Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Thanksgiving Year to Year

One year ago, I was at the US Ambassador’s house in New Zealand celebrating Thanksgiving in summer. And without realizing it, I actually put the same clothes on today that I was wearing then (I looked at photos). And yes, this should tell you how a summer in NZ is very similar to a winter in Arizona, but I digress. One year ago, I was grateful for the 10 months I had spent in New Zealand, from an earthquake, to new friends, to beautiful adventures, to finishing a thesis.

And that thesis looked forward to this year. The thesis was all about representing children, and that is what I currently do, though I do it in a slightly different context than addressed in the thesis. But this year has been about integrating my years digging deep into yoga and the law and emerging with some semblance of a future. And this year has been hard. It has been a struggle to finally integrate theory and practice, in law, but also on and off the yogamat.

Law school is an interesting theoretical adventure. Traditionally, law school is learning the theory of the law, and some would argue we spend too much time on that in school. We spend our time reading cases of situations gone awry, and sometimes tragically so, but cases become stories, and the people are safely behind the pages. We are protected from their stories similarly to how we are protected from the stories of the protagonists in a movie. 

But the practice of law is anything but peoples’ lives on a page. Instead, the practice of law is about peoples’ lives in your face. Crisis after crisis arises, and lawyers are expected to stay rational and calm. Human nature wants to send us into screaming fits of rage and fear, but that is not our role. Instead, we are asked to answer with calm rationality and turn the theory into practice – look at the situation from a purely legal standpoint. There are, of course, advantages to this. But it throws our systems off if we do not pay attention.

Yoga is quite the opposite. Most people in the modern world come to yoga through the practice first. In fact few of them have any idea about the theory behind it. Some want some exercise, while others want to stretch after their own exercise. But the theory creeps in. Yogis begin to act with more compassion towards others after learning to act with more compassion for themselves. Yogis learn to respond rather than react to the crises that inevitably arise in their lives.

But that flow from theory to practice and back is anything but smooth. The day after Thanksgiving last year I was not at a Black Friday Sale. Instead, I was on a boat between the north and south islands of New Zealand and who should I see but the Ambassador? I said hello to him and then sat back down. Then I started crying. I was so grateful for all that had transpired that year in New Zealand. And I knew I was coming back to the United States to a job I had, in many ways, worked my entire life to have. How amazingly lucky could one person be?

And here we are at another Thanksgiving. I have spent this month finding things for which I am grateful, from my breath to the wonderful people with whom I get to work. Being a first year lawyer is one of the most difficult things I have ever done in my life. But it is also one of the most enlightening and inspiring.

And while I was doing tree pose from the tops of mountains in New Zealand last year, this year, my yoga practice has struggled through a sprained ankle, hip pain, and simply too little time. But I have started attending classes again, meditating in the mornings, doing some asana, and even teaching once per week at the courthouse.

But just yesterday, the week of Thanksgiving, I saw it shine through like never before. Someone decided to yell at me about something, and in the midst of the yelling, I sent him a little compassion and thought to myself, “may you be free of suffering and the root of suffering.” That particular phrase is more Buddhist than Yogic, but it was a moment of reflection rather than reaction. And then I walked away from the conversation and did something else. The yoga crept out from where it was hiding and offered me a little solace in the moment - and hopefully the person yelling at me, though the thought was silent.

Theory and practice. Back and forth.

It is tomorrow in New Zealand, which means it is already Thanksgiving. So I am going to celebrate two this year. Today is a deep sense of gratitude for all I have learned this year, the people who have inspired me whether a “difficult” teacher or a friend with a shoulder, and the amazing opportunities to understand the ebb and flow between theory and practice in law and yoga.

Whether celebrating Thanksgiving in a country far away from the United States at the US Ambassador’s residence or in central Tucson in the midst of being a first year lawyer, the sentiment is the same. I think Lionel Hampton said it best, “Gratitude is when memory is stored in the heart and not in the mind.”

Our hearts go with us wherever we are, and gratitude can arise in any moment. We can find all the quotes on the internet we want about gratitude, and learn all there is to know, but then it is about practicing that gratitude and feeling it deeply in the heart. That is the moment when theory meets practice. Can we take the sentiment of this day, this week, this month and carry it forward into our daily lives?


© Rebecca Stahl 2012, all rights reserved.