The Wake Up Call for Lawyers

How Much Mindfulness is Enough?

March 24, 2022 Judi Cohen Season 6 Episode 344
The Wake Up Call for Lawyers
How Much Mindfulness is Enough?
Show Notes Transcript

How much mindfulness is enough? Is moment-to-moment attention (the classical definition of secular mindfulness) just a suggestion for when we decide to give it a try?

Or does it mean, moment-to-moment attention all day long?

I'm not saying we can do it (or I can do it), but I think it might mean "all day long."

It's a big aspiration. But then again, it's a feedback loop.

Hi everyone, it’s Judi Cohen and this is Wake Up Call 344.

We just finished Intensive I of MLTT 2022. This is a group of especially grounded and connected humans. The depth of practice really shines through. I was talking with someone about the cohort and they asked me about mindfulness and depth of practice. They wanted to know if we’re saying, pay attention all the time. They were curious about whether I do that.

I don’t do that: I’m not mindful every moment. I’d like to be but it’s an aspiration. I don’t know if I know anyone who is, but it does lift up the question, how much mindfulness is enough?

The next chapter of the Dhammapada is Chapter 21. It’s called Miscellaneous. The title sounds like it’s not relevant to this question, but I think it is. 

The chapter starts by saying, if, by giving up a lesser happiness, one could experience greater happiness, a wise person would renounce the lesser to behold the greater. 

Then it says, those who seek their own happiness by causing suffering for others are entangled with hostility. From hostility they are not set free. The toxins multiply for the insolent and negligent who reject what they should do and do instead what they should not. But the toxins come to an end for those who are mindful and alert, who are constantly well-engaged with mindfulness…who don’t resort to what they should not do but persist in doing what they should do. 

So this question, how much mindfulness is enough? – I think that’s where Chapter 21 is pointing. 

After a couple of verses of warning about what happens when we’re not mindful, the next set of verses is a refrain that’s essentially about how much mindfulness is enough. It starts with “always wide awake are the disciples of Gotama,” which is the Buddha’s given name. To make this chapter a little more accessible to myself, I think about it as, “always wide awake are the practitioners of mindfulness.”

Then it goes through what are called the Three Jewels of mindfulness: buddha, dharma, sangha. Buddha, which is the teacher – both the teacher we study with and the teacher within. Dharma, the teachings of mindfulness. And sangha, which is the community – this community, any community you might be practicing with. It goes through those Three Jewels and says, always wide awake are the practitioners of mindfulness, who constantly, day and night, are mindful of…” the buddha, the dharma, and the sangha, or the teacher, the teachings, and the community. 

So it seems like the Dhammapada is saying that “enough mindfulness” is being “always wide awake…constantly, day and night,” to our teachers, the teachings, and our communities: practicing with them, and also, seeing how we can support them. Translating this to the law being “always wide awake…constantly, day and night” – it’s not about pulling all nighters, I hope! But I do think it could be about being awake to whoever has something important to offer, whatever they’re offering, and the firm/organization/community we’re working with and serving.

Then the refrain in Chapter 21 continues. It says that a mindfulness practitioner also should be always wide awake, constantly, day and night, mindful of the body. Mindfulness of the body is the first foundation of mindfulness. The teachings say that through mindfulness of the body we can understand the impersonal, impermanent, yet interconnected nature of life, and come to the end of suffering. Imagine what could happen if we included that practice alongside the practice of law. A lot might change. 

It sounds to me like the invitation is to pay attention pretty much constantly. “Always.” “Day and night.” That’s the invitation of the practice. 

It’s not just a catchy phrase: moment-to-moment awareness, or present moment awareness. It’s not that when we think of it, then we tune in. Mindfulness is an invitation to be present all the time. To consider our intentions. To bring wisdom and compassion to each moment, intentionally.

So to the question, how much practice is enough, I think we might be looking at, there’s no such thing as enough. Meaning, “enough” would be, all the time. Moment-to-moment, every moment. 

The refrain covers two more practices. It also says we should be “always wide awake, constantly, day and night” delighting in “harmlessness” and delighting in our practice. 

Can we delight in practicing law harmlessly? What would that look like? Would it be as simple as being more courteous and kind? His Holiness the Dalai Lama says the practice is all about kindness. He says, “be kind whenever possible. It’s always possible.” What would change, in the profession, if we practiced harmlessness constantly, or were kind all the time? 

And what about always wide awake delighting in practice? There’s a kind of feedback loop maybe you’ve noticed. As we practice being always wide awake, constantly, day and night, with kindness, with harmlessness, feeling connected, it feels good. It feels less alone, maybe virtuous, to me: definitely happier. And there’s good feedback. So we practice more, and the feedback loop continues. It’s why I come back to my cushion day after day. It’s the onward-leading nature of mindfulness. It’s delightful. It’s taking delight in the practice. 

Let’s sit.