Mindful Student Spotlight:
The ability to be mindful of the way we treat others
is perhaps the greatest reward of a mindful life.
The Mindfulness Student Spotlight shines on Jonathan Erbstein. Jonathan is the 2016-2017 president of the student mindfulness group and a student co-creator/facilitator of the Mindful Space, Ultra Zen. Jonathan will graduate with three degrees, his JD, MBA and LLM (in Taxation). Jonathan enrolled in Jurisight in his 1L year and was a student in the Mindful Ethics class. We caught up with Jonathan to ask him some question about mindfulness, law school, and life.
For the last four years I have been both a student and a practitioner of mindfulness. Mindfulness is the psychological process of bringing one's attention to the internal and external experiences occurring in the present moment, which can be developed through the practice of meditation and other training. I try to engage in mindfulness activities 3-4 times a day.
I start my day, as soon as I wake up, with a 10-minute seated exercise. I’ve found this early morning exercise carries a lasting impact throughout the day, increasing my awareness, focus, and calm.
I also use my walks to class as a time to practice mindfulness. I normally try to concentrate on one acute, simple sensation or observation for as long as I can. For example, paying close attention to the contact my feet have with the ground tends to slow down my thoughts and avoid unnecessary and untimely stress about the day ahead of, or behind me.
2. When were you introduced to a contemplative practice?
During my first year of law school I, like many other 1Ls, was looking for a way to manage stress and stay focused on my work. My father has practiced mediation for several years, but it wasn’t until I met Scott Rogers and joined the Mindfulness Program that I really began to understand, appreciate, and engage in the daily practice of mindfulness and meditation. Within a week I was seeing positive changes not just in myself, but in the other students participating in the program. It was apparent from the start that the Program would be an invaluable resource to me and other students and faculty.
3. How impact does your practice have on your studies? On life?
Mindfulness and/or meditation are often misconstrued as an escape from the stresses of life. However, the goal of the practice is not to direct one’s thoughts away from negative emotions or events, but rather to help a person stay focused on the task at hand – regardless of what other stress and pressure they may be facing at the time. Mindfulness allows me to block out the noise and concentrate on my work. Every student at UM Law has the skillset to succeed here, sometimes the only thing holding them back is the inability to utilize those skills free of worry or stress. Mindfulness helps provide order to our thoughts, which creates more structure in our day – allowing for optimal productivity and minimal fatigue.
4. What advice would you offer other law students interested in starting a contemplative practices?
Most of us already practice some informal model of mindfulness. Even on our busiest days we’ll often take a moment to breathe, relax, and compose our thoughts. Mindfulness is about taking these sporadic moments of pause and reflection and incorporating them more regularly into our lives. Interested students can start by picking 2-3 times a day (perhaps centered around meals or transit) and committing no more than 5 minutes to press pause and be mindful of where there are and where they want to be.
5. Which teachers have been most influential in developing and deepening your contemplative practice?
While a great number of my professors at UM have expressed their interest and/or support of the mindfulness movement, no professor has been more influential on me than Scott Rogers. Professor Rogers is a long-time practitioner and proponent of mindfulness. He is at the forefront of incorporating mindfulness and general well-being into the classroom, and on campus at law schools and other institutions of higher learning. An invaluable resource for students and faculty at UM Law.
6. What books and/or workshops have you found helpful?
10% Happier by Dan Harris and Real Happiness by Sharon Salzberg are great introductions to the field of mindfulness, simple but comprehensive.
More so than any book however, my participation in the Insightful Mind Initiative at UM Law has had the largest impact on my practice of mindfulness. The Initiative is an incredible resource to have on campus, a group of people specifically dedicated and focused on the well-being of the students.
7. Are there passages or sayings that have special resonance with you?
“In today’s rush, we all think too much — seek too much — want too much — and forget about the joy of just being.” ~Eckhart Tolle
“Respond; don’t react. Listen; don’t talk. Think; don’t assume.” ~Raji Lukkoor
“The way to live in the present is to remember that ‘This too shall pass.’ When you experience joy, remembering that ‘This too shall pass’ helps you savor the here and now. When you experience pain and sorrow, remembering that ‘This too shall pass’ reminds you that grief, like joy, is only temporary.” ~Joey Green
“If you concentrate on finding whatever is good in every situation, you will discover that your life will suddenly be filled with gratitude, a feeling that nurtures the soul.” ~Rabbi Harold Kushner
“Envy and jealousy stem from the fundamental inability to rejoice at someone else’s happiness or success.” ~Matthieu Ricard
8. Are there any resources (Internet, CD, Video) you recommend?
I have recently started using the Headspace app and the Breathe app to keep track of my mindfulness practices. The apps send me notifications through out the day to either breathe or do a mindfulness exercise. Even if I don’t have time to do the practice at that point in the day, the notification definitely grounds me and pushes me to slow down. I definitely recommend these applications for anybody interested in mindfulness.
I’d also recommend watching the various YouTube video created by Dan Harris and John Kabbat-Zinn on the subjects of mindfulness and well-being.
9. Is there anything else you'd like to add?
Mindfulness isn’t just a means to organize your life or reduce stress. One of the most rewarding aspects of the practice for me has been the impact it has had on my self-awareness and subsequently my self-control. I don’t however, value this self-awareness for its aid in regulating behaviors like healthy eating and exercise (although this is an added bonus). Rather, I value the ability it affords me to interact with others in a manner that is authentic of who I am, while also allowing me to be the best person I can in said interactions.
The many routines in our lives often create a tendency for people to shift into auto-pilot. Unfortunately, this cruise control of consciousness ensnares not just rote behaviors like driving and cooking, but also the most meaningful and dynamic moments of our day – interpersonal interactions. The ability to be mindful of the way we treat others is perhaps the greatest reward of a mindful life.