Lessons from My Lawyer Dad that Could Have Come from a Meditation Teacher

My lawyer dad doesn’t know a thing about mindfulness, but he’s still one of the best meditation teachers I have ever had. He’s steady, hard-working, kind, and decent. He’s not closed off to new ideas, but he favors tradition and knows himself well enough that he generally hasn’t needed to seek out new practices and approaches to help manage his life. Dad worked as a lawyer for or with local governments his whole career and he loves things like procedure, budgets, and finance. As an introvert, he’s rarely the life of the party, but people listen when he talks because they know he thinks first. He was picked on in school because he grew up on a farm in a small town called Rabbit Hash, Kentucky, so he usually prefers not to stand out. For these reasons, my dad would never seek out information about mindfulness and he has never tried meditation. Dad only knows that mindfulness has helped me quite a lot in my life and it makes me happy to teach and write about it.  

You know what? That’s just fine. In the Pali canon, it is said that there are 84,000 doors to enlightenment. I take that to mean that we have options and various interconnected winding paths that can lead us to growth and fulfillment as long as we stay open to learning from what comes to us along those paths. My dad doesn’t know a thing about meditation but, as one of my first mentors in life, he prepared me to benefit from it. Many of the lessons he taught me weren’t too different from those I learned in my meditation practice or from meditation teachers. In honor of Father’s Day and to celebrate my lawyer dad, I am sharing them with you here. 

1.      Simple is good.

My dad’s favorite ice cream is vanilla. His favorite snack is saltine crackers. His beverage of choice: ice water. This isn’t to say that he doesn’t mix things up every now and then but he usually keeps things simple. Sometimes this simplicity can be magical. He makes the best fried chicken I have ever had anywhere and he doesn’t bother with the Colonel’s 11 secret herbs and spices. His recipe is just salt, pepper, and flour. That’s it. In my years of meditation, I’ve come to adopt the same approach. I’ve tried lots of different styles and practices, but most of the time I just like to sit and relax into the silence. I’m so glad I learned early on from my dad that simple is good. 

2.      It’s okay to be quiet.

If you are a meditator, it helps if you have at least a decent relationship with silence. When I teach about mindfulness, people often ask me if I am naturally calm. I tell them, emphatically, that I absolutely am not. But I have one secret advantage: I love silence. Silence isn’t lonely to me. It’s peaceful. It makes me feel at home. I’ve never had trouble with silence because my dad always liked it too. He often drove with the radio turned off. He would read for hours on end. In a world that constantly wants to make noise and run from itself, my dad taught me that it was okay just to stop and be still every now and then. That’s perhaps the first lesson that any new meditator needs to learn, so thanks dad. 

3.      Don’t be a martyr.

I’ve written before about struggling after the birth of my first daughter because she was tongue-tied and I couldn’t breastfeed her. During that time, I remember my dad saying this to me “Claire, you will have her whole life to make sacrifices for her. I don’t have any doubts that you will be willing to do that most of the time. You don’t have to try to make all the sacrifices all at once right now.” Achiever types like us lawyers love to set standards and meet them but that tendency can easily turn to martyrdom if we aren’t careful. I have even seen it show up in my meditation practice. So, remember this lesson from my dad: you have a whole life to practice. You don’t have to do it all at once. Trust that you will make the right choices as you go along and give yourself some grace. 

4.      Fear is a part of life.

My dad was a successful and respected civil servant with decades of experience. After he retired from that role, he decided to go into private practice, just a few years before I graduated from law school. I remember sharing with my dad that I was scared about business development and my dad gave me the best response possible: he admitted that he was scared of this too. To see someone who had accomplished so much admit that he was afraid and acknowledge that business development was hard helped more than any pep talk that simply told me “you can do it.” It was one of the lessons that helped me understand that fear is just a part of life and it has nothing to do with your competence or chances of success. As you start meditating, you may have a tendency to think that you “get over” or “advance beyond” difficult emotions. Not so in my experience. As human beings, we never get over things like this no matter how hard we work or how awesome we are. But, as my dad helped me see, fear is a part of life, but it helps when you can share it. 

5.      Don’t quit just because your ego gets bruised.

I loved basketball growing up and as a very tall kid I was pretty good at it. In high school, though, the competition caught up with me and my coordination and skill didn’t grow at the same pace as my height. I had an injury my sophomore year that benched me all season. My tryouts during junior year didn’t go well and, though I missed getting cut, I ended up on the JV team. I was so ashamed that I was in a pit of despair for a week and contemplated quitting. My dad told me that I didn’t have to play but that I shouldn’t quit just because I was mad or felt embarrassed. He reminded me that basketball was a sport and was, you know, supposed to be fun. I ended up deciding to play and had so much fun with the younger players. As team captain, I was able to be a leader in a way I never had before. That season was one of the best sports experiences I ever had because of this opportunity to lead. In our meditation practice, we may get upset when we struggle because it hurts our ego when we find we can’t do it perfectly or advance as quickly as we’d like. Of course, if you can avoid quitting just because you are mad at yourself or embarrassed, you may learn an entirely different lesson than the one you started out to discover. 

6.      Any moment can be a teachable moment.

I was a kid who asked a lot of questions. Deep questions, usually starting with the word “why.” It didn’t matter how out of the blue it was. It didn’t matter if my dad was cooking dinner or working in the yard. He didn’t skip a beat. He’d answer the questions and a lot of time throw some back at me to force me to think through the issue myself. Lots of meditation teachers will tell you that any moment can teach you about yourself if you keep your mind and heart open. In the same way, my dad’s constant comfort with questions and unwavering willingness to teach showed me that any moment in my life could be a learning moment. 

Though for many, meditation can feel strange at first and many may worry that the practice may change them. In my own experience, I have found that meditation didn’t change me but allowed me instead to connect more deeply with who I really was. This is why it’s no surprise that my dad’s wisdom and the wisdom from so many wonderful teachers lines up. If there are 84,000 doors to enlightenment, I am glad that I found one running to me that started on a farm in Rabbit Hash, Kentucky. Happy Father’s Day to all the dads, step-dads, foster parents, and father surrogates out there. Thank you for teaching us kids in your own way about mindfulness, meditation, and life. 

Rethinking Self-Care: It’s a Practice

I used to roll my eyes every time I saw an article with “self-care” in the title. I was always ready with a snarky comment about the consumerism of the wellness industry and how it’s only for entitled women with endless time and money. I mean, Gwyneth Paltrow may have an entire evening to devote to a bath, a book, and a cocktail, but us real working moms are lucky to pee in private. 

It’s hard not to feel jaded about self-care because as working moms we’re bombarded with marketing campaigns in the health and wellness industry telling us we’re just not taking care of ourselves unless we buy those expensive yoga pants, luxury candles, or take a long bath with essential oils. These messages tell us to treat ourselves because we deserve it.

It can also feel like yet another thing I should be doing. If I had that $65 essential oils or $55 calming vapors I would be more productive and less stressed. Or maybe I’d have time for Gwyneth Paltrow’s evening routine if I were a little more organized.

 But, having a busy law practice and three kids (one of which is immunocompromised and has ADHD and anxiety) during a global pandemic has me re-thinking my ideas around the word self-care.

In a recent Ten Percent Happier podcast episode, the researcher and psychologist Barbara Fredrickson talked about how so many people have had to learn how to take care of ourselves during COVID-19. Yes, self-care has become a commercialized product driven industry, but at its most fundamental level it’s about learning how to meet our most basic needs and truly taking care of ourselves on a spiritual, emotional, and physical level.

Sounds easy, right? The truth is it’s really hard, but my mindfulness meditation practice has helped me figure out how to take better care of myself.

Feel your Feelings.

When I first started a regular meditation practice the first step was just slowing my mind down enough to the just figure out how I actually felt. I felt overwhelmed and didn’t even know what I needed. If I had a nickel for every time I was feeling impatient and cranky only to realize I was just hungry. I would eat a cheese stick and suddenly I didn’t feel quite so on edge.

A mindfulness meditation practice is all about slowing down, taking a breath, and feeling emotions. When we bring awareness to how we feel we can begin the process of figuring out what we need.

What Do I Need Right Now?

This is a simple question I often ask myself in a moment of feeling overwhelmed or stressed. It gets me in the headspace of taking care of myself. Sometimes the answer is a drink of water, sometimes the answer is working for 15 more minutes, or cancelling that meeting.

Which brings me to my next question I like to ask myself.

How Can I Let Go?

As a busy mom of three running her own law practice, this is usually the most important question I can ask myself. Sometimes what I need to do is let something go.

For me this usually looks like eating out instead of cooking dinner, not doing a load of laundry, not squeezing in that meeting, leaving the dishes in the sink until tomorrow, not responding to that text or email, letting my kids have more screen time so I can talk to my sister on the phone.

You get the picture. We are pulled in a million directions every single day – work, family obligations, friends, etc. So sometimes what we really need is to just let something go.

Build Healthy Habits.

Self-care isn’t just about coping with the day-to-day. It’s also about taking care of ourselves in the long term. As Claire and I recently discussed, sometimes this may mean sticking the healthy habits you created or acknowledging when your habits may need to change (you can check out our blog posts on habit change here and here, or our Instagram Live chat here).

Practice Self-Compassion.

This is mindfulness language for cutting yourself some slack. And, it’s probably one of (if not the) most important things we can do to take care of ourselves. It’s the key to combatting mom guilt and that ever-present feeling in the pits of our stomach that we just didn’t do enough today.

It’s also what I’m working hardest on right now by focusing on self-compassion (check out Claire’s blog post on self-compassion and mom guilt).

If you treat yourself, enjoy it.

While sometimes the self-care industry can feel like it’s encouraging escape and indulgence, that doesn’t mean it isn’t ok to treat ourselves once in a while.  Sometimes life is a little extra hard and we need a treat to get ourselves out of a slump. Eat that ice cream, get that manicure, or let your kids watch extra TV so you can chat with a friend. As long as the treat isn’t triggering your unwanted habit, just enjoy it avoid beating yourself up later. 

The thing I’ve learned over the last year is this: self-care is just about learning how to take care of ourselves. It might look different to different people and it will change over time, but it is absolutely necessary.