Saturday, December 21, 2013

The Shortest Day

Today in the northern hemisphere, it is the Winter Solstice, the shortest day of the year. That also translates to the darkest night of the year. There is so much written about the solstice that it is almost fruitless to add to it. But this year in particular I want to reach into the depths of what the winter solstice means.

The changing seasons are always a time to reflect on the circle of life, the ebb and flow of change, and the reminder that nothing stays the same – nothing. The only real guarantee we have in life is change.

The winter solstice in the northern hemisphere is a particularly interesting solstice every year. At a time when our bodies and minds want to curl up in front of a fire, eat some warming foods, and relax into stillness, we choose instead to participate in the most capitalistic of traditions. Even if you spend this time donating and sharing, you are still out in the world pushing hard. There is nothing inherently wrong with that; it is simply a recognition that our focus this time of year is radically different than what the season would ask of us.

It is no surprise, then, that this is also flu season. If we ask our bodies to use more energy than normal at a time when they have fewer reserves than normal, the outcome is going to be dis-ease. And I have thought about this a lot over the years, and I have asked myself how to do things differently. But this year I think I have realized there might be an underlying reason for this dichotomy this time of year.

We are running away.

The winter solstice is a time to remember what it means to live in the dark night of the soul. It brings us inward and wants us to let go of our attachment to this world. It reminds us of the struggles we face on our path to richness (not riches). And that can be a scary place to go. So instead we go to the mall.

But the winter solstice, with its darkness and cold, is simply a reminder to leave behind that which no longer serves us. It is a time to be introspective and quiet and leave everything in the darkness. The pagan tradition of Yule (upon which so many Christmas traditions are based) is a holiday celebrating the rebirth of the sun. Traditionally, a log is burned for 12 days. I do not know much about Yule, but that tradition seems like a great reminder to burn away the deadness within ourselves and to wake up to the rebirth of the sun and honor it.

The world is moving faster and faster. So few of us take the time to truly slow down. And I do not mean in one yoga class per week amidst a crazy schedule. I mean honestly stop and listen long enough to really hear what is happening. Instead we run from any opportunity to see ourselves as something other than productive. Lawyers love to talk about face time at work. Even if you work 30 hours per week at home, it does not count unless you are in the office. It means something to be there before the boss and to still be there when the boss leaves.

But at this time of year, are we really doing anyone, including our clients, any favors when we do that? How does it help anyone to ignore the pull of the season so strongly? Electricity was an amazing invention, and one for which I am personally grateful. But sometimes I wonder what we have lost as a result. It can be daytime anytime. It can be warm or cold any day of the year. The earth still ebbs and flows, but we are trying to reach a point of homeostasis where the ebb and flow of the seasons is more of an inconvenience than a reflection of how we should live our lives.

But as I watch the sun slowly come up this beautiful solstice morning, I wonder what would happen if we used today to simply be. Honestly, I know how hard that is. My plan for today was to take some work to the coffee shop. But today is the shortest day. It is a chance to say thank you to this darkening season and move into the lighter days. And not only do we know that our days our going to get lighter, but we can remember that our friends in the southern hemisphere are experiencing their longest day. No matter how dark it is, there is always light somewhere.

What do you do to reflect on the solstice?


© Rebecca Stahl 2013, all rights reserved.

The post, The Shortest Day, first appeared on Is Yoga Legal.

Sunday, December 15, 2013

Lawyers as Healers?

More than once on this blog I have talked about people in healing professions, particularly in the series on “Overcoming Crisis Mode.” But every time I write it, I sort of cringe. I wonder, do people believe lawyers can be in a healing profession? When I think of healing professions, I think of psychologists, massage therapists, social workers, acupuncturists, chiropractors, and sometimes, allopathic doctors. I might think of mediators, and some lawyers are mediators, but I do not usually think of lawyers.

And yet, I often consider myself in a healing profession. At least I wanted to be in one. But that begs the question, Can lawyers be in a healing profession? Can lawyers be healers?

First, what do lawyers do? In the broadest sense, lawyers help people solve problems. I could say the same thing about all the people mentioned above. But there is something else underlying the issue. Lawyers are often seen as the problem. You may have heard that lawyers have a bit of a reputation. Even though the reason lawyers exist is to solve problems, there are people who think we do it in a less-than-ideal fashion. We are in an adversarial system.

The adversarial system is just that, adversarial. It is not designed to be a healing process. There are certain paths of law, particularly restorative justice and Collaborative Law, that attempt to be more healing, but overall, the legal system is not one designed to bring people toward health. But by definition, anyone who is involved is dealing with some sort of crisis. And when people are in crisis, they need help overcoming those crises. The question is whether lawyers are properly trained to do that.

My intuition and yoga training tell me they are not. Lawyers are trained to “think like a lawyer.” What does that mean, you ask? It only sort of means learning to think like Perry Mason. What it means is that we are taught to look at everything with a rational and logical mindset. We are asked to see the world as though it can be reduced to elements and factors. What that means is that emotion should have no place in what we do.

And that, of course, means we cannot be healers, right? But go back and read that previous paragraph without the word lawyer in it. Put in the word doctor. Even put in the word psychiatrist. They have the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (now in its fifth edition) that reduces behaviors to a formula to then diagnose and treat, often with medication. I just started reading a book called, “The Boy Who Was Raised as a Dog,” by Dr. Bruce Perry. In it, he tells a story of having to decide to drive a family home one night from therapy instead of allowing the family to wait in the frigid Chicago winter. He struggled not because he did not know the “right” thing to do, but because his training had taught him to be dispassionate and emotionally dissociated from his patients. His training taught him that driving them home was overstepping his boundaries.

And so it is with lawyers. And so it is with so many healing professionals. We are asked to do a little dance – take on just enough to understand and be empathic but not so much that we become so involved we lose sight of an objective view. And that leads me back to where I began – can lawyers, within an adversarial system, help people lead to healing? And perhaps the better question is, does it even matter? There are other professionals and people whose sole purpose is to bring healing to the world.  Why does it matter if lawyers are among them?

I expect there are few lawyers that are the source of why people heal. I expect there are many lawyers who are part of the reason. But I see one way lawyers can be a part of healing from the crisis, whatever that crisis is. And it goes directly to representing child clients. There are ongoing debates about lawyers who represent children. Should we represent their best interest? Should we represent their wishes? The arguments for and against each are long and involved, but one argument for client-directed representation has stuck with me over the years.

Allowing children to direct their lawyers gives them a voice in a process where they are often silenced. Some argue it puts them in the middle, and that can be true, but at the end of the day, the argument is that giving them the voice outweighs the negative effects it might create. And that, I believe, can be healing in and of itself. Research on adults involved in the justice system often shows that people just want to feel heard. They want to know they had “their day in court.” They just want to know the process was fair. Even if they end up “losing” their case, they always feel better if they feel their voice was heard.

And lawyers can offer that voice to our clients. In yoga, we often create a sacred space to help people find their voice. We create a place where people can go within and hear themselves, sometimes for the first time. And there is power in that space. There is healing that comes just from being able to speak and have someone listen. Lawyers are not, by any means, the only people who offer this space. But it is a powerful gift to offer and one that makes more sense knowing the strength of a yoga practice.


© Rebecca Stahl 2013, all rights reserved.

The post, Lawyers asHealers, first appeared on Is Yoga Legal.