Wow, even WordPress’ Dashboard is different now that I’m back attempting to blog…
I am eating Trader Joe’s Thai Chili almonds over a 9 oz glass of Chardonnay at the Las Vegas Airport. Truth. So to speak 😉 It’s a far cry from where I was months ago when blogging about being an integrative law student was one of the lifelines I had holding me in check as I anxiously completed and then emerged from the nightmarish cocoon of law school.
The short story? Ha. I’ll try.
It started last spring when I began meditating on my intentions and actively began envisioning how I could manage to make a decent living/improve my circumstances financially (and this definitely falls under the umbrella of “self-care” by the way). I kept asking myself, almost in a chant, almost like a mantra: How am I going to advocate for policies I believe in AND support myself economically? A quarter of a million dollars in educational debt I was (and am, thank you). But beyond the debt, what kind of opportunity was I working on manifesting for myself? What would be the texture of the “work” I would do in the world? My goal has always been and continues to be service, making the world a better place — more specifically, helping to facilitate healing in the world, not war, not divisiveness, not convenience or expediency over thoughtfulness and integrity and cogency — not without connection between what feels to me, and to others, like what’s REAL for people and what’s IMAGINED TO BE REALITY for policy makers. Hmm… What does all of that mean? And how does one even purport to hope to “manifest” such a proposition?
Well, I’m not great at telling stories in a linear fashion. And although our lives creep by in years, which is a chronological measure of life lived, I’m not sure the actual telling of our life stories comport with this version of “reality”. With that said (yes, you lawyers out there, consider this a disclaimer of sorts), I’d like to make this post the first in what will probably become sort of a collage depicting from various angles of time, experience and emotion what my journey since finishing law school has been and what I am projecting for it into the future… This has basically been how a lot of HolisticToolKit.com has chronicled my path, but moving forward, I just thought I’d clarify that yes, this is my story. And yet, no, it is probably not easy to follow. LOL. Rather, it’s something I guess I’d like to invite you, my dear reader, into. That perhaps, is actually the purpose of this post.
I invite you to join me as I plunge into even deeper waters of finding out how law and an holistic mind, body and spirit can find not just overlap but a place of belonging in the world of social justice, in the world of corporate finance, and part and parcel for me, is how this occurs in the legal cannabis space… That is where my journey has brought me and my triumphs, bitter failures and intimate gleanings from it will be what I write about for the next several years.
If you are down to share this journey with me in any way — by reading random blog posts, sharing them, commenting on them, seeing my posts on social media & offering a little smile even if all you dip into the waters of this crazy world of HolisticToolKit.com is a toenail — it is all good. In the words of teachers and friends and mentors and collaborators I have come to love deeply, these sentences and paragraphs are being constructed out of the energy of solidarity, affection and a fierceness focused on facilitating critical reflection, compassionate acceptance, radical honesty, vulnerability as it bleeds into strength and, always, more love.
Namaste and more about the cannabis industry itself next time.
I find myself at what feels like bizarre crossroads. On the one hand, I have just completed what was one of the more challenging projects I’ve ever taken on — law school. This accomplishment came on the heels of years spent engaging in political advocacy at the grassroots and state level. On the heels of teaching yoga and meditation (self-care) to a variety of folks, from “at-risk” youth and human services professionals to legislators and their staff. And, on the heels of having completed a first degree, a Master of Arts in Holistic Thinking. The rub for me, in any of the ways that I assert my intellect and my spirit, is how to bring a sensitivity, an awareness, of thought as well as of feeling, into any realm of decision-making we as individuals and communities are involved in.
The crossroads I am at has emerged like a Frostian divergence in the wilderness of life. Something inside of me has preferred a firm NO to practicing law, at least in the sense that we tend to understand legal practice traditionally. That is, the type that requires a license. Many times I have wished that a YES flowed more freely from me, so that I could embrace a path in the field of law which allowed me to fit more easily into the various compartments that conventional legal practice affords new graduates. I have wanted, with what feels like all of my heart, to again, fit into what has been done before. That I have been unable (so far at least) to answer yes is part of the crossroads. It allows me to avoid traveling down a path that I have observed being full of misery and lack of gratification for so many lawyers. It has also allowed me to take a pause and really intuit, really study, where it is I am intending, in my heart AND my mind, to travel next. But there are questions that have been raised in this in-between space of feeling like I am following my legal path and feeling like I am refusing to follow a legal path all at the same time.
You see, what I have chosen to do with myself since leaving school is work for a start-up specializing in business consulting and fundraising for enterprises in the legal cannabis space. I am a personal assistant to be exact. I am learning about hedge funds and what it means to, quite literally, be building an economic empire. It is not what I ever imagined I would be doing with my degrees and my convictions and my life experience which has largely so far been grounded in the work of nonprofits.
I can say that I love my boss. I love my company. I am exposed to fascinating legal and political controversies every day. I am learning, slowly but surely, how to bring the stock market into my understandings of economics and am developing a limited but real vocabulary of terms from the field of finance. It all seems like very valuable information when I consider the possibilities for a sharing economy in an emerging industry. It’s very exciting when I dream about how the profit that is going to be made form legalized cannabis could be leveraged to facilitate healing (via, for instance, restorative justice programs) in communities where the War on Drugs has wreaked the most havoc over a period of decades. And yet, there is still some fear in me. Fear about whether it is okay that I am on what feels like a side of something — a side that. traditionally speaking, has been perceived by those of us in the activist community as being diametrically opposed to the aspirations we have for attaining a truly beloved community (encompassing access to health and prosperity for all). I guess I am experiencing an identity crisis in a way.
There is more I could share here from a personal perspective. I could share examples of times when I feel like my talents at facilitating dialogue about matters of the heart and mind are being overlooked or undercapitalized on because the demands of my job require me to focus on details that are “below” the type of change I am ultimately concerned with helping our integrative law movement to birth. There is nagging frustration because a part of me fears that I have signed up for something that is not really a match for my values, and that because of this, I am keeping myself from making the kind of difference I feel capable of making in the world. And yet, there seems to be a fairly simple lesson in patience and ego there — the trickier thing, the root of this fear, is what I’ve described above: the experience of this as a crossroads and the inner-conflict about identity which seems to accompany any choice that we as human beings make when it falls away from or outside the predicted parameters for our courses of travel in life. For me, this has to do with making choices that feel like they are taking me away from activism, and trusting my gut — that what I am learning on “the other side” is going to give me what I need to not only help change society, but open up the field of law.
It’s funny. I remember drafting some first posts on this blog where alignment was an organizing force for my writing. To stay focused, I used anatomy drawings I sketched during my yoga teacher training years ago. I had actually never been able to draw anything in a literal way before that training. Anything I created artistically tended towards the abstract. And for those who know me well, this is not surprising. Yet, the concentration I was able to develop through my yoga teaching course allowed me to explore what it meant to have my body, including my brain, aligned. Not just my thinking mind. Not just the physical parts of myself. But everything. And amazingly, this allowed me to grow patience. It allowed me, as I said, to focus. It allowed me to draw figures realistically, and to express myself in a way that felt balanced (not overly expressionistic, but not frustrated in a sea of technicality).
So I used those drawings I produced in such a balanced state as inspiration in law school. I remembered what it felt like during yoga teacher training in order to connect with a state of mind/state of being that allowed for both the technical skills to come through and the emotion, the self that needs spaces of freedom in order to create. I had to find that within myself because it’s not how I was taught to function in school, but I have to say it allowed me to take ownership of my studies in a way that both felt authentic for me and that resulted in grades I could live with (striving for As in everything regardless of how the process of preparing for those As feel has never been something I’ve been willing to accept, that’s just me).
I find it interesting now to realize that the intentions I am setting for myself now that I’ve left law school and re-emerged into the working world are reflecting a similar internal process. I am observing where I am, what I am hoping for my future and what I need in order to be productive in the present. I am conscious of the “hard” expectations my employer and co-workers have of me and I am conscious of my needs at the same time. I am aligning myself with a balance point. It’s hard to explain, but I can feel this in my body. There is more length to my spine than when I do not pay attention to both aspects. There is a feeling of emptiness not in terms of not having enough, but of being ready for more. Even my tail bone is happy to feel balance between both sides of my bottom. This may sound silly or insane, but from my perspective it’s significant. My body is giving me signals as to how aligned with my goals and intentions I am. There is no pain in my posture right now. There is no tension I am holding onto in various areas of my body. THIS seems to indicate alignment, both within my physical self and in terms of how that physical (also mental and emotional) self are aligned with the larger world I am moving within.
Does this make sense to folks? It feels like discourse that is worth engaging in.
Dear Other Recent Law Grads,
It’s funny, how now that I’m in my thirties, now that I’ve joined a secret society (by this I mean the field of law), now that I’m starting to find even footing in life, I find more and more that what I crave is a sense of community. Sounds cheesy, right? Or like I’m pointing out the obvious? Well, hold on. I would like to share a bit more of my story.
See, when I was younger (for some reason, the theme song to All in the Family plays in my head here — “thhhhhose were the dayyys”) I used to run away from whatever required sustained team efforts. I would feel frustrated trying to communicate enough to get everyone onboard with a certain approach to problem-solving or I’d recognize that who I was and what I had to offer wasn’t being honored off the bat so I’d want to call it a day. When I looked for jobs, I was able to find really cool fits — very cool if you ask me. But I always sort of kept in my mind this idea that these things were temporary, and that there was no way I could keep doing what I was doing for very long. Short attention span it seems. And yet, now I wonder, was it a short attention span all of these years or was there something missing in terms of how I was presenting myself to the world and what I imagined was possible to receive in return?
Cryptic, I know. But to bring this back into current focus, let’s take the precipice I am currently on. Having finished my JD, having decided I do not necessarily want to take the bar (at least right now), I have found myself in a place of major uncertainty. Where do I fit in? What is going to allow me to feel comfortable and valued enough where I can keep throwing down every day and feel gratified by the experience? (NOTE: if you don’t feel that this is an important element in the realm of employment, I warn you, you may not want to continue reading…) Conventional wisdom as we graduate law school appears to be this: now you are a lawyer; you have a community; you just have to find some job in that community and everything will be fine. Well I would like to say STOP — if you have found this to be the advice given by people in your life or the mentality demonstrated by your law school community or your local bar association, please, do keep reading.
I am finding that legal education has provided me with a platform from which I can assert even more strongly who I am and what I bring to any table (whether it is a table at a church amidst massive grassroots organizing, whether it is at the table of those who are attempting to found a progressive school, or whether it is at the table of big wigs in finance and industry — all of which are tables I have recently found myself seated). Law does not provide an easy plug-in for individuals who want to find for themselves niches that capitalize on who they are, their authentic voices and gifts. You may have to go outside of the “law community” if you want to find a nexus between whatever your interests in law are and the qualities and preferences that make you who you are.
The good news of course is that there are many lawyers who have realized this — that their ability to perform in the legal world is not tied to wholly identifying with whatever firm culture or bar association bullshit is most prevalent where they are working. It is not necessary to pigeon-hole ourselves in an industry where authenticity and creativity are feared or suppressed. It is actually possible, and I would argue desirable, to put out feelers when you are networking for individuals and organizations that feel like a fit for who you are. Find a sense of community and then be open as far as how your training and expertise from law school may be integrated into whatever culture you find gives you that feeling. Do not be afraid to seek that community or lie to yourself and assume you have found it simply because these are the individuals who would hire you, or because this is the firm that everyone in your family is impressed by you becoming a part of. Find what impresses YOU. Seek what and who inspires YOU and invest in that community. There is too much out there for us to be boxed in by whatever fears or narrow mindedness has come before.
With love and affection,
This is my first post since graduating. I’ll be doing more on the job front soon, but for now I wanted to re-invigorate HTK’s posts by creating one for a friend. He contacted me this morning because now that the bar exam is over, now that he has obtained employment, now that his life is really taking off, he is leaving anti-anxiety medication behind. What he is wondering is, where does he start in his journey of using mindfulness meditation? What’s my advice on beginning a practice for stress relief that does not rely on pharmaceuticals? As someone who has used mindfulness at two major junctures of her life to transition out of pharmie use (the first time getting off anti-depressants as a teenager, the second getting off of stimulants as an adult), I have some perspective to offer…
My first response to this is a simple congratulations. It’s a HUGE deal to allow oneself to separate from a substance that has brought relief in the past. It’s almost like a re-invention of yourself, and it requires a willingness — a sense of bravery — to embark on such a journey. There are probably many reasons for this, but one anyway is that change does not come easily for most of us. Generally we initiate change in our lives because we feel we have no other choice. Something isn’t working, in this case, pharmaceutical medication. Perhaps it did work in some ways, but ultimately, it is not enhancing the quality of our lives anymore.
It’s that recognition, that awareness I think that deserves acknowledgment. The part of ourselves that is ready for change emerged enough to look the other part(s) square in the eyes and say, hey, we’re done with this. We want to feel different. We want to try something else. Again, it’s brave for your spirit to say that. And it’s even braver for you to listen.
My second response is that leaving any substance behind, any addiction or dependency or just plain old every day habit, is a process. We know this. We see it when we try to abstain from consuming certain foods or when we try to keep ourselves from buying certain things that we like to buy because it feeds the dopamine receptors in our brains. Even think of when you try to stop seeing certain people — it can be hard to re-program what we perceive we need and the ways in which we go about attending to those perceived needs.
So it takes awhile. It requires patience. More than that even, because it’s a process, and because it is often a fairly uncomfortable one (physically as well as psychologically), it can be hard to let go of having something that satiates us, or offers us the illusion of satiating us. It can make us question other aspects of our lives or relationships we have with other substances, habits, even people. My point is that this process of separating ourselves from a pharmaceutical can catalyze a transformation of how we view our lives in the abstract. It can cause a revolution in our consciousness. Thus being brace enough to embark on such a journey of separation is not for the faint of heart.
The great thing about this though — the fantastic thing — is that because we are opening ourselves up to such vulnerability, to such capacity for change, who we are is able to evolve very quickly. Our mind-bodies (our “selves”) are hungry for a method to the madness that is being a human being in every day life. We are ripe for re-programming and as we find techniques that bring order to the brain and body again, we are able to settle very deeply into healthy habits if that is what we choose to do.
This brings me to mindfulness & the top ways I recommend someone go about replacing their medication regime with meditation:
- Find a place you feel comfortable — whether you are beginning your practice by yourself or in the company of a group, make sure you feel comfortable wherever you have chosen to be. For example, if you prefer to have natural light nearby, do not put yourself in a windowless room! Or the reverse — if you find that shadowy corners help you re-charge, don’t put yourself in a sun-filled room. This may sound like common sense, but sometimes we assume that once we are “doing it” right, we will suddenly experience enlightenment and our normal preferences and proclivities don’t matter. I say, they do matter. A lot. YOU must feel comfortable wherever it is that YOU are meditating.
- Know that it may be scary to start, that anxiety may come up, and that this is normal — while it’s important to be comfortable where you are meditating (where you are physically situated), this is not to say that the activity itself will not likely bring up fear. This is actually why how comfortable you are to start with matters so much. What is this fear coming up thing I’m talking about though? Well, think about when you try anything new. Fear of not doing it right, especially for individuals who are inclined towards careers in law, can be overwhelming. Beyond that, it is also scary because when you settle into a meditative state, you are essentially traveling into the recesses of your consciousness. You’re sort of exploring a whole other world that in every day life, most people refuse to visit. There is trauma in there. There are memories and previously learned reactions to thoughts and moral judgments about who we are and how we live. There are many voices in there and when we meditate, we allow ourselves to be aware of all of that. If you’re asking, why do we do this, you’re right on. It’s a critical question. And the answer is, when we are able to face all of that which is within, we are prepared that much better for facing that which is outside of our own minds and bodies. Meditation enables us to experience the rest of our lives with even more strength and stability.
- Find a basic practice that you LIKE. This means, find something that, again, feels within your comfort zone. If mantra work feels extreme for you, if keeping your eyes open feels too weird, no worries! You just need to figure out a practice that works for you. Maybe it’s with your eyes closed. Maybe it means sitting in a chair; maybe it means sitting cross legged on the floor. Maybe you use a meditation cushion so that your hip flexors don’t cramp up. It could mean having relaxing music playing or having no sound in the room what so ever. All of these are aspects of your practice that you can control and that you’ll benefit from experimenting freely with. Because the bottomline is, you are only going to continue practicing if you like how you feel when you do it. NOTE: this does NOT mean it won’t get uncomfortable or scary, but it does mean that your practice does not have to make you suffer. There is a middle ground. Also, this is just the start for you with meditation. Once you find what works for you, tweaking and changing is part of the process. Part of the journey. Starting somewhere though is important, and liking where you are at will help ground you & allow the practice to become habit-forming.
- Reach out to others who can relate to your practice. Check out The Anxious Lawyer by an amazing young lawyer named Jeena Cho. She’s created an 8 week program to help lawyers get going in their mindfulness practice and isn’t afraid to talk openly about anxiety in ways you don’t hear very often . You can also check out Warrior One, an in-person or online training course for lawyers & law students that teaches a classical approach to learning mindfulness meditation. And, feel free to share your experiences on HolisticToolKit.com — part of what allows us to continue our practice is by finding our sanghas, or communities, of action and spirit.
This video is a surface-scratching. It’s almost like there is this subterranean tunnel that it feels like some of us humans can often do little but claw at through a thick layer of dirt. Our goal is gaining access to what feel like pathways toward truth, whatever that is, although for me, it means access to healing for all. And that is justice.
An intense analogy, I know, but this video is me beginning to claw in a public forum. It is also an invitation for others to begin following this thread of conversation so we can build more pathways of communication, & eventually, the conversation can more and more happen aboveground. I’m nervous to share, but it feels important…
This post is in honor of my friend and mentor J. Kim Wright. Her thoughts have been posted in this blog before. Today though, I offer her words not just as inspiration, but as a complementary piece in the puzzle I am working on conveying through HolisticToolKit. This puzzle is the whole of our justice system, the whole of our lives as human beings who must organize themselves somehow in order to survive. Kim’s vision is shared below as a means of illustrating what the integration of mindfulness into our concept of justice can mean, what it can translate to in the lives of real people. It is about social change. It is about peace. And leaving fear, leaving attachment to the past, behind. Many thanks to Kim for sharing her view of what the field of law may become and for including HolisticToolKit’s take on what legal education can become…
Second little talk of mine about the relationship between mindfulness and justice. One leads to the other…