The Wake Up Call for Lawyers

Finding Common G.R.O.U.N.D.

April 22, 2021 Judi Cohen Season 5 Episode 297
The Wake Up Call for Lawyers
Finding Common G.R.O.U.N.D.
Show Notes Transcript

Another big week and this time some good news, with the Chauvin verdict and the Minnesota Attorney General's powerful speech. Keith Ellison invited us to create transformation in the law: "empathetic, compassionate, and affirming" were his words.

Can mindfulness move us closer to that transformation? I think so. Listen to this episode of the Wake Up Call. See if you agree.

Welcome to the Wake Up Call. This is Judi Cohen, on Wake Up Call #297. The title for today’s Call is, Finding (Common) Ground.

It’s nice to be in community with all of you. I feel like since Tuesday’s verdict, there’s been a small wake up call in the US, a little hope. As Keith Ellison, the Minnesota AG said, a moment of accountability.

I’ve been thinking about accountability since hearing Mr. Ellison’s speech. (If you didn’t see it, I highly recommend it – you can find it easily on YouTube). 

What would accountability look like if it were widespread in the law? Keith Ellison issued an invitation, or maybe a challenge. He said we need to “put unaccountable law enforcement behind us, and move from people feeling mistrustful, suspicious, and terrified of law enforcement, to a system that is empathetic, compassionate, and affirming.” What if the invitation, or challenge, is to law in general? In other words, what if “accountable” lawyering in general, means lawyering, and a legal system, that’s empathetic, compassionate, and affirming?

You might know that Keith Ellison was the first Black person ever elected to statewide office in Minnesota, and the first Muslim elected to statewide office in the entire country. He’s been fighting for Black lives his entire career. Hearing him speak on Tuesday, he seemed to me to be deeply committed to this work. Committed to accountability. Committed to justice.

He also seemed grounded: connected to his team, rooted in his community. A lawyer whose feet seemed firmly planted on the ground.

The teachings of mindfulness invite us to start here. They are about understanding the mind and heart, training the mind and heart, bringing fierce compassion out into the world. But they begin with teaching us how to become grounded. 

There is history here. In the ancient tale of the Buddha’s awakening, Gotama, the prince who would later become the Buddha, had studied with every great teacher in all of India but still hadn’t found a path to awakening. Finally he decided to simply sit down under a Bodhi tree and meditate until he became fully liberated. As he sat, Mara, who was a demon, sent temptation upon temptation to sway Gotama from the path. When nothing else worked, Mara whispered into Gotama’s ear, “What gives you the right to attain enlightenment?” As in, who are you to wake up? And Gotama took his finger and touched the earth, and said, “As the earth is my witness.”

He was saying he was a part of the earth and that all beings are as well – and that in this way we’re all connected. That’s why – taking in Keith Ellison’s invitation to transform the law and society into one that truly supports justice for all; taking in the transformations all of us have been going through for over a year in the pandemic and the new ones we’re entering into as we slowly emerge from sheltering in place; taking in our own continuous internal transformations - to me it feels so important, in this moment, to connect to the earth, to the ground beneath our feet, and in doing this, to connect with one another on what is truly common ground, as a foundation for our mindfulness practice. 

That was why last week I started talking about this new practice called G.R.O.U.N.D., an acronym that begins with G, for ground.

Ground: “the solid surface of the earth,” and also, ground, to “give (something abstract) a firm theoretical or practical basis.” Or, to reach down, from wherever you are, and touch the solid surface of the earth. Maybe metaphorically, if you’re two stories up, or 30 stories up. Maybe actually, if you can get outside and reach down into the soil. Either way, an affirmative act, to connect to the earth. To let the earth be your witness.

And also, as you sense into the ground beneath your feet so to speak, to connect to every other human on the planet as well, and to all other beings, too. To see how it is that to touch into the earth is to see and feel that the earth, the ground, by its very nature, is common ground. 

I think of the earth where I live as common ground: inhabited for millennia by the Coast Miwok and Southern Pomo tribes and probably much older people whose names are lost to the ages. Inhabited then and well before by bear and deer and elk and snake, rabbit and bobcat, coyote, pig, far too many birds to name, insects, rodents, and much more. Now inhabited by human migrants from every continent on earth. The earth as common ground. 

I also think of the law as common ground – a place where I’ve been working and learning my whole adult life, and where so many others have been doing the same, collaborating, working against one another, sharing a language, practices, aspirations. The law as common ground.

I think of walking on common ground with other human beings who identify as women, and the many experiences and perspectives I share with the women who have chosen the law as a path. Women as common ground.

As a Jew, I walk common ground with an ancient lineage of Jewish women upon whose shoulders I stand, whose recipes I make, whose prayers I now speak, and I feel the connection to my daughter and all of the next generation of Jewish women to whom one day I’ll pass on my own recipes and prayers. My Jewish tribe as common ground.

And if I can open my heart wide enough, every once in a while I can sense into common ground with all human beings, all beings entirely, and with the earth herself. Maybe you could call that universal common ground. Maybe that’s where Keith Ellison is calling us to – maybe that’s the place where empathy, compassion, and affirmation can arise. Where there can be true justice for all. Maybe that’s a place where there are no more “others,” and there is no ground. 

Li Po, the great 8th century Chinese poet whose work continues to influence modern poets and the world of mindfulness, wrote, "the birds have vanished into the sky and now the last cloud drains away. We sit together, the mountain and me, until only the mountain remains."