Saturday, March 12, 2011

Expecting Disaster

Lawyers have a lot of unique skills, but perhaps one of the best is the ability to deal with disaster. When I teach Stress Management for Lawyers, I focus a lot on the stress of what it means to live a life where your entire focus is on disaster. What do I mean by this? There are two types of lawyers – litigators and transactional (ok, there are a lot of other types as well, but these are the two most common, and the themes covered relate to others as well).

Litigators spend their lives cleaning up disasters in other peoples’ lives, from divorce to businesses gone awry to asbestos to hot McDonald’s coffee. When something has already gone wrong, people call a lawyer, and the lawyer has to find a way to clean up the mess. Transactional lawyers, by contrast, have a slightly more interesting job – imagining all the ways that disaster can strike and hopefully eliminating it from happening, either by counseling their clients correctly or by writing contracts that cannot be misinterpreted. Anyone who is a lawyer, knows lawyers, or just understands how the world works, knows that no one can clean up every disaster, and even more importantly, we cannot predict every disaster.

But lawyers continue to try . . . to do both. And it is a tough place to live.

The mind is a powerful tool. What it imagines has an effect on the body, has an effect on our lives. Research into mirror neurons (really, if you have not heard of these, check them out – fascinating) tells us that when you and I talk, the neurons inside of your head that would allow you to move your arms fire when I move my arms. In other words, what we see is what we get, and when we see disaster, we get disaster. We get stress and illness and fear and . . . well, you get the idea.

Unless you have been living in a cave, you will have noticed that the Earth is acting up a bit more intensely recently. Since the earthquake in Christchurch on 22 February, there have been four other major earthquakes, including the most recent one in Japan, and two volcanic eruptions (counting the one in Hawaii that was a change in how an already-erupting volcano is erupting now). All of this has occurred on what is referred to as the Pacific Rim of Fire.

I am currently living in New Zealand, much of my family and many friends, live in CA, and I have friends in Japan and Hawaii, not to mention Oregon and Washington. In other words, I’m a bit concerned about all this disaster and destruction. And what has happened? I have gone into lawyer mode! Yes, each step becomes a question about whether it is safer to be under the overhang or out in the street while walking. Do I leave my computer at the house when I go out? What if I cannot get back to the house? I took a hike yesterday in the trees, and at moments it was very narrow (and I was carrying a bag with my computer), and I thought, “I would fall down this cliff if an earthquake hit right now.

But then today, I took a step back. I went into yoga mode. Yogis do not live in a state of disaster-preparedness. No, yogis live in the moment. Through yoga, we focus on the breath, we focus on each moment as it unfolds, knowing that we may not know what is coming next but being fully able to enjoy and live the moment at hand. So today, while “being forced” to wait around, I took a moment and sat under a tree, and was present. I have learned a lot from tree pose, but I have learned just as much from trees. They sway in the wind, they allow their leaves to fall off in the winter knowing that they will come back in spring, and they can grow sideways when conditions require. In other words, they adapt and adjust, with no preparation.

There are all sorts of predictions about disasters, from earthquakes to the Apocalypse (for the record if anyone clicks that link, it is to some 2012 information, and I have not actually read the site, but that is what I am referencing here as a prediction, not my own beliefs about such predictions). The truth is that we have no idea what tomorrow will bring, and even if we did, we could not fully prepare for it (though Japan’s amazing building codes probably saved thousands of lives, it could not save them all). But what we can do is live our lives right now. We can tune in and recognize that life is not about preparing for and cleaning up disasters. Life is about living and about connecting. The disasters remind us that we are “one” in a moment under a table, but it is every moment when we have to live that way, lest we create a disaster within ourselves.


© 2011 Rebecca Stahl, all rights reserved
This blog is not affiliated with Fulbright or Fulbright New Zealand, and all opinions expressed herein are my own.

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