Fearlessness is a critical component of living powerfully as a criminal defense lawyer and as a person.
To be fearless, I take inspiration from t‘ai chi master Cheng Man Ching, who spoke of overcoming our fears in terms of imagining that we are practicing t’ai chi while balanced atop a narrow pointed cliff. To not eliminate one’s fears while atop the cliff is to guarantee certain death. Eliminating fear also calls for keeping and tempering the fearlessness of a child filled with wonder, and living in the moment, as wonderfully detailed in the following story of the man and the two tigers: A man is chased in the wilderness by two tigers, only to be forced off a cliff, hanging for life from a vine. One tiger waits above and the other waits below for a human meal. Two field mice gnaw away at the vine. The man sees a wild strawberry growing from the side of a cliff, reaches for it, tastes it, and — with his life hanging in the balance — thinks of how delicious the strawberry tastes.
I came to t’ai chi and the already-late Cheng Man Ching in 1994 through my late fellow criminal defense lawyer Victor Crawford, who was ready to show me the path to t’ai chi study once I called him for guidance three years after I first met him and learned about his years of practicing the martial art. By that time, Vic already was facing the challenge of cancer from smoking, which would claim his life only around one and a half years later. I visited Vic around a year after starting my t’ai chi study, and told him I was unsure how much time to devote to going to t’ai chi classes when I also wished to continue my more aggressive long distance running regimen. He urged me forward with t’ai chi, suggested dieting as an alternative to running for weight loss, and talked about the amazing energy and other benefits that come from practicing t’ai chi, which I started recognizing more and more firsthand as my t’ai chi continued into today. Vic spoke of understanding his body better than did his doctors. I needed a fellow criminal defense lawyer to encourage me to continue with t’ai chi, and it also helped that one of my two main teachers is a lawyer, Len Kennedy. When my other t’ai chi teacher — Ellen Kennedy, who teams with her husband Len — told me that Vic’s cancer was spreading further through his body, she told me that if I visited him in the hospital and performed t’ai chi in his presence, it could be beneficial; I was too uncertain how I would be received, not having known Vic very well, when if this were today, I would have visited.
Was Vic fearless about his then-approaching death? I do not know for sure, but imagine that t’ai chi helped him along the route of fearlessness. Now comes inspiration for fearlessness of death from another person who knows he is dying from a disease, pancreatic cancer, taking over his body. He is Randy Pausch, who talks of being here now, the importance of being ready to work hard and to have fun in life, and the importance of chasing our dreams. He is less than three years older than I.
Above is Randy’s talk about his positive approach to his life, focusing on being very much alive day by day as he approaches the death that all of us ultimately will face. His chemotherapy has ended, causing too many harmful side effects. He says that his above talk to students at Carnegie-Mellon University was meant for his three children, I suppose to inspire them to focus on being alive, rather than on the fact that everyone’s life ends one day or another. Jon Katz.
ADDENDUM: Thanks to a fellow listserv member for having posted a shorter version of the above YouTube video presentation.