Mindfulness Basics: Emotions Are Feelings in the Body

I have a love-hate relationship with the month of February. I love it because my birthday and Valentine’s Day fall right smack in the middle. Associating things with chocolate and pink cupcakes tends to help improve my view of them. But February is also right smack in the middle of winter. It’s almost always grey and super cold where I live and I am restless and ready for spring.

To try to make it a bit more fun, I am going to accentuate the positive and view February as a month of love. To that end, the basic tip for this month is this: emotions aren’t in your head; they are in your body.

“What?” You may be thinking. “I know when I am mad or sad or happy or whatever my mind if churning and churning and thinking away.” Of course it is. That’s because your mind and body work together and they do so almost instantly and usually without our knowledge.

But, if you slow down and actually watch, you will see that emotions play out in the body. If you can let them do just that, they don’t last nearly as long as they do when your mind gets involved to keep them churning. The most common places that you might see emotional reactions arise are in the area of your heart, belly, face, neck, shoulders, and hands, but with additional study you may see more subtle reactions elsewhere.

So, if like me, you have a range of emotional reactions to the month of February, you can learn a lot about yourself this month by trying to locate and just watch those reactions play out in your body. Once you learn to get in the habit of looking for emotions there, then you might get more comfortable sitting with those feelings, and that’s when the magic can happen. When you can just let the emotions be there in your body, you can learn to care for them and respond to them instead of reacting based on them. And, for lawyers and professionals, that’s huge.

How have you learned to notice emotions in your body? If you want to work on this a bit more, check out our Upcoming Events page. In honor of Valentine’s Day, we have a loving-kindness meditation on February 12th that will explore loving-kindness practice in a fun and accessible way.

Brilliant Teacher Recommendation: Tara Brach

Since the blog is just getting started, I decided to start at the beginning for my first teacher recommendation post. I owe a lot to Tara Brach, who is not only a meditation teacher but also an experienced psychologist. I am very cheap and when I first started meditating, I didn’t want to spend a lot of money on a habit that I wasn’t sure would stick. Fortunately for me, I found a lot of free resources online, including Tara Brach’s.

Tara Brach’s website offers a treasure trove of resources, meditations, and more. I found her through her self-named podcast, though, which offers tons of talks and guided meditations, all easily accessible on an iPhone. More recently, Brach has started to offer Wednesday night meditations over Facebook live.

But it wasn’t just the amount of the resources Brach offers that appealed to me, it was the subject. Brach’s emphasis on self-compassion and repeated reminders to care for, rather than turn your back on, your own emotions helped me immensely. I soon bought her most famous work, Radical Acceptance, and it was worth every penny.

Brach is most famous for her work to refine the RAIN technique for dealing with difficult emotions. With this process, she instructs students to recognize emotions, allow them, investigate them mindfully and then nurture them. You can read about this process in detail with the resources on her website and in many of her books, including the newly released Radical Compassion.

Brach’s style and tone of voice are very soft and calm, so lawyers or professionals first listening to her may wonder what she has to offer them. While I always loved her, Dan Harris described her voice as “cloying” in his book Ten Percent Happier. I remember being mad at Harris when I read that part of his book, even though he gave rave reviews to the RAIN technique. But I ended up loving them both when they discussed this on a later episode of the Ten Percent Happier podcast and agreed, rather elegantly, how that experience caused them each to grow. It was a rare instance of forgiveness and grace in this day and age and it made me respect Brach more and totally forgive Harris.

If you aren’t yet familiar with Brach’s work, do yourself a favor and check it out. And next month, in honor of Valentine’s Day, we’ll cover a topic that Brach would most likely approve of: love and compassion. Stay tuned.

Guided Meditation: Let Everything Go

Have you ever gotten all worked up about something and a friend or loved one says “hey, relax!” And then maybe you get mad about it because you think “I can’t relax!” or “I don’t know how!” I know I have.

While we often think our minds are the tools to use to calm ourselves down, that isn’t exactly true. When you get stressed, the mind detects it and the brain won’t calm down until your body tells the brain the “threat” is gone. If you are talking about an abstract threat or one you are worried about in the future, that may never happen. To disrupt the chain, you need to learn how to let go.

I guided this meditation for the ABA Young Lawyers Division on January 12th, day 9 of their Meditation Challenge.

One way of doing that, is by shifting your attention from your thoughts to the feelings in your body. With this brief meditation that I offered for the ABA Young Lawyers Division Meditation Challenge, we’ll shift attention from the swirling thoughts to the soothing and steady breath to rest–even if just for a few minutes. I bet you’ll find it helps. Check it out here.

Why You Should Add Self-Compassion to Your List of New Years Resolutions

This blog post was originally published for MothersEsquire in 2020. A year later it still resonates so I edited it slightly to update and have republished here.

I know you are ready to go. It’s a new year, and after a year like 2020, you are ready to make 2021 your year. Your resolutions are made. Your motivation is high. You’re going to achieve those goals come hell or high water.

Except, you’re a lawyer, right? You know that high water inevitably will come. The energy and momentum of January quickly fades into the gray doldrums of February. I don’t know if it’s Valentine’s day or what but that month just has a way of turning those resolutions made only weeks before into regrets. I’m not trying to be a Debbie Downer here; I’m honestly not. I think it’s awesome that we humans want to improve and grow each year and I do not want to get in your way. I’m only suggesting, in the humblest of humble opinions, that perhaps it might be good to have a backup plan.

I’m not talking about lowering standards or even managing expectations. I want you to dream big and to go big in 2021. But, while high standards can lead us to great things, they can also send us pretty low if we don’t get the results we want. So, the question is this: how do you get the best of both worlds? Can you set high goals without setting yourself up for failure?

In my experience, you can as long as you use self-compassion. “Wait, what?” you might be thinking. “Are you seriously telling me I just need to be nice to myself?” Yes. Yes, I am. You—yes you!—need to be nice to yourself. I know you’re rolling your eyes at me right now and I’m fine with that. But hear me out. Did you know that self-compassion has been studied? There is this awesome researcher named Kristin Neff. She’s super smart and has studied self-compassion for over a decade. You know what she’s found? She’s found that people who treat themselves with compassion are more likely to exhibit resilience in the face of challenges and, thus, more likely to achieve goals. One of the reasons this is true is that people who act with self-compassion tend to view a failure or a setback as a learning experience, rather than an indication of their personal worth. In short, self-compassion is a buffer that can help high-achieving people from taking goals (and themselves) too seriously.

It’s compelling stuff, but it leads to another question: how does one learn to respond with self-compassion? This is a fair question. After all, it is one of the easiest things in the world to get down on yourself when you don’t achieve a goal that’s important to you. Clearly, you would have achieved the goal if you were good enough, or worked hard enough, or were more committed, or wanted it more, etc., right??? Well, no, it’s not that clear. For us lawyer moms, life is rarely clear. We are trying to manage our lives, our families, our practices, and—on top of that—achieve new goals and grow. That’s not easy. It’s really hard.

So let’s make this simple. Here’s an easy test to help you determine if you are reacting with self-compassion. I call it the “best friend” test. All you do is think of your best friend. Imagine that your best friend comes to you with the exact same problem in which you find yourself. Now, think of how you would respond to your best friend. Let’s say your best friend wants to exercise at least 3 times a week but has struggled because she’s been dealing with family issues and a busy time at work. How would you respond to her? I bet you’ll find it is easy to be compassionate with her. Now, all you have to do is recognize that it’s you who deserves that love too. If you really struggle with this, just call your best friend and listen to what they have to say. When you have this kind of support, you’ll be better equipped to handle whatever life wants to throw at you, even the gray doldrums of February.

In 2021, I hope you have some amazing goals for yourself and I hope you crush them. As you go about conquering the world, though, be nice to yourself. If you need any more help doing that, here are some resources that you might find useful:

  • For a quick overview of Neff’s research, check out this interview of her on the Ten Percent Happier podcast.
  • For research, tools, and free compassion guided meditations, check out Neff’s website.
  • For more in-depth discussion of Neff’s research on self-compassion, check out her book.

Special Event: A Vision for the New Year and Guided Meditation

2020 was a rough year for many of us. While we might like to rush as quickly into the future as we can, it is still unclear what the future will look like. As much as you might want to make progress and move forward after a year of what feels like sitting still, you have trouble figuring out how to do that after a year of such disruption.

I think meditation can help with this a lot because, when things feel like a mess, it can help you sit still for a moment to let things settle so you can examine what’s really there. But the special circumstances of 2020 call for extra help so I called for backup from my friend Laura Chipman. In addition to being a lawyer and mom like me, Laura is a life coach for lawyers.

Together, we offered this webinar to members of MothersEsquire where Laura led an exercise to help review 2020 and set intentions and goals for 2021. I then guided a meditation to help you acknowledge your reactions to the past and aspirations for the future and honor the emotions that arise in the process. As an added bonus, Laura created a great workbook from the event so you can work through this exercise at your own pace. Get your copy here.

Please enjoy and Happy New Year!

Launch: As It Turns Out, Diamonds Are a Girl’s Best Friend.

I’ve honestly never been too into diamonds. I don’t wear a lot of jewelry. As a February baby, my birthstone is an amethyst. I didn’t pine for a big new diamond when I got married, and instead wanted my grandmother’s tiny chip which is conspicuously beefed up by a silver illusion top. So why does a diamond feature in this blog about mindfulness for lawyers?

I had been thinking about starting a blog like this for a while but couldn’t quite figure out what to call it. Eventually, I remembered one of the first articles I ever wrote about mindfulness for DRI called “Three Mindfulness Tools to Help You Care for Your Brilliant Legal Mind.” And there it was; the title “Brilliant Legal Mind” was perfect.

When I wrote that, I was using the word “brilliant” to mean what we always mean when we say that phrase: super smart, genius, talented, strategic, shrewd, analytical, incisive, and all those other things lawyers are supposed to be. But “brilliant” has some other meanings too.

First, it refers to the intensity of light. Second, it refers to the cut and clarity of a diamond. As you can probably gather, light and clarity are things that call back to mindfulness. Diamonds are a pretty good symbol for lawyers too, since they had to survive stress and pressure to develop the toughness and shine we so adore. Mindfulness was the thing that helped me withstand the pressure of law practice and be refined, rather than cracked, by it. Over the years, it has helped me to lighten and clear up my own mind so I could be a better lawyer for my clients (not to mention a better person).

So I am pleased to launch the Brilliant Legal Mind blog. In this blog, I will offer practical tips for meditation practice, guided meditations, articles, stories, and ideas to help you incorporate mindfulness practices into your life and law practice. I hope it can help you bring light to your practice and clarity to you mind to help you be the brilliant lawyer you are. Stay tuned for more content and you can be sure never to miss it by following the blog here on WordPress or following me on LinkedIn, Twitter, or Instagram.