Sunday, December 11, 2011

Come on in, the Future is Fine.

This one is going to take a little more creativity and thought. Last time I wrote a letter to my 22 year old self. But what would my 62 year old self want my 42 year old self to know right now?

Dear Brooke (age 42):
Greetings from 2031! Yes, the world is still here and humanity is chugging along quite nicely. Although some things will never change, all in all humans are evolving. We have achieved so much in 20 years and you are personally doing splendidly.  In fact, your life is everything you hoped it would be. No regrets. You are in the ideal position to answer your life calling and--although the path is sometimes fuzzy--your trajectory in 2011 really is leading you just where you want to go. So this is what I have to say to you. Listen:

Stop worrying! Sometimes you can see how far you've come and sometimes you are just too hard on yourself. Where you are in your life right now is perfect. It is a wonderful time. You will look back at this time in your life with great fondness. Your children are at such a fun age and you are enjoying them immensely. This is a good thing. A great thing. So you worry that you aren't accomplishing as much as you should professionally, that you should be making more money, that you should be more "successful." Do us both a favor and stop "shoulding" all over the place. You need to see that you already are successful. You are on the right track. It's not about the money right now. It's about your kids. Remind yourself of one of your favorite facts: Even United States Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O'Connor took several years off to raise her children. I'm not sitting here at 62 saying, "Gee, I should have spent more time at the office and less time with Macie and Lucas." You know what my perspective is in 2031? This is it: I can't believe my babies are all grown up. It just flew by so fast. I'm so glad I didn't miss it. The school-age years were such precious times. I wouldn't trade them for all the money, power or conventional success in the world. In 2011 they are 8 and 10 years old. In 2031 they are 28 and 30 years old. Happy, healthy, productive good citizens blessed with a terrific, nurturing childhood contributed to largely in part by having had joyful, loving and involved parents. Congratulations! You are doing the right thing by prioritizing your children at this time in your and their lives. Besides your business is doing just fine and it's only going to get better. As you have more time to devote to building your career, your career will grow and thrive. You have the perfect work/life balance right now. So quit worrying. Everything is progressing the way it should. It's all going to come together beautifully. You'll see.

Stop feeling guilty! What is it with you? Why is it that whatever you are doing, you think you ought to be doing something else? Can't you see that whatever you are doing is what you are supposed to be doing right now? That is why you are doing it. When you are working, you feel you should be exercising. When you are exercising, you feel you should be working. When you are resting, you feel like you should be doing something "more productive." You are actually doing a rather fabulous job of having it all. You have everything you need. Everything is perfect just the way it is. Enjoy the moment. Be mindful of whatever you are doing at the time you are doing it. There is time for everything. One step at a time. Have a little more faith in your choices. Cut yourself some slack.

Stop being afraid!  There is nothing to fear. You may not always be able to control what happens to you but you are always able to choose how you will react to it. Know that you will face whatever comes your way and you will handle it with grace and dignity. You will make the most of everything life hands you. You have always exhibited resilience in the face of adversity and you will continue to do so. Believe in yourself and what you stand for. Stay true to yourself and your message. Don't let the naysayers and adversaries bring you down. Listen to whatever criticism you can use to improve and grow and let go of the rest. Align yourself with people who will mentor and support you. Friends and teachers are all around you.  Ask for help and you shall receive it. It all comes together when it is supposed to. Remember that "o fim sempre da certo"--everything always works out in the end.  It is only a matter of seeing it as so, remembering that there is a lesson to be learned, learning it and moving on. You've always been good at seeing and learning and incorporating new information. Keep the faith.

The cool thing about being 62 is that it is much easier now to internalize these concepts and be at peace with myself. At 42, although you know intellectually that I speak true, you still struggle to stay in the moment. You have to keep practicing patience, tolerance and compassion as well as loving and forgiving yourself and others; but trust me, you are well on your way. Be happy knowing that you will be everything you want to be when the time is right. You know how you wish you were smarter, wiser, and more Zen-like? You know how you wish you had 20 more years of experience? I'm happy to report that age provides for this. You got it. It's just that time takes time.

So please enjoy your 40s and stop second-guessing yourself. This is a beautiful time for you. Appreciate it. Also, your instincts are great. They have never steered you wrong. I know you can't see the future from where you are, but I can promise you it will be a bright one. Everything is as it should be. I should know, right? Now you know this: I am proud of the woman that you are right now as well as the woman you are becoming. And the best is indeed yet to come, so relax and hang in there, Sister. I'm rooting for you.
Much love, Brooke (age 62)

Friday, December 2, 2011

Letters to Myself

What if we really could travel in time and visit our older or younger selves? What wisdom could we share? What comfort could we provide? What advice would we give? First I thought it would be fun to travel back twenty years to December 1991 where I am 22 years old and a graduate assistant at the University of Florida's Center for Latin American Studies. This is an exciting time for me as I am waiting to embark on a year of scholarship and travel in South America, first with a Fulbright fellowship program in Belo Horizonte, Brazil and then as a Rotary International Ambassadorial Scholar of Good Will in Buenos Aires, Argentina:

Dear Brooke (age 22):
Greetings from 2011! I smile as I think about you. The world is literally at your feet. As a Latin American Studies and Spanish major at the University of Virginia, you were bitten hard by the travel bug and you are taking it as far as you can go. Although the economy is terrible, you have brilliantly found a way to continue to travel and study culture and languages without having to get a real job. You are old enough to enjoy all the perks and freedoms of adulthood and young enough to not yet know the burdens of taxes and mortgages and other grown-up responsibilities. Hurray!

At this point you are still the Golden Girl. Everything always works out for you. Nothing bad ever happens to you. You are still in your age of innocence. You have yet to know real pain and suffering. Life is easy and happy, although you still manage to fret over things like your weight, boyfriends and that one professor you got assigned to work with because nobody else wanted to deal with her insanity, and you are the low woman on the totem poll. You can handle it.

Just soak it up, Baby! Enjoy the bliss of the innocent. You are having experiences, visiting places and making friends you will carry with you for the rest of your life. You love who you are and so far your life is everything you hoped it would be. Travel. Explore. Learn. Live. Things are going to continue to go your way, for the most part. You are young and beautiful and educated and free. You don't have to worry about anything yet, and why should you? 1992 will be your most amazing year yet.

Maybe I shouldn't tell you this, but these are the days that will shore you up when the Tragedy happens. This makes no sense to you now, but in another year or two you will finally know grief and loss. Your eyes will be opened. You will understand for the first time true pain and suffering. You think you already know these things but you don't. The shell around your soul will break open and you will have a greater awakening about the Universe. But don't worry, you will be okay. In fact, this will prove to be the pivotal experience that makes you a deeper, wiser, more empathic and spiritual person. After experiencing this true loss and grief, you will learn more about yourself and how to pick up the pieces when life falls apart and how to keep moving on.  This will prove to be an inspiration to others. You will reclaim your happiness and continue on in your journey of this wonderful gift that is your life. When you are in your deepest pain, try to remember your life as it is now in 1991 and 1992. Remember that who you are right now is your true self.

And don't worry, even with the Tragedy in 1993, you still have a few more years of travel and study and adventure. You will fall in and out of love several times yet. More of your dreams will come true. You will make it into and graduate from Harvard Law School, where you will meet more amazing people and do more amazing things. In fact, until your graduation from law school in 1996, these are the times you will look back on wistfully when your obligations and priorities change first to making money and then to being married and raising your children.

Actually, despite your dreams and intentions of creating world peace and building infrastructure in developing countries, you are actually going to go the corporate route. Despite your world travels, Corporate America is going to be the biggest culture shock of your princess life. You will get your butt kicked. You will question and doubt yourself, lose sight of the Golden Girl that you are and feel a lot less interesting and brilliant than your former self. But this all serves a purpose. Another great awakening. The real world can't wait forever and learning doesn't stop just because you graduate from school. Besides, your dreams and goals will change and you will decide to forgo that international trajectory for staying close to home, marrying the all-American boy next door, having 2.3 kids and a house and yard with a white picket fence. So don't cry too long over the boys who will break your heart and stop fretting over things like your weight and whether or not you will ever meet Mr. Right. You will, you will. Just go and do and be. Have your travels and adventures.

Writing to you from 2011, I can tell you that the economy is the pits again, and your wanderlust is in check because your kids aren't old enough to appreciate exotic places yet, and even if they were, you and your husband are too busy putting all that money towards their college education and a mortgage payment to feel like you can spend the money anyhow. So enjoy your 20-something freedom and do not fret, even though you will eventually face some great life-altering challenges. Your life force is very strong and will continue to be so despite what comes. So, keep making wonderful memories to squirrel away for those middle-aged years when you have to be more responsible. Do I make it sound boring? Not at all. Marriage and motherhood are their own special adventure you will not want to miss. You think you are having a good time now? Believe me, nothing you will ever do will be as awesome is being a mom. You'll see.

But for right now, you have so much to look forward to. You will never be this young again. I'm really excited for you and your bright future. Always appreciate it, for you are truly blessed.
Oh, and when you and Laura are on that bus in Bolivia don't just stop at Lake Titicaca, go all the way into Peru and climb Machu Picchu while you still can. Despite my best intentions, it's 2011 and I still haven't made it back. Perhaps there is still time. Maybe I'll take the family.
Love, Brooke (age 42)

Friday, November 11, 2011

A Season of Thankfulness

Tis the season to count our blessings, although being thankful is arguably something we should practice year round. I find that there is nothing quite like making a list of all I am thankful for to cheer me and create a feeling of peace. I want to pass this on to my children. In fact, it's only Veterans Day and my children had already started rumbling about what they want to get under the tree. So I told them that before I would entertain any discussion of their Chanukah/Christmas list, they would have to sit down and make a Gratitude List of at least 100 things for which they were thankful.

And they did. Actually, they had a pretty good time of it and found it was a relatively easy exercise once they got started. After my 8 year old son read me his list (of 102!) I asked him how he felt about the assignment. He replied that it had been a good exercise for both his head and his hand, and that it surprisingly didn't hurt either body part.

Try it. Once you get going, you'll find it is quite easy to realize all that you are thankful for. The list will inevitably include members of your family, fond friends, favorite foods, places and things, shelter, clothing and physical and mental health. Freedom. Feet. Eyes. Trees. The ocean. And on and on.

Now, let's kick it up a notch and try to be thankful for a few things we might not normally think of. This isn't quite as easy, but here's the start of a slightly unconventional thank you list, which might be useful whenever life seems less than perfect:

1. I am thankful for laundry. There is perhaps no greater household drudgery than doing the laundry, however, if I have laundry to do, it means I and my family have clothes to wear and that we had the opportunity to both acquire and to wear them.

2. I am thankful for taxes. Let's face it, nobody wants to pay them and yet we need services like police and fire, roads and schools. If I have a tax bill, it means I earned an income, which is more than some millions of unemployed Americans can say.

3. I am thankful for all the times my heart was broken. Oh yes, I suffered such heartbreak back in the day. But if I had married any of those guys, I would never have met and married my awesome husband. He was definitely worth the wait.

4. I am thankful for the times as a child that I felt awkward, shy and picked on. As an adult it has given me great empathy for others. I try to make an effort to reach out in most social situations. I like that about myself.

5. I am thankful for those really really bad times. While I hope they never come back, they have led me to appreciate all that life has to offer and have showed me that whatever the circumstances, whatever the loss, I have everything I need right here and life will go on.

6. I am thankful for when my children wake me up in the middle of the night or cry, whine, complain to, argue with or pester me. Although I prefer our more polite conversations and words of affection, when they are not their best selves with me, I know that my children are living, thinking human beings who are not afraid to communicate with me and that they feel safe expressing to me their needs and wants.

7. I am thankful for all the people in my life who have challenged me, pushed me, given me grief or made my life miserable. For as much as I love and appreciate the people who have caressed and coddled me and built me up, I've probably learned my greatest lessons and improved the most from my critics and my detractors. (Although I'm still going to choose to hang out with the people who are nice to me and limit my exposure to toxic or negative people, I'm not crazy).

8. I am thankful for all the times I have fallen down both literally and figuratively, for as wonderfully thrilling as my successes have been, it is the times that I have had to get back up and brush off my dignity and pride that I have truly learned to be a champion.

Of course, we would rather only have good things happen to us and to only know peace and prosperity. I sure do hope we all get some more of that in life. But let's face it, not so good stuff is going to happen too. Laundry and taxes are a fact of life. People die, get ill or hurt or in trouble. At times we will all experience a little hunger, thirst, cold, setback or heartbreak.

But if we can learn to be somehow thankful for whatever comes, we will hopefully be able to find our happiness regardless of the season.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Fueling the Spark

Kevin Houchin, Esq. wants lawyers and law students to succeed in their personal and professional lives. He has written two books, both entitled Fuel the Spark. One is aimed at law students, and subtitled,  5 Guiding Values for Success in Law School & Beyond (2009, Kevin E. Houchin, Esq.). The other is aimed at lawyers and subtitled,  5 Guiding Values for  Success in Law & Life (2009, Kevin E. Houchin, Esq.).  Both books are short and aimed at getting those either entering or already entrenched in the legal profession to consider their values and to apply them to their lives so that they can be happier, healthier and more successful in their law practice.  He also wants them to have more fun.

What's not to like?

Mr. Houchin (an entertainment and intellectual property lawyer you can learn more about at would like these books to be required law school reading, and I don't blame him. I have encountered innumerable legal practitioners who started having existential crises the moment they graduated law school.  I myself started feeling when I left law school and entered Corporate America that I was no longer the interesting person I used to be, the person I liked before I became a lawyer.  It has personally taken years of struggle and honest reflection to build a happy, balanced life for myself.

As Mr. Houchin recognizes, I am not alone.  His answer is to highlight 5 guiding values and work up short programs and exercises to help the law student and legal practitioner contemplate and come home to his or herself, or at least remember who they are so they don't stray too far from themselves in the first place.  He writes with enthusiasm, brevity and wit, which is much appreciated by the reader. Without digression he illuminates his 5 core values (keys to success) which are to (1) Accept responsibility for one's life; (2) Show up; (3) Pay 100% attention; (4) Have many irons in the fire; and (5) Give back (Stewardship).

As I teach an Introduction to Law class at the Florida Institute of Technology in Melbourne, Florida, I have come close to answering Mr. Houchin's dream by making his books recommended (but not required) reading and spending one day of class time discussing the principles contained therein with my students. I have even gifted one of his books to a very grateful friend who had just been accepted into law school and would give a copy as a graduation present to any law student I truly cared about.

As for my Introduction to Law class, Fuel the Spark makes for an interesting and thought-provoking discussion with students. It is important to encourage students to think about what values really matter to them. I have even had students indicate that the values highlighted by Mr. Houchin are not the only relevant values and that they might prefer to choose the values they felt mattered most to them rather than the values prescribed by someone else.

All the better.

Fuel the Spark encouraged my students to consider their own values. I loved that they were inspired to begin thinking about qualities that matter to them in life. After all, isn't getting students to analyze and think for themselves what education is all about? And unlike some other disciplines, law is not about "solving for X," but rather identifying and evaluating different perspectives and articulating them in understandable, compelling and persuasive ways.  Not only do the Fuel the Spark books get students to think about their own values, they beseech them to formulate how they will make a positive impact in the world utilizing their strengths and talents.

A worthy exercise for anyone, I submit.

The Fuel the Spark aimed at lawyers also makes for an excellent continuing legal education seminar in ethics and professional responsibility. I would certainly utilize it for any law student or lawyer that came to me for coaching and mentoring.

So I give kudos to Kevin Houchin for creating these straight-forward and easy reads for lawyers and law students. I hope he realizes his dream of having one or the other become required law school reading as I would like to see a more self-actualized and less stressed-out bar.

Monday, October 31, 2011

The Beauty of the Rain

It is raining today. For many people this is a depressing, sad, annoying or inconvenient situation.

But not for me.

I've always loved the rain. It has always felt like liquid peace to me. When I was about 6 years old, I placed a child sized chair in my little red wagon, wheeled it into the front yard and sat there under an oversized umbrella. After first taking a picture, my mother made me come back in the house, where I instead opened up the garage door, set up my chair at the edge and watched Mother Nature's show.

When I was about 22 and a graduate student at the University of Florida's Center for Latin American Studies, my boyfriend at the time and I took our umbrellas and made a hike through the rain in one of the area parks. We felt alive and adventurous and in control of our destinies.

At some point as a graduate student or law student, on one of my journeys to Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, it was raining on the beach in Ipanema. Rather than let it bother me, I let the rain soak me as I sat on top of a giant rock and gazed out at the sea. I may have look bedraggled, but I felt completely free.

I've been through all sorts of trials and tribulations in life, not to the extent of many people in this world, but enough to call my own. For example, about a week before I was to start Harvard Law School in 1993, I had a horrible car accident while on a weekend road trip in which the boyfriend from the University of Florida was thrown from the car. I watched helplessly in the middle of the grassy highway median as he died. An ambulance took me away to a hospital where I didn't know anyone. In shock and far from home, I waited several hours until my mom and dad could come for me. No one would give me a straight answer when I asked about my boyfriend.

Except for some minor scratches and bruises, I emerged from the accident physically unharmed. But my spirit broke that day and some part of me died along with my boyfriend. My golden girl innocence had shattered. Of course, I had been lucky to have held on to my childlike wonder for as long as I had. Now I was hollow and devastated. My parents packed me off to law school anyway, which turned out to be the right decision. My life had to go on and though I now saw the world with different eyes, somehow I would have to make it through.

Even during the depths of my despair, I knew that the death of my ability to feel boundless happiness and joy would only be a kind of temporary death, like when winter comes and the leaves are off the trees, all is barren and seemingly dead, especially in a Massachusetts winter. And yet, a tiny spark of hope managed to hang on inside me through the depression and anxiety I felt over the next year, which would peak through in the quiet moments when I was no longer able to keep them squashed under a frenzy of activity and distraction. Down deep I knew that eventually spring would come back to my soul, and my spirit would one day blossom again.

Now when it rained, I would feel my lost friend in the raindrops, a friend that was loving and kind to me and who wanted to protect and comfort me. A friend telling me one dark and dreary November day in Cambridge as I lay listless and forlorn on my dorm room bed unable to focus on preparing for law school exams, not sure how I was going to make it through, that it was time to pick up the pieces of my life and move on. Somehow I was able to receive this gentle message. And so I tried, and so I did. I don't know how, but I made it through and here I am.

Today I have the most wonderful husband and amazing kids. I have meaningful work that I love helping people. I have friends that I cherish; family that supports me unconditionally; community that gives me purpose and never lets me feel alone.  Sure, I've had to deal with some stuff that I won't go into here. Especially since the stuff is not completely over. But it doesn't matter if it is over or if it's not. It's okay if it's still raining.

Let it rain down on me. I welcome the refreshing shower and am happy to be washed clean. The rain didn't stop the itsy bitsy spider and it doesn't have to stop you or me. Besides, if there are only sunshiny times in our life then we will not be able to fully feel joy.

As the Lebanese poet, Khalil Gibran wrote in his timeless book, The Prophet, with regard to Joy and Sorrow, "The deeper that sorrow carves into your being, the more joy you can contain." 

And as to Pain, he wrote:

"Your pain is the breaking of the shell that encloses your understanding. Even as the stone of the fruit must break, that your heart must stand in the sun, so must you know pain...And you would accept the seasons of your heart, even as you have always accepted the seasons that pass over your fields. And you would watch with serenity through the winters of your grief."

And you are still free to dance in the rain and play in the snow like you did as an innocent happy child. Storms always pass. Winter never lasts. You can't control the weather or your circumstances, but you can control your attitude about them and remember that no matter how cold and wet it might get, the brilliant sun inside your heart is still shining there beneath the storm clouds, and it will come out again.

Monday, July 11, 2011

Because the Sky is Blue

When I was a little girl going to bed in summertime, I would ask my mom to leave the shutters open on my window, so that I could look up into the beautiful blue sky. I would gaze up at the sky and feel at peace. "Mommy, I want to look at the blue!" I would say.

When I was a teenager and young adult, I would take walks after dinner with my father as the sun was setting. Sometimes we would walk over the bridge. Sometimes we would do a circuit along the Indian River Lagoon, across the barrier island and back along the ocean. We would have long, soulful talks and I remember telling him that I didn't see how anyone could be unhappy when the sky was so beautiful.

I would wonder to myself, "Does it make sense that I am happy because I love the sky?"

Now that I am older and wiser I realize that it makes complete and perfect sense.

By loving the sky, you are loving the Universe and all that is in it, including yourself. What I want you to remember is that you are the beautiful, infinite and vast sky. The sky itself is never actually gray. That is an illusion caused by the storm clouds passing through. The sky beyond the clouds is always blue. Respect the clouds as they pass through, yet remember that they are not you.

You are the sky.

Friday, July 1, 2011

Love Is Never A Mistake

"When you came together at the time it was meant to be. It was not a mistake. Your children are not a mistake. The life you built together was not a mistake. If it is time to move on, then let's move on, but let's honor the past as we look to the future."

I always tell my clients this when they come in to see me for the first time. I just feel in my heart that this has to be true and this is why I feel called to be a peacemaker and healer for divorcing couples and why I can no longer bring myself to practice law. I just can't take sides. I just don't see the point of fighting. Luckily, there are plenty of skilled lawyers out there who can advise divorcing people of their legal rights. I refer individuals to them often and God bless them. Their work is not easy.

As for me, when a couple is divorcing, I see only too clearly that what we have here is a family. Even if there were no children born of the marriage, the couple was a family to each other. They shared their lives and their love with each other for however long. They learned from each other. They are who they are today because they came into each other's lives. Despite whatever pain and suffering they may have advertantly or inadvertantly caused each other, there was also joy and laughter. There are good memories as well as bad, and if they have children together, then there are still many memories to be made special. They owe their children the decency of honoring and respecting one another. 

What I want couples to know is that they came together for a reason. They walked on the same path for the time that they did in order to grow spiritually. If I am not mistaken, many therapists indicate that people come together to help heal their pains from childhood, most often marrying people with traits like their own parents. So even if now the couple has grown apart, I feel a moral obligation to honor, respect and cherish the marriage, even as it is ending. I feel strongly the need to empower the couple to move on in a mature and healthy way, to help them forgive each other as well as their own selves.

By forgiving one another, not only do they heal themselves, they demonstrate for others the way to peace. For the only way to peace is to first make peace with oneself.

Just imagine what the world would be like if more people were at peace with themselves? What would happen if people didn't feel the need to "punish" others for slings and arrows, real or imagined? What if people could let go of the Ego and instead say to their spouse, "Thank you for having taught me. Thank you for helping me grow. I wish for you peace and love and happiness. May it be so."

Move on. Move on. Love is never a mistake.

Thursday, June 30, 2011

Saving Yourself

"Once upon a time there was a very friendly princess who was captured by a big, grumpy, invisible wizard,
And he locked her in the tippy top of his tower...
Now this princess got very, very smart after years of thinking in the tower,
and it began to dawn on her that perhaps the invisible wizard wasn't even there.
So she approached the gigantic door that kept her locked into the tower
and she OPENED IT,
and tiptoed carefully down the stairs...
where low and behold she walked into a clearing in the woods and she was free!
And you'll never believe it, but there was an entire village
of forest animals and people dancing and singing.
They had been waiting for her all these years."

--The Roches,  Goodnight

Sometimes we feel angry or scared or that the whole world is against us and we don't even know why. When things don't seem to be going our way, it is easy to get trapped into thinking that someone or something is doing it to us. If only this person would stop picking on me...If only that person would go away...If only I had a better job, a better car, better hair...If only (fill in the blank here), I would be (pick one) happier, perfect, rich, okay, saved.

But what if I were to tell you that all those things that are keeping you stuck, all those people who are holding you back, all that baggage that is dragging you down--none of it really matters. No one, no thing, no situation controls you. No one, no thing, no situation is making you miserable. Guess who's really making you miserable?

Yep, you got it: You.

"But, but, but..." I hear you say.

No, it's really you. Trust me.

Now, I know you are not doing it to yourself on purpose. You don't mean to keep yourself stuck. I know you are doing the best you can with what you think you got right now. You think you need more to be happy and you could definitely make some positive changes in your life. Couldn't we all?

Yes and no. Everything you really need, you've had all along. You are golden, just the way you are. You don't need anything else to be happy. Not that you shouldn't feel free to develop and explore your interests. Don't stop striving for your dreams. What you need to know, however, is that there is no way to happiness, happiness is the way. Know also that the Big Dream is not the be all and end all. It doesn't really matter if you make it or you don't. It's the journey along the way where all the fun is to be had.

You see, happiness is not for someday in the future when all your dreams come true. Happiness is right there inside you right now. You were born with it. It has always been there. And no one can take it away from you without your permission.

Remember Dorothy and her adventure to the Emerald City? Dorothy made some terrific friends along the way to meet the great and powerful Oz. But the wizard couldn't give her or her friends anything they didn't already have. In fact, it turned out, Dorothy had the means to get herself home to Kansas the whole time. Click, click, click.

And you have the means to get yourself home to happiness. You had it all the time.

Do I make it sound easy? That's because it is (unless there is something chemical or otherwise serious going on. In that case, it's helpful to explore your issues with an experienced doctor, psychologist or therapist). For your garden variety gripes and grouses, however, you may just need to look at your life a different way. I'm not a statistician, but I would say that 90% of life is showing up with the right attitude.  No matter what happens to you in your life--and oh, things will happen, it's true--you will have to deal. But it is the manner in which you deal with it that will make all the difference.

I myself have spent many a night trapped in the tower of my racing mind, unable to sleep, tossing and turning, worrying, agonizing, fretting about the future. I've spent days hiding from the world in my office, home or dorm room, not feeling like going out, angry at someone or some situation, fearful of my fate and I can tell you one thing about it:

It was a total waste of my time.

Well, maybe not a total waste. I guess I had to go through it so I could learn to set myself free by changing the channel of my mind; to learn that I can stop thinking about what is wrong and start thinking about what is right. I can count my blessings instead of my curses. And I've learned that my curses usually eventually turn out to be yet more blessings in disguise.

Now, maybe you might say that it is silly; that it's all just in my Pollyanna head. And, I would have to agree with you on that.  I've made up my mind see the best in everything and everyone. I've chosen to save myself by feeling love and compassion instead of fear and anger for the people and things that bother me. (Sometimes it is harder than others, but I'm practicing). What's more, I can choose to focus on the people and things that I easily love and enjoy: My family, my friends, my blessings.

I hold the key.

And so do you, despite whatever wicked witch or wizard may be dogging you.

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Remembering Who We Really Are

Sometimes we feel lost. We feel a dissonance, a malaise. We feel unsure, anxious, afraid of the future. When this happens, it is helpful to remember who we are. Of course, to remember who we are presupposes that we have actually forgotten who we are, and furthermore, that we knew who we were in the first place.

How about you? Can you tell me who you are?

Oh sure, you can tell me all kinds of things about yourself: Your name, your age, your occupation, where you were born, where you live, the names of your favorite team, singing group, television show or movie. I can see it all right there on your Facebook page. But in your heart of hearts, do you remember that perfect, beautiful life force that is you? Do you remember that you are a child of this Universe, innocent and pure and free? Do you remember that you are part of something greater than the trials and tribulations you experience out here in this seemingly harsh world? Have you forgotten that you are more than just a body going through motions in time and space?

Easy to forget, isn't it?

In Stephen King's, Dark Tower series of novels, when a character goes off course or does something kind of lame, the main character Roland or someone would say, "You have forgotten the face of your father." In other words, you have forgotten what you are made of and that you are a child of the Universe, a creation of God.

As hard as we may try to center ourselves and listen to that quiet, all knowing voice that says, "Be. Live. Fear not. Everything is the way it is supposed to be. Pay attention to the lesson.  Don't Panic!" What we often do is get lost in the hustle and bustle, rushing everywhere, doing, worrying, doubting ourselves, blaming others, being afraid. We forget to be patient with ourselves and the people we interact with. We forget to listen. We forget that we have a calling, a dream, a purpose. We get bogged down in the details of muddling through this life.

But it doesn't have to be that way. At least not all the time.

We can remember who we are and that no matter what anyone might say or do to us, we are deserving of peace, love and happiness. In fact, that is exactly what we are: Peace, love, happiness, light. We have been right here all the time. We have just forgotten.

We can't feel that inner peace unless we stop and remember who we are. No one can remember for us. It is up to each one of us to realize that we are not our job description, we are not grades on a report card, we are not whatever numbers we have in our financial portfolio.

What we need to do a little everyday is pause, and think. And remember.

Remember that we are perfect, lovable, forgivable souls--no matter what we have done or what mistakes we may have made. All living things are connected and holy and beautiful.  Our main purpose is to love each other and ourselves and to be happy. It doesn't always seem that way and it may take a lot of practice.  But, no matter what we need to do, no matter when the deadlines are or how many errands we need to run, we can take a moment and breathe and check in and be mindful that underneath it all, we are still that shining light. We are worthy human beings.

Think about that the next time someone annoys, irritates or angers you. Because the same goes for them. It's hard sometimes, I know. But if you remember who and what you truly are, it will be easier to have compassion and forgiveness for others. That is your blessing and your miracle and the answer to the real problem that is keeping you stuck.

So, don't forget.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Forgiveness is Healing: The Quest for Inner Peace

‎"Inner peace can be reached only when we practice forgiveness. Forgiveness is letting go of the past, and is therefore the means for correcting our misperceptions."

--Dr. Gerald Jampolsky, Psychiatrist and founder (together with his wife, Psychologist Diane Circincione) of the International Center for Attitudinal Healing (ICAH)

The other day, while I was looking for inspiration, I found the above quote of Dr. Gerald Jampolsky.  As a seeker of inner peace, this quote spoke to me. These words seem on their face pretty clear: Let go of hate and anger. Forgive others for any past wrongs, real or imagined, and feel calmer and more in control of your life.

So, I get letting go of the past.  But what does it mean to correct our misperceptions? Misperceptions of what? I decided to learn a little more about this Jerry Jampolsky felllow and his philosophies to see what I could use. This is what I found:

At his website,, Jerry and his wife Diane entitle their homepage: "Attitudinal Healing." That makes sense to me, too. Have the right attitude and it will help you heal. I've read enough self help books to know about all that. In fact, Jerry and Diane have apparently written several books of their over the past few decades with such titles as Change Your Mind, Change Your Life; Love is Letting Go of Fear;  Good-Bye to Guilt:  Releasing Fear Through Forgiveness; and Love is the Answer: Creating Positive Relationships.  These writings are originally inspired by and expound upon the famous A Course in Miracles self study spiritual program which also speaks of the concept of using forgiveness to correct our misperceptions. Dr. Jampolsky worked on a version of this course with the also-famous inner-peace guru, Maryanne Williamson.

Patricia Robinson, co-founder of the International Center for Attitudinal Healing describes it thus:

"In relationships...our ego mind says that we are being attacked.  The fact, however, is that there are no true realities, only perceptions... it is only our own perceptions that make us feel that we are being attacked.  We have the choice to fill up with the powerful love energy so that we are able to not even have to defend ourselves."

In other words, we can choose to decide that we are not under attack and let harsh words roll off our backs as we recognize that the people saying the words are really saying that they are unhappy or anxious or confused and that they need our compassion.   Think about it. When your child is angry that you have put him in a time out or taken away a favorite toy as a punishment, he might yell, "I HATE YOU! YOU ARE THE WORST MOTHER EVER!" Obviously, your child does not really hate you and you are not really the worst mother ever and it is easy to forgive this child for saying such words because we know that this is something that children sometimes say when they are frustrated or over-tired. It's not really about us, it's about them.

So then why can't we apply this concept to grown ups? I'm thinking Dr. Jerry is saying that we can. In fact, if you choose to, you can decide to not let anything anyone does to you offend you. At the very least, after you've rolled around in the pain of it for a while, you can just release it and let it go. It's a choice. And a very empowering one.

So then when we say that through forgiveness we correct our misperceptions, we are correcting the misperceptions that we have been attacked or harmed or sinned against. Because once we get to the place where we are OK with ourselves and everything that we are, we will perceive that the harm or attack or sin was just an expression of fear. It wasn't really about us, it doesn't really exist except in our minds. And we can choose peace instead of outrage or anger or fear on our own part.

There is also the concept that we have the misperceptions as humans that there is an "us" and a "them," that we are separate, competing entities, instead of one human family. When we forgive ourselves and others (even if they don't forgive us back), we get in touch with the God-like spark inside of us, of which we are all supposed to be a part. By forgiving another, we are actually forgiving ourselves. And when we forgive another, we are actually healing ourselves.

I think I need to learn some more about this. I'll let you know what I find out. I picked up my own copy of A Course in Miracles and have ordered the works of Jerry Jampolski and Maryanne Williamson from to supplement my summer reading.  I'm on my way to get me some more of that there inner peace. I'll try to bring you back a slice.

Monday, June 20, 2011

Making Your Own Luck

Ever notice how it's much more fun to give presents to people who really know how to receive? Whereas it's no fun at all to give to those who don't appreciate your generosity?  Don't you just love to be around the person who acknowledges your contributions? Doesn't it make you want to keep on doing your best for them? When my children or my husband thank me for any reason, my heart just melts and I want to do even more for them. 

However, if I go to the trouble to, say, make a special dinner, and all I get is complaints and a refusal to eat what is served. Guess what? Momma ain't gonna cook no more (well, at least until tomorrow night).

This is the other side of the coin. The person who doesn't appreciate you. The person who constantly finds fault with you. How much are you enjoying being around that person? I'd have to guess not very much. The person who does not graciously accept your gifts, either material, or of time and love, the person who criticizes and complains about everything not being good enough. You know what you want to give them, right? Bupkis. 

Now, I can't pretend to know how the Universe really works. I just have a hunch that maybe we all can create our own luck by being happy and grateful with what we already have. Hey, at least it's a start. Besides, sometimes when my kids ask me for more toys, for example. What's my reaction? "Well, I haven't seen you play with the toys you already have. Maybe if I felt you appreciated the things you have, I would be inclined to get you more." I know it's kind of a paradox. Need less, get more. Although this is probably a bad example because my son usually wears me down and we end up with a trip to Wal-mart for another pack of Pokemon cards anyway, and to even things out a Tiger Beat magazine with Justin Bieber all over the cover for my daughter. And then they are really thankful and huggy and saying how I am the best mommy in the world. OK, so they've got my number, don't they?

Regardless, when you stop to list all that you really have, don't you then realize that you have much more than you originally thought? What if when you fail to appreciate all the blessings in your life, the Universe actually says in return, "Oh yeah? So it's like that, is it? Well, fine, forgetaboutit." Now is God really going to give you the shaft for not being thankful? I seriously doubt it. But then again, I would suspect that those most generous with their prayers--especially for others--enjoy a bonanza of peace and love.

Expressing gratitude. What could it hurt? Even if it's not the case that being thankful for what you have gets you more, it sure is much more pleasant going through life as a happy, grateful person than going through life as someone who is never satisfied with anything. I know that I personally would rather hang around with the happy, grateful person than with the whining, complaining stick in the mud. Wouldn't you?

So create some luck for yourself today. Take stock of what you have going on for yourself. Smile and express your gratitude any way you can. I'm willing to bet that even if you don't get more, you'll feel like you have a lot more. Your heart will fill with joy. Your cup will runneth over. And it won't even cost you a dime. 

Friday, May 13, 2011

The Upward Spiral Revisited

It may or may not surprise you to learn that lawyers leave the profession at almost the same rate that they enter it. In fact, a recent survey of lawyers determined that a large percentage of them are unhappy, with one-third of lawyers indicating they would leave the profession if they could. Why? Their contrary, pessimistic and bombastic style (and that of their colleagues), long hours, and lack of control over their lives are physically and mentally damaging to them and their families. Always having to be right. Always having to win. Always having to do a battle of words and case law with your opponents will wear you down. Is it any wonder that the rate of alcoholism and depression among lawyers is 3.6 times that of the general population? Or that the rate of suicide and divorce among lawyers is higher than in almost any other profession?

And yet law schools continue to churn out lawyers. In fact, I have just finished in this Spring 2011 semester leading my first class of undergraduate students at Florida Institute of Technology as Professor of Introduction to Law and will teach the course again in the Fall. I was charged with enlightening students about what law is, what lawyers and judges do, and how they interact with the rest of our society. My goal was to get them excited about the law. And, though there is plenty to get excited about, I also felt obligated to inform them about the many challenges lawyers face. Before my first day, I was concerned about what I could tell them that wouldn’t send them screaming for the classroom door or have them contemplating pre-med instead of a pre-law concentration.  I asked myself what I could tell them so that if and when they did become lawyers some day, they wouldn’t suffer the same fate as thousands of burned-out and unhappy legal practitioners.

I found an answer in a book by Harvey Hyman, J.D., a lawyer who—after practicing plaintiff’s personal injury law for 25 years--was hospitalized for major depression with suicidal thoughts twice in 2007, but came back from the brink and into a more satisfying law practice. His book, The Upward Spiral: Getting Lawyers from Daily Misery to Lifetime Wellbeing (Lawyers’ Wellbeing, Inc., 2010) is a must read for any lawyer or would-be lawyer. Because if we are going to preserve the integrity of the legal profession, we need to start teaching lawyers to take better care of themselves. We also have to make inroads into civilizing the current adversarial and dehumanizing legal culture.

In his book, and on his website dedicated to the wellbeing of lawyers (, Mr. Hyman addresses head on the causes of misery for lawyers, such as the paucity of civility in the profession, the wide-spread use of destructive anger as a weapon, materialism, isolation, loneliness, negativity, formalism and the chronic stress that permeates the typical legal practice.  Mr. Hyman not only identifies problems with lawyers and the legal profession; he is also forthcoming with solutions such as having lawyers reevaluate the effectiveness of anger and the compulsion to constantly be in control. In Part II of his book, Mr. Hyman describes in detail how lawyers can create a lifetime of well-being in both their personal and professional lives, through such means as the use and practice of communication without violence, meditation, positive thinking, improving personal and professional relationships, and eating and exercising for optimal mental health.

I love the way Mr. Hyman writes. As I read his book, I found myself underlining and circling almost every other line in his book and making notes such as “so true” and “brilliant” in the margins. Even more often I made stars next to nuggets of wisdom such as “It’s crucial to recognize our responsibility for what we say” and “Try being empathic. It won’t make you less of a lawyer, and it will make you more of a human being.” I even found myself quoting him in my status updates on Facebook.  It is fascinating to me how a man can go to hell and back and talk about it in such an illuminating, honest and engaging way.

His arguments on the importance of well-being are most persuasive. It makes sense to me when he says that “Wellbeing is more important than the things our society most prizes, such as material wealth, fame and longevity of years,” which includes “genuine career satisfaction from the ethical pursuit of personally meaningful work; rich societal connectedness…that give one’s life a larger meaning than the pleasure of consumption.”  He points out the distorted thinking and oversized egos of many lawyers and their confusion of what “zealous representation” is actually supposed to mean.

He has done extensive research and presents the material in an understandable way. Mr. Hyman intends for his book to help lawyers see and treat other people—and that includes clients and other lawyers—as human beings.  What he wants is for lawyers to thrive in every area of their lives. If more lawyers are willing to listen and to implement Mr. Hyman’s strategies, I believe they would be on the road to doing just that.

At the end of the Spring semester, a few of my students indicated to me that they had been inspired to apply to law school. Knowing the quality of their work in my class I am hopeful both for them and for the legal profession. My hope is that more bright and promising young people will find happiness inside the legal profession. After all, there are rights out there that need to be protected.