Wise Judgement

Law professor, mindfulness instructor, and former judge Gretchen Rohr on the ways mindful-ness and justice intersect.

Photograph by Eli Meir Kaplan

In 1994, while in Oakland, California, on a film project about race and gender, Gretchen Rohr worked with a group of activists—among them former Black Panther Party leader Ericka Huggins—dedicated to addressing the sort of injustice and oppression they had experienced themselves. But what struck Rohr about these elders was their lack of bitterness. And all of them meditated.

Rohr now teaches mindfulness at her alma mater, Georgetown University Law Center, and with the Justice in Balance initiative, which is a monthly exploration of meditation and nonviolence. From 2013 to 2016, she served as a magistrate judge for the Superior Court of the District of Columbia.

Did your colleagues in California inspire you to meditate?

Not at all.  The concept of mindfulness seemed too foreign, too fantastic.  I was an activist trying to change the world.  I thought I needed to be moving, moving, moving to make change.  I guess I just needed more life to understand the power of the practice.

What changed for you?

About 10 years later, I came upon a book about love by Thich Nhat Hanh. It was like reading my own diary. It put into such clear language what I felt, based on the life…