The Wake Up Call for Lawyers

Whacking Someone On the Head, in a Mindful Way

March 10, 2022 Judi Cohen Season 6 Episode 342
The Wake Up Call for Lawyers
Whacking Someone On the Head, in a Mindful Way
Show Notes Transcript

If you were heading down the street and someone tried to mug you, what would you do?

Maybe instinct would kick in and you'd run, or turn and try to fight them off.

Maybe you'd have an instantaneous mindfulness check-in and think, "non-harming, non-harming" - I shouldn't go after them.

Maybe - just maybe - you'd whack them over the head with your umbrella. From a mindful lawyering perspective, is there a time and a place for that, too?

Hi everyone, it’s Judi Cohen and this is Wake Up Call 342.

 Tomorrow is the start of our first Intensive for the 2022 Mindfulness in Law Teacher Training. I’ve been thinking about the Intensive, writing talks, and also listening to talks, being in my own training and listening to my teacher, doing a lot of reading, and practicing a lot. So it’s been an amazing few weeks.

 In one of those conversations, James Baraz, my main teacher, reminded me of a story that I think makes a lot of sense for lawyers. It’s a story about Sharon Salzburg, one of the young Westerners who went to India and Southeast Asia in the late 1960s and early 1970s and studied there, then brought mindfulness to the West. 

 I want to tell the story but before I do that, the reason James was telling the story, and that it’s so interesting to me, is because of the question that so often comes up about whether or not it’s ok, from a mindfulness perspective, to be aggressive or even violent. 

 At face value, the teachings say no. Hatred never ends with hatred but with love alone is healed. Anger is like carrying around a hot coal and expecting someone else to get burned. Do not kill. Do not let others kill. Find whatever means possible to protect life. Do not live with a vocation that is harmful to humans and nature. 

 The Simile of the Saw, one of the ancient teachings, goes even further. It says, “…even if bandits were to carve you up savagely, limb by limb, with a two-handled saw…, you should train yourselves [to be] unaffected and…say no evil words [but]…remain sympathetic, with a mind of good will, and with no inner hate. There’s just not much room for interpretation.

 People sometimes ask me about the name, Warrior One. The word “Warrior” does sound violent. The name was partly after the yoga pose, which is a pose of stability and dynamic energy, and isn’t violent at all. But it’s also after the Tibetan legend of the Shambhala Warriors.

If you’ve dug deep on the Warrior One website, you might have read the legend, which is recounted there. According to the legend, there will come a time of chaos in the world, when powerful, opposing human forces will rise up in an attempt to annihilate one another, and the earth’s future will hang in the balance. Like now.

Supposedly right at that moment, the Shambhala Warriors will appear. They won’t look any different from anyone else, but they will be these courageous beings. With that courage, they’ll be able to show humanity how to lay down their arms against each other, and against the earth. 

 And they’ll succeed. Mainly they’ll succeed because they’ll be able to explain mindfulness – wisdom, compassion, justice, inclusion, belonging - and get everyone on board – this reminds me of Arnold Toynbee the historian saying when we look back, the greatest development of the 20th Century will be mindfulness coming to the West – so the Shambhala Warriors will get everyone on board with mindfulness and help us all to see that our wars and conflicts, with each other and against our planet, all arise from the constructs of our own minds. And therefore, can be dismantled by the mind.

Many years ago when I heard this legend – long before Warrior One was even a gleam in my eye – I thought, this is who we are. This is who the lawyers are, or could be. Or should be. Lawyers are, or could be, those Shambhala Warriors. 

Our job, like theirs, is to champion justice, compassion, and belonging. Our job, like theirs, is (or should be) to champion the earth. And the key to it all is that our weapons, like theirs, are not weapons of violence – or shouldn’t be. They’re just two qualities of mind and heart: wisdom and compassion.

Compassion for two reasons: one, because we’re working towards wellbeing - our own, the wellbeing of others, and the wellbeing of our planet. And two, because compassion leads us to justice, inclusion, belonging, and a commitment to do no harm. 

But compassion alone is too soft, too yielding, so we also need wisdom. Wisdom is what will create real and durable change. Wisdom is what enables us to see with a discerning view. Wisdom is what enables us to be open-minded and also fierce, so that we can wage the battles we need to wage against injustice and oppression and the plundering of the earth. 

And yet. 

 What if, in doing all this, in being a Shambala Warrior, or just an ordinary, everyday, committed, mindful lawyer, someone you love is about to be harmed? Or you are? What if your country is being harmed? A friend in Germany told me that for Americans on the West Coast, one way to think about the war in Ukraine is to realize that if we lived in San Diego, it would be as if Seattle was being invaded. So, what if there was an invasion right up the coast from you, or across the state? Is there ever justification for violence?

 The teachings seem to say: still, no. So what do we do about the violence that’s already embedded in the profession? There’s hatred, tribalism, oppositionality, animosity, covetousness, anger, all of the -isms – there’s the whole range of negative human emotion, among the factions of the law itself, and in the ways we approach our cases and matters. Does all of this have to go? Can it be eliminated if we are advocates – if we are warriors (even Shambhala Warriors)? 

 Maybe, maybe not, but if not, maybe we can approach this a little differently.

The story about Sharon Salzburg is simple. Sharon, who was very young  at the time, was in India studying with her teaching Munindra-Ji, who was also Jack Kornfield’s teacher and James’ teacher and the teacher of a number of other influential Western teachers. Sharon was in a rickshaw, in the rain, and a man came running up to the rickshaw and grabbed her bag. 

 She was shaken up. Maybe she knew the Simile of the Saw. She went to Munindra-Ji, and asked what the appropriate response was. Maybe you remember the old Zen koan, “What is the teaching of a lifetime? An appropriate response?” 

 And Munindra-Ji told Sharon that with all of the love in her heart she should have picked up her umbrella and whacked the guy on the head. 

 I’m thinking this was both wise and compassionate advice. Compassionate, because if you care about someone, then you would try to stop them from doing something that might harm them or create bad karma for them. And stealing is at the top of the list. 

 It was wise because plenty of times, wisdom has to say, “NO” in no uncertain terms. 

 So on one level it seems like the teachings are clear: violence is never justified. It’s never wise to allow violence into our hearts. And when we find it there, there are remedies: metta to warm the heart, compassion to care rather than hate, patience with ourselves and with others while they wake up, and forgiveness because then healing is truly possible.

 So maybe what Munindra-Ji did was to show Sharon that it’s possible to have a loving heart – because he said, “with a heart full of love, whack the guy on the head with your umbrella” – and also to protect yourself…and I’d say, and protect others, protect the earth, too. 

 Maybe we can develop these loving hearts, too, even though we may need to brandish our swords – of wisdom, of compassion – and save some folks from the criminal justice system, or from ICE, or from corporate America, or even from their own deluded minds. Maybe we can hold others in loving regard, who are doing that – engaging in violence, in warfare, with loving hearts, to save their country – Ukraine and also elsewhere in the world. 

 So let’s sit, and hold the people in Ukraine, and also the people in Russia – and especially the soldiers – in our hearts. And the people and soldiers in conflicts all over the world, in our hearts.