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Of thick skin-thin skin, positive and negative vibes, and being powerfully in the moment

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Around 1997, I wrote about the overlapping benefits I derive from applying the lessons of t’ai chi, the Trial Lawyers College, and the path of peace. As I continue to apply these lessons, I learn that the thick skin I have developed over the years to toughen myself in coping with and fighting injustice, unfairness, heartlessness, and inhumanity did not help me sense often enough when others felt harm by words and actions that often roll off my back like water on a duck. This foregoing path that I have taken helps me shed unnecessary armor to better empathize when, for instance, a client feels all bent out of shape when a court starting time changes, and to better sense how everyone around me is reacting to — and may react to — me, others, and everything else taking place. This is critical in persuading and living inside and outside of the courthouse.  

Last night, for the first time I joined local mindfulness teacher Tara Brach’s weekly meditation gatherings in Bethesda, Maryland. Despite the ongoing rain and heavier traffic, over one or two hundred people came. That is how much these sessions mean to them.

During her dharma talk that followed around thirty minutes of guided meditation — this meditation was a beneficial change of pace from the moving meditation of the daily taijiquan martial art that I practice — Tara spoke about being present, intimacy (platonic and romantic) requiring being present, and not running away from the present.

I joined the discussion group that followed about the dharma talk. As each person shared their personal experiences that night, I shared my recognition that it is not enough for me to learn how to be present, but to help those around me have an environment to do the same, if they choose to do so. For instance, recently a consultant that my client relied on for his case went seemingly silent on me for two days when I needed him right away for further assistance. This seemed out of character for him.

Finally this gentleman called me after two days. Rather than giving into my first impulse to tell him I felt let down, I instead asked how he was doing. He told me how he was so busy that he was being pulled in all directions. Rather than my asking him not to spread himself too thin before helping his present clients, I said: "Congratulations on your abundance. I hope you can spare a few moments to help me on this matter that I called you about originally." We were back towards equipoise.

Persuading requires me to be open, in the moment, and not tense. Good luck with my persuading anyone to be any more open and calm with me than I am with them. The more open and calm that others are with me, the more open they are to listening to me, having my words click with them, and hearing my efforts to persuade them. Many people feed off he energy of others. When I emit positive vibes, there is no negative energy from me to defeat my goals.

I simultaneously learned, largely through my practice of t’ai chi and related lessons, that fearlessness of death and other future events leads to more power as a person and persuader; that fear of death and the future increases the risk of sickness and death, including through stress-induced ailments; and that fear of death and other harm increases the chances of having one’s head lopped off by the opponent’s proverbial samurai sword. Moreover, one who hesitates can die, or at least suffer severe defeat. One who fears can die, and fear breeds hesitation. 

This path of being powerfully in the present is more easily achieved by finding like-minded people. I am fortunate that many such people are right here in the Washington, D.C. area, including taijiquan practitioners and those active in the many local mindfulness groups. Blessedly, my wife and I — and our boy — are on this path together, encouraging each other along the way. Such circumstances in the capital area is a counterpoint to the image of Washington as the seat of political power and the military-government-industrial complex, whose own members, as humans, deal with their own daily joys and suffering, and can benefit themselves and others by living and acting mindfully.