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