MINDFUL LEADERS IN THE LAW:
An interview with Shayla Bowles
By Christopher J. Lhulier
Welcome to the May 2021 edition of the Mindful Leaders in the Law series. Our goal, through this series, is not only to strengthen our community by sharing interesting conversations with some of the amazing individuals who make-up MILS. We hope, by spotlighting the paths and practices of others, to also inspire and empower our members to build their mindfulness practices in creative ways that are uniquely satisfying to them.
This month I talked to MILS’ Membership Chair, Shayla Bowles. Shayla is an associate attorney at Peebles Kidder in Rapid City, South Dakota. Her practice centers around representing various tribal clients and addressing issues affecting Native Americans and their communities. She is passionate about ensuring that Tribes are represented and advocated for in ways that consider the tribes’ traditions and values. As an enrolled member of the Navajo Nation, she is one of only a small number of Native Attorneys who are best equipped to recognize, understand, and address each tribe’s unique issues.
I had a chance to ask Shayla about how she began practicing mindfulness, how she manages to work mindfulness into her daily routine as a busy lawyer and parent, and the connection between mindfulness and her Navajo heritage. As a passionate advocate for Tribal rights, Shayla’s clients (and MILS) are fortunate to benefit from her diverse perspective.
Q: How did you begin practicing mindfulness?
A: I was first introduced to mindfulness in 2015 as a military spouse when my husband, my son, and I were stationed at an Air Force Base in Okinawa, Japan. There, I participated in group sits with other military spouses and discussed various hardships unique to military families while living overseas. From there, I incorporated mindfulness practice into my day by using guided sessions through a phone app.
Q: Working mindfulness into your life as a busy lawyer can be challenging. As a newly minted attorney, are you finding ways to integrate your law and mindfulness practices?
A: Yes, it is very challenging to find time to incorporate mindfulness practice into my day. However, I have continued to schedule in my own mindfulness sits 3-4 times a week usually in the mornings while incorporating informal sessions daily throughout my workday. For example, I will sit mindfully for a couple of minutes before I begin a long assignment. I also have a very supportive boss who is allowing me to incorporate a short group mindfulness session into our weekly office meetings.
Q: I know you are an enrolled member of the Navajo Nation and that your practice centers around representing various tribal clients and addressing issues affecting Native Americans and their communities. Can you talk about this area of the law and why this work is important to you?
A: There is a lot to be said about Federal Indian and Tribal law. But, if I can try to focus on the significance in a few short sentences it would be that there are currently 574 federally recognized tribes and over 274 non-federally recognized tribes and this is important to note because each of these tribes need its own unique legal representation in order to exercise and protect their tribal sovereignty. There is no one size fits all. This area of law requires knowledge of the federal- tribal trust relationship, the various limits that many tribes have outside their respective reservations, and the contention between tribal and state sovereignty.
This work is important to me because Tribes need to be represented and advocated for by their own people. Native American Attorneys encompass only a small percent of all attorneys. Based on a study conducted by the National Native American Bar Association in 2015 using U.S. Census data from 2011-2012, Native American Attorneys comprised only .3% of U.S. Attorneys. This is an issue because most non-native attorneys are not trained in federal Indian law, do not understand the issues that impact tribal nations, and typically incorporate solutions that do not consider a tribe’s traditions and values. This results in non-native solutions ineffectively being applied on Native issues. Native Attorneys, on the other hand, are best equipped to recognize, understand, and address each tribe’s unique issues.
At my work, our motto is “Tribal law, Tribal Solutions,” this means that because there are so many tribes and there is not a one size fits all, a tribe’s own laws, traditions, and values are better suited to resolve their unique issues and in this way tribes can more effectively exercise and protect their tribal sovereignty.
As a Native American Attorney, I feel so lucky and honored to be able to represent my community and address the needs mentioned above. I also hope to inspire more Natives to enter the legal field and to become an Attorney.
Q: Is there a connection between your Navajo heritage and mindfulness?
A: In my opinion there is. In my Navajo (Diné) culture, we practice a concept called hózhó which encompasses the restoration of harmony and peace. According to our traditions, Diné people will be faced with chaos and it is up to us to learn how to identify these players causing chaos in our lives and to achieve and restore hózhó through practicing our Diné traditions. I relate this concept to mindfulness because both concepts require a person to disconnect from what is happening in our lives usually in a chaotic moment, learn to take a holisitic and nonjudgmental view of the players causing chaos, and find peace amongst all the chaos. In this way, we can achieve overall harmony or hózhó in our lives.
Q: Congratulations on your new role as the membership chair at MILS. Is there anything new in the works?
A: Thank you, I am so honored to serve as the new Membership Chair. At the moment there is not anything new, however, there are a lot of new members signing up every month. As the Chair, I get to see the growth of MILS and that in itself is very exciting. There are members from all over the U.S. and even in Canada, and Europe. This makes me so proud to be a part of MILS.
Q: Do you have a go to mindfulness practice for those days when you do not have time to do a formal sitting?
A: Yes, I really like to practice breathing exercises. I will usually take a couple of minutes, wherever I am at, close my eyes, count my inhalations, count how long I hold my breath, and count my exhalations. I will also incorporate some mindfulness techniques by trying to observe my breaths and recognize what is going on around me.
Q: Do you have a favorite quote or expression about mindfulness that reminds you of why mindfulness is a priority in your life?
A: Yes, there is a prayer from the Navajo Way Blessing Ceremony called Walking in Beauty. The prayer is in Navajo and based on my interpretation of the prayer, it encompasses the concept of balance and beauty. What this means is that we have a connection with everything around us and when we reach a balance and have achieved harmony with our surroundings, we can finally see the beauty around us. A portion of the prayer that I like to think about daily is:
“In beauty I walk.
With beauty before me I walk.
With beauty behind me I walk.
With beauty below me I walk.
With beauty above me I walk.
With beauty all around me I walk.
It has become beauty again.”