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Not getting debilitated by mistakes – Winning when still connected to all – The power of space

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“You suck,” complained a so-called teammate on my summer camp street hockey team, about my choking with the ball; I was more partial to lacrosse and basketball. We were in the gnat-infested great outdoors in northwest Connecticut’s Berkshire mountains, but the camp was long on sports and too short on just being with nature. Although I was sometimes tempted to let others define me through their praise and proverbial egg throwing, I succeeded in beating the temptation. This same camper, by the way (and consider the source of criticism aimed at you), was reputed to target fellow campers’ pillows, plant an SBD, and gleefully walk away. From a safe distance and with a gasmask, that would have been hilarious.

Why would I judge this now-fifty-one-year old who in possibly back-to-back breaths in 1976 told me I was a lousy street hockey player and then purportedly farted on bed pillows? (And who is to say he still does not carry on his farting tradition?) As Publius Terence aptly said so long ago: Homo sum: humani nil a me alienum puto./I am human: nothing human is alien to me. Thich Nhat Hanh takes Publius Terrence a step further in his poem “Please Call Me by My True Names,” recognizing that but for his fortune in experience, resources, compassion and wisdom from an early age, he could have become the child raped by a pirate as well as the pirate who raped her, “my heart not yet capable of seeing and loving.”

I have often found myself judging myself more unsparingly than others. When others falter, in some ways it is like watching a television show and proceeding to the next task. When I falter, I am daily with the person who faltered, and I may be under the glances and whispers of those who have witnessed me falter.

Life is a river, ever changing. If I hold onto the pasts of myself and others, I am weakening myself, and being dualistic.

Even such an accomplished human as the Dalai Lama lose their temper (see minute 2), and the Dalai Lama asserts that anyone who never loses his or her temper must not be an earthling. Offsetting losing his temper, the Dalai Lama tries “to separate myself from anger, then watch my anger, that emotion… then immediately the strength of anger diminishes, according to my own experience.”

We of course are all related. It is weakeningly dualistic for me to dwell on the past missteps of myself and others, rather than to see and treat the world as my playground to accomplish while having fun doing it, and getting right back up to keep battling after falling down. I am on earth in this body too briefly to do otherwise.

If we are all indeed connected, how can I focus on winning when others often will inevitably lose when I win? If I have a blister, even though it is connected to me, that does not mean that I am not going to pop the blister when doing so is less painful than leaving the blister be, while getting a kick out of experiencing the pus oozing out of the popped blister as well. My work as a criminal defense lawyer is to balance unbalanced situations; far from that being antithetical to acknowledging that we are all connected, the realization that we all are connected assists us in engaging fully with life and others, and not getting debilitated when others seem to trespass against us or throw sand in our eyes.

Now I come to the power of space. We are weakened when we feel that we are on a never-ending treadmill of life, having little time beyond work, sleep and beer. Meditative and mindfulness practice helps me see myself and my surroundings as limitless and timeless. With that space, I can better engage fully with each moment and each person, whether while dealing with an otherwise demanding workday, or simply going for a hike. If we are truly connected with everyone and everything, time should not be seen as scarce, rather than as abundant.

A fellow lawyer told a story about a wrestler who got so aggressive that he chomped down on his opponents’ testicles. Another lawyer astutely wondered aloud whether the storytelling lawyer was really telling about chomping down on his own testicles. If we are connected to everyone and everything, when we curse others or circumstances, we are cursing ourselves. When we pour gasoline into our adversary’s cola, we are poisoning our own selves. When we twist an opponent’s arm, we are twisting our own arm. All of those reactions are responses to the illusion of separateness.

When I see myself falling for the illusion of separateness, I try to get back on the right path by focusing on my in and out breath, relaxing and sinking any tension into my tan t’ien, and sometimes ringing an actual or proverbial bell.