Jan 13, 2016 Inviting the truth through openness, mindfulness, clarity and compassion
Thich Nhat Hanh and others speak of inviting the bell of mindfulness. At his Blue Cliff Monastery, where I attended a long weekend contemplative lawyering retreat, during mealtimes and throughout the day, an electronic or manual bell rings at random times, and in response people stop what they are doing, and refocus on the present. In fact, any bell can serve such a function, including a ringing phone, where the first ring at the very least can be a chance to pause and refocus before answering the phone and dealing best with whatever is about to unfold during the conversation.
Recently in cross-examining a witness and interviewing a part-time job candidate, I was reminded of the mindfulness bell, as I was fully open, mindful, clear and compassionate with these people. From each person, I obtained substantial truthfulness, while making myself no more of a threat to the cross-examined police witness than needed to obtain the desired openness and honesty from him, and with the interviewee giving him a chance to mine into his inner self to give me the revealing answers I needed to decide whether to pursue his candidacy further.
In both instances, the proverbial mindfulness bell for me was at minimum in the answers and body language of the cross-examined cop and the interviewee. In so doing, I kept myself grounded and re-grounded, and kept myself truly interested — interested personally and most importantly for my client’s sake at trial and my law firm’s sake in the interview — for the other person to know my full presence, therefore making them more ready to answer fully.
On numerous occasions, I have been at a store or other business waiting for the employee at the front desk to finish his or her personal cellphone call, and had the employee glance only briefly at me, often showing only partial interest, while on the phone and half-heartedly say “Can I help you?” Often I reply, “I will first wait for you to finish your call.” That is because I am not in enough of a hurry or desire at that point to speak when full presence is not involved by both people in the conversation; for instance, at a carryout restaurant, I do not need the front counter person’s half attention only to find out that I, as a vegan, have been served a hamburger instead of the hummus wrap that I ordered. The same applies when we want the full presence of others, which is that we must give them our full presence for them to want to return theirs back.
I have two beautiful mindfulness bells, one at home and one at work. Through practice, one can learn to make beautiful vibrations through the bell’s wooden hammer to the point that the vibrations continue for awhile even after the hammer stops touching the bell. The concept of the bell, then, also can be about sending out high and pleasing vibrations so as to increase the chances of return good vibrations. A cross-examined witness may not like being on the witness stand, but if the cross examinee is receiving compassion and caring vibrations and tone of voice from the opposing lawyer, that can put the cross examinee in a better frame of presence and mind to give the cross examining lawyer what the lawyer is seeking. And if a firmer tone of voice is needed to control the runaway witness, so be it.
When one person sneezes, the idea of sneezing can be contagious to others. At the Blue Cliff Monastery, when the mindfulness bell rang and the monastics and all others paused into the moment, it was equally contagious, and grounding and calming. Focusing on one’s own breath can produce the same result. Powerful calmness is essential in all battles, including courtroom battles, and the concept of the mindfulness bell helps me in that process.