The Almost Daily Word – Seven Deadly Sins of Bar Exam Preparation – #2 – Mindlessness

Walk as if you are kissing the earth with your feet. Thich Nhat Hanh – Zen Buddhist Monk

Thirty-five years of experience with the California Bar Exam has led me to reflect on the seven deadly sins of bar exam preparation – self-defeating traits that predict bar exam failure. Number 2 is:


Mindfulness refers to a psychological quality that involves bringing one’s attention to a present experience on a moment-to-moment basis.

Many bar applicants, it appears to me, are entirely unable to be mindful. Their worlds are vortexes of distraction, preoccupation, conflict, aspiration, delayed gratification, projection, introjection and drama – much of it realistic and understandable, but much of it invented and dysfunctional. These worlds often appear to live on a diet of under-acknowledged anxiety – even panic – along with caffeine, alcohol and/or marijuana, poor nutrition and physical lassitude. If my observations are correct, what room is left to consider the study of the law from a place of serenity, enjoyment and gratitude? And, if there’s no room left for those perspectives, why study law at all?

Can you sit still and quiet for five minutes continuously without dwelling on your latest preoccupation (e.g. the bar exam? Duh!)? If you can’t (and many people can’t) or if the effort leaves you anxious or depressed, you may be a candidate for these simple mindfulness exercises, all taken from the excellent website “Pocket Mindfulness.” (Also consider trying for a minute at a time, to “walk as if you are kissing the earth with your feet.”)

1. One Minute Breathing
This exercise can be done anywhere, any time. All you have to do is focus on your breathing for just one minute. Naturally your mind will wander, but just try to just return to the rise and fall of your breath and let your thoughts, as they arise, just fade away.

2. Mindful Listening
This is the same as one minute breathing, except for just one minute listen to a piece of music you like. Try not to think about it, just listen. If you can’t find any music you like you can simply listen to the noises around you. Don’t try and determine what the sounds are, just listen and effortlessly absorb the experience.

3. The Game of Five
In this mindfulness exercise, all you need to do is notice five things in your day that usually go unnoticed. They could be things you hear, smell, feel on your body, or see. For example you might see what’s hung on the walls, hear the birds, feel your clothes or smell the flowers. Of course you may already do these things, but are you really aware of them and the connections they have with your world?

Learning to be mindful; that is, to bring your full attention to any task, including bar exam study, on a moment to moment basis, is very different from most of the things you do in your life. There is no “ultimate goal,” no delayed gratification. As the saying goes: In mindfulness, practice doesn’t make perfect – practice is perfect.

The goal of mindfulness practice is present, immediate and simple – just relax and focus on one thing. However, if you begin to practice you may well notice that this skill starts to spread to other things you do. You may be less likely to reflexively predict the outcome of what you’re doing – good or bad. You may find that instead of a pressure-and-stress-filled ordeal, your bar studying may start to feel a little less harried and a little more relaxed. For periods of time (not all the time for sure) you may even feel more connected to and taken by what you’re studying. And when you do, among many other good things, you will be “kissing the world with your brain.”

Full of equanimity,
of benevolent thought,
of tender thought,
of affectionate thought,
of useful thought,
of serene thought,
of firm thought,
of unbiased thought,
of undisturbed thought,
of unagitated thought,
of thought fixed on the practice of discipline and transcendent wisdom,
having entered on knowledge which is a firm support to all thoughts,
equal to the ocean in wisdom,
equal to the mountains in knowledge,
rich in many good qualities….
they attain perfect wisdom.