I stand before a judge in a Silicon Valley courtroom. The gallery is filled with lawyers and their clients whose fates rest in the hands of our judge. I represent a moving party whose husband has not paid the court-ordered spousal support and has presented two counterfeit checks as proof of payment under penalty of perjury.
The court clerk calls the case and we state our names for the record. The judge looks at me and I speak. I begin to recite relevant facts and within minutes of the precious 10 allotted for me to make my client’s case, the judge looks at opposing counsel who takes this as a sign to interrupt. I object, but he continues to talk and the judge doesn’t reply. I object again, and again, the judge remains silent. I start to object a third time, “Your honor, I object on the grounds that…” “Stop Talking!” the judge barks at me three times. “Seriously?” I think, “WTF?”
I feel my temperature rise and the cortisol release in my body. My survival instinct is triggered. My senses are heightened and I’m ready to fight but I stop talking. I don’t argue. I don’t express rage at the injustice. I breathe deeply. I focus on my feet firmly beneath me. I unfurl my fists. I wait until the judge makes a gesture towards me, and then, I present the evidence. The judge rules in my client’s favor. My mindfulness practice has paid off.
What is mindfulness?
“Mindfulness is awareness that arises through paying attention, on purpose, in the present moment, non-judgmentally,” “It’s about knowing what is on your mind.” –Jon Kabat-Zinn
Being mindful is being open to our experiences, pleasant or unpleasant, without clinging or rejecting. Instead of struggling to get away we learn how to be present with whatever is happening. We begin to understand how our minds operate and see ourselves in entirety.
We come to feel that the movement of mind is not so mysterious, so we can learn to navigate sensations, thoughts, and emotions more skillfully. All the benefits of meditation arise from experiencing our mind as more workable. We can focus and guide it better, and we can also let it go. -Mindful.org
Mindfulness meditation is an ancient Buddhist practice that Westerners widely accept today. It also is scientifically proven to reduce stress, emotional pain, and pain intensity.
According to a study Dr. Fadel Zeidan, an assistant professor of neurobiology and anatomy at Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center recently conducted, the positive physiological and psychological effects of mindfulness meditation are profound.
Per the clinical results of the participants, mindfulness meditation:
- Reduced emotional pain by 44%
- Reduced pain intensity by 27%
- Increased activity in the brain regions associated with, attention and enhanced cognitive control
- Deactivated the thalamus, which is the brain’s gatekeeper against pain
It sounds like a miracle cure, but the scientific evidence of efficacy is growing, and as a divorced divorce lawyer who has helped thousands of people navigate separation and divorce over the last three decades, I can testify that mindfulness is the most powerful key to navigating divorce with resilience.
How and where can you learn to practice mindfulness in divorce?
There are so many incredibly gifted teachers and programs available online now that you can stream and join live. My favorite places and teachers from whom to learn are:
Jack Kornfield is one of the first American vipassana meditation teachers who co-founded Insight Meditation Society with Sharon Salzberg in 1975. Jack Kornfield holds a PhD in clinical psychology from Dartmouth College.
Rick Hanson, Ph.D is a neuro-psychologist, Buddhist, and brilliant storyteller, who offers free weekly mediations at Dominican University in San Rafael, California. When I sat at a one day retreat with Rick at Spirit Rock I learned that:
- Our brains are like Velcro for negative experiences and Teflon for positive ones
- We can overcome our negativity bias and be happier simply by “taking-in” great experiences and practicing mindfulness meditation. Rick is bright and a Buddhist. I regularly turn to this
Tara Brach is a psychologist and Buddhist whose practice has helped her live in the face of a life-threatening disease. Tara is humorous, relatable, and generous; she has over one thousand free Dharma talks available on her website and Dharmaseed. I listen to Tara regularly.
Dharma talks and audio books on Buddhism lull me to sleep most nights, and help me respond to difficult people and situations. I often ask, “What would Buddha do?”
The venerable Thich Nhat Hanh, a Vietnamese Buddhist monk, scholar and human rights activist, is also a great teacher. Here are five of his mindfulness practices.
1. “When you breathe in recognize: this is an in-breath. When you breathe out, recognize: this is an out-breath.” Make the object of your mindfulness your in-breath and your out-breathe. Simply bring your attention to your breathing
2. Follow your in-breath and out-breath from beginning to end, no matter how short or long. Sustain your awareness without interruption.
3. While breathing in and out, become aware of your whole body.
“When your mind is with your body, you are well-established in the here and the now. You are fully alive. You can be in touch with the wonders of life that are available in yourself and around you.”
4. While breathing in, become aware of your body, while breathing out, release the tension in your body.
5. While walking, be aware of your surroundings. Feel the earth under your feet and the sensations of standing. Let yourself be present and alert, focus on your breathing
Here’s another exercise I use to stay grounded, regroup, and refrain from saying things I might regret.
TRY: Setting aside a time every day for just being. Five minutes would be fine, or ten or twenty or thirty if you want to venture that far. Sit down and watch the moments unfold, with no agenda other than to be fully present. Use the breath as an anchor to tether your attention to the present moment. Your thinking mind will drift here and there, depending on the currents and winds moving in the mind until, at some point, the anchorline grows taut and brings you back. This may happen a lot. Bring your attention back to the breath, in all its vividness, every time it wanders. Keep the posture erect but not stiff. Think of yourself as a mountain. Jon Kabat-Zinn, Wherever you go there you are, Mindfulness Meditation in Everyday Life.
When I think of myself as a mountain, I feel strong and rooted to the earth. I see the clouds pass, enjoy the rain, bask in the sunshine and glow in the moonlight. I adore the soaring redwoods, beautiful oaks, and giggle as the leaves brush against me in the wind. The cascading falls are cleansing and tranquil ponds soothing. I have nowhere to go and nothing to do. I’m emboldened, capable of meeting life’s challenges. I’m a neutral observer of disturbances. Some storms move slower than others, but I know all will pass in time.
When you’re in the midst of a divorce storm, can you sit in the present and imagine yourself as a mountain?
Can you focus on your breathing, return to your center and become calmer?
Yes, you can practice mindfulness in divorce.
**Photo: mural artist unknown.