The 2011 State of Arizona kicked off Wednesday morning, and this correspondent decided to launch his week of education in the seminar “Meditation, Mindfulness and the Practice of Law.” It was a morning well spent.

First of all, it has to be a historic event—not only at Convention but in CLEs—to focus a CLE on such an important but non-buttoned-down topic. And then to include a “gong wash”—a vibrant and vibrating use of the gong to instill serenity and to end the session. Very impressive.

Pre-session: Mary Dolores Guerra and Donn Kessler, with the gong

Panelists were all experienced lawyers or, in three cases, judges. And they explained to the large audience how each had come to a practice based in mindfulness and meditation.

For anyone who may have thought that these people tumbled easily into this path, the descriptions were sobering. It appears to have been extreme difficulty or tragedy that led busy and successful lawyers to try meditation.

For instance, Michael Zimmerman, now a lawyer at Snell & Wilmer in Utah but once the Utah Chief Justice, came to meditation while his family was in turmoil. His wife faced a debilitating and ultimately fatal disease. So severe were her agonies that she attempted suicide two times. Their daughters, then aged 4, 8 and 11, “were in deep denial.”

After Zimmerman’s wife died, he found himself sitting alone in his bathroom every morning for half an hour. What he found was that as the day began, “and the shit started coming down,” he could deal with it better. That was to evolve into his meditation practice.

Other stories were just as compelling. Moderator Mary Dolores Guerra, a professor at the Phoenix School of Law, had to deal with her anger at the auto-accident death of her older sister.

L to R: Rhonda Magee, Michael Zimmerman, Hon. Donn Kessler

All of them used the session to suggest ways for lawyers to shift their perspectives in a way to help eliminate negative mood states and to enhance their well-being.

Panelist Donn Kessler, a judge on the Arizona Court of Appeals, noted his unique way to get past difficult meetings with fellow lawyers and judges: He imagines them as they must have been as 9-year-old children. That always brings a smile to his face, and fosters compassion for the person.

Hon. Donn Kessler

The session included more than life stories and advice. Zimmerman led the attendees in a guided meditation session that lasted about 10 minutes. And lawyer Judi Cohen had attendees engage in a one-on-one focused exercise that fostered empathy. That was followed by an open-minded stroll around the room to meet or otherwise engage others.

Questioners led panelists to transform their general guidance into more specific suggestions for those lawyers who may want to be mindful amidst their busy practices. Zimmerman may have been the most blunt in the benefits a meditative life had given him.

“Before I learned this, there were an incredible number of assholes in my life. Why was my life filled with so many assholes?”

“There is no doubt that I am a better lawyer due to meditation.”

Other panelists in this great seminar were Judge Roland Steinle, of Maricopa County Superior Court; Judi Cohen, a San Francisco lawyer and law professor at Golden Gate University School of Law; Rhonda Magee, a law professor at the University of San Francisco; and Dr. Shauna Shapiro (by videotape), a counseling psychology professor at the University of Santa Clara.