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Thai approach to mindfulness an eye-opener

Toronto-area family lawyer Nicolle Kopping-Pavars continues to learn lessons from her recent Buddhist trip to Thailand.   

Kopping-Pavars, principal of NKP Law, spent more than two weeks absorbing teachings from monks and others on mindfulness and meditation techniques.

“The thing about mindfulness is it’s less about your brain and more about your heart. A fundamental part of it involves not thinking about anything. If you don’t understand something your teacher says, you’re not supposed to intellectualize it. You just listen and sit with it.

"Now that I’m back, teachings will come up and I’ll think, ‘Oh, I get it now,’” Kopping Pavars tells AdvocateDaily.com. “I’m getting more out of Thailand being away from Thailand than I got when I was actually there.”

Immersing herself in the Buddhist way of life for an extended period emphasized the difference between the type of mindfulness practised in Thailand and the version she and others in are normally exposed to in North America, she says.

“In the West, we understand mindfulness as a way to calm our minds, be focused and present. That’s fantastic, but I learned about a second part, that is about gaining wisdom.

"Calmness is an important part of that, but it’s a different way of practising that we don’t hear about often. I felt like I was trying to unlearn what I had understood in the past, and start all over again as a beginner,” Kopping-Pavars says, adding the sensation didn’t faze her. 

“Whenever you think you know everything, you hit a danger point,” she says.

Kopping-Pavars met with many monks during her trip, and found a large part of their teaching focused on meditation. One high-profile teacher once practised as a lawyer in Chicago.

“He gave it all up, went to Thailand, and lived in a cave for 15 years before becoming a monk. We were privileged to have two sittings with him,” she says.

In another memorable moment, Kopping-Pavars and other visitors at a monastery accompanied the monks to a local market, where they bought about 200 live fish and set them free in a nearby river as part of a traditional ceremony.

“They were saved from certain death and got a chance to redo their lives all over again,” she says. “In life, when we get a second chance, we have to do the best we can with it and take every opportunity to better ourselves.”

The trip prompted an immediate change in Kopping-Pavars’ own approach to the mindfulness training she conducts for her fellow lawyers. When she told one monk about her idea to pitch mindfulness to law firms as a solution for their stressed-out lawyers, he had some advice for her.

“He said, 'You should never tell people they need help. The only thing you can do is continue with your own practice and be the best you can be. Then, when they come to you, that’s when you can share your goodness,' Kopping-Pavars says.

“That’s what I have started doing, and people are already asking when the next workshop is. It was a real eye-opener for me. When the teacher is ready, the students will come, and when the students are ready, the teacher will come."

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