“No one saves us but ourselves. No one can and no one may. We ourselves must walk the path.” – Buddha
I trust this finds you all happy and well. It has been over 6 months since I last published my last lengthy blog post, and admittedly it feels somewhat unorthodox of me to be writing at this late hour on a Sunday evening.
And yet, after this past weekend, I felt inspired – perhaps even compelled – to express to you my thoughts and observations of these last six months in my continuing journey in yoga and mindfulness.
Contemplative Lawyering – It’s a Thing
First thing’s first: I must tell you that in these last six months, I have been exposed to a great number of interesting and intellectually challenging files in my work preparing substantive legal argument for the partners of my Firm. These issues have weighed heavy on me – emotionally, mentally, and intellectually.
Indeed, there have been days when I have thought about whether I was venturing down a path that was familiar to me, but not in a good way. The racing heart beat, the shortness of breath, even the unhealthy eating and sleep habits – where all of these “old friends” going to creep back into my life? Perhaps. Perhaps they would have to another version of myself that did not have resort to the suite of mindfulness tools that I have guarded these last three years in my life.
The ability to become self-aware of this tendency to fall back into old habits – brought upon by acts of mindlessness and default rather than mindful acts of self-awareness – is single-handedly the greatest weapon I have been able to deploy in resisting the temptation to devolve into the old version of my Self.
As an example, I recall recently working on a complex legal brief in which I felt completely overwhelmed by an impending deadline for filing and thinking I would not be able to come up with “the goods” before the deadline. Rather than descending into a fit of panic, I deployed the “contemplative lawyer” within me, and instead found myself dropping everything at work to head into the yoga studio two minutes away from the office. For what purpose? Simply to release. To release, re-group, and bring myself back into the present moment, as my training has taught me, time and time again.
I remember arriving at the hot yoga room and realizing very quickly that I had the whole studio to myself. The lunch crowd had cleared out, and it was 2:00 p.m. with not a soul in sight. It may sound weird, but in that moment, I felt as though I was called to my mat, to remember the teachings I had learned, to practice in the flow of yoga, breath by breath, moment by moment. In this way, I felt genuinely in that room that I was undertaking the practice of yoga, of mindfulness, as a moving meditation.
When I got back to the office, I could not help but think to myself: this is your Truth, Alex. Never diverge from what you know has and will continue to sustain you throughout all of the ebbs and flows of life, on and off the mat.
Always practice in furtherance of your “Satya” – Commitment to One’s Truth
This is your Truth, Alex. It’s so easy, isn’t it, to utter these words? We do this often with impunity. But what exactly does this mean, in reality? The answer is, it depends. It depends on whether we are speaking of a person of a particular faith background, or a person who has no faith background, or a person who believes in no faith, but believes in the power of spiritual practice.
In recent years, I have found myself identifying with the last three of these as my guiding compass towards my inner Truth. The emphasis, of course, here, is subjective. My inner “T”ruth will naturally be different than yours, or the person next to you who reads this blog post (hopefully because they want to, and not because they were forced to!). One could easily expound on this point for pages, but I will refrain from such an exercise.
Suffice it to say, that for me, and only me, I derive great wisdom and inner peace from the guiding principles within the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali – of which the commitment to one’s “Truth” or Satya, in Sanskrit, represents one of five branches of the first Limb of Yoga known as the “Yamas” (which, in brief, represent a moral code of conduct – towards oneself and towards his or her fellow brothers and sisters.)
Return to Sedona – a return to my Truth, my Satya
At certain times in our lives, I truly believe that our Truth is revealed to us in the most unusual of times and circumstances. Speaking only for myself, my Truth was revealed to me in 2014 when I discovered my heart was suffering profoundly from the stressors in my life at that time – these stressors ultimately caused my physical, emotional and mental health to suffer greatly. I had reached a breaking point in my life. In changing the course of my career path from private practice to public practice, in the fall of 2014, it was then that I began my journey in yoga and mindfulness, during one of my first hot yoga classes wherein I realized just how much I had neglected my body, mind and Soul.
It was time to chart a new path for my Self which would always be in service of my Truth – that is, the pursuit of excellence in the law and in life, but never again at the expense of my health and wellness.
Shortly after transitioning to the Alberta Court of Appeal in the fall of 2014, I found myself staring into the crimson red dawn amidst the red rocks of Sedona, Arizona in January 2015. I experienced something very profound during my first trip to this magical red oasis – the details of which I have written elsewhere in my previous posts.
In a nutshell, it was during the rise of the morning Sun atop Airport Road – a very special location in Sedona known for its “upflow” vortex energy – that I recognized that I was committed to the practice of yoga and mindfulness for the rest of my life. It’s a feeling that gave me such profound inner peace and strength; to this day, I still remember from time to time how happy and at peace I felt that morning witnessing the rise of the Sun pour over those majestic, rich, crimson rocks, giving life to all in its path.
I am quite certain it is for that reason that in February of this year, I travelled back to Sedona for a second visit. But, the thing is, this time it didn’t feel like I was visiting Sedona. Two years later, this was a journey in which I was returning to my Truth, my Satya, which had been shown to me in abundance during my first journey to this magical red oasis. There was not one day during my time in Sedona that I did not wish could last forever; the red hue of the crimson rocks appeared even more vibrant to me this time; the dawn sunrise even more brilliant; the air, even more pure than I remember. Perhaps one could say, my time in Sedona allowed me to see myself and the things around me with greater clarity.
This quality of seeing with clarity is the task of all self-aware creatures. That is, it seems to me that the task of continuous self-observation is one that I have committed myself to pursuing throughout my life, and it is undoubtedly one that will bring me back to this transformative refuge of Sedona again and again in the future.
Do not be dissuaded from your Truth, and know when to release negative energy in your life that does not serve your Truth, your Satya
When I returned to Edmonton, I knew that the ebbs and flows of life in the law and outside of it would continue to present daily challenges for me, as they must. But, I knew also that come what may, my inner Truth was unimpeachable. That inner Truth, that part of me that knows who I am, could never be comprised.
I am a contemplative lawyer, this is my Truth. I seek to find and hold space for my clients to resolve their matters in a manner that honours their dignity as human beings. This, I will tell you, is in furtherance of the high aspirational standards of our professional Code of Conduct, standards which all Alberta lawyers ought strive to maintain in their respective legal practices, regardless of what area of law he or she happens to practice in. The reason is that all lawyers must strive to act with integrity and with honour towards other lawyers, their clients, and the judiciary.
I attempted to communicate this point to a recent LESA audience in Edmonton on the topic of client relationships, the overall thrust of which I believe was well-received. In fact, an audience member approached me at the conclusion of my presentation and advised me that she had been looking for a way to help deal with and manage her own inner conflicts as a young lawyer, and was unsuccessful in finding an approach that resonated with her until she heard my talk. I am having lunch shortly with this young lawyer and am so pleased to be able share with her more of the essential principles of this noble practice of contemplative lawyering.
It is personally rewarding for me to know that my approach to the practice of law has resonated with my new colleague in the legal profession.
Truth be told, though, I made it very clear to the audience that what I was offering was not meant in any way to be didactic or an edict as to how a lawyer must approach his or her practice.
But, in my view, the principles of mindfulness can play a significant role in the improvement of not only managing client relations and conflicts, but perhaps more importantly, improving lawyer health and wellness – for how can a lawyer who is not healthy or well possibly provide competent or aspirational client service?
The biggest lesson that I have learned in these last six months is that I am even stronger in my convictions that the practice of mindfulness and yoga have and will continue to serve my inner Truth, my Satya. Indeed, I wish this for all of my friends and colleagues – inside and outside of the law. And, I wish this truly for all beings, that their inner Truth will always guide their actions; and, that in service of their inner Truth, they shall seek to alleviate their own suffering before helping to alleviate the suffering of their fellow brothers and sisters.
1440 Multiversity –the next chapter in my journey in mindfulness awaits
In a previous post I published last year, I promised myself that I would one day make it to Kripalu in Massachusetts to sit with Stephen Cope, author of The Great Work of Your Life, and, The Widom of Yoga, a man whose body of work has inspired me daily in my own pursuit of the “great work” of my life (which, of course, is yet to be written, but perhaps that’s the point – it’s always being written, every minute of every day). I know the opportunity will come when I will get to meet Mr. Cope and thank him in person for his example.
But, that time is not now. For there are other experiences that I have been “nudged” to pursue in the interim. I am not sure if it is because this weekend I took the time off to indulge in a full-state of self-care and relaxation, but I decided to research upcoming mindfulness retreats and came across a 1-week Applied Mindfulness retreat to be led by Sharon Salzberg and Dr. Judson Brewer this September.
Salzberg is a beloved author of numerous mindfulness texts, including Lovingkindness Meditation (2005), and a leading and world renowned expert in all things mindfulness and meditation. She co-founded the Insight Meditation Society in 1974 in Barre, Massachusetts, with other leading mindfulness experts Jack Kornfield and Joseph Goldstein. Without hesitating, I signed up for what I know will be an incredibly enriching experience in service of my path, my Truth.
Dr. Brewer is regarded as “a thought leader” in the field of habit change and the “science of self-mastery”. He has nearly 20 years of experience with mindfulness training with his scientific research. Currently, Dr. Brewer is the Director of Research at the Center for Mindfulness and associate professor in Medicine and Psychiatry at UMass Medical School. As well, Dr. Brewer is also adjunct faculty at Yale University, and a research affiliate at MIT. He is the author of The Craving Mind (2017).
I am both excited and humbled to be able to sit this coming September with Sharon Salzberg and Dr. Judson Brewer and learn as much as I can during my week at 1440 Multiversity – a brand new, state-of-the art health & wellness center located in the Redwood forests of southern California. I can already taste the sweet nectar of the space, the surroundings, and the sense of community I will share with fellow teachers and practitioners who wish to engage and deepen their respective spiritual and contemplative practices under the tutelage of Dr. Brewer and Ms. Salzberg.
All I can say is that I feel incredibly grateful for this opportunity to continue my path growing and expanding into the beauty and wisdom of this present moment.
At the beginning of this post, I quoted from Buddha, who declares:
“No one saves us but ourselves. No one can and no one may. We ourselves must walk the path.”
Each day, each hour, each minute, each moment, we must walk our path in courage, in strength; but, also, we must walk our path in humility, in compassion and in service of our inner Truth, always.
May you always be blessed with the inner voice that leads you back to your Truth, in times of ebb and flow, in times of expansion and contraction, in times of light and dark.
The light in me bows to the light in each of you, always.
From my heart to yours,