Contributing Author: Wendy L. Patrick, Deputy District Attorney, San Diego County (CA)
One of the biggest challenges we face as prosecutors is the inability to turn off our constant thinking, planning, and mentally preparing our cases, on and off the clock. Although proactive case preparation reduces anxiety, avoids last-minute requests, and builds confidence, there can be too much of a good thing. The inability to concentrate on anything but work adversely impacts the rest of our life. Whether you are suffering from vicarious trauma or just feeling workplace burnout, meditation can facilitate your ability to release painful or disturbing thoughts, in order to better enjoy your time both on and off the clock. Learn to focus on where you are in the moment, whether you are mindfully preparing for the day, watching your son’s baseball game after work, or having dinner with your family.
In pursuit of enhancing techniques for prosecutor wellness, I led an early morning guided meditation session at our first annual NDAA Wellbeing Resiliency Retreat and Conference in beautiful Missoula, Montana. Having spent a significant amount of time both searching for and creating content uniquely designed for prosecutors, it was a good opportunity to learn from my colleagues what type of focus and content they find most valuable. The feedback included an emphasis on learning to be more present in the moment, finding ways to become pleasantly distracted from focusing on work, and the value of envisioning a better future. County Attorney (Coconino County, AZ) Bill Ring added a creative example of meditating on what concepts like justice, fairness, and discretion would look, feel, and sound like within the context of driving down a road on a journey called Justice, which in a sense, is what we do every day when we head to work.
Participants in the Missoula meditation group expressed a variety of preferences including the use of meditation applications, the selection of which is growing by the day. But whatever app or type of message you prefer, here are some helpful tips on preparing to focus.
Mental Preparation: Decompress and Disconnect
In order to effectively achieve what my NDAA Wellbeing Task Force colleague Kimberly Overton Spahos, refers to as a “work-life blend,” the first order of business is to make time for meditation. That means if your goal is to snag some private time in the morning, set your alarm to get up earlier; consider it an investment in your day that will enable you to work faster and smarter.
To prepare for a productive period of meditation, one goal is to separate thoughts from emotions, which will encourage objectivity. Whether you are anxious over having a brief due or a trial coming up, or angry over something someone said, don’t rent out free space in your head. Focus on the future. Goals begin as thoughts, which translate into action. With a clear mind, it is easier to achieve your aspirations.
The ups and downs of trial work creates emotional turbulence, which can cloud thinking and reasoning, and impair judgment. Being an effective advocate requires focus, which is easier when we are calm, cool, and collected. Aim to put your profession into perspective, recognizing that it is only a part of life, which includes greater things. Faith and family, health and happiness, power and purpose.
Physical Preparation: Comfort Counts
Have the meditation session be something you look forward to, that means get comfortable. You don’t have to sit on the floor like a pretzel; find a comfortable chair. Make sure the temperature is set correctly, or grab a favorite plush blanket or slippers. Think: pandemic lounge wear. Today, this would be the bottom half of you on a Zoom call.
Minimize distractions. Silence your phone ringer (including the buzz), and your ring camera app. If your family is up and about during your quiet time remind them that if they grant you this 10–15 minutes, they will be glad they did.
Find a place in your home where you can relax. Natural light by a window is great unless you are like me and get up way before sunrise, which makes it easier to minimize distractions, but requires artificial light. Be open minded to the thoughts you have during the meditation. Whether you choose to begin with prayer or just silent breathing, everyone can benefit psychologically and physically from this quiet time you set aside. Consider it an investment. Afterwards, you will feel focused, not flustered. Optimistic, not anxious.
And finally, we hope to see you next year at our 2024 Wellbeing Resiliency Retreat and Conference. You will be glad you made the investment of time, because quality of life is priceless.
Wendy L. Patrick is a career prosecutor and a member of the NDAA Wellbeing Task Force.