A full day with Jon Kabat-Zinn, a key catalyst to making mindfulness and meditation mainstream
Not surprisingly, because a jailable prosecution puts my clients into an imbalanced situation, many feel imbalanced over their cases. Some of my clients tell me right off the bat how obsessed they are over their cases, and some wait until very close to or after their trial dates. Some never tell me.
As Shantideva aptly admonished: "If you can solve your problem, then what is the need of worrying. If you cannot solve it, then what is the use of worrying?" Easier said than done.
My clients can help resolve their case by working closely with me as team, which sometimes includes investing in case experts and self-improvement programs (for instance, substance abuse and anger management) when they have the financial resources to do so.
My clients and I are stronger when my opponents, judges and jurors see that my client and I are a unified front, not needing to sweat because we are fully prepared for battle, and because the samurai who thinks about his or her next move rather than being present in the battle will have his or her head lopped off, which is not the right antidote against dwelling on the future.
Working on one’s internal strength and calm is a key element for a warrior to achieve victory, whether for physical or non-physical battling (and litigation often can test one’s physical endurance, in addition to mental strength endurance). Eugen Herrigel underlines that in Zen in the Art of Archery, detailing how internal calmness, peace and focus made Japanese archery experts so effective in battle in the days before gunpowder.
Helping my clients become more powerfully calm with their cases and defense starts with me, giving them and their case preparation my full time and attention, giving my clients my full presence, and assuring that I am at my best physically, mentally, and spiritually. There is no "out there" for the mind. It all starts with me in doing well by my clients.
While my work for my clients starts with me, my clients are an essential part of the defense team. Ideally, during our teamwork together, my client will follow a well-balanced diet, exercise and sleep approach, and will take care of his or her spirit with or without religious methods.
When a client feels anxiety, I often ask what my client does to address the anxiety. Some take prescription medicine, but that addresses the symptom rather than acting as a cure. Some tell me they exercise, breathe deeply, meditate or do yoga. That is great if they regularly do that. If they use breathing and meditation techniques, I am happy to join them in doing so if they are interested.
I am on no mission to convert my clients to mindfulness and meditation. However, for those who wish to pursue mindfulness and meditation to help overcome their anxiety, I tell them that an easy way to start is with Jon Kabat-Zinn’s Mindfulness for Beginners, and, until they read and apply Jon’s book, by staying in the present moment by focusing on their breath.
Jon is a key catalyst to making mindfulness and meditation mainstream in America, without requiring religious trappings. Stripping the religion from mindfulness and meditation may be controversial with some or many religion-based meditation and mindfulness teachers and might receive accusations of dumbing down meditation to meditation light; Jon pointed out when I heard him today that the Buddha found the truth of mindfulness, rather than Buddhism’s being essential to mindfulness practice; the truth simply is the truth. If meditation remained religion-based, it would alienate the millions who would would only pursue meditation without the religious trappings. I met Jon today, and attended his five hours of discussion and guided meditation. He is the real McCoy, but I already have known that.
My late friend Trudy Morse believed there are no accidents. She might have seen coincidences as divine ones. In that vein, recently I learned that Jon Kabat-Zinn would be making what apparently is a very infrequent appearance in the Washington, D.C., area, at the annual Psychotherapy Networker conference on a day that I was not yet set for court, when usually my calendar is at least eighty percent booked two months out. I rarely clear my litigation calendar for anything but law conferences and vacation time, and of course mindfulness and meditation are integral to my law practice, which law practice itself can be a healing art.
I joined over one thousand psychological healers today at the Omni hotel down the road from the National Zoo to learn from Jon Kabat-Zinn. One of his key themes was that for us to take care of our clients, we must first take care of ourselves. How, for instance, can lawyers help make our clients calm if we are not calm?
This one 2007 video of Jon leading meditation at Google was enough to make me want to meet him. Over time, I have learned the following from Jon:
"Mindfulness means paying attention in a particular way; on purpose, in the present moment, and non judgmentally." Meditation and mindfulness heavily overlap.
– Each moment is precious and unfolds into the next precious moment, leaving no room for boredom.
– We can be mindful in every moment, even when walking from our desk to the restroom.
– Mindfulness does not require being a hippie or non-mainstream person. Zinn himself looks and acts very mainstream.
– Do you remember a time in your childhood when an adult validated you as a whole human being, rather than as a developing or junior human? John Kabat-Zinn includes a focus on this dynamic in Coming to Our Senses in the short chapter entitled "Being Seen".It could have been a quiet moment when a relative peacefully and contentedly watched the sunset with you, or genuinely sought your opinion to help make a decision about a movie to select or a clothing color scheme to choose. Zinn says "It is amazing how few such memories any of us have…"
So much is available on YouTube today that live attendance at lectures has become less important. I still attended Jon’s sessions today to understand more of his essence, and to meet and thank him in person.
I share that I tried going with few expectations from Jon. I know he is a great man who has done great things to promote and teach meditation and mindfulness, and recognized that plenty of his talk likely would include the basics, seeing that he would have a broad-based audience. I also share that Jon’s five guided meditations came nowhere close to my two most amazing guided meditation experiences, which were with Sharon Salzberg in 2011 and Allan Lokos in 2014. Then again, my several subsequent guided meditations with Sharon did not always replicate that same experience with her in 2011, so I conclude that my meditation experiences both mainly depend on me, and the extraordinary experience that I had in 2011 with Sharon with meditation may now seem more commonplace as I pass through deeper and more profound meditative and mindfulness portals as I continue my practice.
Wisely, Jon pointed out that we should shed expected results from meditation. Different people have different results over time from such practice. Meditation is no easy nor immediate fix. It is a lifetime practice filled with peaks and valleys, and sunshine and rainstorms.
Jon also reminded us what we already know but so often forget, which is how precious our lives and all lives are. When one questioner addressed her interest in after-death experiences, Jon emphasized his interest in this current life and in all experiences now through the moment of death, or before death experiences.
Giving one’s presence is one of the greatest gifts one can give. I always am inspired by the story of the late Beopjeong Seunim who one day helped a woman in deep grief over her son’s recent death, by simply being fully present with her, mostly wordlessly, starting from the moment he poured her tea. Also, I remember a story of how Ho’oponopono teacher and practitioner Morrnah Simeona silently cleaned over a predicament a visitor was having as Morrnah was going about her external tasks. Similarly, we see the magic of Jon’s total presence and caring at minutes 22:00 to 24:00 in this documentary from over twenty year ago about his work.
Jon told us that often he rings the bell to start and end a meditation session. He did not ring the bell to conclude the final meditation, reminding us that the meditation never really ends.
Deeply thanking and bowing to Jon Kabat-Zinn.