“The heart gets broken… In the brokenness … something rich and stronger … can arise.”
After college and before law school in 1985, I train-commuted daily for three months from my childhood home in Fairfield, Connecticut to a Wall Street bank’s headquarters — until finding a shoebox kitchenless apartment/room in the middle of it all in Manhattan — believing (and still believing) that capitalism, world enlightenment, and social justice could be wed. Not all of my colleagues welcomed that idea — although I rarely raised my social justice views at the bank — but my views still seeped out sometimes (how could they not?). One day a colleague was ridiculing the American Civil Liberties Union at lunch in the cafeteria, so I told him I was a card-carrying member; he asked for the card and verbalized that he was considering defacing it. Months later, another colleague laughed that my custom-tailored shirts might have been available before I departed to Tokyo from a business trip with a small team of us to Hong Kong had I not complained when an employee at the tailor shop was dehumanizingly tapping-rapping a tailor over the head with a wire hanger, while a manager used angry hand gesticulations to express his anger at the tailor, apparently because my shirts were not yet ready. When I insisted that this tailor was a human being and that this abuse of him stop, the hanger-hitting employee insisted: "Don’t worry. He is not your tailor," as if my complaint had been motivated over a selfish interest in seeing my tailor get the job done rather than sustaining a job-delaying headache or head wound from the employee. Such hostility and indifference to human rights and compassion for others underlined why my work with Amnesty was so vitally important and why everyone must work for individual liberties and compassion for all.
For many years before and after this tailorshop-gate, I was an active member of Amnesty International. Through Amnesty, I eventually met James O’Dea, first when he visited as an Amnesty International professional with the nearby Westport, Connecticut, Amnesty group, while I continued commuting to Manhattan. He emphasized the importance of our injecting our courage into our human rights work. I felt a need for James’s inspiration, to transcend the often frustrating task of pushing for human rights mainly by writing letters to the same governments that were oppressing people, and encouraging others to write such letters. Of course, as I later read, accumulated feathers sink the boat, and Amnesty’s work often has sunk the boat.
Next, James or I followed the other to Washington, D.C., where I attended law school, and where he took the helm of the Mid-Atlantic section of Amnesty International. I invited him to speak at our law school, where James opened by positing the question: "The law is an ass [slow, plodding]. If the law is an ass, what are lawyers?" Another law student and I by then had started an Amnesty chapter at law school, and James encouraged us students to fight for human rights in the midst of the grind of law school and the practice of law.
Then I lost touch with James, and with his doings, for over two decades, until the day before this year’s Human Rights Day (celebrated on December 10), when I received an email from the Cutting Edge/holistic lawyers’ group asking: "Are you a modern-day Gandhi? What is keeping you from it?" Of course, rather than my seeing the law practice as helping all parties reach positive closure, I see it as a way for me to find calmness in the eye of the storm while fighting to harmonize my clients’ imbalanced circumstances, where I am happy when I can do it without severely damaging the other side, but will do so within the bounds of law if needed.
The email from holistic lawyer Kim Wright says: "I’m partnering with James O’Dea, former Executive Director of Amnesty International, Ram Dass’s Seva Foundation and the Institute of Noetic Sciences… James is also the author of Creative Stress, about using stress as a catalyst, a topic that is intriguing to lawyers." The program is called "Lawyers as a Catalyst for Evolutionary Change."
Now I have rediscovered James O’Dea, this time with the benefit of the Internet. James is now here more powerfully inspirational than ever. Watch him on this video about the heart being a phoenix, and tell me if it does not strike you right in in the middle of that organ. James underlines that: "The heart gets broken. And yet we know that in the brokenness of the heart, something rich and stronger and more powerful can arise, that it has this capacity to shed worlds of experience that were painful and difficult and breaking," allowing one to know reality at a deeper level. "There is a reality of the realities where the bitter and the sweet are one."
When we remove our debilitating emotional armor, expose ourselves to pain, and embrace the pain in order to know it, be empowered by it, diminish it, and send it on its way, only then can we live a full life that enables us to reach new quantum levels of positive power.
James O’Dea and I have walked parallel paths beyond human rights activism and opening our hearts to find and cultivate our deepest power. He and I have benefitted from non-duality/non-attachment. James was the executive director for the Seva Foundation, which was co-founded by Ram Dass, who inspires me tremendously. James recognizes stress as something to be dealt with head-on rather than to be escaped from, and I focus on calmness in the eye of the storm. One of his recent books, in fact, is Creative Stress.
Sending deep thanks to James O’Dea.