4 Simple Words to Help You Start a Meditation Practice

This post was originally published as a guest piece for Constellation Marketing in July, 2021. It still rings true today and is perfect for anyone considering meditation for the new year.

I get all kinds of questions from lawyers who are interested in starting a meditation practice. It’s normal to have questions with anything new;  and us lawyers love exploring things as concepts before we jump in with both feet. So, they ask me all the things: how often should I sit? How long for each session? What’s the best app? Do I need a cushion? What if I can’t clear my mind? What if I get fidgety? And on and on. I answer these questions with understanding because I once had them too, but I think the best way to answer them all is with 4 simple words:

  1. Just start.
  2. Start small.

There are a lot of ways to learn about meditation. At first, I learned the practice from books and podcasts. Those offer great tips and tools, but nothing changed in my life until I started meditating consistently. That’s because meditation is an experiential practice – you have to do it to understand it.

It’s sort of like civil procedure. Do you remember how hard it was to make sense of the civil rules in law school from just reading about them? I do, but I’m a litigator now and they make sense (at least most of the time) because I have used the rules when litigating real cases. In much the same way, you will not fully understand meditation until you do it for yourself. So just start.

Maybe it’s true that you don’t know how to do it “right” but if you start to sit, you’ll notice things about your mind, your body, and your life. Over time, you will learn what it is right for you because you’ll notice what you need more or less of to be a happier, healthier person. Besides, in the beginning, all you really need to do is build up some tolerance for sitting and doing nothing, develop some inner resources for handling adversity, and get acquainted with your mind.

Don’t worry about doing it wrong because, if you make meditation a lasting habit, you will 100% do things wrong or learn that aspects of your practice need to change. That’s not just okay and part of being human, it is the path you have to take to learn any new skill, including meditation.

If this sounds scary, remember that my next tip is to start small. And by this, I mean very small. If you can sit for 5 minutes right away, go for it. I started with 1 minute because it was all I could handle. My thoughts were copious and judgmental and doing nothing was not my forte. But I quickly discovered benefits from tolerating the awkwardness and added minutes until I eventually worked up to 30.

In other words, starting small doesn’t mean staying small. It’s just a foot in the doorway to a life with an active meditation practice. Once you get started and learn a few things, you can let your practice grow at a pace that works for you.

Starting small is not only less intimidating, it’s also practical. Small increments of time are easier to work into a busy calendar than big ones. In addition, short sessions are ones that you could conceivably do every day and that makes it much more likely that your experiment with meditation will become a habit. Moreover, since the early part of practice is about building skills, you are less likely to get disgusted with yourself and meditation if you give yourself some time to adjust.

I love talking and writing about meditation. I love answering questions for other lawyers who want to learn how to bring mindfulness into their lives. But what I hope you get from this is that you don’t have to know everything (or honestly much of anything) about meditation to benefit from it. Instead, what you really need is curiosity, a little bit of courage, some self-compassion, and an open mind. If you invoke those traits as you begin your practice, you will be able to answer questions about meditation and so much more for yourself.

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

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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 my new book, How to Be a Badass Lawyer, which is available on Amazon.

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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.

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

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