07/24/2014 04:46 pm ET Updated Sep 23, 2014

Grand Jury Duty Stalled My Life -- But Helped Me Find Solitude


Taking time to do nothing often brings everything into perspective. -- Doe Zantamata

When was the last time you were seated in a room with a group of people for hours on end, and no one -- not one single person --- stole periodic glances at their mobile devices?

If you can't remember when, then I can only surmise it's been a long time since you served on jury duty! During a recent four-week tour of civic service in a Chamber with 23 Grand Jurors, I saw how challenging it was for everyone, myself included, to resist the temptation to glance at our mobile phones and tablets, even though we were required to keep our devices at bay. Most of us like to think that we can pay attention to a presentation or discussion while reading or replying to emails and engaging in social networking. But, truthfully, we can't. Assistant District Attorneys expect -- and require -- us to be fully attentive as they open various investigations and present evidence, witnesses and the law.

Our group of jurors collectively succumbed to temptation during breaks. In a synchronized, choreographed dance, fingers and hands moved to check portable electronic devices squirreled away in briefcases, bags and backpacks. I had long ago accepted our existence in an ultra-connected world. But seeing this lock-step, universal digital "dash" was the ultimate proof. It was my "aha! moment" of seeing how preoccupied we are with our hand-held appendages.

It wasn't until I saw this harmony of movement that it really sank in. My fellow jurors and I lead plugged-in lives. But we aren't alone. The next time you're walking down the street or taking mass transit, look around and see how many people aren't on their smartphones. Probably not many. Granted, you may have to look up from your own device to do so.

I confess that I thought about getting a postponement from jury duty. I have a life -- a routine -- and I didn't want it disrupted. Jury duty stalled my entire life. Meditation flew out the window, work piled up and I was getting way behind.

But the Grand Jury experience revealed a surprise: a lesson in thought, attention and awareness. The simple act of noticing requires no effort. Awareness and attention are about noticing -- just noticing, not asking how, or what or why. Before my recent foray into meditation, I might not have come to this realization.

During this interrupted "life" time, I needed to maintain some semblance of balance and a sense that I was still in control of my life. I was weighed down by all I needed to get done during this time and felt like I'd never get caught up. I found myself getting more frazzled.

Then, one day on my way to the Courthouse, I discovered a quiet hide-a-way place sandwiched between two buildings. And it is here that I regained control. By seeking solitude. I scoped out a spot near the pond and gave myself permission to think and reflect. I parked myself in nature and took notice of my surroundings: the birds fluttering through the bushes, the murky green of the pond dotted with shiny pennies, and the gnarled, knotty bark of the trees.

The quiet had a calming effect. It was surprisingly satisfying and refreshing, even on a hot, humid day. By abandoning my smartphone -- at least for that period of time -- I could actually attend to the sounds of birds tweeting (not the digital tweet), pigeon's wings flapping as they took flight and the wind rustling through the leaves. A mini-nature film unfolded before my eyes. Every day before I entered the Grand Jury Chamber, I ducked into this sanctuary and got my injection of calm. As the weeks went on, I looked forward to this respite. My reality check was that no mobile device was required to simulate this experience.

In these moments of solitude, I enjoyed a positive, constructive engagement with myself -- a chance to be by myself and with myself, and find an inner power. To focus, explore, replenish, renew, reboot my brain and regain perspective. To actually meet myself (mostly satisfying, but at the same time a bit frightening) and explore my own mind. No need to react, respond, discuss or analyze.

I took the plunge into the depths of my inner self, allowing me to get back to driving my own life, rather than having it run by schedules and outside demands. It gave me "room" to take a break from the hyper-connected, kinetic world. A chance to think deeply, work through my thoughts more effectively, to take stock, urging me to hone in on what's vital to my well-being and what I bring to the world. This space taught me more about myself and how to appreciate the Now. I found my voice.

To my amazement, I was able to remove the barriers and anxiety that accompany any new-found skill. I found I was meditating. Having removed the label of meditation and the pressures -- to sit still, concentrate, pay attention to my breathing, my posture, what I'm thinking about, why I'm thinking about it, how I'm going to meditate, and on and on -- and experience my thoughts freely, without restrictions, meditating became easier. I approached these times of solitude with no expectations or presumptions but just allowed and appreciated -- not resisting, as I did when I formally labeled this experience as meditation.

When you dispense with the label and not focus on what it should be, the entire experience becomes part of living, not a chapter in a lesson plan. I didn't schedule my solitude; I just let it happen without expectations. I just let it be.

I grew to love my magical pocket-sized park. As I left the Courthouse on my final day of Grand Jury duty, my undisturbed, lovely place of refuge where I had so faithfully found much-needed calm for the past four weeks was being torn up; jackhammers were rat-a-tat-tatting as they demolished the ground; the pond had been drained and the gates shut and bolted.

This place of calm was now off limits. How sad and prophetic. It was almost as if the universe was saying to me, "Ok, Jodi's finished with jury duty, she's had a good run here and gotten what she needed from it. Now our collective rebuilding will commence." The universe works in strange and mysterious ways.

I never would have imagined that Grand Jury duty would help me to find real solitude. That environment was there for me when I really needed it. I am so grateful.