Is Compassion for Others Different from Self-Compassion?

I spent a lot of time this summer thinking and writing about compassion. For much of the summer, I was writing my forthcoming book on mindfulness and compassion for lawyers (more details on that to follow). I also completed the Compassion Educator Certification course with the Compassion Education Alliance. In the midst of all this writing and learning, I realized a gray area existed in my understanding of the subject.

Most of the time, teachers instruct self-compassion separately from compassion for others. But as I wrote about it and thought about it more I realized something unexpected: they weren’t separate at all. This was kind of surprising to me, so I asked my teacher and the founder of the Compassion Education Alliance, Aly Waibel (full bio below), to clarify. Her answer was so good that I asked her for an interview so I could share it with you here.

Q. Self-compassion is fortunately getting more attention lately, but is it any different from compassion for everyone else? If so, can you explain how? 

AW: Compassion is the awareness of another’s suffering coupled with a willingness to take action to relieve it. Compassion is relational and so always includes self and other, by definition. The suffering we’re aware of may be in ourselves or another, and the compassionate response or the desire to relieve the suffering is similar, regardless of who is suffering. 

Self-compassion is a new term, and was originated by Kristin Neff as an antidote to self-esteem, which is based on social comparison. The self component of compassion is important to develop as many of us are inclined or conditioned to offer compassion to others and we can forget about ourselves. We can forget that we are just as deserving of compassion as others, or forget to include ourselves in the circle of compassion.

Most of us have a negative critical voice in the head that is constantly narrating our experience with judgments, criticisms and preferences. This voice in the head can be like a bully or cruel tyrant. Self-compassion is a way to bring awareness to this negative self-talk in order to shift it toward more kindness. It helps connect us to our core values and strengths so we are more resourceful and available to others.

Q. So, why are we hearing about all these studies that say self-compassion is good for us? Why would we want to build self-compassion at all? Shouldn’t we just focus on building compassion overall?

AW: There are three RCT studies on the Mindful Self-Compassion training program and over 4000 published studies on self-compassion in other forms. This growing body of research suggests that self-compassion is a primary factor in predicting resilience, decreasing stress, and increasing wellbeing.

The benefits of recognizing our common humanity and offering ourselves the kindness we’d offer a friend are many. However, it’s one component of the bigger process we call compassion. Compassion is relational and our concepts of self and other arise simultaneously. Any time we practice compassion for another, we are the primary beneficiary, and when we practice compassion for ourselves, others in our lives benefit. 

Q. Are you saying that self-compassion and compassion for others aren’t in opposition to each other? Do they actually work together/help each other? 

AW: They must go together, like two wheels of a bike. We can’t have one without the other. If we go too far into compassion for others we run the risk of becoming codependent and if we go too far into self-focused compassion we run the risk of becoming narcissistic or indulging in unhealthy self regard at the expense of others. 

It’s all about balance. When I’m attending to my own needs, for example, I’m less of a burden on my loved ones. When I practice self-inquiry to question the thoughts I’m believing that cause my own stress, I feel more freedom and peace. And then I’m more aware and available to others who may need support or help. When I’m overly self-focused, I miss opportunities to help others. When I’m overly other-focused I run the risk of becoming burned out and then, again, less helpful to others. Most of us have experienced going through a really difficult time or life event and how offering compassion to someone else in the midst of that can feel really good. In other words, shifting focus away from me and my suffering to be there for you can support us both. 

So the caution around self-compassion, for me, is that it may sound like it’s separate from compassion for others, or compassion in itself. Compassion is one process – it flows through individuals and helps each one who is involved — the giver and the receiver. Eventually, the distinction between the giver and the receiver of compassion becomes much less relevant. So regardless of where the suffering originates (in me or in you) the response to it is the same — an awareness of it and a willingness to relieve it, to reduce overall suffering in the system or in the world. 

Q. Wait, if there is no dividing line between compassion for self and compassion for others, how do I protect myself and set appropriate boundaries?  

AW: My experience is that with compassion practice, boundaries naturally arise. I don’t need to calculate, plan or think about boundaries as much. The ‘yes’ and the ‘no’ are more natural and intuitive and flow more naturally. There’s less obligation to say ‘yes’ and less guilt when ‘no’ is the answer.

Q. If compassion is a natural response for most humans, why do we need to do practices to cultivate it? What’s the best way to get started?  

AW: It’s sort of like working out. If we’re fortunate enough to have healthy bodies, we can work out and build our muscles to become stronger, or not. The body is innate and what we choose to do with it, or how we train it, is a choice. Compassion is like a muscle we’re born with that we can build with practices (meditation and visualization practices), so when we’re confronted with suffering in and around us, the compassionate response and capacity to relieve the suffering will be more likely to arise. Similar to how athletes will visualize their race or the game before going out to the field, remembering or imagining moments of compassion in a visualization or meditation can have a similar effect on our performance out on the field of daily life.

One of the best places to start practicing compassion is with mindfulness. Mindfulness is being with what is in the moment without judgment. You share great resources for getting started with mindfulness on your blog! 

Most of us are very caught up in thinking – thinking about the past, planning for the future, judging others or circumstances, comparing ourselves to others, etc. We can get so caught up in and distracted by our thinking that we miss the present moment. And compassion requires our presence. 


Aly Waibel has taught mindfulness and compassion courses and workshops since 2012 and she is a Senior Certified Teacher of the Compassion Cultivation Training course developed at Stanford University. Aly received her PhD in Teaching, Learning and Sociocultural Studies at the University of Arizona College of Education in 2015 and has served in nonprofit leadership roles since 2015. She is currently the Associate Executive Director of Professional Training and Operations at the Center for Mindful Self-Compassion. In 2021, Aly founded the nonprofit organization Compassion Education Alliance (CEA), a global collective that offers courses and support to compassion practitioners, educators and social change agents. She works closely with her fiancé, James Wood, author of Ten Paths to Freedom: Awakening Made Simple.

Want to learn more about mindfulness and compassion? Check out our founder’s new book, How to Be a Badass Lawyer, which is available on Amazon.

Like this post? Subscribe to the blog or follow us on social media.

Meditation Is Not a Time Suck; It’s a Time Saver

I never ask anyone to explain themselves to me when it comes to meditation. Even so, I give talks about mindfulness a lot and people tend to volunteer why it can’t/won’t work for them. I never mind this because it’s an opportunity for both of us to learn something. The number one reason that people, especially other lawyers, tell me they can’t meditate is insufficient time.

For lawyers, this is surely a believable excuse. We are a notoriously time poor profession. There are significant financial incentives for using any extra time we have to bill hours or market and network to get the next client in the door. And then we might want to actually, hey, have a life to do things besides bill too. Trust me. I get it. I have no intentions here of telling lawyers that they have more time than they think.

Here’s the thing, though. Meditation is not a time suck. It’s a time-saver.

I’m a lawyer, a community leader, a blogger, and a mom. Do you really think I sit around meditating because I’m just bored? Even if you thought that, do you really think I’d pick the single most boring activity on the planet to fill my time? Of course not.

I don’t meditate because I have nothing better to do. I meditate because I have tons of other better things to do besides overthinking, reacting to every little thing in life with anger and hostility, and rushing so much that I miss those tiny joyous moments that creep into life unexpectedly.

Sure, over the last 10 years, I have probably spent hundreds (if not thousands) of hours meditating. That’s a lot. But what I have not done or done far less is spend hours agonizing over some thing in the future I am worried about that never transpires. Or fretting for days about something awkward I said at a happy hour last week. Or scheming endlessly about the best way to handle a situation.

Instead, now I see when I am stuck in thought mode, regret mode, or perfectionist planning mode and I disrupt the loop. I make a decision to write down a few notes to get the idea out of my brain, talk to a friend, apologize, or just let it go by doing something else. The hours saved alone here is enough ROI for my practice, but the impact on my life by remaining engaged in the world rather than lost in thought is even more significant.

And can we talk about the sleep that I haven’t lost when I am dealing with a stressful situation? Or the fatigue or frustration that didn’t derail my work because I had a quick and reliable way of resting and recharging? Or the physical signs of stress I recognized early on and knew how to care for so I could avoid a disaster?

Look, I don’t write this piece to make you feel bad if you tried meditation and struggled with it because you are busy. The truth is that I have too. I have missed a ton of sessions over the last ten years. I have had to restart and reenergize my meditation habit multiple times. Sometimes it feels like a slog when I do.

I keep coming back to it though, not because I magically find extra minutes, but because I want to be present and content in the minutes I have. So, if time is the thing that sticks in your mind when it comes to meditation, maybe try thinking about time in a new way. Don’t just focus on the few minutes that it will take to meditate. Focus instead on the minutes that meditation might save you and the minutes of your life that meditation might improve.

Want to learn more about mindfulness and compassion? Check out our founder’s new book, How to Be a Badass Lawyer, which is available on Amazon.

Like this post? Subscribe to the blog or follow us on social media.

Book Review: The Upside of Stress by Kelly McGonigal

This month I am focusing on debunking myths relating to mindfulness, compassion, and mental health. After all my years of meditation, I still find myself holding onto a few myths every now and then. One of those myths is that stress is bad for you.

As a lawyer, I have been informally trained to know that stress is a scary thing. The lawyer mental health crisis tells me I have to “manage” my stress. Family, friends, and doctors will tell me to “limit” my stress. And even in my training to become a meditation, yoga, and compassion teacher, I learned that stress can impede us physically and mentally.

But, then I came upon a book by Kelly McGonigal with a title that proclaims that stress is good for me. Her book The Upside of Stress: Why Stress Is Good for You, and How to Get Good at It seemed to fly in the face of everything I thought I knew. The thing is, though, that I adore Kelly McGonigal’s work.

She explains scientific concepts in a simple and engaging way that shows she really understands them. She does this so well that, in turn, I feel like I really understand the concepts too. I thoroughly enjoyed The Willpower Instinct and The Joy of Movement and, despite it being only in audio form, learned a ton from her course on compassion.

So, even though the title made me skeptical, I decided to give The Upside of Stress a try. Guess what? It totally changed my mind. And when I say “changed” I don’t mean that it made me suddenly welcome and enjoy all the stress in my life. Instead, it refined my understanding of what stress meant and how it actually worked.

Most of us know the “fight/flight/freeze” reaction as the stress response, as if it was the only response to stress. In Upside, however, McGonigal explains that this is only one possible response to stress and it usually occurs in dire threat situations. This is when stress can harm us physically, impede our performance, and even lead to bad behavior and aggression.

On the other hand, humans can respond to stress in other ways, including the “tend and befriend” or “challenge” responses. In other words, we can learn to care for and forge connections to deal with stress or see a stressful situation as a challenge that can present opportunities. When we respond to stress in these ways, research shows that it can improve performance, cause us to behave more ethically and collaboratively, and create courage, motivation, and energy.

Now, of course, the skeptics out there are likely to wonder why we hear so many dire warnings about stress if it is good for us. McGonigal acknowledges that stress can be bad, even devastating for some of us, but she explains that the popular discourse of stress is often misleading.

One thing that is often left out of these discussions is that our reactions to and mindset about stress can determine how it affects us. That is why so much of The Upside of Stress is devoted to changing the audience’s mind about stress, because just acknowledging that stress can have an upside is the first step to healthy stress management.

When I read this part of the book, I was ever more surprised because I realized I already knew it or had at least experienced it. I had not officially accepted the idea that stress could be good for me, but I had learned through meditation to respond to stress differently.

Rather than ignore, evade, or fight stress, I had learned to regard it as a normal part of life, to accept it as human, and to treat it with care. In other words, meditation had helped me more frequently invoke a challenge or tend-and-befriend response to stress. As McGonigal argues, it didn’t make the stress go away but it made it easier to bear.

If, like most lawyers, you want some help managing stress, consider checking out The Upside of Stress by Kelly McGonigal. If the only thing it does is change your mind about stress, that alone could be enough to change your life for the better.

Want to learn more about mindfulness and compassion? Check out our founder’s new book, How to Be a Badass Lawyer, which is available on Amazon.

Like this post? Subscribe to the blog or follow us on social media.

Severance: A Thought Provoking Show about Controlling Thoughts

How would it feel to be fully present at home, without a thought or worry about any work-related issue?

How would you feel if you could experience that same presence while at work?

If that sounds appealing, would you ever consider a procedure that could create complete work/life separation?

That’s the premise of Severance, a sci-fi series set in a fictional town in which employees undergo a surgical procedure to separate their thoughts about work and home. Employees who are “severed” can’t think about work once they leave the office and they can’t carry their home stressors into the workplace.

I binge watched the series this summer and I can’t stop thinking about it, both because of its stellar cast and the thought-provoking questions it presents.

The first season focused on Mark, an office worker who undergoes the severance procedure as a way to deal with the loss of his wife. The procedure enables him to shed his grief each day as he rides the elevator to his office. Once the elevator doors open, Mark has no awareness of his life outside the office, which enables him and his colleagues to focus solely on their work.

At least that’s the intention. The reality is that the severed employees spend a tremendous amount of time thinking about their “outies,” their selves outside the workplace. They wonder if they have families, whether they are good people and if they are happy. And when they need support, the severed employees are treated to stories about their “outies,” which suggests that the company understands how important it is for the workers to understand all aspects of their lives.

Although the show provides an extreme example of corporate culture and the quest for work/life balance, it presents some fascinating questions like:

  • What does it mean to be fully present? Is it necessary to clear our mind from distracting thoughts in order to focus on the present moment? If you’ve studied or practiced mindfulness, you know how unrealistic that is. And even in the fictional world of Severance, the goal of having a singular focus is not achieved, despite surgical intervention.
  • Is there an expectation that we can (or should) be able to compartmentalize our lives? In the show, the severance procedure is touted as a way to be more productive at work and to be more present at home. But is separating these parts of our lives a good thing? Do we want coworkers who can’t draw on life lessons, ambitions and beliefs formed outside the workplace? Is it good for them to be severed from the connections that ground them and the commitments that provide the motivation to tackle hard things? Conversely, don’t we want people to apply lessons learned on the job in their lives outside the workplace? And don’t we want coworkers to build connections and support networks outside the office?
  • Do we sometimes use work as an escape? Mark’s choice to undergo the severance procedure to escape his grief is not unlike the choices many people make to keep themselves busy and avoid feeling difficult emotions. [Spoiler alert] In the show, as in real life, that doesn’t really work.
  • What happens when we can’t find meaning, purpose or a reasonable amount of autonomy in our work? Mark and his team work in the Department of Macrodata Refinement sorting numbers. Aside from being told that their jobs are “mysterious and important,” they don’t understand the purpose of their work or how it fits into the larger picture. Instead, they are given rigid instructions, kept under constant surveillance and given meager incentives like company branded finger traps and team photos. Not surprisingly, this creates discontent, makes them less invested in their work and [another spoiler alert] sets them on a journey to change things. It is not that hard to see how this part of the series is an example of the disconnect that often exists between what employers think will lead to job satisfaction and what employees need or want.

My takeaway from Severance is that a complete separation of thoughts about your work and home life is neither achievable nor desirable. Although you may view the person you are at work as different than the person you are to your family and friends, the reality is that we bring our whole selves to the workplace – our experiences, our biases, our feelings, our thoughts, our hopes – all of it. And when we leave the job at the end of
the day, a piece of that work self comes home with us.

The story of Mark and his severed coworkers also shows what can happen when we are stuck in a life that exists solely for work. It demonstrates how connection is a powerful motivator and that even surgically induced-work life separation or carefully curated employee incentives are no match for the human need for community and purpose.

Laura Anthony is a lawyer who is fascinated by the intersection of law and human behavior. She is an education lawyer as well as a mediator, investigator and hearing officer and often draws upon her background and interest in psychology in her practice. She is also a not-so-regular practitioner of yoga and meditation and brings her real-world struggles making healthy choices to her role as the chair of her firm’s Wellness
Committee. Laura can be found posting about her practice and her love of chocolate and libraries on Twitter and on LinkedIn.

Want to learn more about mindfulness and compassion? Check out our founder’s new book, How to Be a Badass Lawyer, which is available on Amazon.

Neurodiversity in Law Advocate, Haley Moss, Shares Her Thoughts on Extraordinary Attorney Woo

This blog usually encourages you to meditate, but in this post I’m going to make a recommendation that you may not expect: watch some Korean TV. You may have heard or watched Squid Game, but if that’s your only frame of reference you are missing out. Kingdom was a great political period drama but also with zombies. Rookie Historian was a great political period drama but also with the most deliciously awkward romantic subplot I have ever seen. Inspector Koo was a great mystery show but with a female detective so unruly she might make Veronica Mars laugh out loud and blush at the same time.

Even though I don’t really love legal TV dramas, this background compelled me to take note when my lawyer friends started to talk about Extraordinary Attorney Woo, now streaming on Netflix. I’m a school lawyer and have extensive experience with special education matters. One of the neat things I’ve seen evolve during the last decade is the increased attention to disability issues and neurodiversity in popular culture. As the show tells us, Attorney Woo is about a young attorney starting her practice in Korea but she’s an attorney who was diagnosed with an autism spectrum disorder.

The show is entertaining and it definitely has some of that delicious awkward romantic tension I loved from Rookie Historian. Critically, though, it also educates and advocates at the same time. When I saw this, Haley Moss immediately came to mind.

I have never met Haley, but I was supposed to in March, 2020 when we were both honored by Ms. JD. Unfortunately, the awards ceremony was the same week that states of emergency relating to COVID-19 began rolling out and so I never met Haley. Fortunately, though, I stayed connected with her and watched her work progress.

Haley is a leader on disability inclusion, autism and neurodiversity in the workplace, the author of 4 books, and, upon her swearing in, she became Florida’s first documented openly autistic attorney in 2019. At this point, she’s also an unofficial expert of Extraordinary Attorney Woo because she has been busy lately talking to numerous Korean press outlets about it.

I reached out to Haley to get her thoughts on the show. Here’s my brief interview with her:

Q: You’ve expressed a favorable reaction to Extraordinary Attorney Woo in past interviews, what about the show is exciting to you? 

A: The show definitely pushed some boundaries in a good way, although it isn’t enough and it’s a trend that needs to continue. I love how Attorney Woo has “main character energy” and gets to grow and learn and be her best self like many nondisabled characters do. She isn’t a prop for someone else’s growth. She has friends, hobbies, family – very “typical” things like any other young lawyer should have.

There is a pivotal moment to me where she represents an autistic person and comments on autism perceptions throughout history and how 80 years ago we weren’t worthy of life apparently and casting doubt on Hans Asperger’s legacy (if you didn’t know: he’s problematic – and Woo calls it out!). The show has slowly pushed boundaries, especially by showing someone in the legal field, a woman no less, and that monologue really got me. 

Q. Most of us know that lawyer TV shows aren’t always the most realistic, but was there anything about Attorney Woo that spoke to your experience as an attorney?

A: I can’t even comment on the realism too much since we know the Korean legal system and American legal system are not the same! But, how Attorney Woo approaches problem solving and is creative with a different thought process than her colleagues is most similar to what my experiences have been. 

Q. In this blog, we focus on mindfulness and mental health topics for lawyers and professionals. What role, if any, does the representation of neurodiversity in popular media have on mental health? 

A. Neurodiversity and mental health go hand in hand. I think that’s something that gets lost a lot in both the mainstream neurodiversity conversation and the mainstream mental health conversation – especially for lawyers. 

Mainstream neurodiversity has an overarching focus on autism, ADHD, and learning disabilities that may require less workplace support or perceived as superpowers; traditionally this focuses on who society perceives as being more “desirable.” But what media representation we get out of autism, especially in popular media, is limited and often damaging; think Rain Man, a movie that is older than me and lives on in peoples’ minds about what autism is.   

Lawyer mental health almost exclusively focuses on depression, anxiety, and substance use – which leaves out people with more highly stigmatized mental health conditions, and ignores the fact that nearly all of these conditions are forms of neurodivergence. In addition, most “traditional” forms of neurodivergence (for lack of a better word; i.e., autism, ADHD, learning disabilities) more often than not do have co-occurring mental health conditions. 

Q: If the streaming higher powers bring us an American remake of Attorney Woo, what would you like to see done differently and why? 

A: Well, I’d like to consult on it! There are known autistic attorneys in the U.S., so not inviting our perspective would be a massive faux pas. There are also no autistic actors, writers, directors, or creatives involved in the show, which is disheartening. Disability (and autism) representation in Hollywood has always been an inclusion issue that’s poorly addressed. How we’re portrayed also matters.

Q. What other shows, movies or other media (besides your own books which I already plugged) do you recommend for lawyers who want to  learn more about neurodiversity at work? 

A: I love some of the resources from Genius Within CIC, Victoria Honeybourne’s “The Neurodiverse Workplace,” (although it is a little UK-centric), and some big company employee resource groups are really doing great stuff. Unfortunately there isn’t a lot solely dedicated to lawyers but I am working hard to change that! 

Have you watched Extraordinary Attorney Woo? What did you think about it? Leave us a comment to let us know.

Want to learn more about mindfulness and compassion? Check out our founder’s new book, How to Be a Badass Lawyer, which is available on Amazon.

Like this post? Subscribe to the blog or follow us on social media.

What Kendrick Lamar’s New Album Gets Right about Mental Health

If you are wondering what on earth a post about Kendrick Lamar is doing on a blog about mindfulness for lawyers, you probably haven’t listened to it yet. Even if rap isn’t a part of your musical mainstay, you should be familiar with Kendrick Lamar’s work. Lamar took the musical world by storm in the last decade, racking up Grammys, a Pulitzer, a Super Bowl appearance, and huge commercial success. In recent years, however, Lamar has been quiet and the public may not have understood why until the release of his latest album, Mr. Morale and the Big Steppers

In the opening track, Lamar shares that he has been “going through something” for the last “1855 days.” As you listen on, you see that he’s talking about a mental health journey that he took while managing the pressures of living as a world musical superstar and family breadwinner. Now, I imagine, you probably understand what this has to do with your life as a lawyer. If, like me, you’ve experienced mental health challenges and faced inner demons while trying to maintain appearances for the public, do your job, and manage your family, you’ll hear a lot in Mr. Morale to which you can relate. 

So, what is it that makes me enthusiastic about this album? First, I am thrilled that someone in Lamar’s position is using his voice to tell the truth about his experience. Awareness of mental health is better than it once was, but stigma and fear about mental health issues remain. As lawyers, we also may feel pressure to hide our experiences for fear of hurting how others perceive us. Lamar has been honest in the past about his life, but Mr. Morale includes descriptions of his personal failings and childhood trauma. It takes courage to face those things, let alone share them publicly, but by doing so Lamar helps his fans feel a little less shame about their own struggles. 

Second, it’s also significant that Lamar doesn’t pretend that he faced his demons alone. The voice of his partner, Whitney, is sprinkled throughout Mr. Morale. She instructs Lamar to tell his listeners “the truth” in the opening songs of the album and celebrates with him and their children at the conclusion for ending a “generational curse.” References to therapy, mentors, and spiritual teacher, Eckhart Tolle, are replete on the album as well. Why is this important? It’s important because it’s real. For many of us, shame can be a part of mental health challenges. This can make it harder for us to seek out the help we need. Lamar’s honest description of the help he received to heal from his past shows how even the most powerful people need and deserve help sometimes. 

Finally, Lamar tells his story not just as a personal one but as a human one. I’ve talked before about how self-compassion is critical for healing, including the essential element of “common humanity”. The story that Lamar tells on Mr. Morale is deeply personal and unique to him, but in telling it he links it with a broader community. Lamar uses musical elements throughout the album that call to black musical artists throughout the decades and all the way back to the era of jazz. He also speaks directly of the broader trauma that institutional racism in the United States has caused. In doing so, Lamar honors his own experience but does so in a way that honors, inspires, and gives voice to others who have shared it.

Like any pop musician, Lamar does not shy away from provocation in Mr. Morale. There is some justifiable and well-reasoned criticism of the album based on some of his comments and lyrical choices, including his claims about “cancel culture.” Still, though, Mr. Morale tells a story about mental health that the public needs to hear and demonstrates how personal accountability is part of the healing process. It shows us that extreme fame, wealth, and talent aren’t necessarily an aegis against past trauma or the influence of race and class.

If you listen to the entire album, you’ll see the full story take shape, and understand what it can feel like when you do the inner work needed to move forward in life. At the end, you will not just have a soundtrack to supplement the movie of your own journey, but some ideas that any powerful person in the public eye can use to face their own demons to live a better, happier life.

Have you listened to Mr. Morale and the Big Steppers? Leave us a comment to let us know what you thought.

Want to learn more about mindfulness and compassion? Check out our founder’s new book, How to Be a Badass Lawyer, which is available on Amazon.

Like this post? Subscribe to the blog or follow us on social media.

What Law Firm Leaders Can Learn from Better Call Saul

I was watching Better Call Saul with my husband as Howard Hamlin, the law firm partner with perfectly quaffed blonde hair and a toothpaste commercial grin, appeared on screen. After meeting with the title character, Saul Goodman, Howard gets into an expensive vehicle and drives away to reveal a vanity plate that reads “NAMAST3”. We already knew that Howard had been struggling with his past and had turned to yoga and new-found spirituality to tame his inner demons. Unfortunately, as the audience eventually learns, Howard’s inner peace is much like the spelling on his vanity plate: not quite right. 

My husband smirked, turned to me and said, “Does that irritate you?” He was mocking me, but I was nerding out far too hard to acknowledge it. Instead of rolling my eyes at him, I replied “No, this is a great example about how easy it is to gaslight ourselves with spirituality.” Indeed it was, but it turned out to be a tragic one too. In Better Call Saul, Howard had turned to yoga and mindfulness to soothe his tortured soul after the downfall and death of his mentor and Saul’s brother, Charles McGill. 

Despite this new-found ethos, however, there is little evidence of reflection on Howard’s part about his preoccupation with appearing perfect or the practices of his own law firm. Tragically, Howard’s obsession with his reputation left him vulnerable to Saul’s tricks, and it ultimately lead to his own death and the implosion of his firm.

I talk about the power of mindfulness all the time, so it may seem strange that I would draw attention to Howard Hamlin. If anything, he shows us that mindfulness has limits, right? And, to be sure, the characters on Better Call Saul are generally examples of what not to do as attorneys. So why talk about them? 

I talk about them because, of course, there are limits to mindfulness practices. As Howard demonstrates, one of the dangers of mindfulness practice is that it can help you feel better temporarily or on a surface level without achieving the clarity needed for real peace. If you don’t have other supports to ground you, you may end up deluding yourself instead of growing and understanding yourself better.

The show doesn’t tell us what practices and teachers Howard relied on to develop his mindfulness practice, though his license plate suggests he went for yogic practices. The show offers clues, however, that Howard is otherwise intent on appearing serene when his life in many ways seems to be falling apart. Though he experienced the death of his law partner, strife in his firm, and an impending divorce, Howard seems intent on showing everyone how happy and at ease he is. There’s also no mention of Howard trying additional strategies, like therapy for example, to support himself.

I don’t say these things to suggest that Howard was a bad guy. He really wanted to be a good guy. He wanted to be a mentor to young lawyers. He wanted to be a good leader and build a law firm that lasted. The problem is that Howard was not an aware guy because he was afraid to see himself as he really was. In this way, Howard Hamlin was entirely human, but his obsession with looking at peace tragically got in the way of him ever finding it. 

Research is clear that mindfulness practices, including yoga, can help you reduce stress and feel more at peace. They do that, though, by helping you face yourself as you are and life as it is. Part of that means accepting your own imperfections and learning how to share them with others. As Howard Hamlin shows us, your so-called inner peace can get torn apart very easily when you can’t allow yourself to do this. 

The legal profession certainly needs more law firm leaders who are willing to be examples about leading a good life, including the practices that help them do it. So, if you are a serious yogi, go ahead and talk about it and keep that yoga mat in your office. But, don’t just talk about it and throw a vanity plate on your car. You also need to act on the values that have served you well. You need to be real in a way that Howard Hamlin never let himself be about the struggles you’ve had rather than merely trying to convey an illusion of spiritual purity. Not only do you deserve all the support you can get when you deal with hardships in life, your law firm may need you to get it. 

Indeed, research suggests that emotional intelligence and relationship-building are essential leadership traits. Even the best lawyers would struggle to do either of these things without being honest with themselves and others about who they really are. Law firm leaders who embrace mindfulness to help stabilize themselves can certainly use the practices to become better leaders for their firms.

But they shouldn’t do so with the objective of always looking calm and serene, especially not when real crises in life or law practice are happening. Instead, the practices are there to help you accept and face what is there–in yourself or in life–and greet it with compassion. When you can do this, there will be no need to tell people how at peace you are because you’ll show it with your life, law practice, and leadership every day.

Want to learn more about mindfulness and compassion? Check out our founder’s new book, How to Be a Badass Lawyer, which is available on Amazon.

Like this post? Subscribe to the blog or follow us on social media.

A Socratic Dialogue with Thor about Anger in Meditation

If you went to see Thor: Love and Thunder last month, you probably spent less time focused on Thor’s discussion of meditation with genius scientist and lost love, Jane Foster. As the two discuss their past, they confided that they each had tried meditation to heal from their losses. Rather hilariously, Thor proclaimed that it didn’t work for him because it “just made him angrier.” It was a relatable quip that most people in the audience may have heard, laughed about, and moved on from to the rest of the movie. 

When I heard it, though, the biggest “well actually” line of dialogue began streaming through my mind. Obviously, I had to restrain myself from announcing this in the theater, but that only made me think about it more later. Because Thor’s misconceptions about meditation and anger are likely shared by many of us mere mortals, I offer this imagined dialog with Thor. Not sure it’s truly a Socratic method but what we experienced in law school probably wasn’t either, so close enough. 

Camera pans out to reveal a strange light in the sky. The light grows into a bright white circle. From it, emerges a woman never before seen in the movie and who does not rightfully belong in it. Thor stands back from the light and reaches for his weapons in alarm. When he sees it is just a woman who clearly has no martial arts training beyond the occasional Peloton shadow boxing class, he stands confused but at ease. 

Thor: Who are you and what are you doing here? 

Claire: Hey, Thor, I am a human from earth. You and Jane are doing a great job showing vulnerability to address some unresolved issues. I don’t want to derail that but you said something about meditation that isn’t quite right. 

Thor: How did you get here? Did Gorr the God Butcher send you?

Claire: I have no idea but no, Gorr is clearly the bad guy here. If only he had learned how to hold his grief, we wouldn’t be in this mess. That’s why I am here to talk about meditation and anger. 

Thor: You don’t appear to be one of Gorr’s monsters, but I’d really like to get back to talking to Jane. 

Claire: We all want you to get back to talking with Jane, so I’ll get to the point. That thing you said about meditation just “making you angrier” it’s not really true. 

Thor: Now I am concerned that you are Loki trying to trick me. Are you trying to tell me you know my experience better than I do?

Claire: Not at all. I also don’t know what kind of meditation you were doing. But, I’m guessing you tried to sit and focus on your breath or something? Did you try Headspace or 10% Happier?

Thor: I have an app called ZenGod. It’s specifically for gods but similar. Yes, I tried to focus on my breath, but I couldn’t because I just became filled with rage. 

Claire: Got it. And yes, that is totally normal. It happens to the best of us. What did you do when the rage came up?

Thor: I immediately stopped meditating and went to kill monsters with my ax.  

Claire: Did that help you feel less angry?

Thor: It felt pretty good to kill those monsters, but the feeling didn’t last. 

Claire: That’s really good too. Not good that you felt that way, but that you noticed it. 

Thor: What do you mean? How could it possibly be good that I noticed this?

Claire: Well, the reason we meditate is to notice what’s there. When we notice what’s there, over time that becomes wisdom and we are in a better position to know what to do about what’s there. Sometimes the only thing we can do is to let things be, but the wisdom is seeing this. 

Thor: I am a god. I don’t “let things be.” I hit bad things with my ax and summon power from the universe to destroy them. 

Claire: Well, how did that approach work for your anger?

Thor: It didn’t work at all and I can tell because I am getting very angry right now. 

Claire: That’s okay. It’s perfect actually. There’s nothing wrong with anger. You have every right to be angry. You’ve lost a lot. You’ve taken on a lot for other people. Your anger has helped you to protect others several times. Can you just let it be there now?

Thor: It’s hard. I don’t like it. I am very powerful and it makes me nervous to feel like I can’t control it. 

Claire: Excellent. You are doing so great. Anger does scare a lot of us because it makes us feel out of control. The more powerful we are the harder it can be because we are responsible for a lot and we don’t want to do something bad. But, remember, you are holding it now. What exactly does your anger feel like now?

Thor: Feel like? It’s anger. Why do I need to explain it?

Claire: Great job again. You are so good at this. You don’t need to explain it to me or anyone else. What I’m saying is to feel it. Where in your body do you feel the anger? What sensations are there that tell your brain you are angry?

Thor: My jaw is clenched. My hands are gripping my ax. My shoulders are tight. I feel like I am holding my breath. My neck and cheeks feel hot. I want to hit something. 

Claire: Wonderful. You are doing great. All of those things are normal. That feeling of wanting to hit is energy. We may not like it, but the function of anger is to make it clear to us when something is wrong and motivate us to act. Because you are a superhero, your habit is to discharge angry energy by hitting things. That can be good sometimes, but it can also be good to just learn to hold it for the times when you aren’t fighting monsters. 

Thor: So what do I do when I need to hold it? I still feel angry now. 

Claire: The first thing is to do what you just did. Notice what’s there. Recognize it as anger. Allow yourself to feel how you feel. After that, the most common way to come back to neutral is to breathe. 

Thor: Breathe? That’s so basic. I’m a superhero. Can’t you do better than that?

Claire: You are a god but you have enough human in you such that the breath is the way you can calm down the body. Think of your breath as the ax you use to fight the monster of anger? Does that help? When you focus on your breath, specifically the exhale, it sends a signal to the body that things are okay, that you’re safe. Try it out. Take a deep breath in, feeling what sensations happen as your lungs expand. Hold it for a moment. Then exhale and sense what it feels like to let go. 

Thor: *Rolls eyes but tries breathing* 

Claire: Let’s try that one more time. This time see if you can make that exhale just a beat longer than the inhale. 

Thor: *Continues on and then opens eyes*

Claire: Great job. How was that?

Thor: It helped. I still feel a little angry but I no longer wish to hit anything. But, I’m confused. I thought I was supposed to be calm when I meditated. You told me to feel angry. 

Claire: Excellent question. Meditation isn’t about just feeling calm. Many people do it to learn how to get calm or get back to it. But the real object of meditation is to learn to be present with whatever comes up. If that’s anger, then it’s practicing presence with anger. The reason this helps you get calm is that eventually you learn that when you are angry, you can just be angry and you don’t always have to act based on it. 

Thor: But what if I screw it up when things are too much?

Claire: You are going to screw things up. Meditation doesn’t make you perfect. It just gives you a new tool to use. The next part is forgiving yourself but I think the rest of the movie is going to cover that, so I will let you and Jane be. 

Thor: Movie? What? 

Claire: Ummm, errr . . . I just mean that I know you will figure that one out. But, if not, feel free to DM me @BrilliantLegalMind and we can talk again. Good luck with Gorr! 

Thor: Goodbye, strange woman from Earth! 

A bright light emerges again in the sky and a white circle enshrouds Claire. Thor and Jane return to talking and Claire continues watching from her seat in the theater. 

Don’t get me wrong, this post is not intended to tell you to meditation-splain to random people out in the world, particularly not if they are large superheroes with magical axes. But, if you have ever struggled with anger in meditation, at least you know you are in good company. Best of luck in your practice, fighting whatever monsters in life you have to fight, and I hope you enjoy the summer blockbuster movies as much as I have.

If you struggle with anger in meditation or otherwise, you aren’t alone. Check out this article I wrote for Above the Law which shared my experience with it and what helped me. If you have any strategies or practices that have helped you, leave us a comment to share your wisdom with others.

Want to learn more about mindfulness and compassion? Check out our founder’s new book, How to Be a Badass Lawyer, which is available on Amazon.

Like this post? Subscribe to the blog or follow us on social media.

What Is Restorative Yoga and Why Should Lawyers Try It?

Lots of people tell me that they can’t meditate because they can’t sit still. I usually tell them that they don’t have to sit still to meditate. Strangely, people also tell me with a similar frequency that they can’t do yoga because they can’t do the poses. Sometimes they say that they can’t balance. Sometimes they say that they aren’t flexible. Sometimes they express a concern that they look silly. In other words, these people tell me the inverse of what the people who can’t sit still during meditation say: that they can’t move the right way during yoga.

When I hear these concerns, one of the first things I say is to acknowledge that I used to struggle with yoga too, but that letting go of the idea that there was a “right way” to move was what helped me learn to love it. One of the practices that helped me do this was restorative yoga. When I finally tried yoga for real, I already had an active meditation practice but it helped me realize I had to develop some ways of caring for my body in addition to my mind.

Though I’d been athletic growing up, I had not worked out consistently in years, so I started with yoga as a way to ease back into movement even though my earlier attempts with it had not been successful. Because I needed time to build up cardio endurance, I had to start with slow and gentle classes first. That’s when I found restorative yoga. Lucky for me, it was enough like meditation that I could enjoy it but different enough that it could serve as a segue into more yoga exploration.

Restorative yoga is a restful kind of yoga. Poses are part of the process, but the poses are supported rather than held. You don’t build strength and balance with the poses. You practice rest instead and you practice letting yourself be supported. In most cases, the poses are done lying on the floor, reclined on props, including blankets, blocks, or bolsters, or resting against the wall or a chair for support. This is because yogis hold the poses in restorative class for at least 5 and often as much as 15 or 20 minutes at a time.

So, why is this good for lawyers? It’s good for a lot of reasons. Restorative yoga practices rest and being supported. Most of us lawyers are in the habit of being active all of the time and doing many things on our own. For this reason, practicing another way of being is a way to offer balance to our lives. In addition, the poses themselves are beneficial to the body. Poses that help open the chest or arch the back may counteract the effects of sitting at a desk all day and inversions may balance hormones and offer relief from the effects of gravity and wearing uncomfortable shoes.

Finally, if you are one of those people who have struggled with meditation because you can’t sit still, restorative yoga may offer a new way to think about mindfulness. The instruction in most restorative classes is just to be in the experience of the pose, to feel oneself resting, and not to drift off in thought.

This is similar to the practice of sitting meditation, but it has some additional physical and restful components that may help you relax into and tolerate the experience more. Even if you enjoy meditation like I do, you may find that restorative yoga is a nice way to mix things up or can offer a chance to find mindfulness when life makes meditation seem a bit too intense.

If you are interested in learning more about restorative practice, you can find it at many yoga studios. Some fitness apps and online platforms, such as Peloton offer it too. In addition, you can easily start a home practice by finding a set of restorative props online.

You can also check out some of the work of Judith Hanson Lasater, Ph.D., P.T. Her book, Relax and Renew offers pictures and explanations of poses and full sequences to help you do the practices on your own at home.

Just as you don’t have to sit still to meditate, you don’t have to move to do yoga. Restorative yoga offers lawyers the chance to practice rest so that they can find peace in stillness and pay closer attention to how their bodies feel. It is a beautiful practice that offers people in stressful jobs many benefits. Giving you the chance to experience how expansive yoga can be is just one of them.

Do you want to try restorative yoga? You can try our Legs Up the Wall Guided Meditation even if you don’t have any props. All you need are your legs and a wall.

Want to learn more about mindfulness and compassion? Check out our founder’s new book, How to Be a Badass Lawyer, which is available on Amazon.

Pause Patrol: How My Apple Watch Helps Me Avoid Fights with My Stubborn Child

If you are a lawyer, you may be the kind of person who doesn’t back down from a fight. I am such a lawyer and not just because I am a litigator. Rather, I think I was drawn to litigation because I am one of the most pigheaded and stubborn people to ever walk the earth. I have to qualify this claim, of course, because I now have children. Having shared my genes with them, I also shared my stubbornness.

My six-year-old, in particular, will fight me about literally everything. She will fight about putting on her shoes, or eating her dinner, or going to bed, or brushing her teeth. She will cry and scream and yell and just become a general nightmare of a human being. Even worse, the more you try to encourage her to remain calm and make good choices, the angrier she gets.

As a lawyer, it’s not like I am not accustomed to outbursts of this nature. Of course, I have seen uncalled for and unjustified outbursts. Of course I have learned how to stay calm and not always react. Still, there is no way around the fact that it is exhausting and frustrating to have every request of the person you are trying to care for and raise into a responsible, productive citizen greeted with a tantrum.

So, what can you do? This is where the lawyer part of my brain had to learn to relax and let the meditation teacher part take over. The lawyer part of my brain wants to establish rules, monitor for compliance, and take immediate action to achieve my objective. I tried this lots of times and the meditation teacher part of my brain watched, smirked, and said “how’s that working out for you?” Eventually, the lawyer part of my brain got disgusted when her reasonable requests devolved into arguments and yelling and told the meditation teacher part “I’m done. You give it a shot.”

What did meditation teacher brain come up with? She told me to use available tools and leave a space. In a stroke of genius one day when my beautiful, darling girl was transformed into a vicious troll when I asked her to finish up her lunch instead of running around the kitchen, I heard myself say “I’m going to set a timer on my watch for 5 minutes. I want you to finish your lunch. I am not going to fight with you or say anything else. But if your lunch is not finished in that time there will be consequences.”

Now, the lawyer brain was shocked when I said this. She was like, “are you kidding me? That will never work. She’s already had 30 minutes to eat. What good will another 5 do?” At first, it seemed like she was right. My little one raged and cried and complained for about 30 seconds. Meditation teacher me sat like patience on a monument and said nothing. She just watched. Then, without prompting and almost as if by magic, the little one stopped complaining, sat down, ate, and even cleaned up her plate by herself. Lawyer brain and meditation teacher brain joined in unison to tell her good job.

Maybe you are thinking that this is just a fluke. At first, I thought so too. But my study has been tried and tested and replicated. The pattern is always the same: I give a command, my child resists, I set a timer and reiterate my command, she resists even harder, I don’t react, and she complies. The pattern is so predictable that I can actually laugh a little to myself while the comedy unfolds. She hates the timer, but it works so well and the irony is now just part of the fun.

So why does this work? Because my little one is not a bad girl. Despite all outward appearances, she’s not even trying to drive me crazy. Instead, she’s just got big emotions and big reactions and wants to do things her way. Go figure. She’s my child. I want things to go my way too. I, too, have big emotions and big reactions. So, when we both have them at the same time in opposite directions, it just leads to a fight.

As much as my daughter claims to hate it, the timer on my watch is good for both of us because it creates a space. This space lets her have her reaction without interruption or prompting from me to focus on the goal. Once she’s reacted and gotten it out of her system, she can focus again and do what she needs to do.

Let’s be honest here. Who isn’t like this? Who doesn’t occasionally need the chance just to say “ugh!” while raising one’s hands to the sky in frustration before they accomplish a task they don’t like? We all need this sometimes. To allow for it, the best thing we can do is pause to create a safe space for it to happen. Thankfully, the handy little timer on my Apple Watch is there to help me take a pause when dealing with my stubborn girl.

Has mindfulness helped you with your kids? Leave us a comment to tell us how.

If you enjoyed this post, subscribe to the blog or follow us on social media.