This post is authored by Jessica Chinnadurai. Jessica is a recently-licensed attorney who graduated from the University of Missouri School of Law in 2018. She currently works at the U.S. Copyright Office in Washington, D.C., where creativity and work-life balance are valued every day. Her hope is to increase transparency around mental health issues in the legal profession, and to spread light to those fighting battles no one can see. You can connect with Jessica on LinkedIn.
Last January, in a moment of utter desperation, I found myself pacing my apartment in a new city I’d moved to for a job that hadn’t yet started and seemed unlikely to ever start. At some point, I found myself standing in front of my tall black bookshelf in my living room.
On it were pictures of friends and family, knickknacks from my travels across the world, and souvenirs and other gifts loved ones had given me. I’d organized my books on the shelves by topic and one section was dedicated to “self-help,” including a book titled “Lonely” written by a former lawyer named Emily White and my eye-opening guide on the explanation of adult attachment styles, called “Attached.” Also on the shelf was a book I bought in 2017, still completely untouched, which my first therapist at the University of Missouri recommended to me. It was called “Mindfulness: An Eight-Week Plan for Finding Peace in a Frantic World” by Mark Williams, a renowned scholar of the practice of mindfulness.
I decided to crack it open. I hadn’t been planning anything special to start off my year. So of course my life forever changed from that moment onward.
While unemployed and desperately searching, or perhaps waiting, for the right opportunity after law school, I had plenty of spare time on my hands. It took a conscious choice on my end to turn that idle time into productive time. I wanted to be sure I could recognize and appreciate the difference between being productive, or what I like to think of as “busy with a purpose,” rather than just being busy for the sake of being busy. The latter is not healthy for my introverted personality type and arguably not for anyone. It seems to be counterproductive and detrimental to our health when we try to do things that ignore our human need to periodically sit in stillness or silence. To just be.
That’s exactly what the eight-week mindfulness program taught me to do. Just sit with my thoughts and emotions, my bodily reactions to both, and not place a judgment on or try to change what I am thinking about or the way I am feeling in any given moment. One of the most powerful metaphors in the book and corresponding sound recordings (that I easily found on Spotify) was that of watching my thoughts pass by me like clouds in a beautiful blue sky. Sometimes they may feel more like a train on the ground, rumbling by and literally shaking the ground on which I stand. Other days, they are undoubtedly more peaceful and easier to witness. But that’s just life:
“Even if your life is 80% sunshine and 20% storm, it is so easy to let that 20% be the weather. Do your best to keep it in perspective. Think about what you’re grateful for – everything that makes the bigger, brighter part of your life bigger and brighter. Be thankful. Keep moving.” – Maggie Smith, poet
What I’ve learned in the past several months, with a new therapist in a new city where I finally landed a job I love six months ago, is that when the storm inevitably comes, it’s possible to feel both grateful and upset. We can still acknowledge our general feelings of gratitude for life and acknowledge or accept that we also feel sad, frustrated, or angry about other aspects of or situations in our lives. The “and practice” is a new one that I look forward to integrating with my mindfulness practice in 2020. . .and beyond.
I strongly believe most lawyers are wordsmiths and yet so few probably see the beauty of this simple three-lettered word:
“The word can represent – and perhaps encourage – such mental adaptations as acknowledging and empathizing with other peoples’ viewpoints, more fully appreciating our own emotional states, and allowing ourselves to move in new directions.”
“Embracing the word ‘and’ is about cultivating openness, seeing nuance, and acknowledging possibility. . .We can accept our past and also commit to creating ourselves anew each day.” – Eileen Kennedy-Moore, Ph.D, therapist
We rarely see coming or plan the moments when our perspective or circumstance changes for us in the way we’ve always hoped or wanted, leading to lesser anxiety and maybe even inner peace. And most of the time, the “answer(s)” have been in front of us for a while, given to us many years prior via a passing recommendation but one our mind either couldn’t or wasn’t open to receiving at that time. But that’s okay, too.
You’ll be ready when you’re ready.
In the words of Martin Luther King, Jr., who we recently honored on January 20th, “The time is always right to do what is right.” And in the world of mental health, for the most part, you get to determine when and what is “right” for you.