Monday, May 7, 2012

Are You Listening?

I revealed in the previous post that one of the reasons I went to law school is because everyone seemed to think I would be a good lawyer because I liked to argue. The truth, however, is the real reason I went to law school was to give children a voice. It is a long story, and not really relevant to this post, but the short explanation is simple. Children have little to no voice in the legal process, and lawyers are one way to give them that voice. I wanted to ensure the courts were listening to children. Of course, the lack of job upon graduating from undergrad helped push me along as well, but I digress.

Yoga and law both teach us, nay require us, to listen. Yoga teaches us to listen on the deepest levels. As we learn to listen to our body’s cues, we can learn to heal the pain we associate with daily living, from movements we can do “at the desk” to asanas that take us into our deepest being. We learn to listen to the mind without judgment through meditation, and we learn to listen to the breath to learn what it has to teach us. In many ways, all of yoga is training for how to listen to ourselves and all we can learn about ourselves, and therefore, the world. Listening, with more than just our ears, is fundamental to the practice of yoga. 

Listening with more than our ears is also fundamental to our lives as lawyers. As lawyers, we tell stories. In order to tell those stories, we have to listen to our clients’ stories. We have to understand our clients better than they understand themselves, at least understand how their stories relate to legal ramifications. This means listening between the details and listening to the minutest detail to ensure that no stone is left unturned in order to provide them the best representation possible. Sometimes, when our clients do not have the words, we have to listen to their lack of words, to their body language and reaction to our questions.

Listening, in both yoga and law, therefore, is a deep exercise. It means understanding. It means stepping out of our own perspectives and stepping into the perspective of the other person. It means suspending our own biases and viewpoints in order to see the world through someone else’s eyes. It is the first step to moving beyond the concept of "my way or the highway." From there, we may step back into our own world and understanding, but the first step is to deeply listen. And this is where the tension starts.

We live in the modern world, a world that moves quickly and loudly. All the extra noise and distraction make it very difficult to tune into those deepest bits of information. Instead, the ding of the smartphone, the radio, the television, the other cars on the road, the planes flying overhead, and the kids screaming around us distract our attention and rip us away from what we may otherwise want to notice. 

In addition, we live in an action society, one in which action is rewarded while listening deeply is often considered idle. Lawyers, in particular, are action oriented. We have a bigger function than listening and telling stories. The lawyer’s job is to resolve crises, either before or after they happen. Thus, lawyers have a tendency to see the world through “fix-it” eyes. We hear a problem, and instead of listening to the entire story, we stop and think, “what can I do to fix it?” We get so used to fixing crises that, over time, we jump to conclusions without all the facts and expect to solve the crisis. The desire to make things right, therefore, can sometimes supersede the need to listen to ensure we solve the appropriate problems.

Yogis do not necessarily always listen better. People push through pain in order to get to the fullest expression of a pose when their bodies are not ready. We often fall into muscle memory to flow through postures not noticing how they are affecting us on that particular day. We ignore the breath as it becomes strained.

But then we can remember that each moment is an opportunity to come back to the state of listening. Each moment is the perfect moment to recognize what it means to listen deeply. From there, we can find the appropriate solutions for the appropriate situations. Listening requires us to step outside ourselves and tune in to whatever is happening, whether it is what we expect or not. That can be a scary prospect. It means letting go of preconceived notions and simply being present in whatever is happening.

But when we hold that space options and opportunities arise that we never dreamed possible. We settle cases and learn to stand on our heads, or simply learn to stand on our own two feet with full awareness of all that is happening around us.

Are you listening?

© Rebecca Stahl 2012, all rights reserved.

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