I love my kids, tell myself I can do better, and go apologize. In the process, I remind myself that I deserve forgiveness and teach my kids that, instead of hiding from our mistakes, we own them and fix them.

And what if it’s more complicated? What if the causal chain of your screw up is mish-mashed up with someone else’s or that of society at large? I’d argue that this category comprises the vast majority of the incidents that may trigger your feelings of guilt. We don’t live in a vacuum; we live in a complex social system and are subject to all the restrictions and mores and whims that entails. How on earth could we possibly distill our role in a situation, with the aim of doing better next time, if we don’t employ clear vision and a relatively friendly attitude towards ourselves? We can’t.

This complexity, of course, leads to something even bigger:  the reality that self-compassion isn’t even just about us and isn’t something we necessarily have (or ought) to do alone. It isn’t about coddling ourselves or giving ourselves a pass on our nonsense. Rather, it’s about adding a baseline level of comfort so that we can face the cold hard facts about ourselves and the world in which we are living. When we can do that, we are more likely to foster and rely on relationships that can support us through hard times. Through this process, we become stronger, healthier, happier, and we can offer our kids, teams, and communities so much more. Because when we learn to pick ourselves up when we fall, forgive our own mistakes, and take care of our own pain, we find new courage to reach higher, take risks, and face the pain of others and the world.

Self-compassion is therefore not just the way out of mom guilt. It is one of the steps we can each take to make a better world. Imagine what might happen if, all of a sudden, 90% of moms didn’t feel guilty but instead knew that they were good, kind, loving, strong, and resilient? Rather than asking whether they are good or bad, those moms would ask two much better questions over and over again: “what do I need?” and “how can I help?”

For more resources on self-compassion, check out Kristin Neff’s work which is linked above or our Guided Meditation for Caregivers.

What Dry January Taught Me about Alcohol, Mindfulness, and Shame

I successfully did Dry January this year but it taught me a surprising lesson about shame. No, I have not been living under a rock. I know about Brene Brown. I watched the Netflix special. Yes, it was amazing. I’ve read many of her books. I know that the research says that shame can steal our power and keep us in a box. But it’s one thing to read or hear about a concept and another to live it, feel it, and understand it as you do.

I had experienced shame before this year, so it was not necessarily a new thing for me. But in general, the feeling was so intense and unmistakable that I could not ignore it. The shame I learned about after doing Dry January, however, was different. It was subtle. It was like a ghost in a haunted house that left signs of its presence but would disappear into the ether when you looked for it. It was not a big, bold feeling for me, but instead the faintest of senses that told me that I shouldn’t think too deeply (or even at all) about my drinking. It is for this reason that I had to try Dry January before I could properly diagnose my own condition: I had been ashamed that my use of alcohol had become so habitual.

For months before January, 2021 rolled around, I had been bored with alcohol. Literally bored. Still, I kept finding myself going to the fridge to grab a beer at the end of the day as if by compulsion. Like most people, I had come to associate alcohol with fun and relaxation. Those things being in short supply during the pandemic, my consumption of alcohol increased to fill this gap. Since I hardly ever needed to drive, there were usually very few reasons to say no either. So my habit became regular and stayed regular even after I started to be concerned about it.

But to be “concerned” about one’s own consumption of alcohol raises all kinds of issues, doesn’t it? If one is “concerned” about one’s use of alcohol, then it raises the question about whether one needs to stop. And we know that if one needs to stop, then they have a ”problem” with alcohol and they must stop totally and forever, full stop. Right? Furthermore, if I—a meditation teacher who espouses the values of mindfulness at every turn—could not control my own use of alcohol, what kind of teacher would I be? And don’t even get me started about what kind of lawyer I might be if I can’t even control myself.

As it turns out, I am just the human kind. Despite eight years of meditation, I’m not enlightened yet and I have cravings just like everyone else. My meditation practice certainly helped me maintain stability during the pandemic but I don’t think anything could make living through a pandemic easy for any of us. Ultimately, though, it was my meditation practice that helped me get out of this mess.

Though shame and anxiety about alcohol kept making my mind force concerns about it to the side, basic awareness helped me wake up. I love beer, but I started to notice that it didn’t seem to taste as good. That helped me to see that I wasn’t really getting the enjoyment I was seeking when I went to grab one from the fridge. I also noticed that many days I would make a secret goal not to get a beer, but find myself walking to the fridge anyway. This helped me see that I was not a terrible out of control mess, but rather just someone who developed less than ideal habits while stuck at home social distancing.

When I started to examine my beer drinking nonjudgmentally as a habit, rather than an inherent character flaw, it made me curious. Rather than worry about having to quit for all time and what that might imply about me, I instead started to wonder whether I could just change what I was doing. I had never tried Dry January before, but found myself in a Dry January Facebook group in December. Reading the posts and stories of other members helped normalize what I had experienced and it actually made me excited to try. As it happened, I had already signed up for a virtual meditation retreat for the weekend of New Years Eve. Having done this retreat before, I knew that I would refrain from drinking during the retreat. That was an ideal time to start, since the first few days of any new habit program are always the hardest.

To my surprise, when I returned from the retreat, it was easier than I had expected to just not drink. I had helped myself out on this by removing all the beer from the fridge because I knew I would be very unlikely to be so desperate that I drank a warm beer. Even so, I only occasionally had thoughts about drinking and I was able to avoid it by just doing something else, like playing with my kids, meditating, or working out. I also found other tasty things to drink, like hot tea with honey or seltzer water to satiate my hankering for bubbles. In other words, I learned that I wasn’t totally out of control when it came to alcohol. Rather, I had just needed to disrupt my habit of not exerting any control when it came to alcohol. Dry January gave me the chance to experiment with that and see what happened when I just gave myself a reason to say “no” for a while.

Did this experience drastically change my life? Not really, but it improved it. The most significant change was that I slept better. Sleeping better, in turn, helped me get up earlier, focus better, have more energy, and get more done. I liked that so much that, before the end of January, I committed to 300/65 – which means that I would only consume alcohol on 65 days for the rest of the year. In short, while I had been previously afraid to put restrictions on my use of alcohol before, because I didn’t want to think about that might mean, the reality was that the restrictions supported me and improved my life.

I was so surprised by this that I found myself doing something else entirely surprising: I wrote about my experience with Dry January on social media. Not only were people not judgmental; they were supportive and curious. In response to this, one contact reached out and told me to read Quit Like a Woman. I started it soon after and it helped me better understand my own experience. In the book, the author traced her own struggles with drugs, alcohol, depression, anxiety, and eating disorders and how she used a gradual approach coupled with self-care practices, including yoga, meditation, and therapy to eventually lead a sober life.

I was not surprised in the least that meditation was among the author’s toolkit, but I had never heard anyone before suggest that one could adopt a reducetarian approach to alcohol. Everything I had ever heard about sobriety before was that you either were or you weren’t and there was no in between. In the same way, I had never consciously considered the possibility that a life without (or with less) alcohol might be better. As the author argued, I saw that I perhaps had been unwittingly affected by the negative and one-sided portrayals of recovery in TV and movies and the marketing efforts of the alcohol industry.

I did not think the book was perfect. I disagreed with the author often but it shared something about alcohol that I was finally ready to hear: a new way of thinking about it. Rather than considering whether alcohol and I just don’t mix, I learned that the better question was whether I was living my life the way I really wanted to live it? As it turns out, I already had everything I needed to make a change. Just like QLAW recommends, I got curious and let myself experiment and observe how alcohol affected me, I was open to a gradual approach, and I had already established a toolkit of self-care practices, including meditation, to help me deal with stress or cravings or bouts of self-doubt. In short, neither Dry January nor QLAW convinced me that I needed to entirely quit alcohol but they both made it clear that if I was going to examine my habits and build a better life I first had to quit shame.

To learn more about this subject, check out our IG Live on Friday 4/23 at 1:30 PM EST. You can find us on IG @brilliantlegalmind.

How Mindfulness Helped Me Learn to Love Networking

One of my pandemic projects was publishing a book about networking with 19 other women lawyers. It’s called #Networked and it was a bestseller on Amazon in a few categories. For natural networkers, this might just be a cool thing but for me it was a milestone. It was one of the things that helped me fully and finally put to rest the idea that I was not good at networking.

In case my incessant droning on about sitting quietly had not clued you in, I am a bit of a nerd. I am an introvert and love reading and writing and quiet things. I love deep conversations or presenting on subjects about which I am passionate, but I detest small talk. I hate trying to come up with things to say to people I don’t know, and I am terrible at acting like I am having a good time when I am not.

In law school, these tendencies combined to cause me to literally run away from a networking event during a failed big law summer clerkship experience. On a Saturday in 90+ degree weather in full sun, I stood in the posh backyard of a soon-to-be partner trying to “get to know” the firm’s attorneys and socialize with my fellow clerks. That was the cover story, at least. It was really an audition and I knew it and the only thing I could think about while pretending to drink my warm beer was trying to not sweat. After an hour, I made some excuse and left, knowing my fate was sealed.

Though I clerked the following summer in the firm where I am currently an equity partner and had a vastly different experience, that memory haunted me for years. It repeatedly told me that I was no good at networking and that I would never be able to develop business and make partner. As I just said, though, I made partner and I literally just published a book about networking. So, clearly something very drastic has changed. As with a lot of things in my life, my mindfulness practice is one of the things that helped me change my own mind about networking. Here’s how.

1. Body Awareness Helped Me Manage Energy

Before I started meditating, I was constantly in my head. Body scans and breath practice, however, constantly reminded me to focus on the sensations in my body instead. Eventually, that shift in focus started to permeate my life even out of seated practice and I was better aware when I felt nervous or tired or just not into it when I had to go to a social event. When I could, I learned to meditate for a few minutes before or just send myself some loving-kindness during those times. That really helped and I found I was better able to tolerate and monitor the energy drain that large social events often caused me so I could focus better on the people there.

2. Awareness of Thoughts = Awareness of Ideas

 I really like to write and do it all the time now. Years ago, though, I only did “extra” writing outside of my law practice occasionally. As a big overthinker, one of the main benefits of my meditation practice was that it gave my thoughts enough space so I could see them more clearly. I eventually found that my thoughts were ideas for written content, so slowly and surely I started writing. Now, most of us don’t think of writing as a networking activity, but when I started to do it consistently and on platforms like LinkedIn, I found that it absolutely was.

When you put written content out there, you are sending out a verbal handshake to whomsoever on the internet may find it. If, like me, you learn to be yourself, people will reach out and want to talk more. But, unlike networking at happy hours with total strangers, you don’t have to make small talk because you already have something specific that brought you together. In other words, mindfulness turned my introversion into networking gold.

3. Consistently Returning to the Breath Practices Persistence

This next one is basic, but its importance cannot be overstated. Even if you never get a single amazing insight or spiritual experience from meditation, you can be pretty sure that the practice will teach you at least one thing: persistence. Anyone who has done breath practice knows that it can drive you nuts to keep going back to the breath over and over and over again. But we do it and hope it will pay off. It paid off for me and still does today. It helped me practice persistence and persistence is absolutely critical to networking. Nobody builds an empire or a community overnight. It takes a bunch of teeny tiny acts done consistently and maybe with a little bit of skill and luck mixed in. There is nothing that teaches you better about the impact of a bunch of teeny tiny acts than a regular meditation practice.

4. Compassion Helped Me Learn to Be Myself

The number one change I made to my networking game was to stop trying to “fit in.” I used to go to events and try to “look natural” and “seem upbeat” and “appear friendly.” In other words, I was trying to look like an extrovert and look like I was having fun doing it. Nobody bought this, including myself. My meditation practice taught me something that helped me stop this foolishness: there is nothing wrong with me. Specifically, loving-kindness practice helped me understand that I was loving, wanted to be of service to others, and was loved by many.

It also helped me appreciate that some particular social settings, small talk with strangers and loud group events, were painful for me, while others, deep conversation with a small group of friends, made me feel like I could conquer the world. When I learned this and accepted it as okay, I shifted my focus. I realized that my networking could include smaller events or activities with friends or even writing on LinkedIn. In other words, when I realized that my introvert tendencies were not bad character traits, I finally started to use them. And, when I started to network like me, instead of trying to mimic or go along with my extroverted friends, I made progress.

5. Giving Feels Good

Most of the best networkers tell you that their secret to success is giving. They will tell you to focus on proactively offering value to your network more than you focus on plucking benefits from it. This is good advice and my life experience tells me that we are more likely to do things when they feel good to do. My mindfulness practice helped me not only to pay more attention to how my body feels but also to more fully accept that I need to nourish myself to do my work.

Though I hated networking at first, everything changed when I started focusing on giving, rather than taking. I started small by taking on projects that I cared about, joining groups with a mission that I supported, or writing about topics that mattered to me. This soon put me in the position to help others by connecting friends, sharing tips that could help others, or doing good work for my community. When I noticed how good—how satisfied—that made me feel, I wanted to do more and had the energy to do it even with all my other obligations.    

If you hate networking, you aren’t alone but don’t discount the possibility that you may only dislike the version of networking you have experienced so far. I used to hate networking too when I tried to mimic the way that others did it. When I started focusing on what I liked and worked for me, I learned to enjoy and even love networking. Mindfulness practices could help you do the same thing. Sure, meditation in itself won’t turn you into a super connector, that will take many other steps and a whole lot of time. But it can help you do the preliminary work you might need in order to begin taking those steps. Meditation can help you turn inward to appreciate what is truly unique about you, so that you can turn outward with more confidence and skill. So, if you’ve had enough running away from crowded networking events in tears, try sitting quietly by yourself for a few minutes instead.  

If you need a meditation to get you started, check out this guided meditation we created that uses loving-kindness practice to help you shift your mindset about networking.

You Can Meditate Even If You Can’t Sit Still

“I wish I could meditate,” people often tell me, “but I can’t sit still.” To be sure, meditation is associated with stillness. One of the most ubiquitous symbols of mindfulness is the statue of the Buddha. He sits there with that half smile, perfectly still, looking totally unbothered and it can make some of us—mere mortals who have yet to attain enlightenment—think we can’t do the same. I’m here to tell you to forget that idea. You are allowed to move when you meditate.

Look, you don’t need my permission or anyone’s permission when you start a meditation practice. It’s YOUR practice. Do what works for you. But, as a recovering perfectionist myself and as a lawyer trained to never take an action without solid authority, I know how easy it is to forget that. In fact, I needed my meditation practice to learn even to notice what felt good to and worked for my body. With that in mind, I made this permission slip for you in case you want proof positive that a meditation teacher has authorized you to move during meditation. Share it with your friends and family and anyone who ever questions you or gives you side eye for moving during your practice.

Now, of course, you may think “but isn’t moving during meditation bad?” and wonder why I am giving this permission out so freely. My answer to that is that the classic lawyer response: “it depends.” Movement during meditation is generally something to be avoided because the point of meditation is usually to calm and settle the mind. If the body is moving, it is harder to do that and it may be nearly impossible for a new meditator. As such, the general advice and the strategy I use in my own practice is to try to find a posture I can hold for a solid period of time and avoid moving where possible.

But, this strategy has limits. Beyond stillness, the other way to calm and settle the mind and body is to comfort it. That means your physical comfort as you meditate supports your mental stillness. Thus, if something is making you uncomfortable during you practice, the wise and skillful thing may just be to move to take care of it. This means you can (and maybe ought to) scratch that itch or wiggle that leg that has fallen asleep.

Once you practice long enough, you start to realize that there really are no distractions from your practice; there are only new things that arise that become your practice. In reality, when a desire to move arises, it isn’t a zero sum game. Instead, if you remain mindful during the situation, it’s really a choice of what mode of practice you want to employ. You can choose to sit with the experience and stay with the physical sensations in the body and watch them arise, move, change, and fade away. That’s practicing body awareness, equanimity, compassion, and also exploring the temporary nature of life. Those are great skills and experiences to have in your life. But, if you choose to move, you practice body awareness, mindful action, and compassion. Those are also great skills to have.

The key with both of these things, of course, is to first maintain awareness of your experience. When you do that, you can choose the next course of action and whatever action you choose becomes your practice. Then you can simply return to the breath or whatever focal point you have selected for that session. Now, of course, if you lose awareness and just scratch that itch or wiggle your leg unconsciously, what then? I think you know the answer here: this is still practice. When you realize what you’ve done, you notice it, return to your focal point, and try to avoid mentally bludgeoning yourself in the process.

In short, you can move when you meditate. You don’t need to be a statue. You can find stillness (and wisdom and compassion) even when your body and the world won’t let you sit still. That is life. Don’t fight against it; practice with it. The wisdom, the lessons, and the benefits of meditation don’t come from trying to live up to a standard. They come from learning to move through life with greater compassion, awareness, and ease. You can learn that from sitting still in your meditation practice and moving on occasion too. Give it a try.

For more information about ways to respond to when the urge to move arises, check out the 1-minute video and slide deck on our Learn to Meditate in Less than 2 Minutes page.

How Mindfulness Can Help You Survive Virtual Litigation

Before the pandemic, I had almost never used Zoom at all but I have now litigated numerous virtual hearings. If the past year was good for anything, it at least forced me to learn how to take depositions and put on proof over Zoom. Virtual litigation offers many benefits, especially efficiency and convenience, but it is exhausting in every sense of the word. When litigation is already exhausting in normal circumstances, this impact cannot be taken lightly.

Even as we begin to come out of the pandemic, I think its fair to say that virtual litigation options are going to persist even if they are not so common as they have been in the last year. So, you may wonder if there are any tips or tricks for making virtual litigation a little less painful. Several lessons from my own mindfulness practice helped me stay steady during virtual hearings and they might help you too. Here are my tips:

1. Remember Your Limits

One of the first mindfulness lessons I learned is one that many of us lawyers often forget: we are not just brains. We have bodies. Those bodies have needs and limits. When we don’t respect those limits and honor those needs, our performance suffers and we experience a lot of needless pain. The way I handled this when litigating cases remotely was to be conservative in scheduling the cases on the front end. Rather than try to power through with 8-10 hour days on Zoom, we opted for ½ days spread out over time. While I was initially concerned that we wouldn’t finish even with the days allotted, we ended up finishing the proof early because we were conscious of time every day. This reduced the need for multiple breaks and allowed us all to avoid the fatigue and problems that came with prolonged time staring at the computer. Even if you can’t schedule a case this particular way, think practically about how long you can tolerate Zoom litigation as you set the schedule because remembering your humanity in scheduling will help the case go more smoothly.

2. Pick Your Battles

Another lesson my mindfulness practice taught me is that fighting is often unnecessary. Stipulations are essential for managing many hearings and trials to avoid wasting time on undisputed things. When you add the logistical complications of virtual presentation to the mix, that sentiment is even more important. In addition to stipulations of fact or evidence that could make things go more quickly, consider setting procedures or developing plans to make sure everyone is on the same page for the hearing. It may even be useful to hold a dry run with counsel for all parties to ensure that everyone is familiar with the platform you are using. While it may seem foreign to work closely with your opponent in this way, you may find that letting go of fights about minor things can help you all focus better on the disputes that really matter.

3. Plan for Disruptions

Anyone who meditates knows that disruptions happen no matter how much we try to avoid them. Likewise, anyone who has tried a trial or lengthy hearing knows that they almost never happen without a hitch. Prepare yourself for the disruptions. Have a plan for technology issues. Try to develop schedules of witnesses to avoid lag times if testimony goes quicker or slower than expected. In addition, it generally helps not to be a jerk about your opposing party’s situation because it will eventually happen that you are the one who needs the mercy. In one of my virtual hearings, I learned an hour before testimony was set to start that my daughter was required to quarantine due to a close contact at school. I was fortunate that my client, opposing counsel, and the hearing officer granted me a postponement for that day so I could pick her up from school. If my relationships had been less cordial, however, I may have gotten a different result.

4. Slow Down. Then Slow Down Some More.

Rushing is something we all do, especially when we are stressed, but my mindfulness practice has helped me notice it, slow down, and respond more skillfully to life. For most of us, hearings are going to make us stressed whether they are virtual or not. When you present virtually, everything goes through a filter so rushing can quickly become disastrous to your case. To avoid this, remind yourself as much as possible to slow down. Come back to your breath frequently or do a quick body sweep (check your brow, eyes, jaw, neck, shoulders, chest belly, hips, hands) to return to your body. If you are noticing the signs of tension or quick or shallow breathing, try to relax your body and open up your breath. You can do those things in a second or two and it can help keep you steady, focused, and even as you ask questions and present proof.

5. Get Some Rest.

Finally, another important mindfulness lesson is the importance of rest. When we let our attention settle on the breath, we give our minds a chance to stop trying for a moment. For us achiever types, even a little bit of rest goes a long way. When you sit in front of a glaring screen all day and have to listen intently to less than great audio, you need to check in with yourself after and give yourself a break. That likely means an activity away from your computer with some different sensory input. Your normal exercise or relaxation routine might be enough, but I found that I needed to pull out all the stops for my weeks of virtual hearings. In addition to normal exercise, I needed some extra yoga sessions, warm baths, and any time outside that I could get. When you are in a trial or a hearing, it may be tempting to dive right into your inbox piling up with emails but a well-timed break may make your efforts less painful and more efficient.  

I hope we are leaving the COVID-19 era of social distancing but I think the brave new world of virtual litigation is here to stay. Litigating cases remotely presents its challenges to be sure, but the lessons from our mindfulness practices can help us to reduce suffering on Zoom in the same way that they help us to reduce suffering in our lives. If we remember to care for ourselves and bring awareness to the unique challenges and opportunities that virtual litigation presents, we can then focus our whole attention on getting great results for our clients.

Brilliant Book Recommendation: Together by Vivek H Murthy, M.D.

If I told you that I read a book about loneliness and really enjoyed it, you might think I was insane. Americans don’t like loneliness. As an introvert, I agree with Susan Cain’s assessment that our culture is more inclined to favor the proclivities of our extrovert friends. As a result, the idea of loneliness for Americans is almost taboo. I mean, if you are lonely, it raises the awful question as to why? Who wants to answer that? Nobody. At least, for many years of my own life, I know that I didn’t.

But Vivek Murthy, M.D., our once and current Surgeon General wants us to answer that question both individually and collectively. He wants us to answer it because he has seen the impact that loneliness can have on his individual patients and the consequences that those individual stories–played out millions of times over–has on our system of public health. In Together: The Healing Power of Connection in a Sometimes Lonely World, Dr. Murthy argues that loneliness is a huge social and medical problem but one that has a solution.

In the book, Dr. Murthy traces the evolutionary reasons that loneliness has such an effect on human beings. He argues quite convincingly that society has somewhat misdiagnosed the condition. While many of us fear that our loneliness suggests that there is something wrong with or undesirable about us, Dr. Murthy suggests that we instead ought to think of loneliness more like other biological conditions. He explains that our bodies are wired for connection with other humans because those connections have throughout our history been so closely associated with our survival. Thus, when we feel lonely, it is our body’s signal that we need connection much like the feelings of hunger or thirst indicate we need food and water.

Unlike hunger and thirst, however, Dr. Murthy explains that many of us tend to see loneliness as a sign that there is something wrong with or bad about us. This is where things break down for many of us because it can cause us to retreat, self-isolate, and lead to even worse conditions, including depression, anxiety, and even high blood pressure or other physical consequences. As a result, though loneliness is common–pervasive even–and normal–the very byproduct of our biology–we humans get tangled in it because we see it is abnormal and the product of some character flaw.

I got caught in this tangle myself. When I started my law practice, I had returned home after seven years away at school. At the time, I was focused on billing hours like any good associate should be and growing my new family. I didn’t make much of an effort to make friends and neglected reaching out and sharing my life with the ones I had. Though on a subconscious level I knew that I wanted more of a social life, I didn’t want to face the issue because I was worried that I was lonely because there was something wrong with me.

Unable to let myself think critically about these issues, I let myself believe the stories that I “didn’t fit in” and “wasn’t good at making friends.” After a period of depression, I was forced to reckon with these ideas and you know what I found out? I found out that I didn’t fit in and that was exactly what helped me make friends. I realized that it was my lack of effort and my disconnection with myself that caused my loneliness. Meditation helped me connect with and accept myself. I started showing up and reaching out and soon realized that I was good at making friends and being one because I was good at being myself.

Dr. Murthy, too, shares his own experiences with loneliness and captures the stories of many others who have successfully faced it. In many cases, he relates how many of those people (like himself) experienced deeply troubling times of loneliness but used their experiences to create and foster connections that served a wider community of people. In some cases, people created communities–whether online or in-person–that did not exist before. I hope that you read the book for yourself because each story is covered with a grace that can’t be captured in a single blog post. The pattern that emerges from reading them all, however, is this: loneliness can be addressed by accepting it as normal, looking inside yourself to heal, and then reaching out to build connections.

The past year has taken a toll on all of us and has done nothing to improve the social and public health problem of loneliness. If anything is to be gained from this, though, I hope it is acceptance of the magnitude of the problem that loneliness presents and a recognition of how solvable it is. We Americans pride our individualism but we are humans first and our human biology tells us we need each other. As we try to make our way out of a global pandemic that has forced us to socially distance, I am at least hopeful that our Surgeon General is someone who deeply understands loneliness on a personal, social, and scientific level. For, if we begin to understand the issue of loneliness, I believe that as a society we can heal and then begin to forge the new connections we need to rebuild, progress, and thrive.

If you are feeling lonely, monitor your reaction to it and your thoughts about it. This short video offers some ways to help you do that.

How to Teach Your Kids about Meditation

Over the last year, we’ve had to figure out how to do many things with our kids around, including our jobs. I’ve already covered ways to find quiet so you can meditate on your own. But another way to address the issue is to bring the kids into your meditation practice. The question inevitably arises, though, as to how one might actually do that.

Kids aren’t exactly known for sitting still and being quiet. I mean, when I wrote the post about “finding” quiet, I had my own noisy and fidgety kids in mind the whole time. For my own part, though, I know that I wish I had learned to meditate sooner since it has offered me so many benefits and helped make my life happier and richer. So, even though it may be a challenge to share mindfulness with our kids, it may be worth it. With that in mind, here are my tips if you want to start sharing mediation with your kids.

1. Be What You Want to See.

I don’t want to brag but my kids actually eat vegetables. It’s not because I have forced them to eat them (though I am not necessarily always immune from dinnertime battles) or have extolled their nutritional benefits. The reason my kids eat vegetables is because I really enjoy food. By that, I mean I love to cook. I get a lot of joy from making different things and experimenting and playing in the kitchen. When I do that, the girls automatically come in and want to help or steal veggies from the counter as I work. Meditation can be the same way. If you enjoy it and have fun with it, your kids are more likely to want to do the same. Let them see you meditate. Let them know you meditate and how it helps you. When they show interest, answer their questions and let them try it. If you push or demand or lecture, this will never happen. Meditation usually works best when someone chooses it for themselves so give your kids the same gift. In other words, just doing what is best for you is a great way to offer the best to your kids.

2. Meditate with them.

When your kids show interest, another great way to encourage them to pick up meditation is to try it with them. You can make this a routine by meditating for a few minutes before bed. Many meditation apps have meditations made just for kids and you can just play one after the bedtime stories or goodnight hugs. That may actually be a good way to help them get ready to sleep. You could also try a meditation break with them in times of stress. When my youngest was small, she refused to take a breath if I told her to do it because she thought it meant she was in trouble. But, if I did the breath with her, I got a totally different response. While you may not think of a few deep breaths as meditation, these building blocks for little kids can grow over time and serve as the foundation for a practice later on, not to mention that they are just good coping strategies to have.

3. Make it fun.

Play is essential to any good meditation practice and that is doubly true for kids. If your kids show an interest in meditation, try to make it fun. Explore guided meditations with imaginative visualizations. Keep your approach light and energized as you talk to them about their experience. For little kids, it may even help them to have them sit in your lap while you practice together. Meditation doesn’t have to be intense to be powerful. Helping them have fun as they explore their inner life bit by bit will serve as a good foundation for a healthy practice later.

4. Keep it simple and short.

It is no surprise that kids can’t sit very long. Don’t make the practice complex and don’t make it too long. It is unlikely that most kids younger than 10 can sit for more than five minutes straight and young kids may struggle to be silent. Start where you kids are. This may mean starting with one or two breaths. Later on you may advance to having your child name her experience. Though this may not seem like mindfulness to you, it is powerful for kids to begin to understand their inner lives. And, as always, their abilities and practice can grow over time.

5. Talking might actually help.

Some kids may not like the feeling of being alone when they meditate. Little kids may lack the ability to avoid talking. That’s just life. You can make meditation a bit easier for these kiddos by talking them through the process. For example, if a guided meditation tells you to envision yourself on a cozy cloud, you might watch your child and see how they react. If they fidget or make a funny face, you could say “what kind of cloud are you seeing?” or “how does the cloud make you feel?” With these questions, you are asking the child to focus on their direct experience so it is mindfulness but it may be easier for them since they have your support in the process. You may also enjoy this since the answers can range from insightful to hilarious and you may learn some surprising things about your kids.

If you want to try meditating with your kids, give this one a try. It’s a simple body scan but I was inspired by the many times I have found my daughters covered in paint or marker or crayon or whatever. Apparently, kids enjoy coloring on or painting themselves. With this meditation, they can do that and make a mess in their minds but there’s no mess at the end for you to clean up. If only craft time was so simple . . .

How to Find a “Quiet Place” When Meditating in a Full House

The stress of a global pandemic has made interest in meditation skyrocket. Unfortunately, part of the stress of the pandemic is living in close, sometimes cramped, quarters with our loved ones and four-legged friends. Almost every guide to meditation tells you to start your practice by finding a comfortable position in a “quiet” spot with minimal distractions. But how do you do that in a house full of other occupants?

Earbuds, ear plugs, or white noise machines can help and turning off notifications on your phone is a must. Many meditation apps also have ambient sounds or light music to support a practice. But these options are anything but foolproof and they certainly don’t help when a relative walks into the room or, in the case of my four-year-old and miniature dachshund, plops down unannounced on your lap. Indeed, the absence of quiet can wreak havoc for a meditation session. But does it have to derail a meditation practice?

I say it doesn’t, as long as you keep perspective on the type of quiet that you are seeking. When I started my meditation practice years ago, I tried sitting practice in every remote corner of my home, including the basement and my closet, to avoid the impromptu shrieks of my toddler or the incessant barking of my dogs. I remember the frustration I felt whenever my husband unwittingly walked in on my meditation and callously disrupted my carefully but tenuously balanced “calm”. In those early days, I thought silence was calm and so was frustrated when silence was hard to find.

At some point along the way–after tolerating enough disruptions and just sitting through them–I started to see that the distractions weren’t so . . . distracting. When I heard my daughter’s voice call out while meditating, I just sat still and watched it affect me. I remember on one occasion my daughter saying something silly and noticing, in meditation-induced slow motion, a wave of laughter wash over me. It was beautiful, albeit fleeting, and if I had reacted with my customary effrontery I would have missed it. And, having had hundreds of attempts to practice calm when my dogs interrupt my quiet by barking, I now barely even react to their barking (at least when I’m meditating).

In other words, my advice to you on “finding quiet” is to give up or at least to not cling so tightly to the notion of quiet. It is hard, if not impossible, for most of us to find a quiet spot to meditate where one won’t be disturbed. But meditation is not truly about silence or erasing all distractions. Instead, the practice is about the way we respond to distractions and to ourselves as each new distraction arises. In this way, the struggle isn’t to find a perfectly quiet place, but to accept that you will never find a perfectly quiet place. As such, the only option is to cultivate quiet.

How do you cultivate quiet in a world that won’t shut up? Using supports such as music or guided meditations can help block out noise. In addition, scheduling your meditations at times when you are likely to avoid interruptions can help. If that is difficult to do in a single block of time, it might also help to try short chunks of time interspersed strategically throughout your day.

But when all of these options fail, and trust me they will, the only remaining answer is to sit and remain quiet even when the world isn’t. In other words, you try to find the quietest place you can, limit disruptions to the extent you can, and, with all the grace and kindness you can muster, you practice living with the noises and disruptions that are left.

It will be maddening at first and you may consider giving up. You may wonder to yourself, “Why am I even doing this?” My answer to this is, I hope, a bit more satisfying. You are doing it because, much like meditation, life is a combination of doing what we can to control things and accepting the rest we can’t. Each time we remain quiet in the midst of noisiness, we practice calm in the midst of the chaos that is our lives. In simpler terms, things get easier with practice because meditation is practicing ease.

If you want more quiet in your life, you have to practice quiet. So, when that guided meditation tells you to find a “quiet place”, go ahead and laugh at it for being unrealistic. Laugh at yourself for being impatient. Laugh at your kids and pets and family for being too loud. By all means, laugh whenever you can. But then go look for that quiet place because I think you can find it.

For more practical tips on finding quiet when you meditate, check out our 1-minute video and handy slide deck on our Learn to Meditate in Less than 2 Minutes page.

Brilliant Teacher Recommendation: Dr. Chelsea Jackson Roberts

The theme for this month was love and emotions, but February is also Black History Month. Our recommendation for this month is someone who brings both of those things together with mindfulness in such a beautiful way: Dr. Chelsea Jackson Roberts. Dr. Roberts, or Chelsea as she is known on her social media platforms, is a world-renowned yoga and meditation teacher, social media influencer, advocate for diversity, and an altogether brilliant person. She is a graduate of Spelman College and later obtained her Ph.D. in Educational Studies from Emory University. During that time, Chelsea also completed extensive yoga training and she now marries her passions for education, yoga, and promoting diversity on her platform Chelsea Loves Yoga.

I became familiar with Chelsea when she joined the roster of teachers for Peloton last year. Though a regular meditator, I am an irregular yogi. Even so, I found it hard not to make Chelsea’s classes a regular part of my fitness and wellness routine. She has a smile and a spirit that can light up a room (even when it comes to you through a screen). In addition, Chelsea brings her voice and her experience to every class and meditation she offers. When you take her classes, you get a chance to stretch your muscles and your mind as she offers lessons on black history and music while you flow. And, while Chelsea encourages kindness in all things, she also advocates for action and strength in her “Breathe In, Speak Up” yoga and meditation series.

Chelsea, however, does not only bring yoga and meditation to Peloton members, she offers it to thousands more on her platform Chelsea Loves Yoga. That platform offers free resources and yoga videos and Chelsea also regularly shares out videos about yoga and meditation to her thousands of followers on Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook. Chelsea has also worked to bring yoga to communities who need it. She founded Red Clay Yoga, which offers yoga programs and training to youth and adults. Yoga classes and instruction are offered at Red Clay, as well as workshops on social justice action and diversity. Among the offerings at Red Clay was a Yoga, Literature and Art camp for teens at Spelman College.

In short, Dr. Chelsea Jackson Roberts is not just a teacher of mindfulness, but someone who loves it and lives it. She’s an inspirational social media follow and someone you should certainly check out if you are on the Peloton platform.

Chelsea’s presence on the internet, including Peloton, also makes her the perfect recommendation to lead into our theme for next month: a year of social distancing. March will be the one-year anniversary of the emergency declarations for the COVID-19 pandemic in many American jurisdictions, including my own state here in Kentucky, and the beginning of social distancing restrictions for many of us. Stay tuned for more instruction and content on that theme and please continue to stay safe, stay healthy, and take care of yourself and others.