Virginia's Judicial System

The Zen of Mediation

I led a Zen or mindfulness meditation workshop for mediators recently. Participants filled the room to capacity, and most of them left the session with an "out of the box" experience. Some lingered on for more questions generally about personal dilemma, adaptation to mediation, and resources. I am now sharing some of my answers with you:

How does mindfulness meditation enhance mediation? Meditation and mediation are both instruments of peacemaking. The former deals with internal conflict, and the latter with interpersonal conflict. Many skills required for success in meditation are the same as those required for success in mediation. Take "presence of mind" for example. Zen practitioners call it "mindfulness." Mediators refer to it as "micro-focus" or "attention to details."

While "attention" may be a hallmark of mediation (Lang and Taylor, 2000), it is the bedrock of mindfulness meditation. There is a story about a teacher who was asked about the highest teaching of Zen. He wrote the word "Attention" on the board. "But, isn't there anything more profound?" he was asked. "Yes, there is," he said and wrote the word "Attention" again. "But, there must be something more," insisted the student. "Yes, there is," the teacher said. And he turned to the board and once more wrote "Attention." Now the board said, "Attention, Attention, Attention." Therefore, "attention" is the beginning, the middle, and the end of meditation.

Besides, there are meditative qualities that mediators can develop to sharpen their skills. First among them is a beginner's mind or an ability to take things for what they are in the moment without judgment or preconceived agendas. "In a beginner's mind there are many possibilities; in the expert's mind there are few, " so goes the saying.

Next is mindful listening which means be still and listen. "What is seen should be only the seen," said the Buddha. The same teaching applies to listening. If you have to think of leaning forward, mirroring the speaker's posture, maintaining eye contact, saying "Mm, hmm" often while nodding, you are not listening.

Third is equanimity or serenity, which is the last of the four Brahmas Viharas or Devine States of mind. An aquanimous mind is poised and balanced and does not move reactively.

Fourth is self-awareness and control. Self-awareness is a precursor of attention and doesn't by itself catalyze any action. It gives the practitioner a split second to choose whether to act or not to act on an impulse, and also serves as an early warning mechanism to monitor communication barriers, directive impulses, and other hot buttons such as attachment and aversion.

Last but not least is patience, a rare virtue in a culture of instant-gratification. Some forty years ago, labor mediator William Simkin suggested "the patience of Job" among the attributes sought in mediators. Patience is even more important today, especially in situations where disputants come from cultural backgrounds different from from each other's and from that of the mediator.

You may already be familiar with the above-mentioned qualities. Mindfulness meditation, however, could take you beyond the level of intellectual understanding to actually feeling and living these conditions.

Where does one go for further training? Mindfulness practice centers are located in many communities to teach the Four Foundations of Mindfulness. Some law schools in the country also offer mindfulness programs as a part of their curricular. Last year and for the first time, the ABA Section of Dispute Resolution offered a program entitled "Mindfulness and the Personal Presence of the Conflict Resolvers" at the Seattle, Washington annual conference. The program was presented by Daniel Bowling and Leonard Riskin, two familiar names among professional conflict resolvers. You can go to the website of the Missouri-Columbia School of Law for Professor Riskin's calendar of events.

In conclusion, mindfulness meditation is more than a mental exercise, and it can bring quality to your work, peace to your mind, joy to your heart, and happiness to your home. It can be done sitting, standing, walking or even lying down.



Henepola Gunaratana. Mindfulness in Plain English (Wisdom Publications Inc., 1991).

Kabat-Zinn, Jon. Wherever You Go There You Are: Mindfulness Meditation in Everyday Life (Hyperrion, 1994).

Levine, Marvin. The Positive Psychology of Buddhism and Yoga: Paths to a Mature Happiness (Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, 2000).

Riskin, L. Leonard. The Contemplative Lawyer: On the Potential Contributions of Mindfulness Meditation to Law Students and Lawyers and their Clients, Harvard Negotiation Law Review, 1-66 (June 2002).

Smith, Jean (ed.). Breath Sweeps Mind--A First Guide to Meditation Practice (Riverhead Books, 1998).

Thich Nhat Hanh. The Miracle of Mindfulness: A Manual on Meditation (Beacon Press, 1976).

Web sites:

Bhavana Society, Rt. 1 Box 218-3, Highview, WV, 26808, 9304) 856-3241,

Green Mountain Dharma Center, P. O. Box 354 South Woodstock, VT 05071, (802) 457-9442,

University of Missouri-Columbia School of Law,

Mindfulness Practice Locations:

District of Columbia

Washington Mindfulness Community
Barbara Newell, Washington DC

Washington Buddhist Vihara
Washington, DC


Fresh Breeze Mindfulness Sangha
Carol Fegan, Towson, MD

Christ Church Mindfulness
Dick Crenshaw, Shady Side, MD

Still Water Mindfulness Community
Mitchell Ratner, Takoma Park, MD


Mindfulness Practice Center
Anh-Huong Nguyen, Oakton, VA

Insight Meditation Community
Jon Waterman, Arlington, VA

Mindfulness Com. of Hampton Rd.
Allen Sandler, Norfolk, VA

South Anna River Sangha
Craig Green, Louisa, VA

Cloud Floating Free Sangha
Hannah Wilder, Charlottesville, VA

Vipassana Meditation
Diabe Jones, Copper Hill, VA

Tuan Pham, MBA, is a dedicated Dharma practitioner, an experienced civil and family mediator, and a certified training specialist. He lives in Northern Virginia and can be reached at 703-354-3322 or

This page last modified: March 26, 2003