Finding and Returning to Ground

For reasons still not fully understood by me, I chose to open my own law office immediately upon graduating from Boalt Hall (University of California, Berkeley School of Law) in 1974. Irrespective of what compelled me to that decision, the early years of "flying by the seat of my pants" taught me a number of invaluable lessons that have served me well to this day.

It's not the worst thing in the world to not know what is the appropriate response to a novel occasion, but it is imperative to have an intelligent strategy to deal with that circumstance when it occurs. For me, that strategy included slowing myself down. I never have, and probably never will, do well immersed in chaos.

When I reach a certain point, I have learned to sink below the noise and turmoil. Once slowed, I become extraordinarily aware of what is transpiring around me. More often than not, I discover that I am experiencing turmoil of my own making. Often, the "cause" to which the turmoil is being attributed either is not "real" (it is my perception) or there simply is no cause other than a bunch of people building up and feeding off one another's noise.

As lawyers, we are trained to default to our cognition for answers. That may be the appropriate default in many circumstances. But I often find that what I am "feeling" gives clearer insight and is much quicker than my "thinking."

What I've just said sounds simple. And, in some respects, it is. The "slowing down" begins with an awareness that you are revved up and no longer acting effectively. That awareness requires a certain degree of insight. But it also takes practice. The way I found to begin or enhance that practice is through meditation. I sit quietly for anywhere from 20 to 30 minutes each morning, prior to doing anything in the day. I establish solid ground for my consciousness against which other parts of the day are measured. In meditation, I have thoughts, often an endless stream of thoughts. But, while sitting, I independently witness my thoughts, their frequency and intensity. I also begin to detach myself from them. Developing the meditative 'witness" serves me during the practice itself and throughout the day. It allows me to continuously access the level and type of mental activity in which I am engaged. There is nothing about our physiology that mandates that our minds be awhirl in thought. It is amazing to witness, while meditating, the thoughts that do arise.

Last year was probably one of the worst years that I've ever experienced in my years of practice. The plummeting economy, the disruption to the industry that I serve, the secondary effects on my colleagues and friends, made it very hard for me to sit silently. The temptation was to leave the sitting practice altogether. But two notions kept me coming back. First, if my mind was churning this much in meditation, how much worse would it be if I were not meditating? Second, each day's sitting gave me a sense of where I was at that moment, which was always good. Sure, it was different from the day before and likely will be different from the next day to come. But, I could engage it successfully. Change is the nature of life. If I remain aware, I learn to accept what comes.

I seek out others who are engaged in similar practices so that we may reaffirm to one another our approach and commitment to this life's enterprise. A great majority of my friends are mediators, yoga practitioners or artists, writers and musicians. In those communities, awareness and exploration are highly valued. I take refuge in programs, group practices and jam sessions simply to gain strength from those like-minded communities.

I also engage in activities designed to be uplifting. I go to the symphony, to plays or poetry readings. I am enriched by playing music or reading a good book. Hiking into the wilderness is restorative and returns me to quiet contact with myself that I so deeply desire and deserve. Preparing a fine meal - visioning, shopping, preparation, cooking, savoring - grounds and fortifies me.

I consciously insert "restoration" into my days. They are as much a part of my calendar as are my career appointments.

Finally, I avoid toxic people, unhealthy communities and detrimental activities that serve only to amplify the world's turmoil. If you think about it, you already know many of the people and circumstances that do not serve you. But, sometimes, detection is quite subtle. Violence in entertainment, unhealthy foods, foul language, pursuits involving exploitation, human or otherwise, take a significant toll on your well-being, whether you are a participant or observer.

The more opportunities I have to create that extraordinary meditative space and awareness, the easier it is for me to note how and when I deviate from it during the day. I detect cues when I'm losing my ground. Despite a personal commitment not to swear, under any circumstance, I occasionally fail. That failure tells me that something is amiss. I don't view my breakdowns as disruptions or failures. Rather, I view them as teachers that appear to remind me to stay on an effective course, for my sake and for those with whom I interact.

By the way, these insights and practices did not come to me swiftly or easily. I had to walk into a lot of walls and hurt a lot of people before I began to get myself together. The purpose of writing what I do here is to convey, through my experience, a perspective worthy of your consideration. It also allows me to make amends to those I have hurt by my inappropriate behavior. Those mistakes certainly have helped me. Perhaps, they can help you to avoid harm to others.

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