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Lessons from today’s Compassion & Wisdom Conference

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After yesterday’s two-day trial finished in one day, this morning I attended the second morning of the three-day Compassion and Wisdom Conference in Washington, D.C., which nearly reached a full capacity crowd of over 200 people. I very much wanted to attend yesterday’s morning session with Roshi Joan Halifax and the rest of today’s conference. However, I had trial yesterday, and ordinarily am better at attending conferences when they are out of town rather than in town when I am more tempted to handle matters in court and for existing clients.   

Here are my shorthand notes of what I learned and re-learned at and from today’s Compassion & Wisdom conference and from myself, mainly during Frank Ostaseski’s presentation, except where indicated otherwise:

– Compassion is needed to face pain (yours and others’) head on, before transcending it. 

– We experience moments of connection, to be savored. (From Barbara Fredrickson’s talk).

– Some experts on children say it is not natural for children to be plugged into smartphone screens. (From Barbara Fredrickson’s talk).

– Having hearts and bodies, pain sometimes, at the very least, visits.

– Do not wait until people are dying to give them your full presence and caring.

– People nearing death often want their story to be heard, to be touched and massaged, and to simply have others’ non-judgmental presence. Don’t wait until the end of life to give all that to people.

– A tradition in many cultures is for family members to bathe the body of the deceased, rather than sending the body straight to a funeral home or to the hospital for organ donation. Frank Ostaseski, co-founder of Zen Hospice Project, told of parents who put flower petals from that garden in the bathtub for their young child’s body. This story was the most moving for me at this gathering of a few hundred people, mainly psychological and other healthcare professionals from around the country and beyond, including a journalist from Sweden.

– Frank prepared us for his talk and slideshow photos of his teachers, those he has been with in hospice, with a great meditation where he focused on our being fully connected with ourselves and surroundings.

– That meditation helped me become much more accepting of and non-judgmental to see images of people about to die, one in death also, and some others smoking (and why not smoke at that stage if one wants?). Mediation is great for making me feel more connected, clear and non-judgmental.

– There are no accidents. I was very moved by an attendee’s story of being with her mother when the life support machine said her heart had stopped beating. The daughter kept talking to her, saying that there was more she wanted to discuss, and her mother a few minutes after her heart stopped opened her eyes and complained about being summoned back by her daughter, who spoke about then monitoring her mother to the ring of the grandfather clock. This woman is just a few miles from me, and we talked more about it after Frank’s talk.

– A Rochester, NY, hospice nurse, whom I ended up having lunch with, along with her hospice’s medical director and social worker, told the audience about the frequent appearance of a tear in just one eye of a person soon before dying, and her belief that the tear is an expression of love for the person’s loved ones.

– We have information overload. To fully connect with ourselves and others, frequently unplug from phones, email and the Internet. Be in the present. Here, I had to unplug, having no reception so deep below the conference hotel’s first floor, three levels down How does all this relate to criminal defense? For starters, it is powerfully and persuasively essential for me to be fully present and compassionate with me and my clients and all others. Also, concerning Frank Ostaseski’s discussion of people close to death, fearlessness of death is very important for litigation combat.

Thank you deeply to all conference participants I have mentioned above.