This blog began as a result of an epiphany I had during savasana – lawyers need this. By this, I meant the feeling of calm and centeredness that I was experiencing at that moment. Sure, that feeling often dissipates the moment the mat is rolled up, but that is the point of this blog – to see if there are ways we can learn to find that sense of calm in everyday life.
Although I knew it at the time, I have since come to realize how much of the lawyer experience is just the experience of the 21st century . . . to an extreme. There is no better example than tension and stress. Today, the word lawyer is almost synonymous with stress. I have conversations with people, see facebook posts, read comments on other blogs, all that say, “next week/month, things will calm down, and I will be able to relax.” We all know this is not what happens. Instead, new tasks come to our desk, and new problems arrive in our lives.
The tension mounts. We keep hoping and expecting to have a release, a day of calm, a vacation, and we allow the tension to permeate our lives until the moment we can finally let go.
The world saw this in action on Sunday night. For nearly ten years, the tension of a nation built. It was underlying everything, and for most of us we did not feel it explicitly, but it defined our actions. It also turned us against each other. People were “hard” or “soft” on their views, “with us or against us.” It sounded like lawyer speak, the adversarial model on a grand scheme. And the tension just mounted and mounted.
And then the "release" – Osama Bin Laden had been killed. In a moment, the entire country exhaled. Some would say the world did as well, but my experience of New Zealand is that it was important but not as important as for Americans. The tension that had defined the United States did not permeate the entire world (though it certainly existed outside US borders). I saw a poster that said, "9 years, 232 days since 9-11, where is Osama bin Laden," but the bin was covered by dead. There was no doubt that he defined a significant part of the narrative for the past decade to Americans.
And with that release of tension, we saw jubilation in the streets. Upon reflection, people realized that those dancing in the streets were mostly college students – the only people awake enough on a Sunday night to be partying, and the people most excited about a party, for any reason really. That night, and certainly the next day, people began to question whether such jubilation was a proper response. People were so quick to retract the jubilation that Martin Luther King, Jr. was attributed a new quote. But that dancing showed us what happens when we hold onto our tension, when we let it define us, when we ignore it hoping upon hope that a moment will come when “things will get better.” We act in ways we might not act if we had the time to reflect rather than react.
The problem is that the moment of exhale and release passes, and we go back to where we were. Another tension comes into our lives. Within minutes, before President Obama’s announcement in fact, people were already asking whether this would mean an increase in terrorism in the short term. Even when we go on vacation, we dread the extra work we will have when we return because we have not addressed it while “relaxing.” When we live to release tension at some future venture, it never really leaves us.
This constant tension and waiting to exhale leads us to do things we would rather not do. For lawyers, it leads to the downward spiral of email, but it can lead to fights with our families and friends, missed opportunities of happiness, and a sense that we hate our jobs and even our lives.
Lawyers are great at that. This year has seen a few BigLaw partners committing suicide, and we know that lawyers lead professions in substance abuse. So what do we do about it?
Tension is always going to exist. The work is going to keep coming, and the world is going to keep throwing us lemons (or terrorists). If we hold out for a time when we expect that tension to release, we are going to act crazy along the way and probably the moment the bubble bursts. We need to find tools in our daily lives to release that tension. Breathing and savasana are two great tools, but there are others.
The first step, however, is to recognize when you are putting all your tension-releasing eggs in one vacation basket and ask yourself if there is a way to release your tension before then.
What do you do when you find the tension mounting? Do you expect it to get better next week? Do you take a break? Do you take a breath? Do you ignore it?
© 2011 Rebecca Stahl, all rights reserved