Today I am talking with Norman Fischer who is with the Everyday Zen Foundation. He is a poet and a Zen Buddhist priest. Click to read more about Norman.
Norman, thanks very much for agreeing to participate in my series of interviews of thinkers and practitioners who have ideas that are valuable for the legal profession. I am grateful that you are taking the time to answer my questions, and know many readers will appreciate your generosity and wisdom, too.
I have been very impressed with the program that you and Gary Friedman have designed for lawyers and other conflict professionals. In addition to specific contemplative practices, your program includes a general focus on self-awareness. How does self-awareness improve a lawyer’s level of client service?
Self awareness is a prerequisite for awareness of others. It eventually leads to it. The more you can see and feel what's going on in you, with some wisdom and equanimity, the more you can see and feel others with accuracy and sympathy. So self awareness makes you more sensitive to people, what they are feeling, needing, wanting. You become much more conscious of relationship, the nuances of human interaction. This is valuable simply for being human, but for lawyers, who work depends on being able to understand others and their motivations and needs, is it even more valuable. No matter what kind of law you do, a cornerstone of lawyering is the relationship with the client. To establish a trusting relationship with a client, one in which the lawyer really understands the clients needs and perameters, emotional intelligence (which means self awareness and awareness of others) really helps. And it helps too in determining how to deal with opponents, judges, negotiation, and more or less everything lawyers do.
Thanks very much for your response, Norman. I am often asked by lawyers if there is a way to achieve mindful self-awareness without meditating. What are your thoughts on that question?
Meditating is not the only way to be self aware of course. In our work with Gary Friedman we designate nine practices. Things like journaling, taking times for conscious reflection, taking three breaths in midst of emotional situations. But meditation supports all these other practices and strengthens them. And, since mindfulness and deep self reflection depend on the capacity ultimately to be able to be "non-judgmental" that is, to step outside your usual story of how things are, meditation is essential, because only it can help to foster that. But there are many ways to meditate. In any case, self reflection practices, without meditation,are still enormously helpful. Especially when you are clearly aware of their limitations (ie, that your self reflection is always limited by your own limited point of view).
In a moment I want to ask about your Mindful Lawyering program being held next month at Garrison Institute, but first I would like you to say a bit more about being aware of our limitations and what you call “limited point of view.” Are we all limited in our awareness, both of
Yes of course we are all limited in our point of view. But meditation practice is all about sitting with presence, with open awareness, beyond your point of view. So that you see and feel that your point of view is just your point of view, not the way things necessarily actually are. When you really know this - as an experience you have many many times, not just an idea- you have a greater capacity to be able to appreciate the views of others, and to have a little bit of detachment or irony about your own point of view. I guess you can develop this in ways other than meditation practice, and people do, but it isn't so easy.
Given all the benefits of reflection, mindfulness, and self-awareness you have mentioned in this interview, I think that attending your Mindful Lawyering: A Meditation Retreat for Law Professionals and Students would support lawyers, judges, law teachers, and law students to make positive changes in both their personal and professional lives. I am very excited that you are offering this experience. Please tell us how this retreat will be tailored to those involved in the legal profession. And will you tell us how attending this retreat might expand the participants' ability to improve our legal system?
We've been doing this retreat for some years, and have worked out a good way to integrate the specific concerns of lawyers with the meditation practice. Probably the most important thing is that part of the day each day of the retreat is given to presentation and discussion. Retreat leaders, most of whom are lawyers with long experience integrating meditative insights into their lawyering practice, give relevant talks and then open the floor to small and large group discussions. Lawyers get a chance to explore issues on a face to face personal basis, and to figure out for themselves together how meditation practice can help them in their specific fields. But there is also plenty of time spent in silence, to enjoy and learn more about meditation practice. So lawyers in the past have found these retreats relaxing, inspiring, rejuvenating, and educational.
We have ambitious hopes that the more lawyers wake up to mindfulness the more they will want to discover ways to make the legal system (including, and maybe especially, legal education) more responsive to human needs and basic human values. The law is supposed to be a way to promote fairness and societal well-being, but as society and the legal system became more elaborate, the law has lost its way. We are hoping that the mindfulness movement will little by little bring it back into line with its highest purposes.
Again, thank you very much for participating in this interview and for the work you are doing with the legal profession. I have no doubt you are making positive changes, Norman.
Click to register for Mindful Lawyering: A Meditation Retreat for Law Professionals and Students being held May 7-10, 2015.