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The persuasive power of being open, clearing the air, polishing the mirror, and emptying the vessel

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My taijiquan and mindfulness practices do not obviate the need to work hard for success. They are a prelude to successful work, working smart, and getting the necessary balance of well-done work, spending time with my family, and taking care of my physical, spiritual and psychological health.

Litigation is combat, and taijiquan also Is about combat, with solo practice preparing the practitioner for combat, and with the combat testing the quality of the practitioner’s solo practice and development.

A wise taijiquan practitioner who has been practicing this martial art many more years than I once posed to me an essential question for a taijiquan practitioner to assess his or her development: “Are you relaxed? Are you open?”

When one is not relaxed, s/he constricts and sometimes even chokes off powerful avenues of flow, starting with blood flow through veins and arteries, rather than continuing into powerful integration with the world as easily as a lion in its surroundings, rather than fighting against the current to achieve an unlikely new and at best fleeting reality.

When one is not open, s/he might be trying to protect against harm, but in the process is keeping out what is good, as well. A benefit of taijiquan practice — and of achieved actual or proverbial shoot-don’t shoot target practice — is having the instinct, reflexes and ability to deflect, deflate and neutralize what is harmful, while attracting, accepting and welcoming the bounty that surrounds us. Another way of approaching the combination of life’s daily blessings and difficulties is through RAIN: Recognize, Allow, Investigate and Non-Identify. With that backdrop, I started last Thursday right by doing taijiquan practice soon after waking and before starting the workday. That night, I went to Baltimore for one of my infrequent visits to a professional reception, this one for a lawyers group that for years has been admirably focusing on identifying and supporting lawyers who know and pursue the avenue of doing well through doing good, rather than separating the two from each other. I arrived towards the end, talked with some people I know, met some new people, and left. Aside from experiencing the good energy in the room of using the law for good, it was not a particularly exciting gathering for me, as many traditional-type lawyers gatherings do not seem to be for me, unless some standout people are present.

On the way back home, I stopped at Dunkin Donuts for an infrequent cup of coffee, for the caffeine. As I waited for the coffee, I saw from the back a 74-year-old man eating a Baskin Robbins ice cream cone, with a cool, very long ponytail. I was mesmerized. His wife smiled seeing my gaze and reaction, and I said to them both “I can’t help myself from saying how much I love your ponytail.” He replied something about being seventy-four years old.

This man, Joe, later walked over to me and thanked me for remarking on his ponytail, which was his years-long fashion. His late mother did not care for it. His wife was not a fan of his ponytail, either. I was. Here’s a twist: He cuts and donates his ponytail each year. Then he grows it back.

At some point, Joe gave his wife the keys to their car; he wanted to keep talking, and I wanted to keep listening. He mentioned being a Vietnam War veteran from the early 1960’s, before the war atrocities were exploding a few years later at full force. I forget if he said whether he started growing his hair long around then. He offered me a look at his Vietnam veteran pin, and mentioned that he gets together with veterans as old as ninety, from World War II.

You never know where and when you will meet interesting people, even at a Dunkin Donuts, with all of them having cookie-cutter designs and no individual personality, like so many chain businesses.

The experience meeting Joe was its own reward, which also reminded me of the following lessons:

– Everyone has at least one fascinating story to tell, even people who seem to be dull, boring or loutish. They just need the right circumstances and comfort to tell their story, particularly if the story includes personal pain or other elements that might be embarrassing if not told to trustworthy ears. If the listener is truly interested in their story and actively listens to the story, giving the listener’s presence at all times, the storyteller will reward the listener with his or her story.>

– I suspended inquiring into Joe’s activities in Vietnam, whether he witnessed war atrocities, and what made him go there in the first place, whether through being drafted or volunteering. This was not the time for me to judge nor to interpose my own viewpoint. I wanted to hear his story.>

– I went into this Dunkin Donuts expecting nothing more than a cup of coffee with almond milk (accommodating vegans and those who are lactose intolerant). My meeting with Joe having been completely unexpected, I had no expectations nor intentions from our interaction, which was all spontaneous and heartfelt. Expectations can be barriers to interactions among people. Being open helps others trust in the open person, to let down their guard and to be their real selves.

That night, Joe was a great person to join temporarily on the path, and he is a great teacher.

ADDENDUM – Here are some further details on today’s blog title of “The persuasive power of being open, clearing the air, polishing the mirror, and emptying the vessel.”

Clearing the air is about the cleaning out the gunk and getting to the power of zero.

Polishing the Mirror” is a great lesson from Baba Ram Dass.

Emptying the vessel is about the power of mu, and quieting/emptying the mind.