Smart Practices: On Balance
George W. Kaufman
Devoting energy to issues you care deeply about can infuse your life with spirit. Get closer to your authenticity, in your professional and your personal life. It will help you to embrace the interconnectedness of all things.
You can outdistance that which is running after you, but not what is running inside you.
— RWANDAN PROVERB
This past September, I attended a conference at the Omega Institute, a holistic retreat center in Rhinebeck, New York, that writes my paycheck. The conference was on the environment, and an astonishing array of luminaries spoke. The cast included primate researcher Jane Goodall, Lester Brown of Worldwatch, naturalist Peter Matthiessen and Anita Roddick, founder of the Body Shop.
The speakers were, in turn, funny, frightening, depressing and exhilarating. But they all had one quality in common: passion. Or, more accurately, passion channeled through activism and outrage. For them, outrage isn’t like gout, an affliction of the rich. It’s a fire in the belly, fueled by every governmental and corporate decision that ignores or overrides the voices decrying the loss of species and the degradation of the planet.
This column isn’t about the environment. It’s about passion. What are the issues around which your passion is channeled? Sure, we’re passionate about our clients’ interests. But we’re paid for that passion. I’m talking about passion that touches the core of who we are and radiates out so that society is affected by our actions.
Making a Difference One by One
At the Omega conference, a dominant question was whether the environment is subordinate to the economy or the economy is subordinate to the environment. Does the sun revolve around us, or do we revolve around the sun? Ptolemy or Copernicus? Do we live our lives so that society supports us, or do we devote a measure of our talent to improving the society in which we live?
The effort I suggest is that we commit ourselves to being of service in a field where our passion can come alive. We may pick education, poverty, child abuse or hunger. These problems are enormously complex and so divisive that both the strategies to be followed and the goals to be achieved are often unclear. But the hurdles, no matter how steep, are insufficient reason for staying out of the fray, even when the cause that moves us feels so overwhelming that it’s almost paralyzing.
There is a story of a mother and daughter at a beach where hundreds of starfish have been washed ashore and are slowly dying. The little girl takes one and gently puts it back into the ocean. Her mom, surveying the whole beach, tells her daughter that putting one starfish back won’t make a difference. "It will to this one," says her daughter.
Expressing the Wisdom of the Heart
Service is always a choice. Our commitment to service reflects who we are and who we want to be. It’s an opportunity for our passion to find expression. As the psychologist Steven Levine has commented, it’s important that what we do becomes the subject of our heart, and not the object of our mind.
So little of our professional work is heart-centered. We are trained that emotions are a liability that cloud our thinking and limit our effectiveness. We hold our clients in our minds, not in our hearts. When we create barriers that separate our hearts from our work, we lose access to the wisdom embodied within our hearts.
The Omega conference was a heart-centered experience. The speakers were incredibly knowledgeable in their chosen field. But it wasn’t their command of information that captured the audience. It was their zeal. There was little doubt about who they were or what they stood for. In many ways, the speakers had succeeded in becoming transparent. You heard them —and understood the values that guided their lives.
The institutions we work for have their own culture. By working within those institutions, we become expressions of that culture. Sometimes we’re comfortable reflecting those institutional values, and sometimes we just do what the job requires. By choosing to be of service in an area we can wholeheartedly embrace, we get closer to our authenticity. There is a power to devoting energy to cause-based issues. As Napoleon Bonaparte noted, there are only two forces in the world, the sword and the spirit. In the long run, the sword will always be conquered by the spirit.
Letting Every Element of Self Be Seen
I believe there is a longing to live a life that is infused with spirit, one in which our authenticity finds expression. Some search out that spirit by activism, others by prayer or meditation. For many, both an outward expression and an inward reflection are helpful in finding paths of spirit.
In my own life, there have been several helpful touchstones:
? Finding a community of people who share common values
▪ Taking risks
▪ Exploring meditation and yoga to get out of my head and into my body
▪ Journal writing
▪ Choosing perseverance
▪ Embracing a holistic view of the universe
In fact, the word holistic comes from the Greek word holos, or whole. Holistic refers to the interconnectedness of all things, and the expression of all things in each element of the universe. In a hologram, all the constituent elements can be seen in any part of the hologram. For me, it symbolizes my intention to be the same person in any endeavor—work or personal—that I undertake. At the same time, in any of those endeavors, I want all of me to be seen.
At a recent Omega workshop, the faculty member asked us to imagine that we had only 24 hours to live. He invited us to consider that if we had three calls we could make in that time, who in our lives would we call and what would we say. After spending a half-hour contemplating that scenario, he finished his talk by asking a final question: "Why wait?"
George Kaufman (firstname.lastname@example.org) is a lawyer who writes and lectures on balancing personal life and work. He lives in Saugerties, NY and is the author of the ABA book The Lawyer’s Guide to Balancing Life and Work.
A C T I O N
? Leading from the Heart: Choosing Courage Over Fear in the Workplace by Kay Gilley. Butterwork-Heinemann, 1997.
? The Lawyer’s Guide to Balancing Life and Work: Taking the Stress Out of Success by George W. Kaufman. ABA Law Practice Management Section, 1999.
? The New American Spirituality: A Seeker’s Guide by Elizabeth Lesser. Random House, 1999.
? Rhythms of Compassion by Gail Straub. Tuttle Publishing, 2000.
? Transforming Practices: Finding Joy and Satisfaction in the Legal Life by Steven Keeva. Contemporary Books, 1999.