26 September 2010

No Bucket List for Me

It seems a fad to have a Bucket List.  You know. That list of things you want to do, indeed, must do, before you die. 

There are books called 100 Things To Do Before You Die, “1000 Place To See Before You Die” (apparently different from the book “1000 Places to See In the USA and Canada Before You Die”). The most recent one I’ve seen is 1001 Books You Must Read Before You Die. Seriously? I’m 54, according to this website I could live to be 99 (not sure I believe this BTW).  So I  would need to read about 18 books a year to get it done. Not going to do it.

For me, life is not a “to do list.” Collecting experiences like trophies does so very little for me. I am not an “experiential materialist.” I cannot measure my life in terms of items crossed off a list.   I do not believe that my life will be better if I have accomplished one hundred things on a list.  A t-shirt I used to own said it best: “He who dies with the most toys, still dies.”

To me, what I understand and learn from the few books I’ve read,  how I use that learning, is far more important than how many books I’ve read.  Reading War and Peace slowly, and but once, and getting it beats a hundred books any day. I’ve read the Tao te Ching a hundred times and I’m still working out the understanding. Would I have been better off to read one hundred different books or just that one? 

Ditto for the New Testament.

How I see, how deeply, is more important to me than the sheer number of things I’ve seen. I live on one acre of mountainside. I think I could spend a lifetime seeing this one acre anew each day,  discovering something about it each day.

Do you really see the sky where you live? Do you really see your children around your feet? Do you really see the suffering/joy in the world?  Do you really taste the food you eat?  Or is it all in a hurry?  All one big "to do" list?

Perhaps the best story of truly seeing is the Flower Story.  The story goes that Buddha had his disciples gather by a pond. Normally he would start to lecture or give what’s called a dharma talk, but he did not. He just stood silently.  For a long time.  Then he either pulled a lotus flower out of the pond or someone gave it to him as a gift but in any case, he held it aloft so that all of his disciples could physically see it. They all looked at it. They all  saw the flower and sat passively. "What could the Buddha mean by this," they all, no doubt, thought. 

But out of that sea of faces, one face cracked in a little smile and then perhaps a gentle laugh. It was Buddha’s disciple, Mahakashyapa. 

Buddha held the flower higher and spoke:  “What can be said I have said, what cannot be said, has been seen by Mahakashyapa.” From then on, Mahakashyapa was known as the Buddha's successor.

So, which is it for you?  Do you look at your life or do you see it?

Thanks for reading.

Richard Russeth

21 September 2010

Be A Person Who Practices Law

This is a series of short posts (they have to be short given the few words Lao Tzu needed in the first place) about how the Tao te Ching can help improve your practice of law – and life.

"Do your work and step back, the only way to serenity.” (No. 9) says the Tao.

Nothing wrong with working hard, enjoying our achievements and the recognition of our peers and clients.  But how often do we confuse our self-worth with our work?  I think this is a real problem in the legal field, and, IMHO is one of the reasons that alcoholism among lawyers is TWICE that of the general American population. Twice.  In that same vein, it says, sagely: “Chase after money and security and your heart will never unclench.”

I don't define myself as a lawyer - I am a person who practices law.  That is an important emotional distinction for me and helps me keep things in perspective.

This section of the Tao also has some very sage advice for writing a brief, making a closing argument and proceeding in negotiations:

“Keep sharpening your knife, and it will blunt.”

Thanks for reading.

Richard Russeth

08 September 2010

Ricky Nelson on the Tao of Law (Statement No. 1)

This is a series of short posts (they have to be short given how few words Lao Tzu needed to lay out the Tao) showing how the Tao te Ching can help improve your practice of law. I am working from the translation by Stephen Mitchell.

“When you are content to simply be yourself, and don’t compete or compare, everyone will respect you.” (No. 8)

And if you “are content to simply be yourself” you will be a much better lawyer. Because, if you are content, comfortable in your own skin, you will give advice based on the facts and the law – not tailoring your advice to get someone’s approval. Not telling the client what he wants to hear. Not doing whatever it takes to win even when you know damn well your case stinks and so does your client.

This same section of the Tao te Ching says:

“In thinking, keep to the simple.
In conflict, be fair and generous.”

Neither of those is possible if you are trying to please others.

As that great Taoist, Ricky Nelson, sang so long ago in "Garden Party":

“But it's all right now, I learned my lesson well.
 You see, ya can't please everyone, so ya got to please yourself.”

Thanks for reading.

Richard Russeth