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Eight steps to a mindful life

In Part 5 of a seven-part series on mindfulness, Toronto-area family lawyer Nicolle Kopping-Pavars discusses how to follow a mindful path in eight simple steps.

To live a life of wisdom, morality and ethics, Toronto-area family lawyer Nicolle Kopping-Pavars encourages following a mindful path in eight simple steps.

“The eight steps interplay with each other,” she tells AdvocateDaily.com.

“In everyday life, try to become aware of all these steps working together to lead to a more mindful life.”

Kopping-Pavars, principal of NKP Law and Lotus-Law, outlines the steps to a mindful path.

1. Right view

“Very often what we think is the correct way of looking at a situation is not,” Kopping-Pavars says.

“Perception can be deception, so we really need to have a good understanding of what the truth is about a situation because then we have right view.”

Kopping-Pavars says lawyers often take the position, “I'm right, you're wrong. End of story.”

“We need to start understanding that people do have their own opinions, there is misperception and very often there are two sides to the story. We should never judge a person's story by the chapter we walk in on. Just because you see one side of the coin with a head on it and you don't see the other side as having a bird on it, doesn't mean that the side with the bird doesnt exist. You just haven't seen it. ”

She says we also deceive ourselves in how we view happiness.

“People often say, ‘Oh, if I just get this job then I’ll be happy.’ Or, ‘If I just get this new car I’ll be really happy.’” 

By thinking this way, explains Kopping-Pavars, we view happiness as though it's the horizon. 

"We can never catch up with the horizon. It will always be in front of us. If we think happiness is about achieving something at the end, then all we are doing is chasing the concept of happiness but never finding it," she says. 

“It’s always in front of us but we will never get to it because it's always going to be three steps ahead of us.”

She says we have to understand that happiness is only a momentary experience — just a pocket in time.

“The space around those pockets of happiness, that's life. If we recognize those moments, we can also be in the right state of being and say, ‘I don’t have to be happy all the time, but I can recognize happiness when I see it.’ Right view is understanding that I don’t need this in order to be happy.

"We think that happiness is about gaining things. In reality, it's about eliminating certain things from our life. If we want to be truly happy, we need to eliminate — or at least be aware of — greed (desire), anger (hatred), and ignorance (delusion). Once we reduce these three things — or have an awareness of them — it will be much easier to find happiness from within."

2. Right thought

Having right thought leads to right intention, Kopping-Pavars says. 

“When you view things correctly, your thoughts align with your intention and your action.” 

Kopping-Pavars says a mindfulness practice allows you to start seeing things correctly.

"When you're free from delusion, you see things as they are and not as you or other people perceive them to be It's being free from judgment," she says.

"Recently, we had a tragedy in Toronto where a man went on a rampage on Yonge Street and mowed down innocent people. Everyone was upset and casting judgment. The situation was terrible and I remember saying to my colleagues, friends and family who were playing the 'what kind of person would do such a thing game” that all I knew is that a tragedy happened, no more, no less," says Kopping-Pavars.

"With that in mind, we held a prayer circle at our office in our beautiful wellness room. We sent compassion and kindness out to whoever needed it. All we knew is that a tragedy happened. Beyond that, we had no knowledge.

"When you see things correctly, your thoughts align with it more. Your thinking is clearer and it leads to right action."

3. Right speech

“For lawyers, right speech is very important. We need to move from right thought to right speech because we can sometimes go from a thought process into speech that is harmful and we start attacking the other person,” she says.

Kopping-Pavars uses acronyms to help maintain right speech. They are W-A-I-T and T-H-I-N-K.

“I always say to my clients and colleagues to use these acronyms before speaking. WAIT stands for Why Am I Talking.” 

If we can think about this for a moment before speaking, it will help, she says.

THINK stands for Thoughtful, Helpful, Inspiring, Necessary and Kind, Kopping-Pavars says.

“If what you're about to say is thoughtful or helpful to the situation at hand, inspires by instilling confidence and trust in the person that you are talking to, and is necessary and kind, then your communication will be useful and improve the situation," she says. 

"WAIT and THINK. If what you are about to say cannot improve upon the silence, then remain silent." 

4. Right action

Kopping-Pavars says before you make a move, think about how your action will affect the next minute, the next day or the next week. 

“When we take action, we have to do it with the right intention. You always have to align your action with right view.”

As an example, Kopping-Pavars says a “lawyer may walk into a courtroom and say, ‘I want to win because I'm right. You're wrong and I am going to win. No matter what happens, I'm not going to move off my position whatsoever.’” 

She says "right action means to act with intention. If this act was the very last act that you made in your journey of life, how would you want it to define you?

"Align your life with your true intention because actions do speak louder than words." 

5. Right livelihood

When it comes to right livelihood, Kopping-Pavars suggests asking yourself: What am I going to do with my day? What is my contribution to the goodness of the world?

“As a lawyer, if I'm only doing law because I want to be rich, that's probably not a good reason to practise law. You probably won't get rich and then you're always going to be chasing happiness. It’s not a fulfilling intention. It’s just based on greed or some other negative attribute.”

But if you become a lawyer because you want to help people, your livelihood will give you value at the end of the day, she says.

“You can always reflect back and say, ‘I have contributed to my vision of who I am.’” 

6. Right effort

Kopping-Pavars says right effort means aligning yourself with what is important and applying effort to the cause. 

“Right effort means that you are always changing your perceptions and are open to other ideas — it’s not being too rigid. Take other perspectives into account and look at things differently.” 

Kopping-Pavars cautions that sometimes throwing up your arms in a frustrating situation and saying that you’re trying is simply an excuse for not doing.

“When you say, ‘I'm trying my best but it’s just not working,’ you're being too rigid. You might be holding onto something and not allowing yourself to actually do better. Go back and look at your intention.”

7. Right mindfulness

This means having mindfulness in terms of really understanding what your body and mind are doing at any given time, says Kopping-Pavars.

“If you are feeling frustrated or angry, notice that it’s causing your heart to beat faster, your face to get red. It's causing some kind of reaction in you and you need to recognize it.”

Once you are aware of what’s happening, you practise mindfulness to bring awareness back to your body and mind, she says.

There are three rules to right mindfulness. The first is don’t be on guard, Kopping-Pavars says.

“Don't have expectations of wanting to feel or be a certain way. Allow your mind to have the freedom to be. If you suddenly feel angry, just notice that. If you suddenly feel happy, just notice that. 

"Very often while meditating, people want to get that feeling of relaxation and calm. If you are waiting and being on guard for it, you are holding on too tight. It won't happen. Just allow yourself to be with whatever comes.”

The second rule is when you see it developing, don’t sink into it, don’t move towards it, she says.

"If something frustrating happens, just let it happen and don't hold onto it. Don't hold your attention on it because the second you do that, you get stuck. Getting stuck allows you to start the stories in your mind. Our heart doesn't know the difference between reality and fiction. So when we create a story in our mind of getting angry with a person — who at that point in time, only exists in our head — our heart feels the anger. Our mind then recognizes the anger and makes it bigger and then we hold onto it.

"All you need to do is recognize your anger, but don't start justifying it." 

The third rule is not to interfere with anger or frustration, Kopping-Pavars says.

“Don’t say, ‘Oh, my god, I'm angry and I’m going to have to get out of this anger.’ All you do then is get stuck further in that anger. All you have to do is recognize it. The second you recognize it and you notice how you’re feeling, then you can get your prefrontal cortex to start taking control rather than your amygdala," she says. 

"Impermanence is real. Eventually, the emotion or feeling will pass. Don't interfere with it. See it, recognize it and allow it to float away like a cloud in the sky." 

8. Right concentration

The last step is allowing yourself to understand and develop practices that will help you to get out of that amygdala hijack, says Kopping-Pavars.

One way to do that is by taking some deep breaths and come back to the present moment, she says.

“You can put your hand on your stomach, and notice your hand going up and down or touch your fingertips and say, ‘This is not me.’ It’s figuring out little steps and strategies to get your right concentration.”

Kopping-Pavars says these eight steps all flow into each other consistently.

“Just be aware of all of these steps working together in everything you do. They lead to awareness and living life with wisdom and purpose.”

Stay tuned for Part 6 in the series, where Kopping-Pavars will discuss three things to remember when we’re in pain.

To read Part 1 — an overview of mindfulness and how lawyers can benefit — click here

To read Part 2 — the four foundations of mindfulness — click here

To read Part 3 — the five hindrances to being focused — click here

To read Part 4 — the five rules, or precepts, of mindfulness — click here.

To Read More Nicolle Kopping-Pavars Posts Click Here
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