Lessons from a mindful lawyer

Yesterday I went to a luncheon with Tony Recio, a mindful Miami lawyer.  I learned three things:

  1. Mindfulness allows us to compartmentalize problems,
  2. We choose whether tests are “tests” or “TESTS!”,
  3. Kindness promotes kindness.

Mindfulness Allows us to Compartmentalize Problems1. Compartmentalize.  Open one drawer at a time.

We all have thought trains.  Whether we like it or not, they keep coming.  Our adventurous minds tend to get carried away.  Two hours later, we’re halfway to somewhere.

Stress builds.  More trains beckon us aboard.

Three papers due soon; haven’t even started yet.  Have you finished the memo?  I wonder what’s on reddit.  I haven’t called her in awhile.  

The trick is opening up one drawer at a time, focusing on that single task, then closing the drawer. 

Which task is most important?  Can I work on it right now?  What can I do right now?

Opening up all the drawers creates stress.  Too much to handle.  Humans have the curse (or the gift) of being able to only focus on one thing at a time.  Multitasking is a myth.  We are most efficient and most effective when we open one door at a time.  Single-task.  Focus on completing the one thing we can do right now.  Do it.  Let the other thought trains pass by.  Keep working.  If the mind wanders, bring it back to the task at hand.  When we are finished with our progress for today, close the drawer.

Mountains Molehills and Mindfulness

2. tests or TESTS!  Your choice.

They say the first year of law school they scare you to death, the second year they work you to death, the third year they bore you to death.

After Tony’s talk, I realized that saying isn’t what law school does.  It’s what law students do to themselves.

I remember my first year I was so scared I was on the brink of dropping out.

I was making mountains out of molehills.  I spent so much time worrying about climbing the mountain that I barely started climbing.  Law school didn’t scare me.  I scared me.  Really, the subject matter is not difficult.  And if the student chooses to make it difficult, it will seem difficult.  With that mindset comes stress, fear of failure, fear of not being able to handle it.  The truth is anyone can handle it.  The truth is law school is a molehill, but many of us — myself included — choose to turn it into a mountain.

The second year I realized I could handle it.  I spent less time worrying and more time studying.  But I still had the “work myself to death” mentality.  It didn’t help.  My grades improved; my stress stayed the same.

I’m really good at turning tests into TESTS!  When I do that, I procrastinate; I stress myself out; I let fear hold me back.

For example, I’ve got three papers due soon.  Historically, I’ve been great at waiting until the last minute.  I think at least part of this is because I psych myself up.  I let my ego hold me back.  “paper” becomes “PAPER!”.  The solution is to see the first draft, the amount of research I have to do, and the professor’s expectations for what they truly are.  They’re just papers.  I can do it.

Kindness Reciprocity Mindfulness

3. Kindness promotes kindness

Tony said his ass has been saved many times by kindness.

Mindfulness promotes kindness.  It allows us to see people for who they are: human beings, just like us, with thoughts, worries, fears, emotions, struggles, stresses, hopes, dreams, and stories.

Treat people kind and they’ll be kind in return.  Like I said in my post on trust, reciprocity is embedded in all of us.

There Is No Reason To Meditate

Gyms are packed with shiny iPod armbands the first week of January, and unpacked by week 3.

Drive-Thru and Mindfulness

Those that ditched the iron dungeon discovered losing 30 pounds is more like wine-making than like grabbing a sweaty paper sack from a drive-thru window.

Perseverance is passé. It’s the norm now to quit when we’re not instantly-gratified. Now or never.


When we meditate for any reason other than to meditate — or when we go to the gym for any reason other than to go to the gym — we’re setting ourselves up for failure.

Meditation may lead to less stress, more focus, more blissful, less bitterness.  But those are just byproducts, not the destination.  There is no destination in meditation.

A good traveler has no fixed plans, and is not intent on arriving.  – Lao Tzu

Being Present When We’re Feeling Down In The Dumps

It’s OK to be grumpy.

Grumpy and Mindfulness

Mindfulness is noticing all our feelings, even not-so-happy ones.

“I accept where I am in this moment” is step 1 in shifting from Grumpy to Happy.

Chinese Finger Trap and Mindfulness

Struggling and resisting leads to getting more stuck.

When we tend to our grumpy feelings and when we shower ourselves with love — especially during the inevitable slumps — then the shift takes care of itself.  Grumpy becomes Happy.  Automatically. No incantations necessary.

Serenity Now and Mindfulness

Seinfeld taught us: Shouting “Serenity Now!” doesn’t work.

This practice — noticing our feelings and loving ourselves no matter what — works because: (1) We don’t get tangled up in the drama and (2) Love solves most “problems.”

Be Here Now

The ability to be in the present moment is a major component of mental wellness. – Benjamin Maslow

Man Walking in Field Zen Koan Tiger Mice Strawberries Mindfulness Savoring

A man traveling from town to town comes to a field, where he encounters a tiger.  He turns and runs as fast he can; the tiger chases after him.

Zen Tiger Koan Strawberry Delicious Mindfulness Law School

As he reaches a cliff, he grabs hold of a vine and swings himself over the edge.

Looking down, he sees another hungry tiger looking up at him.  The only thing the man can do is hold onto the vine.

At that moment, he notices two mice chewing away at the vine that holds him between life and death.

The man looks to his right and sees a plump wild strawberry.  He reaches over and picks it.

Strawberry Vine Zen Koan Tigers Mice Delicious

It tasted so good…


Rumi Mindfulness Damaged Place Light Quote

Marcus Aurelius put it succinctly: “Do every act as if it were your last.”

When you walk, walk.  When you study, study.  When you eat strawberries, eat strawberries.

Then die.

This is the Zen way, the mindfulness way, the living way.

The purpose is in doing what you are doing, not in some possible future outcome.  Study for the sake of studying, not for the hope of learning or understanding (those will come on their own).

Be here now.

Not in the future.

Not in the past.

The “future” — which doesn’t really exist —  brings worry.

The “past” — which doesn’t really exist — brings regret.

The present brings peace and infinite possibilities.

Be here now.

Kill your illusions of “past” or “future.”

(those do not exist)

It is, always has been, and always will be now.

There exists only the present moment…a Now which always and without end is itself new.  There is no yesterday nor any tomorrow, but only Now, as it was a thousand years ago and as it will be a thousand years hence. – Meister Eckhart

Mindfulness Law Students

Life gives you plenty of time to do whatever you want to do if you stay in the present moment.  – Deepak Chopra

11 Keys to Effective Human Communication (and the #1 secret to getting anyone to like you)

The Art of Listening for Law Students is the Key to Success in Life

What’s the #1 secret to getting anyone to like you?

One of the fiercest political rivalries of the 19th century was between William Gladstone and Benjamin Disraeli.  Both were vying to become the next Prime Minister — at that time in England, the winner would practically control half the world.

A young woman dined with the men on consecutive nights.

A reporter asked her about her impression of the rival statesmen.

“When I left the dining room after sitting next to Mr. Gladstone, I thought he was the cleverest man in England.”

“But after sitting next to Mr. Disraeli, I thought I was the cleverest woman in England.”

Listening is the Greatest Gift you can Give to Anyone

Without further adieu, here are the 11 keys to effective human communication:

1. Look into their eyes (or imagine doing so if you’re not speaking face-to-face).

2. Actually listen (instead of ignoring them, anxiously waiting your turn, or talking over them).

3. Continue listening (what are they REALLY trying to say?)

4. Find comfort in the silent spaces (words and silence are like life and death — there’s no one without the other)

5. Smile (it’s contagious)

6. Nod as you continue actively, actually listening (nodding also happens to be one of the most effective persuasion methods) 

7. Listen to what they aren’t saying (how often do they pause?  are they comfortable with silence?)

8. Listen to how they say what they say (vocal inflections, tone, speed)

9. Be on the lookout for non-verbal clues (e.g. you can tell they’re very happy/excited about what they’re saying if their eyes smile at you as they speak)

10. Give them feedback to show how much you really care about what they’re saying (“Let me  make sure I understand what you’re saying, I think you said [summarize their main points].”)

11. Ask them open-ended questions (be like Sherlock Holmes on the look-out for clues; inquire if necessary)

Covey Listen to Understand

It doesn’t matter whether you speak or stay silent the whole time (so steps 10 and 11 are optional).

Words are a tiny portion of communication — in fact, they often get in the way of communication.

Most people just really, really want someone to Listen.

The Word Listen Contains the Same Letters as the Word Silent Quote How to Listen

P.S. – Benjamin Disraeli won the popular election.

P.P.S – The author wrote this blog post for self-guidance.  Learning to listen is a life-long journey; many people die having never experienced the wonderful feeling of truly listening.

No One Is Stopping You But You, So Stop Stopping You

Who is Going to Stop Me Ayn Rand

You can do anything you want, be anyone you want.

The only one stopping you is you.

So stop stopping you.

Seth Godin Stop Sabotaging Your Own Work

No one else gets to decide for you!

Follow your heart, not the mob.

Dare to Be Different Progess

Fear may hold others back, but it doesn’t hold you back.

When you fail — and you will fail many times if you’re doing something worthwhile – keep trying until you succeed.

J.K. Rowlings Quote on Failure

Keep moving.


No blaming.

No complaints.

No excuses.

I Don't have Time

Death is fear.

Life is courage.

Life Courage Vincent Van Gogh

Set Yourself Free: Forgive Yourself, Forgive Them.


I read a true story recently.

A middle-school boy is in a broken home, no father-figure, no one cares for him.  He joins a gang.  His initiation: kill someone.  The boy picks another boy he barely knows from school.

The next day, after school, the new gang-member walks up to the innocent boy and shoots and kills him.

The police catch the murderer.  The mother of the dead, innocent boy is outraged.

At the murderer’s trial, right after he is sentenced to spend a few years in juvenile prison, the mother stands up, points to the convicted murder and shouts “I will kill you!”

The mother, her heart filled with hatred and unanswered questions, occasionally visits the murderer in juvenile prison.

Years later, the murderer is freed.

The mother asks him “do you have food to eat?”


“Do you have a job?”


“Do you have a place to stay?”


The mother tells the boy: “I will cook for you, get a job for you, and I have a spare bedroom you can sleep in.”

The freed murderer accepts.

Years later, the mother sits in the living room and asks the boy to come in.

“Do you remember, at your trial, I told you ‘I will kill you’?”

“Yes ma’am, I’ve thought about it every single day.”

“Me too,” replies the mother, “and I have already killed you.  You are not the boy you once were.”

“I want to adopt you,” the mother says, “I want you to be my son.”

The boy accepts.

[The above story is from Jack Kornfield’s audiobook Awakening is Real.  Minor details may have been changed because I wrote this from memory] 

Gandhi Forgiveness

There are three kinds of forgiveness (all of which you can do):

1. Of yourself from others (your thoughts or feelings you have that you think caused or should cause others to hold on to bitterness/hatred against you)
2. Of yourself (your own bitterness/hatred against yourself)
3. Of others from yourself (your feelings or thoughts of bitterness/hatred against others)


How to Forgive

Try the following meditation from Jack Kornfield:

To practice forgiveness meditation, let yourself sit comfortably, allowing your eyes to close and your breath to be natural and easy. Let your body and mind relax. Breathing gently into the area of your heart, let yourself feel all the barriers you have erected and the emotions that you have carried because you have not forgiven – not forgiven yourself, not forgiven others. Let yourself feel the pain of keeping your heart closed. Then, breathing softly, begin asking and extending forgiveness, reciting the following words, letting the images and feelings that come up grow deeper as you repeat them.

FORGIVENESS OF OTHERS: There are many ways that I have hurt and harmed others, have betrayed or abandoned them, cause them suffering, knowingly or unknowingly, out of my pain, fear, anger and confusion. Let yourself remember and visualize the ways you have hurt others. See and feel the pain you have caused out of your own fear and confusion. Feel your own sorrow and regret. Sense that finally you can release this burden and ask for forgiveness. Picture each memory that still burdens your heart. And then to each person in your mind repeat: I ask for your forgiveness, I ask for your forgiveness.

FORGIVENESS FOR YOURSELF: There are many ways that I have hurt and harmed myself. I have betrayed or abandoned myself many times through thought, word, or deed, knowingly or unknowingly. Feel your own precious body and life. Let yourself see the ways you have hurt or harmed yourself. Picture them, remember them. Feel the sorrow you have carried from this and sense that you can release these burdens. Extend forgiveness for each of them, one by one. Repeat to yourself: For the ways I have hurt myself through action or inaction, out of fear, pain and confusion, I now extend a full and heartfelt forgiveness. I forgive myself, I forgive myself.

FORGIVENESS FOR THOSE WHO HAVE HURT OR HARMED YOU: There are many ways that I have been harmed by others, abused or abandoned, knowingly or unknowingly, in thought, word or deed. Let yourself picture and remember these many ways. Feel the sorrow you have carried from this past and sense that you can release this burden of pain by extending forgiveness when your heart is ready. Now say to yourself: I now remember the many ways others have hurt or harmed me, wounded me, out of fear, pain, confusion and anger. I have carried this pain in my heart too long. To the extent that I am ready, I offer them forgiveness. To those who have caused me harm, I offer my forgiveness, I forgive you.

Let yourself gently repeat these three directions for forgiveness until you feel a release in your heart. For some great pains you may not feel a release but only the burden and the anguish or anger you have held. Touch this softly. Be forgiving of yourself for not being ready to let go and move on. Forgiveness cannot be forced; it cannot be artificial. Simply continue the practice and let the words and images work gradually in their own way. In time you can make the forgiveness meditation a regular part of your life, letting go of the past and opening your heart to each new moment with a wise loving kindness.

(source: http://www.jackkornfield.org/meditations/forgivenessMeditation.php)

Here’s a guided, audio version of the meditation.

And here’s another version.


You will discover that forgiveness is a choice that you make.

And it’s self-soothing.

No Longer Defined By The Pain But The Future PossibilitiesForgiveness is not condoning the past.  You don’t even have to make amends with the actual person (if it’s someone other than you).

Forgiveness starts with you, on the inside.

It’s freeing yourself from your own prison of bitterness, hatred, and other negative thoughts and emotions.

(since you built the prison and put yourself in a cell, you can walk out anytime you want — you’re the prisoner and the warden)


If you’re having a tough time forgiving or you want to learn more about the psychology of forgiveness, start with the REACH model for forgiving.

Forgiveness = Freedom.

Happy forgiving!  

Who Do You Think You Are? (the most important exercise)

The answer to this question is the answer to all of your problems

The answer to this question is the answer to all of your problems

When you say “I,” who are you referring to?

Are you your name?  Your body?  Your occupation?  Your life history?  Your religion?  Your beliefs?  Your thoughts?  Your emotions?

Who are you, really?

This is an immensely important question.

If you think you’re the brain or you’re running the show from the brain, let me tell you about the sea squirt.

At one stage in this tadpole-like sea creature’s life, it swims over and buries itself into a rock.  Can you guess what’s the first thing the sea squirt does inside the rock?  That’s right, it digests its own brain and nervous system!  Then it continues to live, motionless, inside the rock.

(the sea squirt is also an excellent example of what happens when you continue doing the same thing every day or you never challenge yourself)

So maybe your true Self isn’t the brain or tucked away inside the brain.

If You are not hiding inside the head, then who are you?

If You are not hiding inside the head, then Who Are You?

Who are you, then?

Let’s try a liberating exercise.

Take out five pieces of paper (you can break up one sheet into five pieces) and write down five separate answers to the question “Who Am I?”

(you can write anything you want; “law student,” “Christian,” “Mike Jones,” “Joe and Jill’s daughter,” “a human being,” etc.)

Then order your five pieces of paper with #1 being the furthest from the “core” of who you think you are and #5 being the closest to the core of who you think you are.

Place the stack on your desk.  Pick up #1.  Look at what you wrote down.  Read it to yourself.  Feel it.  Say “this is who I am.”

Then prepare to say good-bye to your first illusion.

Crumple up the piece of paper (literally).

Place the crumpled up piece of paper in front of you.

Pick up #2.  Look at what you wrote down.  Read it.  Feel it.  Say “this is who I am.”

Then say good-bye to your second illusion.

Crumple it up.

Crumpled Up Balls

Continue this process until you get to the last piece of paper.

You might feel anxious, uncertain, or scared as you read and feel your most central idea of who you are.

But it too must be crumpled and tossed.

Now you have five balled-up pieces of paper.

(if you don’t have at last five crumpled up pieces of paper in front of you, stop reading and start doing this important exercise).

What remains is who you truly are.

It may feel weird at first.  But it’s actually the most wonderful realization you can possibly have.

No Self, No Problems.  


Illusions of Self are the root of all of your problems.  Throw them away.

Repeat this exercise as many times with as many illusions as you want.  If your ego is especially stubborn, do it every single morning.  Even if you realize who you truly are, you may want to continue this process to let it truly sink in.

Keep tossing away illusions

Keep tossing away illusions!

Your true Self, you will discover, is beyond labels, words, ideas, thoughts, emotions.

Once you crumple up and throw away all of the illusions, You will be free.

Man standing with hand out, looking up, paper balls in mid-air around him

Goodbye, Illusions.

The world needs You, not the illusion of you.

(food for thought: why do many people who commit suicide fire the bullet into their head?) 

Rumi Ocean

This exercise may seem weird.  You may resist doing it.  You may resist continuing with it until the realization really sinks in.

Resistance is a sign that you must do it; it’s vitally important.

So if you haven’t actually taken out the pieces of paper and done the exercise, do it.

And if you’ve only done this exercise once or twice and there’s no change, then keep doing it.  No excuses.

The person is a concept Only Being is Real

Interesting Fact: the word “person” actually comes from the Latin word “persona,” meaning mask or facade presented to satisfy the demands of the situation or environment and not representing the inner personality of the individual; an assumed identity or character (like in a play).

When you realize who you really are, you will be ready to become who you were meant to be.

You will be ready to give this world the gift that has been inside of you all along.

You will be able to treat everyone and everything compassionately.  You will be able to overcome every single one of your petty problems.

You will be free from unhealthy obsessions that plague society — like greed, consumerism, selfishness.


I read a book on happiness recently.  It said the #1 most important exercise to becoming happy is to Stop Feeling Sorry For Yourself.

That’s a great practice.  It’s highly recommended.

Eckhart Tolle

But the practice we’re doing right now is even better.

(instead of “Stop Feeling Sorry For Yourself,” it’s “Stop Yourself”…or… “Stop Feeling Illusions Of Yourself”).

You will feel unimaginable levels of the most profound bliss when you reach this state.

Happiness will now be a purely internal state, unaffected by anything external.

No Other Greater Ecstacy

You will be free from basing your happiness on the weather or anything or anyone else.


(a pretend disease that pretend people pretend to have)

Happiness will no longer be a Pursuit.  Or a goal.  Or something that hopefully will happen sometime in the future.

Happiness will not be circumstantial.

And depression won’t exist.

Who will be there to be depressed?

Anger won’t exist.

Who is angry?

Hatred won’t exist.

Fear won’t exist.

All bad things, bad feelings, bad thoughts require a subject.

What happens when there is no subject?

(the feelings and emotions may still pop up, but they will float away like a balloon — no one is there to hold onto these negative states and negative beliefs)

“We do not ‘come into’ this world; we come out of it, as leaves from a tree.  As the ocean ‘waves,’ the universe ‘peoples.’  Every individual is an expression of the whole realm of nature, a unique action of the total universe.  This fact is rarely, if ever, experienced by most individuals.  Even those who know it to be true in theory do not sense or feel it, but continue to be aware of themselves as isolated ‘egos’ inside bags of skin…The most strongly enforced of all known taboos is the taboo against knowing who or what you really are behind the mask of your apparently separate, independent, and isolated ego.'” – Alan Watts

Surrender to your true Self.

There is a voice that doesn't use words.  Listen.

Toss away all Illusions.


 And do not be afraid when you realize who you really are.


Do not let the ego know the truth.

Simply become the truth.

God Rumi

Seven Ways to Cure Law Student Burnout


Burnout.  Loss of motivation.  For most law students, it’s a fact of life.  But it doesn’t have to be.

You can rise above burnout.

Here are seven antidotes:

1. Be Mindful

Law school and eating an elephant are both mastered in the same way: one bite at a time.


This is the only moment that’s real.


The past and the future are illusions; let any thoughts about such imaginary times just float right on by.

2. Be Optimistic

Optimism is a choice.  Be positive.


Think: how could I make this fun?  (how about making a music video out of legos?)

3. Reward Progress

If you read 10 pages then you get a cookie.


(in fact, your brain performs better when it has energy to convert into glucose — cookies do help you study by boosting up your willpower!).

4. Be Grateful

Wasn’t it your dream to go to law school?

Didn’t you get here with lots of loving support from others?

Didn’t you work hard to get here?

Your professors are helping transform you into a lawyer.  They don’t assign 100 pages of reading to be mean.  Everything they do is really to help mold you into an amazing, talented, thoughtful attorney.

Could you be grateful for this challenge?


Close your eyes for a few moments, take a few deep breaths, and imagine all of the people and the hard work that got you here.  Thank them.  Smile.  Get back to work.

5. Exercise

Create a ritual of exercising every day.


(even two minutes a day can work wonders)

(and you can listen to law lectures while exercising)

6. Set Clear Goals and Action Steps

Make sure you have definite, measurable, time-oriented goals.

smart goal setting concept

Then break your goals down into bite-sized action steps.


Then do it.

7. Adopt a New Metaphor for Life

What’s your metaphor for life?  (everyone has one).

If it’s pessimistic or unhelpful, change it.

If you can’t think of a new metaphor for life, try this one:


Moving means studying.  Persevering.  Not worrying about the final or all of the pages you have to read.

Moving is only now; this one word you are reading right now.

Keep moving.  Keep fighting.

Parts of your journey through law school may be painful.

But those are only growing pains.

You are undergoing an amazing transformation; coal becomes a diamond only under immense pressure and incredible heat.

Law school is not hard.

It’s just an elephant.

Eat it one bite at a time.