The Wake Up Call for Lawyers

Opening (to) the World

May 06, 2021 Judi Cohen Season 5 Episode 299
The Wake Up Call for Lawyers
Opening (to) the World
Show Notes Transcript

In this practice of G.R.O.U.N.D., we've explored G, connecting to the earth and to each other and becoming more grounded in place and in community; and R, resting in the present moment (plus some strategies for that). On this episode of the Wake Up Call, the inquiry is about O, opening to whatever is here.

Opening to whatever is here, to what's in front of us, around us, inside us, is a fundamental mindfulness practice. And, for me anyway, it's rarely as easy as it sounds. Or if it doesn't sound easy at all, then yep, sometimes it's just as hard as it sounds.

Still, there are ways to open to what's here and still keep in mind what's most important: taking good care of ourselves in the process, so that we can also take good care of others. Listen and see if any of the ideas about that on this episode, are helpful.

We’ve been exploring a new practice called GROUND. G – ground, meaning, first take a moment to touch the ground, the earth; feel the earth as a support, a place of refuge, solid, a place you can walk, stand, sit, lie down, stay. Get grounded, whether this is in your solitary practice and you begin your practice by imagining yourself connected to the earth for a few minutes, or you’re in the middle of your day and you take a moment of portable practice to feel that vertical connection by planting your feet or your bottom firmly on the ground, even (in your imagination) from ten stories up, and get settled right in the middle of everyday life. 

And G – ground – meaning also, find common ground: the common ground of community, tribe, family, firm, organization – whatever feels for you like the common ground you share with other like-minded, like-hearted humans, or maybe all humans, or maybe all beings – sensing into the groundedness of horizontal connection, or interconnectivity, or inter-being. 

The R in G.R.O.U.N.D. is for rest. In one way of thinking about it, rest is connecting with yourself -  your body, your breath, the sounds in your space, your own experience in each moment, and resting right there. This can be in solitary practice, where you do a body scan or something that supports physical rest, because without resting the body, the mind – or at least my mind – has a hard time relaxing. And it can also be in your portable practice, where you rest as you’re walking, as you’re making food and eating it; rest as you listen; even as you speak; slow things down for greater understanding and because it’s easier to care for others and also for yourself, when things are a bit slower, and more restful. 

And also, the simplest, maybe most powerful, idea: rest on the out-breath. Make a practice of remembering, as often as you can, to rest on the out-breath, whether you’re sitting, or standing in line at the grocery store, or waiting for a client or witness. Rest on each out-breath and in doing that, create space not only for rest, but also maybe for patience, tolerance, even curiosity.

Today let’s look at the O in G.R.O.U.N.D., which is about opening. This series of talks, that began with equanimity, the last of the four most wholesome states of heart and mind, was inspired by the O. In terms of timing, it was specifically inspired because in the U.S. and many places things are beginning to open. 

I felt like I needed equanimity to move into that opening, and more than just that, I needed a way to open that was a sequence, almost like a yoga sequence. So that’s how G.R.O.U.N.D. was born.

It happened because almost immediately after I got my first vaccine dose, before my second, I could see – and I’m guessing you can, too – that opening isn’t going to be simple. It’s not like when I thought – maybe we all thought – the world would shut down for a month, or two, maybe three. After a year and a quarter of sheltering in place, huddling in place, opening to the world isn’t simple. It’s not, yay, great, let’s head back to the office, let’s go out to eat, let’s see a show. It’s still a little scary in terms of the virus: I just flew for the first time and I was super cautious, and so was everyone else on the flight. It’s also scary in terms of just talking with people, interacting, making plans, walking down the street, presenting ourselves: I have a closet of clothes (or at least bottoms) I haven’t worn in over a year and it feels weird to start putting them on. It’s a lot. 

I think it’s because we’re testing a new edge. It used to be that my edge, and maybe yours, too, was way, way, out there. I’d take on whatever work or family or friend obligations or engagements I could and just naturally find myself in endless, interactive situations – conversations, offices, courtrooms; buses, trains, taxis, planes; crowded stations and airports; hotels and restaurants and shows; and streets and markets and shops and other peoples’ homes…an endless experience of in-person interaction that I dressed for and sometimes rehearsed but mostly considered the background of what I was really up to, if I thought about it at all. Which mostly I didn’t: all of that inter-action was the part I took for granted as just being the fabric of life. My work and my social and family life rested on top of all that. Maybe it felt stressful or challenging or exhilarating, but being out in the world – that was just background.

But now we’ve all been home, for over a year. We’ve been quiet. Maybe we’ve been out a little bit, depending on where you live and work; maybe you’ve been at your office or in a pod or in some kinds of limited interactive situations. But we’ve largely been at home, online, quiet, sequestered, safe. Almost on retreat.

And now, the world is opening – opening to the present moment. It’s easier said than done. I feel like I open up, venture out, then retreat; open and see what’s safe, then return to what I know is safe. It reminds me of when my daughter was little and she’d do that adorable rapprochement: walk a few feet away, look back to make sure I was there, go out a little farther, check back to make sure I was still there. It’s developmental and I feel like it’s developmental for all of us right now, too.

It’s also a mindfulness practice metaphor, because mindfulness is fundamentally about opening to each moment. And yet I don’t know about you but for me, a hundred times a day I notice I have the opportunity to open to the present moment and it’s scary. Fear arises and I have a choice: open to fear, or come back to what feels like the safety of not doing that. Resentment arises and I have a choice: open to it or retreat to the perceived safety of not acknowledging a state of mind I’d rather not see in myself. Love is present and it feels so full and big that I have to ask myself, can I stay with this? Can I open fully to love, knowing that love is the most heartbreaking thing of all; that it will bring tears to my eyes a hundred times a day and I work in a profession – and live in a world - that doesn’t generally have boxes of tissues in the room.  

And yet this is our edge: to go out, experience life fully, maybe retreat, and then go back out again. And each time, to open a little bit more to the experiences of our lives – our inner lives and our outer lives. I’ll leave you with a few words about that written in 1991 by the beloved Tibetan teacher, Pema Chodron. She says, “We open to the present moment, and in doing that, [see] clearly how we hold back, how we pull away, how we shut down, how we close off…. [But] the journey of awakening—the classical journey of the mythical hero or heroine—is one of continually coming up against big challenges and then learning how to soften and open…. You soften and feel compassion for your predicament and for the whole human condition. You soften so that you can actually sit there with those troubling feelings and let them soften you more.”