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Saturday, June 02, 2012

Meditation for Law Profs?

Thanks, Dan, for the introduction. Giovanna Shay of Western New England signing on as a guest for June. Tomorrow I am heading off for my first all-day silent meditation retreat, part of an eight-week course in mindfulness that I am taking at the UMass Center for Mindfulness (on my own, not as a WNE prof). Serendipitously, the May issue of the Journal of Legal Education has a symposium on integrating mindfulness into law teaching. When I signed up for the mindfulness course, it was for my own personal benefit. However, after reading the JLE symposium, I am becoming increasingly curious about how to use mindfulness techniques to help law students reduce stress and develop resilience. JLE contributor Angela Harris describes a seminar designed to encourage lawyers to act as peace-makers, while David Zlotnick argues that mindfulness can improve trial advocacy. Certainly, promoting non-reactivity could only benefit the legal world--and the legal academy! I'm interested to know if others are integrating mindfulness into their pedagogy, whether through seminars, stand-alone retreats, or as a theme in a traditional course. I will report back on the silent retreat, although I will not post from it!

Posted by GiovannaShay on June 2, 2012 at 05:33 PM | Permalink


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Thanks, Orly. The retreat was great and thanks for letting me know about your friend's article. Patrick, thanks for your thoughts. Angela Harris' article in the Journal of Legal Education talks about the choices that she and her co-teacher made wrt the extent they discussed Buddhist traditions in a mindfulness course they taught in a public university law school. They considered these issues carefully, and it is an interesting part of the article.

Posted by: Giovanna Shay | Jun 3, 2012 9:01:35 PM

as a law professor and a devoted yogi i see all sorts of connections. a friend of mine who is a law professor and my yoga buddy wrote recently an article, published in an israeli law review in hebrew, about law and yoga. meditation is good for anything and everything as part of an examined life, so it is certainly something that we prawfs can benefit from like anybody else.

Posted by: orly lobel | Jun 3, 2012 4:28:45 AM

As a Buddhist, and to put it blandly if not banally, I'm of course interested in such things, although the Center is clearly attempting to give this practice a scientific gloss or justification (nothing necessarily wrong with that, mind you...pardon the pun). "Mindfulness" is a Buddhist term (as part of the 'mental' component of the Eightfold Path, the other two main divisions having to do with 'right views' or doctrines and 'ethics' or morality) in reference to two basic meditation practices: "calming" (P. samatha/S. śamatha) and "insight" meditation (P. vipassanā/S. vipaśyanā). These meditations practices involve certain presuppostions and assumptions about the nature of the mind and consciousness (e.g., having to do with the nature of desire, or at least inordinate or improper desire, 'attachment,' and ignorance), as well as the nature of the self or personal identity. Indeed, one might say these meditation practices are in some sense grounded in or dependent upon basic doctrinal beliefs: The Four Noble Truths, The Doctrine of Dependent Origination, and the Three Marks of Existence, most conspicuously. Moreover, in the Buddhist context, meditation practice is intimately and integrally related to the two other divisions of the Eightfold Path, namely, Right Views and Ethics, so one might wonder how "mindfulness" is taught shorn of this larger doctrinal and practical context. Consider, for instance, how yoga in this country is often wrapped up in New Age nonsense, commodified religion, and "spiritual egoism" (as in the reduction to āsanas or gymnastics).* I'm not coming out against such endeavors, as basic forms of attentiveness, the capacity to concentrate, and fundamental forms of contemplative praxis no doubt are not dependent on religion as such. I'm just curious as to how this will play out and whether or not the Buddhist background will be consciously set aside or simply "repressed."

* See my introduction to Yoga here: http://www.religiousleftlaw.com/2010/05/yoga-an-introduction.html

...and my introduction to yoga in the Bhagavad Gītā here: http://www.religiousleftlaw.com/2012/02/the-three-yogas-of-the-bhagavad-g%C4%ABt%C4%81-an-introduction.html

Posted by: Patrick S. O'Donnell | Jun 2, 2012 8:06:23 PM

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