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.

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

Yoga Is So Much More Than Stretching

Editor’s Note: Welcome fellow lawyer, and yoga teacher, Aman Costigan, to the pages of Brilliant Legal Mind. As someone who loves yoga, she’s the perfect person to start off our month-long discussion of the practice.

Yes, yoga helps with our flexibility and stretches out our body. But, it’s so much more to yoga than just that.

Did you know that yoga can help us run energy (prana) in the body? And, that we can use props and other yoga equipment to ease pain in our body? 

If you didn’t, don’t worry. You’re not alone. I didn’t learn any of this until about 8 years ago and yoga has been life-altering for me. So now, I’m sharing all that I’ve learned with as many lawyers as I can. 

Prana (aka chi in Chinese medicine) flows naturally in our bodies and with yoga, we can move that energy to experience calm, clarity, rejuvenation and healing. 

Keep reading to learn about prana, why you care about it, how you can benefit from it and other practical tools and practices you can start right away to reduce stress. 

Legs up the wall 

After teaching 15+ yoga classes to lawyers, I was surprised to learn that the favorite yoga pose for lawyers is: legs up the wall. 

I thought for sure it was going to be a more involved shoulder stretch or pose with props. But, lawyers love simple — probably because the law is complex enough! It could also be from all the sitting and standing we do that has our spine craving connection with the floor. Our bodies also love the blood circulation from having our legs up the wall. 

Here’s how you can do it: 

1. Find a wall and yoga mat, if you have one

2. Sit sideways to the wall (i.e. one hip up against the wall)

3. Turn in a circle and then wiggle yourself into the wall. My pelvis is not lifted up off the floor

5. I lengthen my spine/back on the floor so my vertebrae have space between them 

6. I breathe into my back and into my mat

Do it for however much time you have. If you don’t know what to do between Zoom calls, why not do some legs up the wall?! 

Bee breathing to Calm the Habitual Thinking Mind 

Ever feel like your brain never shuts off? Or, it’s constantly thinking and worrying?!

This is something I hear from lawyers that I teach often. But, I’ve got something for you that can help and you might fall in love with it like other lawyers have.

In this video, I show you exactly how to do the bee breath and share the benefits of it. Calming the habitual thinking mind is just one benefit!

Toe Separators

Some of us wear high heels, run or walk and taking care of our feet is so important but often not done. We put a lot of pressure on our feet and toes, and sometimes it’s nice to show them some TLC for all they do for us.

Toe separators are easy to use. When you first use them, they can feel a little “ouchy”, but after a few minutes, they can start to feel so good for the toes.

Toe separators: 

– Create better alignment in the toes

– Create space between the toes and joints

– Help spread apart toes and helps boost blood flow in the toes and area

I use the Joya Toes brand and they are on Amazon. You can view them by clicking here 

Tongue Scraper 

I bought mine at a yoga retreat I went to last year. I’ve been using it since then, and I just love it! It helps me start and finish my day feeling fresh and clean. 

The benefits of a tongue scraper may surprise you. Here are the benefits of tongue scraping:

– Balances mind & body

– Improves digestion

– Strengthens the immune system

– Eliminates bad breath

– Kills unwanted bacteria

– Stimulates internal organs

– Sharpens sense of taste

I have a copper tongue scraper. I’ve heard they are generally the best.

What is toning?

Toning is sound that moves energy in the body quickly. Yoga is another way to move energy in the body, but it’s just not as fast. Other ways of moving energy include getting outside in nature, gardening and music. 

With our stressful careers, toning and moving energy in the body remove stress, emotional blockages and particles stuck on the energy bodies (in yoga they are called the nadis and in Chinese medicine, they are the meridians).

When energy moves, it begins to release anything that’s caught in the nadis. Once it begins to release, we can experience peacefulness. It also allows us to open up to what’s coming through us and to hear things like our deepest desires, our intuition, our gut feelings, etc. 

Through practices like this is how we find our authentic true selves – over time and with practice.

Toning is not for everyone, but I highly encourage you to try it at least once. If it works for you, incorporate it into your week. 

How to Practice Toning:

It’s super easy. Here are the 3 steps: 

1. Find a comfortable spot that you can be at for 4 minutes, uninterrupted. To do this, you can sit, lie down or put your legs up the wall.

2. Click this YouTube video link and press play. 

3. Close your eyes and just listen to the toning sound. When your mind wanders, just let it, and gently return to the sound of her voice. 

Author Bio: Aman Costigan is multi-passionate and is working on building her own empire of freedom. In addition to being a lawyer and Partner at Shores Jardine LLP in Canada, she felt called to share a yoga practice she was drawn to 8 years ago with other lawyers, so she started Beyond Yoga for Lawyers. Aman believes her yoga practice has been life-altering. It has given her coping mechanisms that allow her to be less anxious and less reactive in daily life and to live a more intentional and authentic life. Aman’s next offering of Group Yoga Classes for Lawyers starts September 15 and ends November 3, 2021.⁠  The deadline to register is Friday, September 10, 2021 so don’t wait — sign up while you still can by clicking here.

Connect with Aman Costigan at:

Instagram: @beyondyoga_for_lawyers 

LinkedIn: Aman CostiganPrivate Facebook Group for Beyond Yoga for Lawyers

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

Why Cultivate Compassion? Because It’s Not the Weight You Carry but How You Carry It.

Founder’s Note: I found Laura where I found a lot of other wonderful people I have never met in person: LinkedIn. She posted great content about compassion and so I connected with her. When she offered a CCT course this spring, I signed up even though it ended the week after I finished Mindful Self-Compassion training. I was a bit afraid I would be sick of compassion by that point, but Laura’s style of teaching was so real, practical, and filled with heart that I ended up being even more enthusiastic about it. Please welcome Laura to the pages of Brilliant Legal Mind and check out her bio below for information about another CCT courses she offers.

In late February 2020, I traveled to New York City for a compassion workshop. Having grown up in the New Jersey suburbs, it felt like coming home. The city’s sights, sounds, and smells were as familiar as my heartbeat and the first bite of a folded slice of pizza brought me right back to childhood. As people jostled on the subway and scrambled up the stairs that Saturday night, the coronavirus still seemed like news from the other side of the world. Thousands of bodies crowded around Times Square, oblivious to what was just around the corner. We could not have imagined how soon and suddenly our lives would change, and how much strength and courage we would need to summon in response.

We all have done brave, hard things over the past 18 months – sometimes for the better, sometimes for the worse – and we still have a ways to go before this journey is over. But we can do it. As humans, we are wired not only to be able to do hard things, but to do them with love and, when we do, we tap into a profound and renewing source of strength, courage, and connection. Wisdom traditions, art, and even science call this capacity compassion. It is our ability to both be aware of suffering and willing to relieve that suffering. Viktor Frankl described it this way:

We who lived in concentration camps can remember the men who walked through the huts comforting others, giving away their last piece of bread. They may have been few in number, but they offer sufficient proof that everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms — to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.

Man’s Search for Meaning

Compassion looks different for each of us in the changing circumstances of our lives. Sometimes it is yielding. Other times, fierce. Sometimes it calls us to make difficult sacrifices for others. Other times, to make the bold choice to take care of ourselves. Whatever its expression in any given moment, compassion is how humans have survived and made meaning out of unimaginable tragedies across time – both individually and collectively.

As a species, we are born completely vulnerable and dependent on others for our safety and well-being. This dependence develops into interdependence as we give and receive care across the span of our lives. We need our loved ones, strangers, and even people we don’t like to survive and thrive, and they need us. Take a moment to reflect on your last meal, the clothes you’re wearing, or the technology that allows you to read this and imagine the countless other lives who make these things possible. Likewise, the positive impact of your life ripples out and benefits others that you will never know.

Whether or not we recognize it, we have all drawn on this compassion for ourselves and others to navigate the past turbulent months. And it is compassion, this awareness of suffering and willingness to relieve it, which will continue to resource us moving forward.

At the beginning of the pandemic, the poet Moya Cannon wrote:

Light is what days are made of –

it pulls the daffodils up out of dark earth,

prompts the eagle and the stub-tailed wren to nest

and draws the humpback whale north with its song.

Stones, warm on the morning sea-shore, know it.

Such tempests of grief our sun has scanned

yet light, the sun’s light and compassion’s light,

deep in every soul, eternally draws us on.

Recent discoveries in neurobiology and other sciences have begun to map out how “compassion’s light, deep in every soul” literally “draws us on” as it unfolds in our bodies. It is both an innate capacity which manifests as a specific physiological process and a skill that can be nurtured and strengthened through experience and deliberate practice and training. In addition, research shows that profound physical, mental, and social benefits result from offering and receiving compassion.

Compassion, however, is not the only way humans respond to suffering. We also react with anger, hatred, shame, blame, fear, overwhelm, anxiety, denial, violence – the list goes on. We burn out or become injured when we don’t have enough external support or we don’t know how to hold suffering when it comes too much, too fast like wildfire or lingers long like slow moving rain. These are natural responses which increase suffering within and around us, but which can in turn be met and alleviated with compassion.

So the invitation is to train our compassion muscles, so to speak, in order to become capable of holding the hard that life hands us. We can cultivate internal and external conditions that nurture compassion. We can develop our awareness and sense of care, our courage to act. We can get clear on what we love, what really matters to us, and what kind of world we want to live in, to be part of. We can ask for help and offer it when asked. We can have each other’s backs and discover our common humanity. We can pay attention to the moments that compassion flows freely and those in which it freezes rock solid or goes dry as a desert. We can learn to carry the weight of our lives in ways that make us stronger and more connected rather than hurt and broken apart.

As Mary Oliver observed:

“It’s not the weight you carry

but how you carry it –

books, bricks, grief –

it’s all in the way

you embrace it, balance it, carry it

when you cannot, and would not,

put it down.”

So I went practicing.

Have you noticed?

“Heavy” from Thirst

Want to learn more about Compassion Cultivation Training? Check out this interview our founder, Claire E. Parsons, did with Laura here.

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