The Wake Up Call for Lawyers

The Fine Art of Letting Go

May 05, 2022 Judi Cohen Season 6 Episode 350
The Wake Up Call for Lawyers
The Fine Art of Letting Go
Show Notes Transcript

I've told this story so often, about how, after I'd stopped practicing law for quite a while, my partner, seeing how frantically I was working, said, "Really? I didn't know you'd given it up."

I was one of those lawyers who worked all the time, at all hours, squeezing stuff in late at night, early in the morning, on weekends. And I still do it, teaching mindfulness. Old habits die hard.

So I'm exploring turning over a new leaf.

I've decided to consider - just consider - the practice of letting go. Of course letting go is one of the main tenets of mindfulness and I've talked about it a lot. But have I done it? I realized recently, not so much.

Today let's talk a little about letting go, then practice it.

Also, this is Wake Up Call 350. !! It's hard to believe, but that's where we are. And it feels like a good time to take a short break. I'm headed to the UK on Monday, so today will be the last live Wake Up Call until June 16th. I'll miss you! And, I'll see you in just over a month.

Wake Up Call #350: The Fine Art of Letting Go

Hi everyone, it’s Judi Cohen and this is Wake Up Call 350. That feels like a milestone.  

Today I want to talk about The Art of Letting Go. This isn’t an art that I’ve mastered! In fact, the last six months or so have been deep immersion for me, in work, in family, in practice, and without much letting go. 

To the contrary I’ve felt like I’ve been holding on, in some moments for dear life. That fingernails-sliding-down-the-cliff holding on. And it’s taken its toll. These last few weeks I’ve been slowly letting go a little bit. I thought I would share what I’ve learned in the hopes that it’ll be helpful.

With letting go, we’re sitting squarely within the 4NTs, suffering, the causes of suffering, the remedy, and the path. Remember, the 1st NT is that suffering exists. Things don’t go our way. There’s too much work and not enough time. We lose, our clients go to jail or get deported or don’t get what they want and then we may feel that as our own loss, which in a way it is. This is happening for me in the context of teaching: I want things to go a certain way, to be useful to people, to be helpful and maybe move folks along on the path just a little bit. Sometimes I feel like I’ve maybe done that, sometimes not. When I don’t feel like I have, I notice I’m unhappy. I want things to feel right but they feel slightly off; or I want things to be useful and I suspect they’re not.  

I was reading a piece from Everything is Teaching Us: A Collection of  Teachings, by the Venerable Ajahn, Chah, a Thai Forest master of the last century and teacher to many of my teachers. In talking about nibbana, or freedom, or liberation, Ajahn Chah wrote, and I’m paraphrasing slightly, 

…What is nibbana [or liberation] all about anyway? It means not grasping. It means not giving meaning to things. It means letting go. Making offerings and doing meritorious deeds, observing moral precepts, and meditating on loving-kindness—all these are for getting rid of defilements and craving, for making the mind empty—empty of self-cherishing, empty of concepts of self and other—and for not wishing for anything, not wishing to be or become anything.

Starting from the middle – “making offerings and doing meritorious deeds, observing moral precepts - I feel like we’re doing this a lot in the law already, maybe more than we realize. Every time we take on a pro bono matter, go the extra mile for a client, don’t charge someone, undertake something we know we can’t win – or that our client can’t win – yet put our heart and soul into it anyway; every time we take that extra time to be with our students, to tune in to their concerns, their worries, their confusion, with patience, with love; this seems to me to fall within the practice of making offerings and doing meritorious deeds. 

I feel like we shouldn’t miss this, and for me, anyway, it’s easy to miss. In the stress and strain of getting things done, managing everything on my plate, it’s easy to miss. The other day I was sitting with a friend, a dharma buddy, a woman I consider very wise. She’s ten years my senior and I see her wisdom, I see her generosity. And she reflected back to me that she sees those in me as well. It wasn’t so easy to take in. And, once I did, it felt good. She helped me remember not to miss all the offerings and merit we’re generating, just being of service in the law, and in lives.

Same with observing moral precepts – maybe it goes without saying because we have a code of ethics in the law – but non-harming, not stealing, not speaking unwholesomely, not breaking or even bending the precept to do no harm with our sexuality, not intoxicating ourselves to the point of clouding the mind -  I hear from many lawyers who say, these are the baseline. They’re aspirational, for sure, but they’re the baseline.  

And plenty of us are practicing with lovingkindness. Maybe not enough, speaking for myself, but it’s there. We’re working with it. 

But Ajahn Chah is saying something even more nuanced, I think. He’s also pointing at letting go. He’s saying the observation of the moral precepts, the doing of merit, lovingkindness, are all for a purpose: for getting rid of defilements and craving, for making the mind…empty of self-cherishing [and] of concepts of self and other, and for not wishing for anything, not wishing to be or become anything. 

This is the opposite of a fingernails-sliding-down-the-cliff sense of holding on for dear life. And it comes from practice. 

Not only of meditation, but also the practice of courage. 

To get rid of the defilements – greed, aggression, confusion – and to embody a more equanimous life, to live with ease, first, we have to see the defilements, the craving, the desire for reassurance and adulation, the self-ing, the wishing to be and become someone who…fill in the blank, or to not be someone who….fill in that blank. For me, takes courage, because I don’t necessarily want to see my busy-ness, my grasping, my desire to become. I want to know myself as peaceful and easeful, not as someone who strives, grasps, is full of desire. But it’s crucial – not easy, not comfortable, at least for me - to look, and see.  Ajahn Chah puts it this way:

When the mind starts grasping at things and making a big deal out of them, you have to stop it. It will argue with you, but you have to put your foot down. Stay in the middle as the mind comes and goes. Put sensual indulgence away to one side. Put self-torment away to the other side. Love to one side, hate to the other side. Happiness to one side, suffering to the other side. Remain in the middle without letting the mind go in either direction.

This is the definition of “letting go” that I’m working with right now. I hope it’s useful for you all. 

Let’s sit.

 Wake Up Call 350 seems like a good place to take a short break, and I’m going to be traveling until mid-June so I’m going to take a break while traveling. I’ll miss you all – and I might even send a note because I know it’ll be hard to stay away - but this will be the last WUC until June 16th. Take good care, my friends, and I’ll see you then.