Tuesday, July 15, 2014

The Mindful Lawyer Spotlight, July 2014

Tony Recio is a partner at the Florida law firm Weiss Serota Helfman, and he is working and residing in Miami.  Tony has been helping to encourage the growth of mindfulness and meditation practices in the local legal community through his participation in various mindfulness and law related events in Miami and at the University of Miami.  He was kind enough to share with us some of his history and experience with contemplative practice for this month’s Mindful Lawyer Spotlight.  We are grateful to Tony for adding his voice to the growing community of lawyers seeking out more satisfying ways to live and practice.

TML: What is your contemplative practice?

Tony: I practice the Tibetan form of Buddhism, primarily in the Shengpa Kagyu, Karma Kagyu, and Nyingma Katog lineages.  My daily practice includes recitation, meditation, and visualization.

When and how were you introduced to contemplative practice?

Initially through books on eastern religions, including both traditional texts such as the Tao Te Ching and modern distillations of core beliefs and practices.  From there, I explored meditation through yoga and zen before finding the presentation of the path that felt the most natural to me.

What impact does your practice have on your professional life? And life in general?

Certainly a positive impact . . . There are obvious manifestations of the impacts of the practice, such as reduced stress and anxiety, but those are really more of a side effect.  The more important primary effects involve the training of the mind to focus with less distraction, to process occurrences with less reactivity, and to be more patient and mindful in thought, word and deed. 

These changes are more subtle and take longer than the immediate peaceful feeling one gets from meditation, but they are far more important in that they alter the way one perceives life’s myriad situations and personal interactions, which leads to changes in how one is affected by- and in turn deals with- these situations and interactions.  One’s attitude shifts to one of openness and understanding, the perspective becomes broader, and the bumps in the road are seen as challenges rather than problems.  This leads to a more effective way of dealing with the world openly and honestly, of addressing issues that crop up by seeing a bigger part of the picture, rather than simply something that must be weathered or steamrolled over. 

That ability to deal directly with whatever life brings instills a confidence and happiness that is less dependent on the external surroundings – even when the news is “bad,” there is enough space to address it, rather than giving in to the feeling of the world seemingly ending, and enough confidence to actually do so effectively.

What advice would you offer other lawyers interested in contemplative practices?

Practice, practice, practice.  It is not enough to simply learn a meditation technique, nor is it necessarily beneficial to learn a number of techniques without implementing them as part of a daily practice.  The mind training I spoke of above occurs through habituation, though familiarization with the technique.  That requires repetition, and for me daily repetition is the best way to deeply ingrain the habit.  And the habituation is indispensable in developing the ability to apply the technique when it is most needed, such as when things get chaotic at work or at home.  The ability to take a few seconds before reacting to an irritating situation often means a big difference in the eventual response.  However the opportunity to take those few seconds is rarely noticed unless one is accustomed to observing them rather than immediately reacting. 

If you think about it, we have all spent most of our lives habituating ourselves to thinking and acting in certain ways, and we have done so with a daily “practice” involving repetition.  Changing those patterns requires the same amount of daily practice.

What teachers, books, and/or workshops have you found helpful along the way?

For me, authentic teachers have been indispensable.  I owe most if not all of my meager progress to Lama Norlha Rinpoche and Khentrul Lodro Thaye Rinpoche, two Tibetan lamas.  More locally, I have learned a great deal and am indebted to Lama Karma Chotso, an American monastic that heads a local meditation center. 

Books have also been instrumental – while I found modern books written by westerners more accessible in the beginning, for the last few years I have gotten more out of traditional texts.  Their directness seems to strike more of a chord with me. 

There are a healthy number of western teachers as well who often present meditation in a more secular bent.  The important thing is to find a teacher or presentation that resonates and feels comfortable so that one trusts the practice and is inspired to continue with it. 

Beyond the traditional teachers, I have also learned a great deal from all sorts of people in daily interactions – part of the openness I mentioned earlier involves noticing the nuggets of wisdom every person can let out from time to time, whether they know it or not.  We all have access to a much greater wisdom than we are conscious of, and sometimes it slips out in spite of our best efforts otherwise.

Do you recommend any particular resources?

A great book I read several years ago was Living, Dreaming, Dying by Robert Nairn. There are some excellent, practical exercises in there that demonstrate the efficacy of meditation.

A far older book from a different tradition that I hold very dear is the Tao Te Ching – just a simple presentation of wisdom in poetic verse.  Depending on the translation, it can be a bit esoteric, so I would also recommend a modern western interpretation, The Tao of Pooh. 

YouTube is actually a great resource as well – English speaking teachers such as Yongey Mingyur Rinpoche, Tai Situ Rinpoche, and Dzongzar Khyentse Rinpoche have meditation instruction videos that are freely accessible.

Would you like to add anything else?

For those that decide that training their mind is something they want to do, I believe the most important aspect is to have the courage and diligence to take up the practice and stick to it.  It is probably best to start small, perhaps as little as 5-10 minutes a day.  That way it is easier to keep with it, and doing it every day is the best way to achieve lasting mind training.

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