CAREERS PODCASTS


JON KROP
Founder, Mindfulness for Lawyers

A Harvard JD, Jon practiced for a while and then chose a different path, becoming a meditation teacher for lawyers. Here is his perspective on how and why to incorporate a regular meditation practice into your day. Spoiler alert: He’ll guide you through a brief (and painless) meditation.

Jon Krop

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Resources

www.jonkrop.com

www.mindfulnessforlawyers.com

www.headspace.com

Show Notes

Mitch:

Hi, it’ s Mitch Zuklie and I am thrilled to have as my guest today on the Orrick podcast Jon Krop, a leading thinker about and teacher of mindfulness for lawyers. I just attended a workshop that Jon led with 45 of our lawyers and staff in Silicon Valley – and he’s travelled to many other Orrick offices to lead similar programs. Jon, I am delighted that you agreed to continue the conversation….

Jon:

Hi. Glad to be here.

Mitch:

So, Jon, you're an expert in meditation. How did that come about?

Jon:

You know, the way I got into this was I was a stressed out law student, which is kind of a tale as old as time. I felt a little bit in over my head, and I had a vague sense that it could help somehow. It might help me focus and help me concentrate and, so, I really pursued it ultimately, or initially, for sort of mercenary, pragmatic reasons. And then once I got into it, I discovered all the benefits that go well beyond this idea of just focus or concentrate.

Mitch:

What were some of the benefits that you personally found from the practice?

Jon:

First of all, I just kind of feel better all the time. Your baseline level of well-being just seems to creep upwards. You know, I do feel like I'm more resilient to things—in the sense that when emotional knocks come my way, it's not that I don't feel them, it's just that I'm much better able to deal with them. They don't sort of knock me off my pivot in the way that they once did. There's a great quote from a meditation teacher named Jack Cornfield. He says something, like, "You can't stop the waves from coming, but you can learn to surf."

Mitch:

Mm hmm.

Jon:

And this practice has really given me that ability to surf the emotional highs and lows and be okay amidst all of it.

Mitch:

Now, there's a lot of social science literature that suggests that a regular meditation practice is not only good for you in terms of focus, but also in terms of health benefits. Can you share some of those findings?

Jon:

Moderate amounts of mindfulness practice over a period of several weeks has been shown to reduce stress, reduce anxiety, and can even lower elevated blood pressure. I think there was a study showing decreased presence of certain inflammation markers in the blood. There's lot of remarkable science there.

Mitch:

That's interesting. You're a big believer in regularity of practice by making sure that you do it consistently, rather than for an extended period of time.

Jon:

Yeah. A million percent. That is the most important thing and actually the hardest thing about meditating really. One of my teachers, a guy named Jon Yates, a wonderful meditation teacher and neuroscientist, he likes to teach meditation in stages. So he talks about the ten stages of meditation, and his stage one is just getting a daily practice together. He doesn't consider youyou're a stage one meditator if you've been meditating for ten years until you've got that daily practice and it's just I think over thousands of years, empirically, everyone seems to findall the great teachers have found that if you don't do it consistently, the benefits don't come to the same degree. You'll get some benefits, of course, but it's nothing compared to what you get from a daily practice, which is why I always like to tell people I would much rather see you meditate two minutes a day every day and only miss days rarely, than meditate for two hours a day but only four days a week. Now that's how much more important it is to be consistent.

Mitch:

Let's see if we can actually meditate with you. So imagine the listeners out there who are interested. They've bought into the concept, but they really don't know how to meditate. Can you walk us through for a few minutes, how you might do that?

Jon:

Yes. I like to lead a meditation in a way that's also sort of instructional so that the guidance I give during the sit is sort of a teach-a-person-to-fish kind of situation. So very briefly before we start, just useful to understand what meditation is. There are lots of different definitions, but my favorite definition is that meditation is the practice of learning to stay in the present moment and out of our heads, and when we're able to do that, we have access to a certain quality of calmness, peacefulness, mental clarity, focus. It is pleasant, and it is useful. And the way that we do that is by directing our attention in certain deliberate ways. Okay. So listeners out there, if you're comfortable closing your eyes – Go ahead and close them. You should be seated in a chair comfortably, your feet flat on the floor. You can sit away from the chair back so that your spine is unsupported. That would be ideal. If you have a back problem, no worries, just go ahead and use the chair. Rest your hands comfortably on your thighs or on your knees. Your spine is nice and straight. Eyes closed. And now bring your attention to the sensation of air passing through your nostrils as you breathe. So as you breathe in you just feel the air brush past that entranceway to the nose and likewise as you breathe out. So just rest your attention on that sensation or that flow of sensation at that spot. Now what's going to happen, probably pretty quickly, is your attention is going to wander away, and that's okay because this practice is not about stopping that. When it does happen, just gently escort your attention back to the breath and just begin again. Just reform that gentle intention to stay with the sensation of breath. Just allow your body to breathe normally. Try that for, I guess, a couple minutes. I may give some additional guidance.

Now at some point, I guarantee that your attention will wander. And that's okay. It's not a mistake. It's part of the process. Your only job is just to eventually notice that your attention has wandered, and then gently escort the attention back to the breath at the nose as a way to stay in the present moment.

If your attention wanders a hundred times, you just bring it back a hundred times. And you're doing perfectly. If thoughts arise in your mind, that is fine. This practice isn't about stopping thoughts. You can just let the thoughts come and go in the background, and then rest your attention on the breath in the midst of all that.

And understanding that a session where your attention is all over the place is truly just as valuable as a session where your attention is very still and stable. So you don't have to worry about what kind of meditation you're having. It is literally impossible to mess this practice up. Which is kind of nice.

Okay. So that was just a very short meditation. I have a colleague who is also a meditation teacher and he likes to say 5 minutes is an effective dose. And I actually think that's a little conservative. In the Tibetan meditative tradition, which is a very old and very venerable tradition, they like to say “short sessions many times.” That's actually a piece of advice that they like to give. So I'm all about that. I really like the idea, especially for busy people like lawyers. You don't have hours to just plop down on a meditation cushion and just sit there, right. It would be great if you did, but you don't and that's okay. It doesn't have to stand in the way. I like to think of it as sort of planting little flags throughout the day. Right. So there's never too much time that passes without you checking in. Am I in the present moment, or am I lost in my head? And if you are, you know you can meditate for a minute, 30 seconds. The only problematic length of meditation, for a meditation session, is zero seconds, really.

Mitch:

Are there any apps that you recommend, by the way?

Jon:

I like Headspace. Mainly because my mom uses it, and it finally got her to meditate, and I've listened to some of it, and I think it's good. And I think the guy who runs Headspace, Andy Puddicombe, actually knows what he's doing. He has a pretty extensive meditation background.

Mitch:

That's great. So let me ask a question. I'm going to challenge the presumption that you can't mess it up. So one of the things that happened to me in that very brief meditation session is the first thing I wondered is, "How long have I been going, and am I going to run into the deadline I've got a lateral partner interview in, you know, about 10 minutes."

Jon:

Mm hmmm.

Mitch:

And I wondered back to, "Okay, focus on the breathing."

Jon:

Right.

Mitch:

It’s a perfectly normal thought. Nothing to be embarrassed about.

Jon:

Fine. Yes, that is so standard and, no, it's good that you asked that because almost every single person who talks to me about meditation will invariably say, "Well, I'm bad at it." Right. "It's great, but I'm terrible at it." "I'm just not built for it." And everyone thinks they're coming up and saying this unique thing to me. But the wonderful thing it that everyone feels that way, and everyone is wrong. Okay.

Having those sorts of thoughts, worrying about the future, worrying about the past, fretting about stuff that you have to do later, that's what the mind does. If your mind didn't do that, then you would already beyou'd be the Dalai Lama and you wouldn't need to meditate. Right? So that's what this is for. That's what it should feel like. So what you're describing is a perfect meditation.

Mitch:

That's great to know. Similarly, I had a heightened sensation, which I haven't noticed at all during the day of being itchy, like I had an itch that I really wanted to scratch and was aware of it and tried to sort of forget about it, but it was still there. Again, a perfectly normal sensation?

Jon:

It's totally normal to notice more. It's actually kind of expected. So you're going to notice the itches, you're going to notice the aches. It's your body kind of signaling that you haven't moved in a while and that maybe you should think about moving. Right. Because normally in the state of nature, you know, way back when we evolved, probably not a good idea to just be sitting still with your eyes closed. You want to keep your head on a swivel and so forth, right.

Mitch:

Right.

Jon:

So yeah. It's totally normal and natural. The other thing is it's a very common experience for new meditators to feel like their minds and bodies are getting crazier not less crazy.

Mitch:

Right.

Jon:

So you feel like I'm itchier than I was before. My mind is more active than it was before. This thing is sending me backwards.

Mitch:

Right.

Jon:

Right and it's a very old observation and it's very old instruction to just note that, "No, nothing is going wrong." What's actually happening is your perception is getting sharper. Right. You're becoming more cognizant of the thoughts, sensations, and so forth that have been there the entire time but you haven't had the mindfulness and stability of attention to actually pick up on it. Right, so you're not getting crazier, you're just becoming more aware of your existing crazy, if that makes sense.

Mitch:

And is that awareness what you think creates the ability to be more focused as a result of the practice?

Jon:

There are a couple faculties that it cultivates. So in terms of being more focused, it helps. There are really two faculties going on. There is just sort of the stability of your attention, the ability to direct your attention where you want it to go and have it stay there. Which is drop your attention on it like a rock and it doesn't move. And then there's the sort of metacognitive awareness of: where is my head right now? Right. Or when you become distracted, there's almostit's often described as sort of a watchman or a guardian. It stands guard and notices…a sentry. Right. Notices, "Oops you've wandered off. Better get back." And that vigilance has a ton of salutary properties, because you start to notice what's going on in your own head. You start to see your own unhelpful habit patterns, your own unhelpful self-destructive thought patterns. So besides the ability to focus, that metacognitive awareness unlocks the ability to really better yourself and better the way that you treat other people in super important ways.

Mitch:

Jon, I understand you have been incredibly dedicated to this practice and that you've gone so far as going on a seven month silent retreat. What was that like?

Jon:

It was intense. The most valuable thing about it was that I discovered lots of deep ingrained patterns in myself, and was actually able to loosen some of those unhelpful patterns in a way that really changed my life. Like the biggest one was I'm a striver. In a negative way. However I'm doing right now, however well I'm doing, if that's x, I need to be doing x+3.

Mitch:

Right

Jon:

Right. And that's a permanent recipe for unhappiness and dissatisfaction. Right. And that loosened up noticeably as a result of confronting it over and over again within the sort of laboratory conditions of meditation. And so that was really powerful.

Mitch:

That's terrific. And how is it that people can reach out to you if they want more information?

Jon:

Well, my website is mindfulnessforlawyers.com. Pretty straight forward. If you go to that website, there's a contact form. It will go straight to me. You could also email me at [email protected]. I should say that anyone who does want to reach out and ask a question about meditation or mindfulness should, because it's not an imposition at all. I love talking about this stuff. I love getting those emails. So hit me up, really.

Mitch:

Jon, incredibly grateful to you for your time and for your willingness to be helpful to us, and we hope that when we have you back leading additional workshops you'll find a greater number of the Orrick community have been involved in meditation as a result of your efforts. So thank you.

Jon:

Thank you so much for having me. It has really been an incredible experience to work with Orrick.