How to Practice Gratitude without Being Fake

Thanksgiving is coming up next week. This holiday is one that is pretty easy for me to love because cooking and eating are two of my favorite things. You get to do both on Thanksgiving and you only have to spend one day with your extended family. Seems perfect, right?

Oh yeah, I forgot about gratitude. In some form or fashion, you may be asked to reflect on or proclaim your gratitude. I don’t doubt the myriad studies that say gratitude is good for us. I appreciate the need to express and receive gratitude. But, as a lifelong pigheaded person, I refuse to feel something on demand.

Honestly, it’s not even truly refusal. I could decide to go along with the little game of gratitude to amuse my family or shut them up. But I would know in my secret heart of hearts that I don’t really feel grateful. What I really feel is resentful.

This same phenomenon is why I also can’t do positive affirmations. They don’t make me feel strong, calm, empowered or loved. They make my mind argue and my mind already does this well enough on it’s own. In short, despite the best intentions of these positive practices, I just can’t force my mind or heart to go in a direction it’s not already inclined to go.

So, what’s the key here? How can someone like me practice gratitude in a way that’s not fake? One way, of course, is to notice when genuine gratitude comes up, savor it, and where appropriate share it. I do this and it feels really good.

But can I cultivate gratitude otherwise? Despite my mental and emotional blocks against fakery, I have discovered a hack. I have written many times about my fondness for loving-kindness practice. One of the reasons I love this practice so much is that it serves as a gratitude practice for me.

I don’t go into the practice hoping for gratitude but it almost always shows up as a wonderful side effect. When I bring to mind the people I love and care about and wish them well, invariably I also feel gratitude that they are in my life. Strangely, I even sometimes feel gratitude to myself and to the difficult people in my life as the practice progresses.

This is why I am sharing a gratitude meditation that is really a modified loving-kindness practice. It follows the same traditional pattern, but instead of wishing the phrases of peace and well-being it includes an offering of gratitude. I did this one for the Mindfulness in Law Society Virtual Sit this week and remembered how much I liked it.

To try out the practice, find it here or on our YouTube channel or on Insight Timer. Please have a wonderful holiday weekend. I am honestly and sincerely grateful to have you as a reader and meditation friend.

Want to learn more about mindfulness and compassion? Check out my new book, How to Be a Badass Lawyer, for a simple guide to creating a meditation practice of your own in 30 days. And to share mindfulness with your little one, check out my new children’s book, Mommy Needs a Minute.

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Does Meditation Make You a Buddhist?

This is the question I have been waiting for someone to ask me ever since I started teaching mindfulness to lawyers. After several years and countless events, nobody ever has. Maybe it’s because people don’t know the origins of most of the practices I teach. Maybe people are busy focusing on learning the practices instead of a deeper question like this. Or maybe they are just too polite to ask.

Since I have been waiting years to answer this question, I have practiced many different versions of my answer in my mind. To be totally upfront about it, I think that there are many valid ways to answer this question. This blog post is a summation of all the different ways of considering the question so that you can answer it better for yourself.

1. What does “Buddhist” mean?

Sorry to be a total lawyer about this, but when this question has crossed my mind I always wonder what the term “Buddhist” means. It can refer to one’s religion or spiritual identity. On the other hand, it can also refer to one’s allegiance to a philosophical perspective or set of ideas.

For many people, being a Buddhist may include both of these ideas. For me, though, only the latter feels right. Buddhism, as a religion, is connected to a myriad of cultural practices and ideas. Given this, I don’t feel right calling myself a Buddhist when I share in only a part of the practices that other people do for their religion.

On the other hand, I regularly do and teach many practices that have emanated from Buddhism. I believe in and have developed faith through life experience in traditional Buddhist concepts like compassion, the value of clear awareness, and even tricky concepts like not-self. Thus, clearly I am a Buddhist in the philosophical sense.

2. Does meditation alone make you a Buddhist?

My opinion on this question is that meditation by itself probably does not make you a Buddhist in the religious or philosophical sense. For one thing, there are many styles of meditation out there and not all of them emanate from Buddhism. Moreover, you can practice and benefit from meditation without ever understanding the philosophical or spiritual aspects of Buddhism.

Of course, this answer could change depending on the extent of your practice. A few minutes a day is not likely to immediately change your personality, worldview, or beliefs. However, more extensive experience in retreats or with different groups and teachers could change the answer over time.

3. Does it really matter?

When people ask me a question, it always helps to know why they are asking so I can address the real concern. Some people may be concerned that “being a Buddhist” could take away from other religious practice or faith. You are the best person to judge the requirements of your own religion.

I can say, however, that Buddhism is relatively free of metaphysics in comparison to other religions. Meditation groups and classes are also not uncommon these days in secular spaces, churches, synagogues, and mosques. Based on this, there seem to be plenty of people who believe meditation is not in conflict at all with other world religions.

The harder question to answer is whether meditation or potentially “becoming a Buddhist” may change your self-image. My experience is that, of course, it can. Meditation and exploring Buddhist concepts and practices changed my life, including my identity and how I thought of myself. I am incredibly grateful for that experience but I don’t claim that it was easy.

Though it can be liberating, it can also be scary to watch habits change or see lifelong assumptions fall apart. The practice of meditation, even for just a few minutes a day, has the potential of causing that kind of change. As I have written before, though, this isn’t something that is likely to happen overnight. Moreover, the good thing about meditation is that it helps you pay more attention to your life. So, if you don’t like the change, you can stop or adjust the practice.

4. Summary and Conclusion

In short, meditation alone does not necessarily make you a Buddhist, but with enough time and experience that answer could change. Being a Buddhist, in terms of religion or philosophy, does not necessarily require abandoning or changing other faith practices or beliefs.

Meditation is most likely to change habits, assumptions, and your self-image but that may not be a bad thing. In fact, those changes are often what many people want when they try meditation whether they realize it or not. In the end, the real question isn’t whether I think mediation makes me (or anyone else) a Buddhist. The critical questions are whether you think that and what that conclusion means for you.

Want to learn more about mindfulness and compassion? Check out my new book, How to Be a Badass Lawyer, for a simple guide to creating a meditation practice of your own in 30 days. And to share mindfulness with your little one, check out my new children’s book, Mommy Needs a Minute.

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5 Books to Help You Prepare Emotionally for Election Year

I don’t usually talk about politics or religion on this blog very often. There’s a reason for that and it’s more than just the desire to not make anyone mad. Part of what I do as a mindfulness teacher is debunk myths and misconceptions about mindfulness practices. Some of the myths I have encountered have been about the kind of people who are able to benefit from meditation.

As I discussed last week, it’s easy to get caught into the trap of identity about the kinds of people we are. When I teach mindfulness, therefore, sometimes I find myself subtly hinting at the idea that identity is not nearly as stable as we’d all like to think. But I usually try to avoid launching into a direct attack on identity because that can be pretty scary.

When you talk about politics and religion, you are bound to encounter identity. In America right now, lots of us may feel like our identities are under attack. We may feel like we have to fight to protect who we are and to save the country or state or city we know and love. I know this is a hard place to be and so I try to be respectful and give people time to consider the impact of their identity on their own terms and in their own time.

But here are the facts. The last two election cycles in the United States have been brutal. The next election coming in 2024 doesn’t look like it is going to be any easier. As someone with personal experience letting politics drive me crazy, I don’t judge anyone who feels this way.

Having been tossed about by polarized politics in America for years now, I started to wonder whether there is a better way. I don’t claim that this post offers the better way. That is, I don’t know that there is one way to do things better. In truth, I think there may be many better ways.

What has been the better way for me? Well, it has been trying to learn how to judge a little bit less when it comes to politics. When I say this, I don’t mean to disengage. I still vote- even in primaries and especially in local races. I still donate. I pay attention to the issues and I call my representatives. However, the internal reactions- to elected officials, my neighbors, and the situation – I have had to learn to relax to save my own sanity.

Obviously, sticking with my meditation practice has been an essential component to this solution. Calming down and becoming aware of thoughts is a fundamental step to being mindful of judgments. But I noticed that I had been engaging in another form of mind training over the last year or so. I looked at my reading list and I saw a pattern of books that I had read (or read again) to help me watch my judgments this election year.

Here are the 5 books that have helped me understand things a bit better so I could judge a bit less and have more peace in the coming election year.

1. Braving the Wilderness by Brene Brown

I‘ve talked about loneliness a few times on this blog. Has it ever occurred to you that political polarization is happening at a time when loneliness is being recognized as a public health crisis? Sure, there are other factors at work here too, but Brown makes an interesting point in this book. She helps us see that what we want as humans – belonging and connection – is the exact opposite of what we find when we polarize and segregate ourselves. The point here is not to judge anyone for wanting a safe space with likeminded individuals, but instead to help us reevaluate how we can make spaces truly safe for all. If you need some courage or help eliminating shame and dehumanizing speech from your vocabulary (and trust me most of us do) check this book out.

2. Nonviolent Communication by Marshall Rosenberg

So, you may be thinking, “fine I agree that we all want connection, but how can I possibly relate to people with whom I can’t even talk?” I’m not telling you to rush into protracted debates with people on the opposite end of the political spectrum. This book, though, may help you learn some skills so you can understand people better. This book is about owning and respecting our human needs and interests and doing the same for others. This sounds simple but it’s something you will probably hardly ever hear in ordinary communication at work and at home. Some of the references in this book are a bit dated, but the practices remain valuable and practical today.

3. Against Empathy by Paul Bloom

This one may sound surprising in this context. Nonviolent Communication, which I just recommended, strongly encourages empathy as a tool for communication. And, in fact, it can be. As Bloom points out in this book, though, it can also become a block to it. This book really isn’t against empathy in all cases. Rather, Bloom argues instead that empathy can create problems for us in moral decisionmaking. Why? Well, in part because empathy “spotlights” certain individuals. Depending on our morality, we may disagree on who deserves the spotlight. Bloom argues instead for a “rational compassion” to guide our moral and policy decisions. As a teacher of compassion, I’m certainly inclined to agree. This book can help you see how emotions may come up in morality and politics in ways you may not have noticed before. That awareness may help you understand better how others process things so you can judge less and understand more.

4. Why We’re Polarized by Ezra Klein

I thoroughly enjoyed this book, but I have to admit that I recommend it with some hesitancy. This book didn’t make me feel better exactly, but it definitely helped me judge others different from me less. In this book, the Vox founder did what he does best: he explains polarization. In particular, he explains why American politics as a system tends toward polarization and how that system polarizes all of us individuals in turn. It examines the government structure, the parties as organizations, American history, and even the media to explain how polarization has evolved. Did this book change my political beliefs? No, not at all. Did it help me understand the factors that shaped my beliefs better? Absolutely. And it helped me consider how my fellow citizens are subject to the very same forces.

5. Love Your Enemies by Sharon Salzberg & Robert Thurman

Even if you learn to talk nicer and you understand more, the reality remains that people can still piss you off. That’s why the final book is about how to not get so pissed off all the time. This book says it is about loving enemies, but make no mistake it is really mostly about loving yourself. Quite appropriately, the book starts off by talking about “external enemies” – the other people in our families, workplaces, and communities who drive us nuts. But you will be surprised to see how much of this is devoted to getting clear on your own pain and frustration and learning to care for it. Like I’ve discussed before when talking about compassion, this book is not about being a doormat. Instead, it’s about being brave enough to be kind in a world that sometimes isn’t.

These are the books that have helped me prepare to judge less, stay kind, without checking out too much during the next election year. As I said before, this isn’t an exhaustive list. What books would you add to this list? What other resources or practices are helping you stay steady these days?

Want to learn more about mindfulness and compassion? Check out my new book, How to Be a Badass Lawyer, for a simple guide to creating a meditation practice of your own in 30 days. And to share mindfulness with your little one, check out my new children’s book, Mommy Needs a Minute.

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Five Reasons Loving-Kindness Practice Is Perfect for Hard Days

When I teach compassion, one of the things I always say is that the giver of compassion is the first person to benefit. This is true from a scientific standpoint; the act of compassion causes the release of the hormones associated with satisfaction, love, and connection. Life experience has also helped me learn the truth of this idea too.

On hard days, my favorite meditation practice is loving-kindness. This practice is one intended to help you expand your heart and send kind wishes out. It starts with yourself and your inner circle, then expands to neutral and difficult people, and even the whole world. The end result, as I have often found, is that my dark and stormy mood turns to gratitude, openness, and even hope.

Here are the five reasons why loving-kindness practice helps.

1. It Feels Good.

On hard days, it makes sense to take care of ourselves. Think about some of the typical things you might do in order to care for yourself on a hard day. It might be taking a warm bath, making a nice cup of tea, wrapping yourself in a warm blanket, talking to a friend, or taking a a walk. The pattern with all of these things is that they are all comforting, soothing, warming, nourishing, and supportive.

Loving-kindness practice is too. For one thing, it starts with sending kindness to yourself and tending to your own needs. Then it moves on to connect with your loved ones and ultimately the whole of humanity. It’s not intended only as a mental exercise either. The object of the practice is to cultivate feelings of loving-kindness.

If you give yourself time and pay attention, you will find that love feels good. It feels warm, open, expansive, and soothing. Though it might be hard to transition to such a practice on a hard day, it is a perfect one for a hard day for this reason.

2. It’s a Sneaky Gratitude Practice.

We all know the studies about gratitude. It is good for your mental health. It grounds you and connects you which might be great on a hard day. The only problem is, of course, that gratitude on a hard day can be a challenge.

Have you ever experienced difficulty and had a well-meaning loved one tell you to “be grateful” or to “think of all of your blessings”? How does that go? My experience is that it usually feels like a deflection and leads to hostility. Forcing yourself to feel good when you feel bad does not work.

Loving-kindness is not about force. It’s just about well wishes. And after you send those wishes to yourself, the practice guides you to a loved one and then a mentor. Gratitude is not the intent of the practice but that is almost always what I feel. I also remember that I am not alone in facing whatever hardship is there.

I call this a “sneaky” gratitude practice because it’s not a goal of the practice. Because I let the pressure come off with loving-kindness, I find gratitude often emerges on its own.

3. It Reminds Me of My Place in the World.

Have you ever noticed how your mind shifts and morphs on hard days? It can make everything seem terrible, bad, and rotten. It can make you think only bad things about yourself and others. It can also cause you to doubt yourself and believe goodness is not possible and change will never come.

Loving-kindness practice gets away from judgments and abstractions. It returns to where you are. It starts with envisioning yourself and what you do in the world and then envisioning the people in your life. In other words, before you try to send love out to the world, the practice embeds in your family and community.

What I find with this practice is that it reminds me of my place in the world. I may not be able to change the news cycle or the government or even the results in a particular case. The practice shows me, however, that I can show care to myself, my family, and even avoid doing extra harm to the people I find challenging. I see this as reminding me of my daily work and my everyday power.

4. It’s So Flexible.

One of these barriers is that many people struggle with sending loving-kindness to themselves. In addition, the later stages of practice call for you to send kind wishes out to “difficult people” and strangers. This might be a challenge on easy days and feel impossible on hard days.

The good news? The traditional practice can be modified in so many ways to account for these issues. You can start with a loved on first and omit the difficult people, as in the practice I share at the end of this post. This isn’t a destruction of the practice. It’s a recognition that we are human and have needs and limits.

In fact, even if you do a traditional loving-kindness practice with the whole list of people, the guidance typically is to not try to send kind wishes to your worst enemy first. In addition, you can even change the phrases to suit your particular needs best. The practice is intended to be flexible and individuated.

On a hard day when our thoughts are heavy, modifying loving-kindness practice is a way to meet ourselves where we are. This act of loving-kindness, you will likely find, is a condition that may help you cultivate more kindness for others over time.

5. It Helps Me Offer What Is Needed.

It’s comparatively easy to mirror back the emotion we are picking up from the rest of the world. When we have a hard day, it is so natural to stay with all the hard emotions that come with it. And in life, when we are greeted with hostility and judgment it’s so simple to just mirror that emotion and send it back.

One thing about meditation that has been a huge change is the recognition that I don’t have to do this, at least not every time. Sometimes, I have found, I am able to pick up a lot of emotion from circumstances, others, or my own head, and I can choose something else. On really special occasions, I can make the choice to offer what is needed and it has made all the difference.

On a hard day, what is needed? Most of the time, it is love and kindness though of course we need to remember that love and kindness can and should include firm action. I like loving-kindness as a practice on hard days because it is practicing offering what is needed in the world. It helps me find hope, courage, and stability on days when those are in short supply.

These are the reasons I come back to loving-kindness practice on hard days. If you want to try the practice for yourself, check out the Cultivating Kindness and Sending It Out Guided Meditation. This one is crafted for hard days because it starts with your loved ones and then turns to yourself before sending kindness out. You can check it out on YouTube or on Insight Timer.

Want to learn more about mindfulness and compassion? Check out my new book, How to Be a Badass Lawyer, for a simple guide to creating a meditation practice of your own in 30 days. And to share mindfulness with your little one, check out my new children’s book, Mommy Needs a Minute.

Want to learn more about mindfulness and compassion? Check out my new book, How to Be a Badass Lawyer, for a simple guide to creating a meditation practice of your own in 30 days. And to share mindfulness with your little one, check out my new children’s book, Mommy Needs a Minute.

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Lawyers Need to Drop the Shame and Blame Routine

What if I told you that there was a simple way to improve mental health in the legal profession? If there was something small you could do, even for the opposing counsel you dislike, you’d do it, right? Maybe you’d grumble about how opposing counsel would never do something so selfless. But in the end, you’d try because you are a good person.

So what is this simple thing: stop shaming and blaming your opposing counsel. (Note: whenever a meditation teacher tells you something is “simple” they pick that word to distinguish it from “easy.”)

If you are anything like me, I bet you didn’t like reading that line at all. I’m the kind of person who doesn’t suffer fools kindly. I’m the kind of person who calls a spade a spade. When someone is wrong, in particular about the law or in a way that could hurt my client, I say it loud and clear.

At least, that’s how I used to think about it. But then I paid a little more attention to my emotions. I got some training in things like mindfulness and compassion. And I realized how devastating, terrible, and powerful the emotion shame can be.

Shame is something that kept me in a box and afraid to be myself for years. Shame is one of the things that keeps lawyers from getting help to address our mental health. Shame is the thing that keeps lots of us humans from connecting to each other even though that’s what we want more than anything in the world.

Now, I have only rarely experienced yelling or truly calculated shaming from other lawyers in my fifteen years of practice. On this account, I have seen the profession become kinder and gentler over the years. But the thoughtless, everyday shaming? That doesn’t seem to be going anywhere.

Despite this, I don’t believe that most lawyers are bad people intent on harming each other. In fact, most of my experiences with other lawyers strongly suggest the opposite. However, we are a profession trained extensively in the art of stating positions, assigning blame, and making judgments.

If we don’t take care, that’s a combination that can lead to some pretty hurtful statements. As a lawyer who cares deeply about my work, I have to watch that my legal position does not become a moral crusade against my opponent. It’s also easy to let my judgments about a case morph into judgments about the character of my opposing counsel. Finally, litigation lends itself so well to pointing out the party at fault that the next logical step is to hurl blame at opposing counsel.

Here’s the problem, though, this feels terrible and it makes life miserable. For lawyers who spend huge amounts of our lives at work, using this kind of language sets us all up for a profession steeped in hostility and negativity. With so much negativity and other challenges in life, do we really need this at work too? No we don’t.

So, how can we start to watch out for shame and blame in our communications without sacrificing their impact? Here are a few tips that have helped me.

1. Focus on the issues.

The first thing you can do to avoid shaming and blaming opposing counsel is to get clear about the purpose of your communication. What is your client’s interest? What is your goal for the meeting or call or hearing? If you get clear about this, it will help you keep you focused on what matters in the case and avoid getting distracted by emotions that can arise like frustration or fear. So, before you take a position, get clear on what it is and how it serves your client.

2. Note the emotional tone in your communications.

This is a simple one, but it is often overlooked. When you are communicating, especially to someone who is difficult for you, pay attention to how you feel. If you are upset, the odds are that the tone is going to come through in your message. Take a moment to calm down. Notice how the other person looks and adjust.

If you are writing an email, stop and take a pause before you hit “send.” Get away from your keyboard if you are really upset. When you are calm, read back through the email and imagine someone else reading it. Revise as if you care about how that person feels.

I know that it can feel great to tell opposing counsel exactly how you feel about them. Remember that this feeling doesn’t last long nearly as long as the consequences of your words. Paying attention to the emotion that comes through with your language is not taking it easy on the other side, so much as it is about maintaining your power to live your values.

3. Avoid character judgments.

Sometimes character is in issue for lawyers, but only in very rare situations. Even when it is relevant to a case, the character of the opposing party may not be relevant to most of your discussions. Look out for judgments leaching out that may come in phrases like “should”, “ought” or adjectives about a person’s character.

Not only can you sometimes be wrong about people, but also the judgments almost always put people on the defensive and lead to fights. Whether you respect someone’s opinion or not, a harsh judgment never feels good and makes even the best of us feel like we have to defend our own honor.

So, as tempting at it may be, avoid scolding an attorney for not counseling their clients properly or telling them that they don’t understand the “kind of person” their client is. Even if it is true, it’s not helpful and is unlikely to lead to anything good for you or your client.

4. Don’t engage in emotional warfare.

It still boggles my mind, but I still encounter lawyers who think they can scare other lawyers into submission. My dear esteemed colleagues, this doesn’t work. Yelling doesn’t make you sound tough; it makes you sound out of control. Making comments that you have “never agreed” to certain contract language isn’t legal analysis. Instead, it’s a manipulative tactic meant to make to shame the other side to coerce them into accepting your language.

I know this is a hard lesson to learn but lawyers can’t control opposing counsel with force of will alone. State your position. Provide good reasons for it, be clear about your best alternative option, and many times you will get good results. If you try to use your emotions to push the other side around, though, you will wear yourself out, waste precious resources, and create hostile relationships with opposing counsel.

5. Avoid tit for tat.

The last rule is the most annoying but probably the most essential. If other lawyers break all the rules stated above, it doesn’t mean you should. By this, I don’t suggest that you should always ignore the behavior without reproach. Instead, I think it is within your rights to tell opposing counsel if their comments are irrelevant, unproductive, or even harmful. You can and should set boundaries and, in more extreme cases, enforce them with judicial intervention.

But you can do those things by refocusing on the relevant issues, noting and respecting the emotions involved, and avoiding the character attacks and judgments that lead to more fights. On the times when I have been ablet to do this, I have always felt empowered that I could stick to my values instead of letting my actions be dictated by someone else. Avoiding shame or blame as retaliation isn’t merely ignoring bad behavior, but is instead a conscious choice to use ethical and effective communication.

Like I said, these steps are simple but not easy. They are small adjustments you can make to your communications to do less harm. While I hope all lawyers consider the impact that their words may have on opposing counsel’s mental health, my experience has been that the less I blame and shame others the better I feel.

Just in case you don’t believe that I know how hard it can be to stay calm in response to opposing counsel’s nasty communications, I made a meditation just for the occasion. Check out this Guided Meditation to help you deal with a Nasty Email here or on Insight Timer:

Want to learn more about mindfulness and compassion? Check out my new book, How to Be a Badass Lawyer, for a simple guide to creating a meditation practice of your own in 30 days. And to share mindfulness with your little one, check out my new children’s book, Mommy Needs a Minute.

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Can Marketing and Mindfulness Coexist?

Many lawyers don’t like marketing. Some even hate networking. In part, this is because they associate these terms with hard sales, rabid self-interest, and a whole lot of anxiety.

I’m one of the lawyers who loves marketing and networking, though I had to learn to love them both. As an introvert, I was afraid of networking for a long time because I had the wrong idea that successful networking meant following the playbook of my extroverted friends. And I never considered myself a salesperson, so marketing anything seemed like a stretch.

Despite these misgivings, I ended up wandering into the woods of networking and marketing unintentionally. How did this happen? To put it simply, I followed my passions. I enjoyed writing. I loved presenting and teaching about things I knew well. And I loved leadership and meeting new people.

And you know what? Over the years and with some practice, I became a pretty good marketer and networker. This has been true of my law practice and it’s also been true with my mindfulness teaching too.

To be truthful, I never considered it marketing when I started teaching mindfulness. When I first got started, I was more passionate about sharing what I knew and using the skills I had to offer something good. At the time I didn’t see strong connections between teaching mindfulness and my law practice and I didn’t have big goals.

Because of this, I almost had to laugh when I was asked to be a presenter for the Marketing Mindfulness Services Summit. Had I been marketing all this time? I thought I was having fun, doing the things I love, and sharing helpful things with my community.

Then I reflected and realized that, yes, it was marketing but it was marketing in my way. I decided that perhaps I had some good advice to share because I enjoyed marketing and could bring a joyful perspective to it.

To prepare for the summit, I spoke with the co-host, Simona Ondrejkova, on the Mindfulness Marketing for Conscious Business Podcast. We discuss my journey to mindfulness practice and how I got started with teaching and writing on the topic.

I also shared how marketing from many teachers, including the wonderful Tara Brach, helped me learn meditation and positively impacted my life. We also discuss how marketing, in particular writing, has made me a better teacher of mindfulness because it has forced me to wrestle with concepts and understand them better. And I discussed how letting myself have fun by integrating examples from pop culture, like Kesha, Kendrick Lamar, Better Call Saul, and Thor, into my teaching has kept things light.

I know there are many examples of poor marketing out there. I know that there are some people out there who misrepresent and mislead. Anyone who has networked at all knows that some people think networking only means accruing as many benefits for yourself as possible.

Those examples unfortunately exist but they aren’t the only way to market or network for law practice or other forms of work. If you want to hear about a different path for marketing in an ethical, joyful, and compassionate way, check out this podcast episode and consider attending the Marketing Mindful Services Summit on Friday.

Want to learn more about mindfulness and compassion? Check out my new book, How to Be a Badass Lawyer, for a simple guide to creating a meditation practice of your own in 30 days. And to share mindfulness with your little one, check out my new children’s book, Mommy Needs a Minute.

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Zen in the Art of Yard Maintenance

The single best thing I did for my mental health this summer was not meditation. By no means am I saying that I stopped meditating. But at this point the practice for me is part of my routine. So, the best new thing I did this summer was to make the area outside of my home more hospitable. I got rid of some old stuff and in the new spaces deposited a tent with some rocking chairs and a covered swing.

This was a game changer for me because my backyard is in full sun. Before my upgrades, there was almost no shade. This made it difficult to enjoy being outside for any period of time. My new shady spots and comfy seats, however, have drastically changed things for me. Now, I can read, listen to a webinar, or even work outside. And you can bet that I have also enjoyed meditating outside, too.

Let’s face it. Being outside is magical. The sounds of nature can quickly calm and relax us. The outdoors can give us a break from our screens or offer a chance for movement. In fact, I have it on good authority that getting outside is part of what many lawyers require for an “ideal day.”

Last year, when I was preparing to write my first book I interviewed more than 30 lawyers to discuss their experience with stress. I thought these interviews would be hard but they were actually quiet inspirational. My favorite part was when I got to ask them what their ideal day looked like in order to provide some context around all the questions about stress. Nearly every answer included an outdoor activity, whether it was playing golf, taking a walk, or gardening.

These anecdotal reports are also consistent with myriad research studies that show the health benefits of getting outside. Studies have shown that being in nature can reduce stress, improve cognitive functioning, and increase happiness. What’s more, you don’t have to take a trek through the Grand Canyon to tap into the benefits. Instead, two hours–even if spread out over the course of a week–is enough to improve one’s perceived well-being.

While it may not be terribly surprising that pleasant activities outside can lift our spirits, I have experienced a similar boost from unpleasant outdoor activities. It has taken me a few years to get there, but I am now officially a fan of trimming my hedges. My house is surrounded by landscaping on all sides, including two literal walls of shrubs.

My husband and I are not handy people so we had outsourced this for many years. While social distancing during the pandemic, I got ambitious bored and tried it myself. I would go out on a nice day and trim for about an hour or two and fill up a dumpster with clippings. I always came in tired and messy but seeing the impact of my work felt good.

And, can I be honest? Yard work can sometimes be cathartic. One day, I was in a terrible mood and very much in my head after getting an email from a colleague about a project. I stewed in that feeling for a while and then looked out the window. I saw how nice it was, recalled the trimming I had yet to do, and put my energy to good use. I came back inside in a much better mood to find that the email “crisis” was really no big deal.

I teach about meditation a lot. There is certainly power in looking inward and getting to know ourselves more deeply. Getting outside, however, lets us expand outward beyond our normal routines and environment. Humans need both introspection and expansion to live a happy life. We need healing and rest, just as much as we need space to grow and move.

The other day my mom, who has never meditated before, asked me how she could get started with mindfulness. I offered some resources and tips, but the first thing I told her to do was to leave her phone and go sit outside. My mom has a nice covered porch with a swing and it’s filled with the lush plants she lovingly tends. I told her to sit for a few minutes every day and to notice how it felt.

Whether you are totally new to mindfulness or are an experienced meditator, this is pretty good advice. To boost your mood, get some exercise, and expand your mind, get outside. You can run, or swing, or clean up your yard, or just sit still and listen to the crickets. Just get outside and notice how it feels. It may just be one of the best things you can do for your mental health.

Want to learn more about mindfulness and compassion? Check out my new book, How to Be a Badass Lawyer, for a simple guide to creating a meditation practice of your own in 30 days. And to share mindfulness with your little one, check out my new children’s book, Mommy Needs a Minute.

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Do You Really Need a Meditation Cushion?

The American way to start any new healthy habit is to scour the internet for the best gear. When it comes to meditation, this isn’t really necessary. As I have explained before, you can meditate in any position that makes you feel safe, supported, and comfortable.

This means you can meditate sitting, standing, lying down, or even walking. You can use a comfy chair, your bed, the floor, some nice cushions you have around the house, including some you use for restorative yoga, a porch swing or rocking chair, a parked car, or my personal favorite, the bath tub.

Though I have meditated in a variety of settings, it has been supportive to my practice to designate a particular spot as the one I use for regular practice. My spot is a little corner in my bedroom tucked away behind a large wardrobe. In it, I have my meditation cushion, a light blanket, and access to an outlet so that I can use my phone for guiding or sounds when I need it.

If you look on Pinterest, however, you can quickly overwhelm yourself with images of decked out meditation spots chock full of Mandalas, smiling Buddhas, incense, and LED lights. To the extent that this makes your practice more pleasant and you enjoy decorating, go for it. But a meditation space that would make an influencer blush is not really necessary, especially if nobody will see it but you.

Assuming you are into utility like me, what you really want from a meditation spot is something that offers support, creates comfort, and engenders focus. In general, then, you’ll want a large, flat layer to provide warmth and cushion for your ankles and knees in the sitting position. Then you will want something on top to lift the hips and support the natural curve of your back. This is to ensure that you have a clear airway to make breathing as easy and restful as possible.

This is the point of the meditation cushion, which commonly includes the zafu and zabuton. The zabuton is the large flat cushion, typically filled with a cotton-like substance and the zafu is a smaller pillow (often round or crescent-shaped) that is usually filled with seeds, beans, or buckwheat hulls. If you feel more comfortable in a kneeling position, you can get a similar result from using a meditation bench with a mat or blanket under your legs and knees.

These days, it is easy to find meditation cushions and benches online in a variety of colors, materials, and shapes. If, like me, you hate scouring the internet for products, I bought my zafu and zabuton from Still Sitting about 10 years ago and I can report that their name is accurate: I’m still using it. I went for the crescent-shaped zafu with a buckwheat fill because it fits my body better. Due to an old knee injury, I also added an extra mini zafu for some support under my right knee.

Can you achieve the same level of comfort with items you have around the house? Very likely. A few layers of old blankets, a folded yoga mat, or flat pillows could double for a zabuton. A sturdier and smaller cushion, a bolster, or yoga blocks could work for a zafu.

In short, you don’t truly need a meditation cushion or bench to start a meditation practice. Ideally, meditation is something you bring into your life and don’t only use in one spot in your home. Even so, a designated spot is a great way to turn meditation into a habit and a quality meditation cushion can support the body to help your mind focus and relax.

Thus, if you are really new to meditation, I would not recommend spending a lot of money on new gear. Once your practice becomes regular and you can sit for more than a few minutes each session, a cushion may be a great way to support your meditation practice and invest in it long-term.

Want to learn more about mindfulness and compassion? Check out my new book, How to Be a Badass Lawyer, for a simple guide to creating a meditation practice of your own in 30 days. And to share mindfulness with your little one, check out my new children’s book, Mommy Needs a Minute.

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What Does Lawyer Well-Being Mean? For Me, It’s a Process.

It’s Well-Being Week in Law this week. If you are familiar with the mental health challenges in the legal profession, this may not be surprising. Even so, you may ask yourself what exactly does “well-being” mean?

There are many ways to define this. Some take the approach of creating buckets or categories which ensure that the various aspects of lawyers’ lives are addressed. This includes everything from physical, mental, emotional, to spiritual and even financial needs.

There’s nothing wrong with that approach. Looking at it from that vantage point may serve as a guide for firms or organizations which must set policy that affect employees or members. Even so, the bucket approach has limitations because it’s not as fluid as real life.

As someone who has always been skeptical about the idea of work-life balance, I prefer something a bit more flexible. Instead of filling buckets, I prefer a process based on habits and practices that flow into and support one another. A process like this can shift and change with the seasons of life. Like the bucket approach above, however, it is premised on the assumption that lawyers are humans first and their human needs must be met.

So what are our human needs? We need to take care of our bodies, minds, and hearts. But to be happy we also need to connect with others in community and grow. These five steps cycle into each other to form my process for lawyer well-being, which I share below.

1. Feel

Lawyers can struggle with well-being for a fundamental reason: we are often lost in our thoughts. Attunement to our bodily experiences is, thus, an important place to start for improving personal wellness. Even if you struggle with this, small changes over time can increase body awareness, which can help you identify and tend to personal needs on an ongoing basis.

This may sound basic and that’s because it is. This aspect is about reconnecting with the actual experience of life every day. Technology and the rush of our lives do not lend themselves well to staying present in our bodily experiences. Everything from alcohol to Netflix can serve as a numbing tool if we don’t reflect on how we use them.

2. Rest

A billable hour system means that we are validated by productivity and can easily correlate hours worked with worth. Without rest, however, performance, productivity, and creativity suffer. Rest, of course, is only effective when we truly can allow ourselves to relax and recharge.

Sleep is a huge part of the rest we need as humans. With our very active minds, however, we lawyers may also need to develop practices to learn how to deeply relax. If our nervous system stays on high alert, it can prevent us from relaxing or sleeping, and lead to other health problems. With our heavy reliance on technology, rest may not always be just “doing nothing”, but instead might include doing another activity “in real life” and without any screens.

3. Heal

As rational beings, lawyers can easily struggle with processing our own emotions. Our public personas as strong, capable, and professional may also make it difficult for us to tend to our own pain, fear, and vulnerability. Yet, precisely because we deal with risk, tension, and conflict, we need to learn to understand and care for our emotions.

One of the reasons that healing is hard for lawyers is that processing emotions takes time and patience. Some emotional experiences won’t make sense to us if we are not attuned to our bodies and don’t have the time to sit with them. Stigma and feeling like we always must present as being in control and competent can make this a challenge too.

4. Connect

Lawyers are often around other people. To do our jobs, we often have to deal with a variety of personalities. We usually must also network and build our reputations broadly across groups. Despite this, lawyers experience loneliness more than other professions.

Real connection means that we feel we are able to be ourselves. It also requires a sense of belonging in our firms, families, and communities. It means that there must be some meeting point for our inner experience and the outer world.

Because our lives are busy, we may have to plan ahead to schedule in activities even with people we love. In addition, life changes rapidly so social dynamics do too. On top of this, some of the social institutions humans have looked to for belonging are no longer as prominent as they once were. Though it can feel strange that keeping in touch with friends may take work, the effort is well worth it. Do not take feelings of disconnection to mean there is something wrong with you.

5. Grow

Growth for lawyers can be a double-edged sword. We all want growth, but as achievers we can easily develop unreasonable expectations for constant growth. In addition, we may experience expansion without real evolution or the development of skills to support growth long-term.

The profession and most firms are experiencing rapid change right now, which often presents opportunities for growth. One thing to remember, though, is that growth is not necessarily always pleasant. Because it can be scary, stressful and volatile, we may need to have periods of rest and relative inactivity and to rely on the other skills and supports to assist as we establish equilibrium.

I know that there are many frameworks and ideas out there for living a good life. Options are a wonderful thing, but this is the process that has served me well and the one I teach individuals and audiences in seminars. If you want to think through this process for yourself, check out my new Personal Well-Being Worksheet here.

Want to learn more about mindfulness and compassion? Check out my new book, How to Be a Badass Lawyer, for a simple guide to creating a meditation practice of your own in 30 days. And to share mindfulness with your little one, check out my new children’s book, Mommy Needs a Minute.

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Why the Mental Rest Day Is My New Favorite Thing

For most of the pandemic, I was good about working out but struggled with motivation to do strength training. I kept trying to incorporate strength into my routine but inevitably fell out of the habit. This was until last year when I finally cracked the code of inconsistency and developed a pattern of doing 3 days focusing on strength, and 3 days focusing on cardio. Fortunately, the realities of math and my calendar led to me designating Friday as my day of rest.

What did my rest day activities include? Most often I would do yoga to ensure some flexibility balanced out the strength and cardio work. It didn’t take long until I saw Friday as “yoga day” and decided to complete the theme at night by substituting restorative yoga in for my normal meditation practice.

And you know what? I loved it. It was nice to mix things up. It was nice to get back to a practice I hadn’t done for a while. It was nice to remind myself that my practice was mine and I could tailor it to suit my needs. After a long work week, it was nice to emphasize rest and my body more and my mind little bit less.

I have touted consistency on this blog before and I won’t depart from that wisdom any time soon. But meditation is a practice for life and it will come with ebbs and flows. At times, it may also come with boredom and malaise. Variety is one way to stave those things off or recover from them. In this way, even if the “rest day” is slightly less consistent, it is conducive overall to preserving mindfulness as a habit long-term.

Now, you may wonder how to incorporate a mental rest day if you aren’t a fan of restorative yoga. In truth, the name of a “mental rest day” is a bit of a misnomer because many mindfulness practices may include a rest for the mind. This is actually a good thing, though, because it means options for mixing up your meditation practice are myriad.

Here are some ideas beyond restorative yoga for trying your own mental rest day:

When it comes to physical fitness, the idea of a “rest” day is so standard that it’s almost a no-brainer. The reason for this is clear: our bodies need time to recover from physical training and exertion. This same idea often holds true for our minds too. If you need a break or just want to try something new, consider incorporating a mental rest day into your mindfulness practice.

A post with tips about mixing up your mindfulness practice by taking a mental rest day.

Want to learn more about mindfulness and compassion? Check out my new book, How to Be a Badass Lawyer, for a simple guide to creating a meditation practice of your own in 30 days. And to share mindfulness with your little one, check out my new children’s book, Mommy Needs a Minute.

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