The March 2018 issue of the Illinois Bar Journal includes an article by Ed Finkel, an Evanston based freelance writer. The subject is mindfulness for attorneys, inspired by presentations given by Naperville business and estate planning attorney, Mark Metzger. This all may seem too professional and industry-based for this blog, but it got me thinking.
First of all, the legal profession is where I spend a large chunk of my time every week, week after week, month after month, year after year. Finkel correctly notes that the practice of law is a highly stressful occupation. Other occupations also have their share of stress, of course.
We experience stress often in our everyday living as well. The stress of strained personal relationships, financial difficulty and burdens, raising children, and many other kinds of stress weigh upon us. We all feel stress from time to time.
So what does mindfulness for lawyers have anything to do with a blog on navigating by faith? Quite a bit, it turns out.
Among the things that caught my eye include the observation that we often respond reactively to stress with a fight or flight kind of attitude. This is the opposite of mindfulness. I see this in a lot of Christians who feel attacked and beleaguered in our current cultural environment. We tend to fight or flee.
In our social media world, I see more of the fighting then the fleeing, and the fighting concerns me. It concerns me because it often doesn’t reflect the character and attitude of Jesus. It reflects our own reactionary selves, rather than the mind and attitude of Jesus.
Mindfulness involves taking time out to contemplate or meditate. Christians might call this prayer. This is the real point here. We need more mindfulness (prayer) to be who God intends us to be. Otherwise, we are apt to be reactionary, rather than revolutionary. We continue in our natural tendencies rather than grow in the fruit of the spirit.
Jesus is the greatest example of being mindful of God the Father. He exemplified living in the world but not being of the world. No one exhibited more grace and more poise in a hostile environment than Jesus did. Paul was also a champion of facing and addressing the hostile world of unbelievers, but he did it with grace.
One noteworthy thing about Jesus is that he was always going off into wilderness spaces, quiet places, where he communed alone for hours with God the Father. Paul commented that he prayed often in the Spirit. A secularist might call this mindfulness.
Mindfulness isn’t just a matter of going off to pray. Mindfulness can be practiced in the moment. An example from the article involves someone with an overeating problem. The author says that learning to pause after each bite is a form of mindfulness that can help one not to eat too much.
Mindfulness provides perspective. It is the counter-force against reaction, which is driven by emotional, natural tendencies and habitual behavior.
The most interesting part of the article is the research summaries. For instance, Finkel references a Harvard University study involving brain imaging in different people. This study shows that people who have practiced mindfulness experience growth in parts of their brain that moderate behavior, bring emotions under control, enhance logical thinking, and decrease reactionary behavior.
Another study performed on Marines serving in Iraq and Afghanistan by a Georgetown professor produce similar results. In the Georgetown study, Marines deployed to Afghanistan were separated into three groups. One group did not practice meditation at all. A second group meditated for three minutes a day, and a third group meditated for 12 minutes a day.
After 8 weeks, the first group reported feeling more stressed than they felt before. Tests showed that their cognitive skills declined. The second group reported less stress than when they started the process and did not suffer any cognitive loss. The third group not only reported less stress, but exhibited cognitive gain.
All three groups experienced the same stressful, war environment. The difference was meditation, mindfulness – what Christians would describe as prayer.
Another study at Johns Hopkins reported results demonstrating that meditation has similar results and effects on anxiety and depression as Xanax. According to Metzger, “meditation is as effective as the best Pharmaceuticals we have.”
Christians pray not primarily to de-stress or to gain some personal benefit from it. We pray to draw near to God, to listen for his direction, to center our attention on God and to learn to rest in God. Isn’t that like our loving God to give us exactly what we need as we learn obedience and commitment to Him? When we die to the self that wants to react and control us, we are given control of our own selves in return.
A secularist might meditate and be mindful as a way of personal gain. We are mindful of God and pray because God directs and encourages us to be mindful of Him and pray. The gain a secularist might experience may be similar in physical, psychological and emotional result, but we gain far more. We grow spiritually in the love and knowledge of God as we learn to pray and become mindful of God.