Reflections from a Retreat with Law Professionals
By Leslie Rawls, Jeanne Anselmo, and Valerie Brown
What do you get when you bring together sixty lawyers for a weekend mindfulness retreat? LAW – Love in Action With compassion.
Our June 2012 law retreat, “Cultivating Balance,” arose from the simple aspiration to share the nourishing practice of mindfulness with our colleagues in the law. As lawyers and a nurse teaching in law school, we are keenly aware of the difficulties lawyers face every day. The practice of law in the U.S. can be hostile and confrontational, qualities that can interfere with our ability to be calm and at ease both at work and in our home lives. We knew that we had benefitted greatly from our mindfulness practice and we had seen its transformative effects in our lives and the lives of others. So we decided to create a retreat to nurture and nourish our legal colleagues, whose suffering we knew firsthand.
On the first afternoon, lawyers arrived at Blue Cliff Monastery with uncertainty mixed with openness. The retreat began with guided deep relaxation, inviting all to let go of the business of the week and settle into the peace of the present. Throughout the weekend, the schedule was relaxed and open, to encourage everyone to rest in the present moment and let go of the deadlines, paper piles, and arguments normally crowding our active minds. Over and over again through the retreat, lawyers expressed gratitude for having the opportunity to rest. They appreciated that the retreat was not crammed with data, facts, and figures—the usual experience when we get together for continuing legal education. Instead, the retreat offered each person space and time to enjoy the practice, a respite that was a tremendous gift.
Throughout the weekend, we remembered why we entered the practice of law: a hope to serve others. In our small discussion groups, we connected with many who shared a similar aspiration and who felt it rekindled by our retreat practice. We were willing to look deeply at our way of being and our livelihood, examining the difficulties and isolation that we experience in our profession. Near strangers offered each other the gift of deep listening and loving speech. Lawyers often find it difficult to share our hearts and express our vulnerabilities. But during the retreat, we could feel safe and cared for, as we shared our hearts in mindfulness. It was touching to see our legal colleagues begin to glimpse the nourishing capacity of mindfulness and to witness many moments of transformation.
We know from experience that working in the law can harden our hearts and take us out of the present. We also know how liberating and healing the balm of mindfulness is, personally and professionally. In a profession where advocacy often becomes animosity, our mindfulness practice can help us be whole and happy. It can help us heal ourselves and take care of each other. After the retreat, we shared ways to be in touch and the hope to share another law retreat in the near future.
We are grateful to our fellow law professionals who opened their schedules and their hearts to share the weekend, and to Blue Cliff ’s monastic community, which supported our intentions and the retreat’s manifestation.
Jeanne Anselmo, True Precious Hand, is a member of the Green Island Sangha of Long Island, NY. She received Lamp Transmission from Thay in 2011. She co-founded the Contemplative Urban Law Program at City University of NY School of Law, where she co-teaches Contemplative Lawyering.