I’m in my third semester as an adjunct professor at the Charleston School of Law where I teach “Professional Responsibility” which is essentially legal ethics. My main purpose is to prepare students to take the Model Rules of Professional Responsibility Examination (MPRE) and teach them the professional rules of conduct governing attorneys. However, I see my role as much more. I want to teach them the skills necessary to be a resilient lawyer, and live a well-balanced life style.
When I was in law school, I constantly felt overwhelmed, stressed, and burdened. I often lacked perspective on the bigger picture of my life and could only focus on the crushing weight of school work and achievement. After encouragement from friends, including my now husband, I found yoga. In preparation for the bar exam I took a break and went to yoga every day. Yoga was for me and no one else. It was a place where I could shut the door to the rest of the world and most importantly not think about school or becoming an attorney. I was living in the moment, if only for that one hour.
Yoga has been teaching me the practice of mindfulness for almost ten years now. Jon Kabat Zinn coined the phrase “mindfulness” in his book Full Catastrophe Living, defining it as “paying attention on purpose”. Mindfulness is my own personal superpower and a skill I work on every day (some more than others). It is this life altering experience of mindfulness that I seek to share with my students.
In an effort to pass on such a great and necessary skill to my students, I implemented a “mindfulness exercise” and wellness requirement. Every morning before class we all participate in a daily “exercise”. These exercises consist of a variety of techniques such as physical stretches or movements (such as simple yoga poses/stretches), meditation, writing exercises, gratitude practices, and even watching videos on meditation or concepts like shame by Brene Brown. All of these exercises offer an opportunity to experience the current moment or engage in a type of self discovery creating more self awareness. Initially, several students find the exercises awkward, uncomfortable, or embarrassing. These initial reactions are helpful and, in fact, part of the exercise.They offer an opportunity to move through discomfort and figure out how to exist in that space while teaching students to look past the superficial, egoist ideas our minds feed us to discourage anything perceived as “different”. As I’ve been constantly reminded by some of my great teachers, the mind is what is insecure – not the body – the body possesses no ego.
“Care about what other people think and you will always be their prisoner.”
— Lao Tzu
The wellness requirement is my method of getting students to engage in mindfulness outside of the classroom. It is also an effort to get students to start healthy habits before the struggle of work-life balance as attorney becomes more prohibitive.
The requirement, pulled directly from my syllabus, is below:
As part of living a well-rounded life, I want to make sure you are enjoying healthy activities outside these walls. Having a hobby or an outlet for anxiety is essential for everyone, but especially for life as a lawyer. Before the course is over I would like to you participate in three wellness activities of your choice and write a brief summary of your experience (so I know you did it). It might be interesting to try something you’ve never done. These activities do NOT require you to spend money. Here are some (but not an exclusive list) of ideas:
-Walking the Bridge
The most exciting part of this exercise is seeing the unique approaches to mindfulness from my students. While I have offered this as a learning experience for them, as usual (the old adage), I often learn just as much from my students.
I have students who have found meditation in listening to jazz music and playing basketball with their children. There are students who are parents that choose to share a mindful living technique with their family by instituting a “no cell phone policy” during family evenings. Some find mental relief lifting weights in the gym while others enjoy a simple walk with a dog or a new friend. Waking up an hour early might create more space and decrease the anxiety of the morning rush. Developing morning and evening routines allows for a sense of regularity and comfort in an otherwise chaotic schedule. For some it is as simple as allowing yourself to nap.
As you can see there is not a specific method for mindfulness. There is not just one way to meditate or be in the moment. Often the beauty in this practice is finding these simple forms of well-being in your every day life that you had not quite noticed before. Maybe it is savoring the taste of your morning coffee and what it smells, and feels like as you take the liquid in for the first sip. You might not have noticed that the gentle whizz and swirl of the washing machine and dryer seems to offer a rhythm of which to set your breath and relax the body.
Can you look and find these beautiful moments of mindfulness in your life? Are there places where you find a “me moment”?
What does everyday mindfullness look like for you?