For someone who has little or no experience with meditation, it’s important to understand some of the basic concepts that drive the overall Legally Mindful experience.
Default Mode Network and Mind-Wandering
We operate in a world that is fast-paced and our thoughts tend to drive our experience of life. Our default-mode network is the standard operating system in our brains to which we default when our brains are not otherwise engaged, or that provides distractions to us when we are engaged. According to studies, the default mode of humans appears to be that of mind-wandering, and mind-wandering is thought to take up about 50% of our awake life. Our default mode is responsible for that seemingly constant chatter in our brains, often called our “monkey mind” or “inner critic.” It’s that voice that reminds us that “you’re not good enough” or “you’ll never get all your work done” or “that other attorney is so much better than you” or “I can’t do meditation.”
This network has been associated with processes ranging from attentional lapses and anxiety to clinical disorders, such as attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and Alzheimer’s Disease. The amount of time spent in our default mode of mind-wandering correlates with unhappiness. Fortunately, studies have shown that mindful meditation works to lessen the impact of the default mode network by helping you be more aware of the present moment and helping you learn to let these constant thoughts just flow through you without you having to judge them. By becoming aware of these random often negative thoughts, you will spend less time in that mind-wandering state and that will allow you to be happier and less stressed.
Barriers to Starting A Meditation Practice
One of the main excuses I hear from attorneys and other professionals about starting a meditation practice is, “I’m a Type A personality and my brain operates too fast to be able to sit in quiet for 5 minutes much less a longer time. As a result, I know meditation won’t work for me.” Another common excuse, which is probably a corollary to excuse number one, is, “I’m an aggressive, goal-driven attorney and I don’t want to lose my edge and become ‘soft’ by meditating.”
One of my goals with Legally Mindful is to convince people through their own experience with the exercises that 1.) meditation focuses your edge, rather than dulling it; 2.) meditation provides indisputable benefits for your personal and professional lives; and 3.) with audio-assisted meditation exercises, everyone should be able to see positive benefits very quickly. Once you start to experience success by getting into a deep meditative state, and you see how good meditation lets you feel, you should be able to set aside time to meditate on a regular basis.
Legally Mindful’s Premise
From my experience in meditation, we have access to more information and creativity than we typically access daily. When we are stressed, the constant chatter in our brain keeps us from easily and dependably accessing that information and creativity. By quieting the mind’s chatter through meditation, you will be calmer and able to more easily and dependably access a higher functioning brain state than when your brain is chattering or when you are anxious.
I see meditation as “thinning the veil” between what is normally available to us, and what is our potential. Once we are able to reach that relaxed, focused state in meditation, we can then carry that over to our waking lives during stressful events.
The Legally Mindful exercises are designed to give you all of the instruction and help you need to start and sustain a productive meditation practice and are presented in two levels, the Primary and Secondary Levels (both include an Introductory exercise). The introductory exercises will help you understand some of the concepts and practices you will need for the exercises in that level. All the exercises, except for the Concentration exercise, are guided so that you understand what you are supposed to be doing and bring your focus back if you “get lost” during an exercise. In addition, the sound-assisted meditation (SAM) sound signals used in the Legally Mindful exercises are specially designed for each exercise to help you get into and stay in a specific deep meditative state. The sound signals work with your brain waves to encourage your brain to be more relaxed, and depending on the exercise, in a more creative or otherwise focused mental state.
Legally Mindful’s Primary Level Exercises
The Primary Level exercises are designed to facilitate your starting a meditation practice and understanding some of the basic concepts associated with meditation. They are designed to help you get acquainted with, and practice, mindfulness principles with the aid of the SAM technology. Even if you are an experienced meditator, you should use the Primary Level exercises to understand and experience the capabilities of the SAM technology.
Start your Legally Mindful experience by listening to the Primary Level’s Introductory Exercise while lying down or sitting in a comfortable position, using headphones or earbuds, and simply follow the verbal guidance.
The Primary Level includes two relaxation exercises designed to facilitate your experience in getting into, and staying in, a very relaxed state. By practicing these exercises, you will gain experience in staying in a relatively quiet brain state and releasing stress from your body. The Relax and Release Exercise is 40 minutes and will allow you to gain experience quickly in understanding how a deeply relaxed meditative state feels. While the exercise is well-guided, there are also non-guided, or “free flow”, segments to allow you to gain confidence in releasing any random thoughts that come into your mind without judgment, while you experience a deep relaxation state. Once you get used to that feeling, you will be able to return to and sustain that relaxed state more easily as you advance through the remaining exercises. Relax and Release is the foundational exercise for Legally Mindful. The cleverly named Short Relaxation exercise (12 minutes) is designed for when you have only a few minutes but want to relax and release stress. Even though I am a somewhat experienced meditator, I use the Short Relaxation exercise often at lunchtime when I’ve had a stressful morning, or when I just feel a need to re-center myself before an important meeting. I also use it right before bed if I’ve been working late on my computer and want to slow myself down so I can drift into sleep more easily.
The Primary Level also includes a Concentration exercise you can listen to as background while you are working. I use this exercise in my office when I am working on a complex contract, writing legal arguments or engaged in other thought-intensive activities. By using this exercise while working, you train your brain to get used to, and then stay in, that highly focused state. Again, once you get used to that feeling, you will be better able to access that highly focused state at any time, even when you are not listening to the exercise.
Finally, the Primary Level includes a “heart-based” Gratitude and Compassion exercise. Gratitude and compassion are strongly and consistently associated with greater happiness. Focusing on gratitude and compassion helps people feel more positive emotions, relish good experiences, improve their health, deal with adversity, and build strong relationships. This exercise is more of an active exercise than the other Primary Level exercises, in that you will be guided to express gratitude and compassion while in a very relaxed meditative state. I will lead you to focus on the energy of your heart as you express gratitude and compassion for yourself and others. Learning to use this heart-based energy will be important for the Health and Well Being/Body Scan Exercise in the Secondary Level.
Stay tuned for another blog post detailing the Secondary Level exercises, which are designed to build upon the skills and experiences of the Primary Level exercises.
 Yes, I use “excuse” purposefully. Many excuses are ego-driven justifications for not making an effort, or having the desire, to change even if it’s for your own good.