Sunday, October 31, 2010

Infusing the Profession

If I can come up with one theme for yesterday - the second day of the conference - it would be that mindful lawyering has moved from the periphery to the core of the legal profession. Professor Rhonda Magee called it an infusion, moving from the margins to the center, but I was trained by an anusara yoga teacher and periphery to core is one of “our” phrases. It all means the same thing. Thank you, Professor Magee, for pointing it out.

But as we learned early in the day from Dr. Phillipe Goldin and Dr. Shauna Shapiro, mindfulness and contemplative practices have infused all professions. I am going to focus on the the neuroscience again because that inspired me so much at AFCC, and it just fascinates me to no end. Certainly, anyone who has some sort of contemplative practice, whatever it is (religious, secular, even “just” exercise) knows that the contemplative practice changes you. But seeing how the brain responds through Dr. Gorldin’s photos and explanations, hearing about mirror neurons, and knowing that this is truly the cutting edge of science, makes me almost giddy.

Last time I wrote about this, I was overcome with happiness tat I could finally “prove” to lawyers that contemplative practices help. After all, because of mirror neurons, we know that if we stay calm in a room, others will follow our lead unconsciously. But I think it is bigger than that. What we (ok, I am not studying this, but the proverbial we) are seeing in the brain is that we really are all connected. What I see from all of this research is that our brains are vastly bigger than our consciousness. In much the same way as I have come to truly appreciate the body (more on that from this conference later), i have come to appreciate all that the brain can teach us.

I want to see this information from all directions. When I practice, I feel it, I know it. In fact, I have known much of this my entire life, though I thought I was crazy. Then I got the words from yoga to talk about it with other practitioners and people who understand energy. But I cannot tell you what it feels like to be dumbstruck at the front of a yoga class telling people to feel their feet, which are not on the floor, reaching as though they are standing or to energetically reach from one finger, through the chest, out the other finger. The neuroscience and psychological research being done is giving us new language, new directions, to explain this information. More importantly, according to the brain research, the more neural pathways we use, the stronger they become, and we can more easily overcome old habits. In other words, we, as practitioners, are giving ourselves, and yes, our brains, a new understanding.

So, I loved, loved, loved, these presentations on neuroscience and psychology. I also attended the plenary on education initiatives, Jack Kornfield’s talk, and the concurrent session on whether these practices are religious or secular. I have spoken before how I feel about that issue  (teachings used to be secret and today are accessible to all), and the information from the education workshop will have to wait for another day. But so far, this conference is going great!

Namaste and Blessings.

© 2010 Rebecca Stahl, all rights reserved.


  1. thank you for sharing your experience there Rebecca...sounds wonderful!
    Have you read Kabat-Zinn's "Coming to Our Senses"?...he has an entire section of how mindfulness has affected one judicial system out East. I think it was there that I learned the etymology of "to judge" is "to sit"...very appropriate.
    Might offer one possible errata above..."our brains are vastly bigger than our consciousness"(3rd para)...did you mean the opposite? ...that would put consciousness in a pretty small box wouldn't it?
    Looking forward to hearing more and hope the ankle is much better today. ~ matt

  2. Matthew, you are absolutely correct - that was a typo. What I really meant to say is that I am finally coming to realize how potent our brains are. I used to think that the physical body, western science, etc. should be ignored, and that the deeper spiritual truths could not be found there. I am starting to realize, or have finally realized, how amazing they are. This conference showed me how much we are learning by looking at the brain - even about consciousness. But no, the brain is not bigger than consciousness. Thank you for pointing that out. I think I just got carried away. And no, I have not read that one by Zinn, and I will look into it. Thanks!