The California Lawyers Association has designated this week Well-Being Week in Law. Since all of April was poetry month (admittedly, not a CLA designation), having just a week of well-being seems to give short shrift to a critical issue but I still applaud the CLA for focusing on the issue. In fact, the CLA addresses mental health every year the first week in May to coincide with Mental Health Awareness Month. If you click through to its Health and Wellness page, you’ll find some helpful resources, including several live webinars this week, as well as past webinars, articles, and further links.

MCBA has also brought attention to wellness, notably in various articles in the Marin Lawyer over the years, many of them collected in the most recent wellness-themed issue, in December 2018. We have struggled, though, with offering wellness programs. Some of this likely stems from the state bar’s ambivalence over the years about offering CLE credit for wellness. I’m not current on the bar’s latest thinking and I certainly understand that the bar does not want to find itself awarding credit every time a lawyer goes to the gym. But since we do still have a “competence” CLE requirement, learning practical ways to preserve our mental and physical health (which we can then incorporate into our lives) sure seems fundamental to competence to me.

Indeed, I’ve always thought the bar’s substance abuse focus had things a bit backward: if you’re going to make lawyers learn something, make them learn how to take care of their mental health before making them learn how to address the substance abuse resulting from not taking care of their mental health. I’ve always thought meditation was a great start to improving our mental health, especially the kind I teach, which is good for reluctant meditators since it can feel quite relaxing the first time you practice—and so helpful that you could even find U.S. soldiers teaching it in the field in Afghanistan. (You can learn more in the Marin Lawyer issue linked to above--or just ask me about it!)

All of this leads me to ask a question I do not intend as rhetorical: What would MCBA members like to see MCBA do to help them stay well? I would like you to actually get in touch with me to suggest ideas. I am well aware how challenging maintaining our mental and physical health can be with the pressure of deadlines, not to mention working in a profession centered on conflict. Signing up for yet one more organized activity can feel like it’s making the problem worse instead of better unless you have an awful lot of confidence the activity is going to help. Many of us need flexibility in when we take care of ourselves this way and yet others need structure to have any hope of taking action. And I am all too familiar with how the excitement of learning can sometimes be insufficient to overcome the many forces creating resistance to incorporating something new into our everyday lives.

Would something like wellness support groups or wellness buddies organized through MCBA be helpful enough to interest our members? For something like that, we would need volunteers to help make it happen since MCBA’s staff is already overcommitted. While I am not usually a fan of creating yet one more committee, when that committee’s purpose is important and at least has the potential to be effective and create something that benefits our members, I’m all for it—if we have dedicated volunteers. A wellness committee could be focused on something as simple as putting on one wellness program a year. Or it could create programs that help our members on an ongoing basis. I am certainly willing to serve on the committee as the board’s liaison if there is sufficient interest to constitute a vibrant committee. If you are interested in serving, please reach out to me via email or phone (415.673.5081). Please do not feel that the act of merely speaking with me commits you to anything—I welcome discussion whether or not you can serve on such a committee.

There are so many ways to improve our health that everyone can do so with the right knowledge and support. Just going for a short walk can help both our mental and physical health. I know that during the pandemic, many of you have approached your gardens with renewed zeal. While “nature deficit disorder” has not yet made it into the DSM, the term nonetheless represents a real phenomenon. I make a point of going to the San Francisco Botanical Garden once a week, and its salutary effect is clear--and different from the effect of my regular runs. Many activities offer the possibility of doing double-duty by offering a chance for social engagement.

Which brings me to the greater social isolation that the pandemic has meant for almost all of us. Those of us who work with elders know that social isolation is a major determinant of health—both physical and mental—and consequently life expectancy. I know that some folks are returning to something like normal life but as I wrote in my message last month, for some it may feel at this stage of the pandemic like it takes a lot out of you to venture out to even a modest-size event. But humans are social creatures and “belonging” is a basic need—even for introverts like me. While I hope the convenience of Zoom never goes away, we certainly need to actually get together. And we are in luck because MCBA actually has several in-person events coming up. Our May membership meeting is not only a Marin Supervisor candidates forum (districts one and five) but also a social hour—starting at 5:30 on May 18 at the Loch Lomond Yacht Club. The following week, the MCBA Barristers are sponsoring an “all section mixer” at Farmhouse Local in Larkspur. Attendance for this one is limited so be sure to sign up now. And in June, we will finally be able to honor Gary T. Ragghianti with his well-deserved and much-postponed lifetime achievement award. The award dinner takes place at Deer Park Villa on June 29 and because the venue is larger than the original venue, tickets to this once sold-out event are again available. I look forward to seeing you at one or all of these events!