Winning while practicing no-self, full presence, non-anger, shifting boundaries, and limitlessness
Fairfax criminal lawyer on the power of limitlessness for winning advocacy
“He will test your limits,” my likeable and insightful freshman college roommate from the Pittsburgh area warned me about our at-once irritating and fascinating roommate from Long Island. The Long Island roommate proceeded one evening to paint his wall black without checking with his remaining roommates on a color scheme consensus; to connect the dormroom doorknobs with toilet paper as his effort to reverse disconnect among the residents, but then to chew out the bewildered custodian the next morning for removing the toilet paper; punch a hole in our door to enter when he had lost his key; and refuse to take his tray full of food plates to the cafeteria deposit area lest he act in conformity. Were I superstitious, I would have thought he had been sent to me to recognize and work on my own levels of intolerance, inflexibility, discomfort, joylessness, and insufficient imagination.
And now what do I do for a living? I represent my constituency of alleged ne’er do wells, alleged misfits, alleged and actual boat rockers, and those who will simply not conform as the government-military-industrial complex tries conducting business as usual. In so doing, I am not only continuing where I left off in standing up for myself against adults cramping my style as a child, but am also standing up for those like my Long Island roommate who otherwise do things that repulse me, and even standing up for people like a public defender client of mine who had some swastikas tattooed to his neck, with neither of us once mentioning race, religion, hate, nor even his swastikas (had we met for more than our one meeting before his parole violation hearing, those topics may have been addressed), other than covering up the tattoos before the tribunal.
In the end, we are interconnected beings rather than separate selves. And even to the extent that we can be characterized as separate selves of sorts — at least to the extent that we inhabit seemingly separate bodies — each of us, like a river, is ever changing and ever moving, like moving targets, sometimes even to ourselves. Some aspects of this greater whole of life present great joys, and other aspects — including many people — present proverbial butt boils if not outright carbuncles and hemorrhoids. And just as we would lance a near-bursting boil rather than tolerate the greater discomfort of its approaching the bursting point, we can reconcile seeing ourselves as interconnected while still causing harm to others (only of the lawful sort) as a cost of harmonizing imbalanced situations. That is what enables me to smile sincerely and compassionately at a prosecutor and his or her witnesses as I pursue any lawful means necessary to harmonize my client’s disharmonious situation, even if that proverbially tears the prosecutor or his witness to shreds.
I marvel at how many of my colleagues seem so skillfully to deal with their clients as if a bubble surrounded each of them. Doing so can give superficially temporary comfort to the lawyer that the client will not push the lawyer’s limits and can give the client comfort about what to expect with the lawyer, that being a respectful advocate keeping a compartmentalized distance. It is all a charade, because inside all of us feel deeply and want fully to express ourselves and engage in life and with those we feel comfortable with, but so many of us have learned and been conditioned to hide those feelings, and in the process to become automatons. I can only fully understand and communicate my client’s persuasive story and break down the opponent’s case by dismantling that charade. Different clients have different thresholds of willingness and readiness to venture into this unknown world of revealing who we really are and what really makes us tick. The true magic begins when my client and I take the risk of fully opening up to each other , entering a powerfully and magically new realm of teamwork, trust, and understanding on the road to reaching breakthroughs towards victory.
Of course, this approach of openness and connectedness and full engagement by a trial lawyer includes mess, like an emergency room doctor dodging projectile vomiting and diarrhea rivers on the way to sewing up a gunshot victim’s bullet-riddled abdomen to save his life. And while some of the doctor’s gunshot victims survive and inspire shouts of victory, some also will die, right there on the operating table. And what does the doctor do when his or her patient dies? Eventually go home to an empty place, or a place where the other family members do not want to hear, do not open themselves to understanding, and simply do not want to bear the psychological trauma? Or seek and reach out to colleagues and others who will understand, and who seek mutual understanding, but who also have their own day’s agendas to address? Or hit the alcohol bottle or pill bottle? Or bottle up all the emotions inside until they later burst out in unforeseen ways when there remains no more room to contain those suppressed and repressed feelings?
Fortunately, I found the non-dualistic path of treating the battlefield as my playground, among all the simultaneous glory and proverbial blood and guts. I have a choice to battle right in the eye of the storm and be strengthened and more victorious for doing so, or to remain on the sidelines or beyond, as the battles still rage. I choose the latter.
Like Anandamayi Ma who was at once perceiving on an entirely different plane of consciousness while fully in touch with those around her, I know it is possible for me and all other lawyers to disintegrate and transcend the many actual and apparent boundaries on the road to victory, while still fully engaging and remaining fully in touch with our clients when they seem to otherwise be lagging far behind in so many ways. Of course, those same clients have much to teach us.
I started this blog entry as a focus on winning while practicing no-self, full presence, non-anger, and shifting boundaries, after recently speaking with a client whom I had warned at our initial consultation that I might not even represent him after he endlessly babbled on his first phone call to meet when I reminded him several times that I had my next meeting waiting, but who finally calmed down after he saw that I truly care about him, his case, and his plight in life, and that I will fight as hard for him as for my clients who present fewer indications of being an emotional wreck (even though plenty of my clients simply bottle that up). During our most recent talk, my client was still repetitively babbling at times, but this time less so, and showing comfort in my simply giving him my full presence, ear, understanding and compassion, possibly things that my client lacks and craves in his daily life. And then we moved forward, as we ultimately must, on the path towards victory, although that does not mean I will no longer witness further babbling from him.
Of course, this blog entry, and my preferred approach to criminal defense and life is about much more than dealing with the daily dance — often a very uncomfortable and even ugly one — among clients, allies and opponents. This is about my having one foot on the ground where I can perceive as irritants or else new learning opportunities the people cutting me off and tailgating me on the highway for cars and of life; while the other foot carries the rest of me forward to limitless possibilities on what all of us can achieve in our work, for others, and for ourselves. I can change the dance music, life music, and even the dance itself, starting with what happens in my own ears.