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Compassion, Love, & Service Make a Trial Lawyer Strong, not Weak

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Today’s blog entry supplements my 2010 Valentine’s message, which I then rehashed in 2011 and 2012.

Happy Valentine’s Day to all, to my wife and son, the rest of my relatives, my friends, my staff, my clients, my fellow mindfulness and taijiquan practitioners, my role models, my heroes, and my inspirations. Happy Valentine’s Day also to those I would hesitate ever to give a hug to, and even those whom I would hesitate ever to turn my back on, including the prosecutors, judges and police who do not seem to give a damn about the Bill of Rights and basic decency and compassion.

Valentine’s Day ideally should not be saved up for just one day per year — when Hallmark, florists, the chocolate industry, and restaurants are gleeful all the way to the bank — but should be every day. Showing brotherly and sisterly love and compassion to all throughout every minute and second of the day is not weakness but strength. It brings us closer to being in control of our own happiness, well being, and destiny; not letting others dictate when we feel harmonious rather than off balance; and seeing and treating everyone and everything as a harmonious whole.

I did not come to this love and compassion theme as a cheerleader, but in many ways got pulled into it often as a skeptical and even reluctant audience member and participant, and fortunately so. I believed early on in romantic love and love for family, but this concept of loving everyone did not take with me for quite some time. As a human rights activist in college, for instance, I felt that the love them outside of the romantic and family context was overdone and too much of a luxury to focus on when so much heavy lifting was to be done for human rights. Then again, what was more powerful during the anti-Vietnam War protests? Activists shouting “baby killer” at returning veterans or George Harris placing carnations in the gun barrels of police in 1967? How can I convert human rights violators to reverse their ways if I do not find internal peace, love and compassion, and share that with all? Don’t forget to add humor and laughter to the mix, even the sophomoric, soy milk erupting from the nose brand of humor. (Just don’t drink the erupted soy milk.)

When I attended the 1995 Trial Lawyers College for four weeks, ten miles from the nearest paved road, and with just two pay phones to communicate with the outside world in those pre-email days where cell reception was only available by going to a distant mountaintop, I witnessed all this hugging and “I love you’s” early on, when I had thought I was coming to learn how to be a better lawyer, only to have me shaken upside down and in all directions to be reminded that being a better lawyer or anything else starts with being a better person. How ironic, I thought, that an employment discrimination lawyer one morning at the ranch asked me for a hug, when I figured she would not have hesitated to file a sexual harassment lawsuit against a boss who demanded hugs from his employee. So I made my silently obnoxious point by denying her the requested hug, and having her tell me I left her holding her heart in her hands. I kept walking in the opposite direction. Within around two to three years later — having totally internalized the lessons of the Trial Lawyers College — she won such a huge jury verdict, apparently in a sex discrimination case, that she ended up taking a years-long sabbatical from the law practice. Although I resumed hugging this lawyer soon after the day that I refused to do so, I do not take any credit for that verdict.

Soon, I realized I could easily become a pariah on this beautiful but isolated ranch if I did not start opening up myself to my colleagues there, accepting hugs, and just being. Coercion to obtain kindness is not the way to go, of course, but I got my needed wakeup call. Three years ago, I wrote more about all this.

It is not weak to act in a powerfully relaxed, clear-minded and calculated way with people who appear to challenge our sense of fair play, kindness, and justice. To do otherwise is weakness and to let them call the shots on our feeling of well being and on the wallop strength in our punch. Nor is it weakness to keep compassion and empathy — and the realization that they one day can turn around for the better — for those who test our patience, calm, and limits. The most powerful approach with such people, in addition to having compassion for ourselves and for them, is to empty our minds of expectations of wrongdoing or other bad acts by them, but to remain appropriately on guard at the same time. That is why my taekwondo instructor admonished us to never take our eyes off our opponent, even when bowing to them at the beginning and end of sparring with them.

Buddhism/meditation teacher Sharon Salzberg, who blesses me and many others in the Washington, D.C., area with monthly meditation and dharma talk sessions in Washington, D.C., at the Campaign for Tibet, not long ago told us about her amazing teacher Dipa Ma, who transcended tragedy after tragedy — with two children dying and then her husband, when her remaining child was but five-years-old. As Sharon relates:

One day a doctor said to [Dipa Ma]: “You know, you’re actually going to die of a broken heart unless you do something about it.” Then in Burma, she proceeded to do meditation practice. Dipa Ma subsequently became a very accomplished meditator and spiritual person. One day in Calcutta, Dipa Ma had a visit from her Western student who had been practicing in India for several years, and whose mother very much disapproved of his path. As Sharon relates in A Heart as Wide as the World, Dipa Ma gave the student $12 that she had been given as a donation, saying “‘Go buy a present and send it to your mother.'” Sharon says that this action of Dipa Ma exemplifies the Buddha’s teaching of reconciliation that “if you are angry with someone, you should give them a gift.” At minimum, I can give the gift of non-judgment and compassion to myself, my allies, birds of a feather, and those with whom I have conflict. That does not prevent me from working to stop them from violating justice in the future, but makes me more powerful on that and all paths. I have not yet given an adversary an origami peace crane; one day perhaps.

Similarly, I can give metta/lovingkindness meditation and prayers to myself, my clients my allies, opponents, and those with whom I am in conflict, without weakening myself, and in fact empowering myself further by practicing non-anger. Metta meditation can powerfully proceed as addressed here, ending with the following wish: “May all beings be well, may all beings be happy, may all beings be free from suffering.”

Ram Dass, who found a way to feel connected with a police officer by seeing him as Krishna, and driving away with the police officer having shed himself a bit from his police role, but only because Ram Dass interacted with him as human-to-human rather than as driver temporarily detained by a cop and awaiting the financial and points hassle of a traffic ticket. Ram Dass has said that hippies create police and police create hippies. He says that to be able to truly disagree with someone, we must first see ourselves as one with everyone else, even with the likes of Richard Nixon and J. Edgar Hoover, rather than seeing all as subject and object.

This is the same Ram Dass who, on his second be-in with his teacher Neem Karoli Baba/Maharaji around 1973, angrily threw a plate of food onto the Westerner who handed it to him. Maharaji witnessed this act of anger, called over Ram Dass, and told him to love everyone and to tell the truth, at a moment when Ram Dass was not feeling particularly loving towards everyone.

By now, Ram Dass sees everyone as being part of the same whole. He is a very important inspiration for me to pursue the same path, although I am very far from achieving it. Ram Dass lives the theme of loving and serving all; his very name Ram Dass, chosen by Maharaji, means servant of god. Even after his post-food-throwing encounter with Maharaji, Ram Dass felt the challenge about how to feel as loving and open to Reagan’s defense secretary Caspar Weinberger as he did with Maharaji and people of similar loveableness. When I experienced Ram Dass in 2003 when he spoke at the Lisner Auditorium and even took the time to receive the audience in the foyer, one-by-one, after his talk, he had advanced much further by saying nothing worse about George Bush, II, than that he must have been going through a difficult reincarnation.

By taking the foregoing approach with other people, I am a stronger person and trial lawyer rather than a weaker one, by being on the path of true balance and power. Similarly, in taijiquan, practitioners should see everyone and everything as connected, but that does not stop an accomplished taijiquan practitioner from inflicting severe damage on someone attacking him with a knife. In that regard, none other than television’s Kung Fu imparted this lesson, through Master Kan: “Perceive the way of nature and no force of man can harm you. Do not meet a wave head on: avoid it. You do not have to stop force: it is easier to redirect it. Learn more ways to preserve rather than destroy. Avoid rather than check. Check rather than hurt. Hurt rather than maim. Maim rather than kill. For all life is precious nor can any be replaced.” (Emphasis added.)

May all beings be well, may all beings be happy, may all beings be free from suffering.