Last Wednesday, Staff Writer Amélie Acevedo attended an eye-opening conversation regarding the use of meditation and mindfulness as a means of breaking down social and emotional barriers. The event, entitled “Mindfulness, Emotional Segregation and Connecting Across Difference,” was held by Professor Kathryn Judge. It is a part of the Dialogue Across Difference Initiative and was co-hosted by the Columbia Law School (CLS) Mindfulness Program.

On Wednesday afternoon, Columbia Law Professor Kathryn Judge held a discussion aimed at the use of mindfulness meditation as a tool for allowing increased social awareness within an individual’s internal and external life. Judge welcomed Columbia Law Professors Elizabeth Emens and Kendall Thomas, as well as JD Candidate Jungmin Kang and Executive Coordinator for the Columbia Center for Contemporary Critical Thought Kiana Taghavi, to talk to students of Columbia Law School. 

Judge began by asking the audience to consider how they think about social issues, as well as how they experience and communicate with each other and the world. She then gave the floor to Professor Emens, who clarified what CLS mindfulness meditation is and what it entails. Professor Emens explained that it is a form of meditation that calls an individual to pay attention to what lies within the moment. She then walked the audience through a guided mindfulness practice that readers can do on their own. 

For this practice, she invited the audience to first close their eyes and focus their attention on any sounds they hear within the room, whether that be the buzzing of the lights, or someone shifting in their seat. She instructed everyone to recognize when their mind wanders, offer themselves kindness when this happens, as Judge says it is “the mind’s nature is to wander,” and then bring their attention back to the present moment. She then had the audience focus their attention on the sensation of their feet, then the feeling of their feet on the ground, and, finally, the feeling of their feet within their socks within their shoes. Finally, she told everyone to open their eyes, having successfully practiced a form of mindfulness.

The panel then turned their attention to the term “emotional segregation,” which is a difference in emotional states, experiences, or expressions that creates a wall between individuals. Emens informed the audience that CLS recognizes the presence of emotional segregation within the world and offers individuals the space to recognize the ways in which emotional segregation is present in their lives. CLS also offers tools for how to address emotional segregation and how to eventually move past this in order to foster a connection with others. 

Professor Thomas then took the floor and touched upon how mindfulness meditation, and CLS, offer a refuge from the outside world. It can be difficult, Thomas mentioned, to find the space to reflect internally when you are part of an ongoing external world. Thomas discussed how there are students on campus and members of the community outside of campus facing serious and debilitating issues such as food and housing insecurity, addiction, and untreated mental and physical illness. Mindfulness allows individuals to recognize differences between themselves and those they interact with and work through removing inherent bias against those different from themselves as well as harmful ideologies. In doing so, barriers such as emotional suppression (concealing one’s emotions) and emotional subordination (prioritization of other’s emotions over your own so as to avoid conflict), as well as empathic divides, can be slowly taken away. 

The panel then discussed how mindfulness is not solely focused on the individual’s experience, but rather is something that can be done as a community and used to benefit the community. It should not be used as a numbing tool to the reality of the world, the panelists argued, but rather as a tool that provides a person the space to cultivate love and care for themself. It also offers the space to choose to share that love and care with others both inside and outside an individual’s community. 

Mindfulness is a practice that I hope to implement more often in my own life. It can be applied to discussions with those we share differences. When conversing with someone we may not agree with, it is beneficial to take the time to acknowledge your thoughts and feelings as well as the thoughts and feelings of the other person. From this discussion, I discovered that mindfulness allows you to take a breath, notice where you are coming from, and choose your next step without giving in to impulse reactions dictated by strong emotions. 

Although barriers exist within the world in terms of differences in identity, background, current situation, thoughts, and feelings, mindfulness allows for an awareness of these differences in a manner that paves the way toward understanding. The practice of mindfulness, as was highlighted by the panel, is not enough on its own, however. Once understanding is cultivated, we, as a community, must make active decisions toward social justice in our everyday lives. 

The CLS Mindfulness Program offers weekly live sessions and resources such as meditation and yoga in order to foster mindfulness. The information about the program can be found here.

Columbia Law School image via Bwarchives