|Justice Breyer and Noticing the "I" Scream|
"For 10 or 15 minutes twice a day I sit peacefully.
I relax and think about nothing
or as little as possible."
You may be surprised to learn that those are the words of United States Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer. In Seeking Serenity: When Lawyers Go Zen, Amanda Enayati reports the above from a recent conversation she had with Justice Breyer.
The philosopher Pascal would be pleased with the Justice as he once suggested that all of our problems are caused by our "inability to sit quietly in a room by ourselves." I don't believe that Pascal was saying that we must sit quietly in a room by ourselves. I think he was commenting that there is something telling in our having difficulty doing so.
Sitting Quietly in a Room by Yourself
Have you tried sitting quietly in a room by yourself. If not, give it a try. A common reaction is that within a few minutes boredom sets in and one gets up to do something "more interesting."
But in getting up, we miss all the action. We miss things like the thought that "this is boring," the conclusion that "nothing is happening," or the urge "to get up and do something else." We react so quickly, that before we know it, either we're off doing something else or lost in distraction.
In the absence of awareness that we are having these thoughts, feelings, and sensations, we have little choice but to follow orders. But by cultivating awareness that thoughts, like "this is boring," are arising, we gain mastery over the moments of our lives. This is where a mindfulness practice is helpful and its basic instruction is fundamental.
A basic mindfulness instruction is to continually return awareness to the object of attention. For many it is the breath. For Justice Breyer, it may be the mindfulness practice known as "choiceless awareness."
The CNN article concludes with a short video clip where Dr. Charles Raison, of Emory University Medical School, discusses a five-minute daily meditation that you can do at your desk. You may find this instruction helpful if you are interested in beginning a sitting practice.
Breyer's Ice Cream
If you're wondering about the Breyer - "I" Scream link contained in the title of this month's Mindfulness Memo, reflect on Pascal's observation and consider the possibility that when you choose to sit for five to ten minutes, and begin to get antsy, there is part of you screaming "anything but this!" It is as if deep down you are uncomfortable allowing the moment to be as it just is.
That part of you might be regarded as the ego, or the "I." If you pay really close attention to what is arising within, you may just hear your "I" scream that it must do something else. So often we soothe this inner discomfort with pleasant experiences like . . . well, ice cream. But perhaps a sweeter experience may be found in sitting peacefully, relaxing, and thinking about nothing, or as little as possible.
Wishing you the best in law and life,
Scott L. Rogers. M.S., J.D.
Director, Institute for Mindfulness Studies
Director, Mindfulness in Law Program, UM School of Law
You can learn more about Scott Rogers by visiting scottrogers.com