Monday, November 1, 2010

What to take away

So, what did I learn over three days at the Mindful Lawyer Conference? I have been writing about it for a few days now, but I want to put it all into perspective. First, it was incredible to be in a space with that many contemplative lawyers - a space where we could discuss meditation and yoga as normal parts of life. Wow!

What did we discuss on the third day? We discussed what a mindful practice looks like for lawyers and how we take this forward. A theme I saw and heard repeated time and time again is that holding the space in your work for a mindful and contemplative practice changes the reactions of co-counsel, opposing counsel, and clients. This is not surprising. Going back to neuroscience for a moment, all the research into mirror neurons is that this is exactly what we should expect to happen. Our actions influence those around us.

The other underlying theme was that mindfulness allows us to see the whole picture. Even as lawyers who must zealously advocate for our clients, we are able to see that the other party has a story, and that story is true for that person. What we do with that story is determined by the circumstances, but holding that the story is true for that other party is more than half of the battle. Personally, my interest in the law has focused on children and divorce. The research from Australia and New Zealand is that children benefit just from being part of the process, even if they do not have the final say in what happens (actually, more often than not, especially if they do not have the final say). A mindful practice allows lawyers to give everyone the opportunity to have their say, to be involved, and then the act of lawyering, in whatever form, may continue. Perhaps it does not always happen, but the possibility is there, and we as a community are moving in that direction.

But there is something more, and it was mentioned in various discussions throughout the conference. Mindfulness puts us in touch with compassion in new ways. Compassion and interconnectedness. The law, especially in the United States, is focused on individual rights. This was absolutely necessary in the 18th century when our constitution was written. And in the sphere of individual rights, the United States has done a really great job. It is far, far from perfect, but this country was the major catalyst for human rights around the world for 200 years.

Today, however, we need to take the next step. We need to move to interconnectedness - to each other, but also to the Earth and the Universe. One of the presenters, Linda Sheehan, put it very cogently when discussing her work as an environmental lawyer - we need to start talking about the Earth’s rights, not just humans’ rights to use the Earth. When we recognize this interconnectedness, we will know we have taken the next step. Personally, I think that if we do not take this step, the legal profession will destroy itself. The world must move toward more connection, and while individual rights remain important, they are merely a step to a greater understanding of our interconnectedness. Being with this group for three days, my hope was sparked that we truly can begin to take that next step in the legal profession.

For my part, I hope to use what I learn in New Zealand next year as a way to bring a more holistic environment to family and juvenile law. Yes, my interest over these past few years has broadened to include the more difficult situation of juvenile law along with family law. What I wish I had gained more of at this conference are practical steps I can take. I know that continuing my practice, and hopefully continuing this blog, will be a huge piece of the puzzle, but what can I do to physically change the legal environment? What structures must we change? How can we do it? So, I leave this weekend more connected and excited about the possibilities, but with few practical ways to make a difference today.

Luckily, our end session was about how to stay in touch, how to grow the community even greater. If you were not at the conference and want to become involved in this community, contact me, and I will put you in touch with those in charge. As the movement grows, we can make change together. Thank you for a wonderful, wonderful weekend, and I look forward to more to come.

Namaste and Blessings.

© 2010 Rebecca Stahl, all rights reserved.

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