One Day at a Time: Finding Peace and Purpose by Living in the Moment, 1119 SCBJ, SC Lawyer, November 2019, #30

AuthorBy Ashley Stratton
PositionVol. 31 Issue 3 Pg. 30

One Day at a Time: Finding Peace and Purpose by Living in the Moment

Vol. 31 Issue 3 Pg. 30

South Carolina Bar Journal

November, 2019

By Ashley Stratton

Between practicing law and raising young children, my mind was always racing a mile a minute: “Need to dictate that deposition summary before I forget;” “Gotta pick up the dry cleaning;” “Forgot to submit mileage for the mediation last week;” “Need to defrost the chicken for dinner;” “What are we bringing for special snack at preschool?” “Need to call my grandmother and check on her;” “Can’t miss yoga class tomorrow.” It was as if my mind was a cell phone receiving a hundred notifications and texts per minute.

Then one spring afternoon, my world turned upside down when I discovered information that would eventually lead to the demise of my marriage and what I thought was a normal family life-a husband and two kids. At the time, I was preparing to return to work from maternity leave, thinking about the cases I would jump back into and about a new childcare routine, not to mention what we were having for dinner that night and what I needed to purchase for a birthday party that afternoon. But when the bottom dropped out, that incessant mental cell phone went black, relegating my mind to the essentials like breathing, eating and sleeping.

Personal tragedy forced me into the single-minded pursuit of survival. The reality of my life at the time was too much to bear, so I zeroed in on the simple, manageable things. In focusing on the present, I unintentionally developed a practice of mindfulness. After all, I couldn’t handle anything more than a single moment at a time. And over time, through years of therapy in hopes of saving the marriage, another baby, a handful of moves, new jobs, and eventually a painful divorce, I realized that living in the moment is not just a way to survive trauma, it is a way to master life.

Regardless of whether you have experienced trauma, as attorneys (and really as Americans), we are constantly battling a war against mental chaos. Work needs to be accomplished, children need to be cared for, bills need to be paid, homes need to be managed, social lives need to be maintained, and then there’s always eating, sleeping and keeping up with our favorite football teams. We all have mental cell phones that ding and light up too many dang times. It’s absolutely exhausting.

But it doesn’t have to be this way. Instead of trudging through a sea of energy-draining, stress-inducing thoughts and worries, the overactive mind can be trained to focus on what is life-giving, peaceful and purpose-filled. “Mindfulness is now being examined scientifically and has been found to be a key element in stress reduction and overall happiness.”1 So how do we train our minds; and more importantly, why should we care?

The benefits

Simply stated, training your mind to focus on the here and now is freeing. In actuality, all any of us have is this very moment. Yet, so many of our thoughts are consumed with things that happened in the past and things that might happen in the future. When we are not planning and looking ahead (sometimes rightfully so), we are often regretting the past and feeling guilt or remorse over prior decisions. But what can we possibly do in the moment to change the past or direct the future? Not a single thing.

“By focusing on the here and now, many people who practice mindfulness find that they are less likely to get caught up in worries about the future or regrets over the past, are less preoccupied with concerns about success and self-esteem, and are better able to form deep connections with others.”2

It has been noted that lawyers who practice mindfulness experience “everything from increased emotional self-awareness and self-regulation, to improved capacity to handle stress and increased concentration and psychological flexibility. Mindfulness practices increase lawyers’ capacity to be present and high-functioning, no matter how...

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