Home » Blog » Jon's news & views » New year’s resolutions, sinking the boat with accumulated feathers, and standing on the shoulders of giants

New year’s resolutions, sinking the boat with accumulated feathers, and standing on the shoulders of giants

Call Us: 703-383-1100

Happy new year to all Underdog blog readers.

Few of us have gotten through the last few days without coming up with new year’s resolutions or piecing together an answer when asked for our resolution. No matter when during any given year we make the decision, resolving to improve ourselves and the world around us, locally and globally, and taking concrete and effective action on such resolutions, helps lift the world from the dark shadows, abhorrent human activities, and often deeply harmful negligence that we read about and witness too often and expand the substantial light and positive energy that are already present.

My own years long ongoing resolutions continue to be making myself a better person in part through the daily practice of taijiquan and the supplemental less frequent practice of sitting meditation, and the attendant benefits of being in the now and non-attachment/non-duality; and by making the world a better place by feeling and showing compassion for myself and everyone else and all sentient beings, and by fighting for civil liberties and social justice, particularly in my daily work as a criminal defense lawyer where there is no such thing as getting a defendant out of a prosecution pickle on a technicality, but by pursuing my clients’ Sixth Amendment Constitutional right to effective and zealous assistance of counsel.

Caring about the world around us sometimes can seem a daunting and overwhelming task. It seems less so when we recognize that it takes a lifetime to make the greatest difference. Amnesty International’s decades-long admonition to light a candle rather than curse the darkness did not at first register well enough with me, because the darkness, depth and breadth of worldwide human rights violations seemed too massive to produce and light enough candles, let alone to find and get access to the places and people — from those doing good to those harming others and everyone in between — that needed those candles.

Then, I flipped through my 1990 Amnesty International calendar, and found a quote that “Accumulated feathers sink the boat,” and that hit home. It took me twenty-seven years, until that day, to shed more of my ego’s expectation that I could move mountains by myself in a short time.

In The Essential Huainanzi: LiuAn, King of Huainan by An Liu and John S. Major, the above accumulated feathers concept is described as follows: “A pile of feathers can sink a boat. Lots of light things can break an axle.”

Yes, it is good to dream big, but many people and many years, at the very minimum, are often needed to make substantial differences. Then again, Ralph Nader urged the students at my law school not to get blindsided by people and events that are obstacles to achieving good or simply disinterested about doing so, but to remember that one of the most influential pieces of legislation (I forget which piece) was initially drafted by two cohorts at a kitchen table.

Fortunately, many giants have preceded us in pursuing the path of good — however one defines good — including Gandhi, Martin Luther King, Jr. and thousands of others, including such inspiring advocates for justice as SunWolf, Steve Rench, and Mary Jane DeFrank. Gandhi, Martin Luther King, Jr., and many others paid with their lives for fighting for a better world. We are usually not creating new paths to improving ourselves and the world; at minimum we can expand those paths in the right direction and at best we can elevate those paths by quantum leaps and get much closer to their destinations, and we should have fun along the path.

Recently, a state legislator I know almost dismissively (I say “almost” because he seems still to be very open minded in listening to others’ opinions, no matter how much I disagree with some of his legislative stances) on a listserv referenced my opposition to one of his legislative efforts thusly: “I expected the civil libertarians to chime in.” When we pour our blood, sweat and tears into endeavors that will help the world but may not earn us money, fame, nor power other than the power resulting from our achievements (and the power of our fight that can scare our opponents), there will be naysayers and well-meaning people who advise us to look after number one first (as if number one is somehow disconnected from everyone and everything around him or her) and of course naysayers who oppose our stance or path. When we are not interested in winning popularity contests nor in accumulating excessive wealth, we are less likely to be sidetracked by the naysayers.

We are all in this life together. We are all connected. We are not divided by Republican v. Democrat v. Libertarian v. Anarchist v. Zappa-for-Dictator, nor by smoker v. non-smoker, gun-toter v. anti-gun activist, nor by criminal defense lawyer v. prosecutor and cop, and the list goes on. I constantly need to remind myself of that. As Ram Dass underlines the ultimate end of the path of non-attachment, in The Only Dance There Is:

When you get finally finished with the attachment, the desires that keep making you be born again and again cease, and you become one with “the One.” And that is the merging back into the One… [Y]ou only see the One if you’re two. Once you are in the One it’s non-dualism.

Part of non-dualism/non-attachment is living and being in the now, including not staking our sense of well-being on the results of our labors, even though our wisely-planned labors are very important. A reminder of that is Derek Turesky’s recent quote on Twitter: “What if we could let go of wanting things to be different and find the beauty in the way things are in this precious moment?” Yes, do not merely settle for things as they are, but we achieve more with even more energy and power by always being in the now.

My goal is to be mindful in everything I do. When one live mindfully, the magic bursts forth.