Once again, I attended my favorite conference of the year – the Association of Family and Conciliation Courts Conference. This year was the organization’s 50th birthday, and it was amazing to see and learn how far family law has come in the past 50 years. Even when I think about all the work we still have to do, it is sobering and awe-inspiring to realize exactly how far we have come as a “system.”
As longtime readers may remember, this is the conference where I first taught yoga after my yoga teacher training finished. I was scheduled to teach again this year, but my back made that impossible this year. But as hard as it was for me not to teach, I felt great that someone else took up the reins, and the tradition continued. While I know yoga is taking the country, and professional settings, by storm, it was extra special to see that this particular community, the one to which I am so grateful and owe so much, loves the idea enough to continue the tradition even when I am not involved. I just hope that next year I get to teach again!
But this conference, and a discussion I had following it with a friend, really got me thinking about how we offer ourselves to our communities, our jobs, and our “systems.” It fits nicely with the theme of the last post - Facing Our Powerlessness. These conferences are always inspiring. They remind me why it is I do the work I do, why I choose to be a lawyer. But there is an underlying notion that we can never do enough. I work in family and juvenile law, and the truth is that divorce, custody fights (I don’t like that word), and child welfare are always going to be difficult for families. The truth is that we may never be able, as professionals, to do enough to make these systems completely non-traumatic.
And some of the systems are more broken than others. Sometimes I wonder if the legal system does more harm than good. Deep down, I am pretty sure it does not, but I wonder. But it is in those moments of concern for the children and families that I realize the most important lesson – I may work for the rest of my career to make the systems better. I may attend conferences, learn new techniques, and perhaps one day even create new programs. But at the end of the day, I cannot offer the perfect system for every child and family. None of us can.
But that is where the yoga becomes the most important. And no, I do not mean asana, though that has its place as well. I mean the internal yoga, the compassion we learn each time we stop and take a breath. Yoga has its benefits in terms of stress reduction. Some people use yoga as exercise. But the greatest gift we get from yoga is relearning how to engage with ourselves and others.
Yoga teaches us to be truly present. One of the common themes of conferences is that we must remind ourselves as professionals that even though we see case after case every single day, for the individuals we serve, this is their only interaction with the court system. While stories may sound familiar to us, to the people telling those stories, they are unique and personal. And how we respond to that is how we help these children and families.
And if I have learned anything from the yoga teaching situation at the conference, it is that we never know where our influence will end. Even when the system is not perfect, every piece of research I have seen is that people feel there has been due process if they have had the time to tell their story – if they feel heard. Through yoga, we learn to listen to our bodies, begin to quiet our minds, and feel some sense of calm in the face of storms. Translating that to listening to the people we serve, regardless of the situations in which we find ourselves – even the grocery store – means we are serving people in the best way we can.
Changing systems that need work is a great goal. It is work that must be done. But in the meantime, when the waters are rough, and the end is not clear, we always have ourselves to give. And for that, yoga is the perfect opportunity to learn to offer ourselves.
How does yoga help you in your daily interactions off the mat?
© Rebecca Stahl 2013, all rights reserved.