There is no surprise the two most important witnesses in any divorce case are the parties to the marriage. Together they provide seventy-five percent of the information used by the Chancellor to decide the outcome of most marital disputes. Some people make great witnesses, and some are absolutely terrible. However, disinterested third party observers who testify at trial remain critically important. They are detached from the argument and have the advantage of their futures not being directly impacted by the outcome. They observed the conflict, but they are not usually “in” the fight, hence their account is more credible.
I have spent hundreds of days in open court during my career. Indeed, some witnesses also seem more trustworthy than others. People will on occasion say one thing in a private conversation and something very different under oath in a public forum. For example, I can remember early in my career interviewing a teacher in a custody dispute. The teacher spoke candidly to me about the issues with the child, and I thought her testimony would be helpful for my client, the mom, so I called her as a witness. However, when the teacher took the witness stand, as a natural advocate for her student who loved both parents very much, her testimony fell flat and did not really help my client prove her point. What she said was not bad, it was just more neutral when expressed in public than it seemed in private.
After years of dealing with other people’s family conflict, which requires me to tell their stories limited by the rules of evidence (through documents, photographs, videos, audio recordings and, as described above —eyewitness testimony), I have renewed my commitment to wellness. Click back to past blog articles here, here, and here. I was also on Kelly Engelmann’s podcast talking about health and wellbeing. I counsel my clients about it too.
Right now, I think one of the most helpful tools a person in family conflict can use is meditation.
Meditation helps reduce stress, control anxiety, promote wellbeing, enhance self-awareness, improve sleep, improve memory, and it can decrease blood pressure. There are dozens of helpful applications for your mobile device which help facilitate meditation. My favorite is Insight Timer. Other popular apps are Calm, Meditation Studio, Ten Percent Happier and Headspace.
A meditation practice is a gift you give to yourself.
Meditation seems simple, but it is actually very difficult. To meditate, you essentially find a comfortable seat, close your eyes, and draw attention to your breath. When a thought comes, you acknowledge it, and let it float naturally out of your consciousness, drawing attention back to the breath. A thousand thoughts create a thousand opportunities to come back to the present moment through the natural rhythms of breath.
There is an idea in some meditation traditions about attempting to create a dichotomy in our minds, where we silently witness our procession of thoughts that come and go. This idea is what made me think about witnesses in court. In “Silent Witness Meditation”, one effortlessly observes their thoughts, while not being consumed by them.
We are not our thoughts.
The following is an excerpt from the instructional article Silent Witness Meditation from the Australian School of Meditation and Yoga:
Now watch your mind and become aware of how you are aloof from the thinking process. Experience how you can watch the mind, as a silent witness, as an observer simply watching the passing parade of thoughts and emotions. Different fears, anxieties and images rise to the surface of the mind, then pass away. We are the observer of those thoughts and images. We are aloof and detached from the mind.
Repeat the following meditation silently in your mind: I am the silent witness, I make no effort to think but thoughts come automatically, I am watching the thoughts flow through my mind but I am aloof from them. I am the silent witness of my mind’s activities.
For a person living through the madness of divorce, marked by constant fear, anxiety, restlessness, and the inability to turn off one’s mind, a meditation practice can create space for a deep calmness —a necessary retreat that only requires 10-20 minutes once or twice a day. A quiet place to sit is also helpful. Resembling a credible trial witness who is not a part of the conflict but explains to the Court their observations, meditation can train its practitioner to sit in quiet attestation of their own feelings. If you are divorcing, being a passive witness of the mental ramifications of the life upheaval created by divorce might just save your life. What do you have to lose? Twenty minutes of mindless social media scrolling whereby you compare your life circumstances to your “friends” highlight reel?
Meditation is scientifically proven to be helpful, and it has been used across continents, cultures, and religions for millennia. Similar to a credible, disinterested trial witness, meditation is a tool you can use to silently observe the passing parade of the harmful energy you are navigating with calmness and tranquility.
Craig Robertson is the founder of Robertson + Easterling. For over 23 years, he has practiced exclusively high net worth divorce and complicated family law in Mississippi. You will want him in your corner because he knows the things you care about deeply are at stake, and he will counsel you about wholistic modalities to foster health and wellbeing. He tries to practice meditation daily, but some days are better than others.