As I looked around the room at the start of the most recent New England MILS meeting I had one of those “look how far we’ve come” moments.
It wasn’t more than five years ago that the idea of a large law firm embracing the idea of a mindfulness program was about as foreign as going to your favorite diner and finding sushi on the menu. Yet, there I was in a room full of administrators and lawyers from Boston’s top law firms brainstorming ideas about how to bottle the success my colleagues and I had found in starting one of the first organized and sustained mindfulness programs at a large law firm in Boston.
Over the course of the meeting we talked about the importance of having buy-in from firm management, a structured curriculum presented by a skilled and talented instructor, word of mouth testimonials among attorneys and staff, a convenient time and space to meet and many other programmatic and practical elements needed in order to maximize the chances for a mindfulness program to succeed within a legal organization.
The discussion crystallized in my mind the dynamic that is in play as legal institutions, particularly law firms, institute mindfulness and wellness programs for attorneys and staff: Starting and sustaining a mindfulness practice is a highly personal decision that each individual needs to make on his or her own.
We as proponents, and practitioners, of mindfulness can make the conditions as suitable as possible for mindfulness and wellness in our profession to take root and grow. Like gardeners preparing the soil for the growing season, we can devise and implement programs and make those programs accessible and convenient. We can even plant seeds in our colleagues’ minds by sharing with them the positive impact mindfulness has made in our own lives. At the same time, we need to recognize that an important part of the process is out of our hands.
Ultimately, we do not directly control an individual’s decision to commit to a mindfulness practice any more than a gardener controls whether the right combination of sun and rain exists for the seeds in her garden to bloom and flourish. It is not like reaching a billable hour target, completing required CLE credits or meeting a revenue collection quota. Integrating mindfulness and wellness into our lives is an organic process. It can be slow and circuitous and sometimes it ends without results.
Mindfulness is personal and each person’s path is unique. As one of the participants at the MILS meeting said, it would be a mistake to measure the success of a mindfulness program based solely on the number of attendees and other conventional benchmarks. Those with a regular mindfulness practice know that it is the cultivation of present moment awareness without judgment that yields personal benefits over time. Similarly, the results of our efforts to bring mindfulness to the legal community will be subtle, gradual and not always measurable by conventional means. However, through time, with planning, perseverance, patience and presence, our efforts will result in mindfulness taking root and blooming in the legal community.