Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Do you know what's coming?

"If you can see your path laid out in front of you step by step, you know it's not your path." -- Joseph Campbell 
Lawyers like to know what is coming. Jobs that students take after their second year in law school often remain homes for years, if not an entire career. Interviews for judicial clerkships are in September for jobs beginning the following August. In interview preparation, we are coached to ask what the partnership track is for a law firm - often 7-8 years. Salaries and bonuses are posted on national websites for all to see. In other words, lawyers do not like to take chances.

Then why does the average lawyer today change jobs 5 times in his career? Why does the average lawyer leave his first job within three years? Why are so many judges people that have done both criminal and civil litigation? Certainly, part of the answer is the economy. When there are fewer jobs, people move around more. But the bigger answer, I think, is that lawyers are wising up to the importance of not knowing what tomorrow will bring. While scary, there is a certain feeling of anticipation and excitement that such an opportunity creates.

The law is about providing answers. We look to the past, see old cases and statutes, and we decide, based on that, how the case before us should resolve. Yes, I mean resolve. Because, at the end of the day, there is a resolution. One side "wins," and the other side often goes home empty-handed. In complex civil litigation, juries are often asked to determine how much at fault each party is and then calculate to the penny how much each party should be awarded. Some cases take years, but what each step will be is usually easy to determine. 

But we all know that real life is not like that. Life throws us for loops all the time. We can plan out every minute for the next thirty years, but tomorrow, we could be without a job, our best friend could die, or we could be hit by a bus. Of course, tomorrow, we could win the lottery (only if you play), meet a new best friend, or discover that someone we love is pregnant. In other words, life changes. Lawyers, like all of us, must learn to navigate those changes, and the first step is accepting that we cannot determine how life will proceed tomorrow, let alone next year.

This is why I love the Joseph Campbell quote so much. His point is that you can think you know what tomorrow, and the rest of your life, will bring, but you will be wrong, no matter what. Even Yoda said that the future is difficult to determine - always changing. (Now is probably as good a time as any to out myself as a super Star Wars geek. I will try to spare this blog from that, but sporadic Yoda quotes will prevail, I'm sure.) 

Yoga provides us the tools to confront these changes. Yoga is the reminder that our true nature does not change, even if we move across the world, change jobs, or start a new family. I have been lucky to travel the world, and live in various places for long enough for people to get to know me. What I find is that while my outward way of being has changed (I used to make Mac-and-Cheese with a friend everyday after school, and now I'm a health nut, and I used to be a percussionist prepared to study music in college, but now I'm a lawyer-yogi), people tend to react to me the same way. I hear the same things about me from people I met in France to people from Michigan and Arizona, to my friends growing up in California. This includes that which I like about myself and that which drives me nuts about myself. 

When I was growing up, many people told me I would be a lawyer. I said it would never happen. Ooops. And guess what? I'm proud of it! When I did not get the "good" jobs my third year in law school, I was upset. Then I got the best job I could have ever asked for, followed by a second amazing job, and together they gave me the time and opportunity to apply for a Fulbright and get my yoga teacher certification, neither of which are traditional plans for post-law school. I certainly could not have told anyone at the beginning of law school that I would be moving to New Zealand for ten months and teaching yoga during my lunch hour at work.

So, we can plan all we want. We can think we know what tomorrow will bring, but we waste our energy. The legal community is slowly shifting towards a system of change, of breaking the status quo, and being okay with not knowing. Yoga teaches us to always come back to our breath, whether sitting in meditation or doing a hot yoga practice (which I do not actually practice, unless you consider Phoenix hot yoga). The breath never changes. Our essence never changes, no matter how much the external forces try to change us. We can work to better ourselves and society, but the point is that there is nothing these external forces can take from us, only give us more opportunities for growth.

The funny thing is that I learned the same thing in law school. We are taught over and over again in school that it is perfectly acceptable, even honorable, to answer a client's question with four simple words, "I do not know." Of course, those words should be followed with, "let me look into it and get back to you." That openness to the unknown is a step toward the freedom that yoga can provide as well as the recognition that when we do not know, there is always an opportunity to learn. .

Namaste and Blessings!

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

What's the role of the teacher?

Tomorrow I teach my first class in a yoga studio. Unlike the other few classes I have taught, I will not know anything about the people in the class (unless, of course, my brother shows up). At the conference a few weeks ago, even though I did not know all the students, I knew their professions, and I could weave the theme of the classes with the conference, with our work in family law; though not everyone there was a lawyer, all participants in the conference work in the family law field in some respect. During my teacher training, I actually knew all the people in my practicums. They were friends and family.  

Today, my legal boss asked me whether I have to prepare for tomorrow, whether there is one set class I teach every time. My answer was no, I teach different classes, but I told her that I hoped to do a variation on a theme I used at the conference. Then tonight I went to a class as a participant, and I realized that I have to give something more. I came home and started thinking about what I want to convey as a teacher . . . to the general public. 

While this blog, and my goals in teaching yoga, focus on bringing yoga to professionals, lawyers specifically, I know that in a general class, I have to branch out. No everyone needs a class geared toward sitting at a computer and resolving conflict. So, what is the bigger theme? What is it that really drives me to teach? What do I want to convey as a theme?

I have been reading a lot about the history of yoga, from the Yoga Sutras themselves, to the Bhagavad Gita, to modern collections and criticisms of these works. I have been focusing on the divergent path that yoga and Buddhism have taken, yet how they are similar. By no means have I even nicked the surface of all the literature out there, but I see a general theme, and I realize that it is going to be my inspiration tomorrow.

Buddhism teaches that there are four noble truths, the first of which is that suffering exists. Yes, it is that simple - suffering exists in this world. The good news is that Buddhism also teaches that there is a path to overcome this suffering. The next three truths are: 2) Desire is the root of suffering, 3) There is an end to suffering, which is nirvana, and 4) There is a path to reach that end. Yoga and Buddhism are most similar in that they teach us the ways to overcome this suffering that inevitably exists. (This is a very, very basic overview of these topics, which I hope to explore in more detail in the days and weeks to come, but for today's theme, they are sufficient.)

When I walk around at work, I see this suffering. I see people hunched over computers. I see people withdrawn, shoulders pulled forward, blocking their hearts from opening, and I see peoples' physical pain. Of course, I also see these same issues in the general populace. Without a doubt, I also see joy, happiness, openness, etc. But when I see people in pain, whether it is physical, emotional, or spiritual, I want to offer some guidance. Already people ask me for ideas on how to "fix" their physical pain. I want to be able to help.

So, reflecting on all of this - the fact that suffering will exist, the fact that I want to make it better, and the fact that yoga/Buddhism offer a path out of that suffering - I have found the voice with which I want to speak as a teacher. I want to provide people the space to find their own inner teacher, their own ability to find the path that works for them to break free of their suffering. That is what yoga has given me. Some days, I feel like it is working great. Other days, I suffer. But I know that deep inside, I have the ability to move beyond the suffering; I know that the suffering will pass. And that is what I want to share tomorrow. I want to help people open up to see their own perfect selves that are within each and every one of us. 

Thank you for continuing to share this journey with me. As I said, these next few weeks, I hope to explore these issues more indepth, but please share with me, and each other, how yoga has helped you see the inner beauty, helped you break free for some suffering. After all, the greatest gift that yoga can give us is the ability to better connect with each other.

Namaste and Blessings!

© Copyright 2010. Rebecca Stahl.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Opening to Grace

There is no other word to describe the conference I recently attended. Wow just seems to embrace it all. It was so amazing that it has taken me a week to recover and sit down to write this. It was not until today that I had the framework for connecting what I learned there to this blog. The conference was the Association of Family and Conciliation Courts conference. AFCC is an international, interdisciplinary organization of family law professionals, whose vision is to "[a] justice system in which all professionals work collaboratively through education, support, and access to services to achieve the best possible outcome for children and families." In other words, every member has similar goals as I do with respect to family law.

Before I get to the specifics of why the conference was so great, let me explain the title of this post - Opening to Grace. There are many, many styles of yoga being taught in the western world today. Anusara yoga, created by John Friend, is the style my teacher training teacher learned. One of its main tenets is opening to Grace. But what is Grace? This morning I was reading a book by Doug Keller called, "Heart of the Yogi," which defines Grace "as the self-revelation of the Self . . . . Thus being 'open' to this revelation through grace is part and parcel of yoga." In other words, Grace means opening up to the world as it happens, as the Universe wants, and not being caught in trying to force a particular outcome. 

When I first sat down to write this post, I called it "Wow." I had no other words. But today I realize that the conference was an experience in Grace. It was my lawyer-proof for a yoga concept. So, what happened?
  • I met a professor at a university in New Zealand where I will be studying for five months in July 2011. Not only did she provide me with interesting information about skiing in the area (I have never been skiing in my life, but I am determined to try it out), she is one of the preeminent researchers in the area of family law and told me we can work together while I am there.
  • I had breakfast with the Chief Justice of the Australia family court who invited me to Australia to study her newly-created court system, and I met another handful of Australians who are working to make changes in the family law system outside the courts. In other words, I met a sampling of the entire holistic system being created in Australia.
  • I taught my own workshop, and it was very well received. In the past, I have taught, and I have gotten, at best, lukewarm feedback, sometimes awful. This one was nothing but great feedback. I will disclose that this presentation was about technology, and I'm 28. I think, for the first time, my age was beneficial and not detrimental.
  • I met a woman from Ireland who is on her own mission to change the family courts there and make them more transparent, and she wants to collaborate our research, so we can think about creating a framework for countries and states and counties to follow when creating their family courts. 
  • I helped set up a mentorship program to bring new blood into AFCC. We had no idea what to expect, and we had such a wonderful turnout. Everyone wanted to give back. 
  • I met amazing people from down the street in Arizona to Pennsylvania to Australia, New Zealand, Sweden, Israel, and Canada. I saw old friends/colleagues who inspire me and teach me every time I see them.
  • And I taught yoga. Yes, I'm saving the best for last. I was on the schedule to teach 2, 45-minute classes. The first day, the class was so big, we had to find a bigger room. The second day, they asked for a third day. The third day, I nearly cried. 

Teaching those yoga classes was really my first time teaching people I did not know. I used the conference as the basis of my themes for the three days, and for the most part, found a way to combine the two. It was this blog in action. It was my future in action. And interestingly, I was so tired that it was not a conscious effort. I had to open up to Grace, open up to that which guides us, because I had no physical strength left. Physically, these conferences are exhausting. Emotionally, professionally, even spiritually, they are uplifting and amazing.

I have had a lot of experiences over these past few months/years where I recognize that I am going with the flow, working with, not against, the Universe. For four days in Denver, I completely stepped into that role. There was no way to try to force anything. It was just like being back in the percussion pit where you do not have time to think - if you think, you miss a note. Instead, you let go and let the music play you. This time, years later, I let the Universe play, and I had the most incredible four days of my life. 

I left that conference knowing, deep down, what I am going to do for the four months between when my current job ends and when I leave for New Zealand. I am going to teach yoga workshops to legal professionals, whether they be lawyers, psychologists in the legal field, mediators, social workers, or anyone else connected with the law. While I am scared to be rejected, have no idea how to advertise, and have no idea where to start, I know this is my work. Now it is in writing. Now I must open to Grace for the next step.

Namaste and Blessings!

(c) Rebecca Stahl 2010

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

A large community of energy

have written before about why I think yoga classes, as opposed to a personal practice, are so powerful -- the community of energy. I have also spent much of my writing on this blog about what yoga has taught me about the law. Today, I want to throw that around to what the law has taught me about yoga. I have been incredibly lucky to be a member of the Association of Family and Conciliation Courts (AFCC) for the last five years - since my first year in law school. Suffice it to say that this organization is the reason I am interested in family law and the reason I want to help make family courts better suited for children and families.
AFCC holds an annual conference, which begins today, and I will be attending for the third time. I could not be more excited. Sure, I'm excited about presenting. I'm also excited about teaching yoga two mornings. Mostly, however, I'm excited about what it means to attend a conference of nearly 1,000 people all committed to the same goal: helping families transition through divorce. My dad has been a member of AFCC since I was a child, and I never quite understood why. But as I became involved because of a desire to give children a voice in the legal process, I found a family and inspiration beyond my wildest imagination.

Being part of an organization like AFCC has helped me find others who are like-minded, who believe that there is a better way than a divorce model set up based on a system designed for breaches of contract. But that is not what makes AFCC so special. It is the energy. Each year, I hear people say they love attending these conferences because they become inspired - not only by the new ideas being presented, but by the energy of all the other conference attendees. For three days, there is an energy of hope among a field of professionals who spend their day-to-day lives dealing with some of the most emotional and distressing areas of the law. But when we are together, when we believe in that change, in giving families tools to aid their transition, those changes become a reality.

On a personal note, it was at an AFCC conference two years ago that a judge in Australia sparked an idea in me to travel to Australia and New Zealand to study their new family law systems. It was last year at the AFCC conference that a judge in New Zealand made me think it was possible. And next year, I will sadly be missing the AFCC conference while I study family law in New Zealand. That's how a community of energy works. It makes dreams possible even in a field that so many believe devoid of that communal energy.

So what happens when you get thousands of yogis together? I do not actually know. 

I have wanted to attend a large yoga retreat for years now, but it has never happened. What I do know is that one of the most powerful experiences I have ever had was at a Deva Premal / Krishna Das concert where there were probably 300-500 people present. The energy of that many people chanting and singing together moved me to tears. There are many much larger concerts, retreats, and workshops dedicated to yoga and chanting. I have always wanted to attend, but somehow it has never happened. 

AFCC conferences make me feel as though I can take on the world. I know how I will feel at the end of these conferences - empowered (and tired, but that is another story). So, I hope this is where my legal life informs my yoga life. I hope that the inspiration I draw from these huge legal conferences provides me the courage to attend the yoga conferences. The difference here is that I had a ready-made family because of my own father being in this organization. I have no such starting point in the yoga world, but I am going to use what I have learned over the years at AFCC to venture out and find that yoga family. 

When we all come together, anything is possible. Our collective energy is inspiring, empowering, and exciting. What are your stories of powerful groups creating change? I would love to hear about them in the comments.

Namaste and Blessings!