When I was given the assignment of writing this blog the introductory premise was, “There are few people who are naturally happy”, hence the need to make the affirmative choice to pursue happiness. So in the interest of full disclosure, I will start with the fact that I think I’m naturally happy. I willingly embrace a sometimes characterization of me as a “Pollyanna” (not necessarily offered as a compliment) and I freely admit to having bought myself a Life is Good “Naturally Optimistic” t-shirt because I think it suits me. Bottom line, either through nature or nurture, I am a glass half full kind of gal. And I feel incredibly lucky to be that way.
But rest assured, sad hard reality upending stuff happens to me just like everybody else. Loss of dear loved ones, debilitating chronic illness, business setbacks, relationship disappointments, and the election of our current President, to name a few. So what do I do then?
While it had never occurred to me before, during the opportunity of writing this blog I realized that the method I use to deal personally with these very difficult inevitabilities is the same method I use to practice my trade.
I am a trial lawyer. Which means I am a storyteller. Not a “story” teller in the lying sense so often attributed to lawyers, but in the Mind Body Align sense. I am a playwright. Facts are facts, yes, but there is surely more than one way to honestly perceive every fact. It is what it is, but what is it?
As a trial attorney, it is my job to convincingly construct and communicate my chosen reality within a given set of facts. At court I script, cast, costume, set design and act in a reality play. In a trial, I need to convince a judge or jury. In my life, I need to convince myself.
At court and in my own life I get to choose who will be called as a witness and who is left off the list. I choose what answers are evoked by what questions I ask. I choose what physical evidence is showcased and what gets left in the drawer. I choose to focus on and I choose to ignore. And before long, my reality has emerged.
Two examples from my life come to mind.
When my mother died, someone commented: “the deeper the love, the deeper the loss.” The loss of my mother cut deep, and more than 20 years later, can still bring a tear to the eye. My focus though is on the good times we shared, not the important moments in my life and that of my children that we were not able to share together. My choice for the story of the death of my mother is the love story, not the loss story.
On the anniversary of when the Twin Towers were brought down in New York City, Mr. Rogers, of PBS children’s television fame, gave advice on talking with children about the tragedy and advised focusing on “the helpers”. He said, “If you look for the helpers, you will know there is hope.” My choice is to find the hope, not focus on despair.
That’s not always so easy though, even for me. You may find it frivolous of me but the election of our current President was a reality upending event for me. Having personally ridden the wave of progress for women and minorities that had been my entire life experience, I was certain that yes Martin Luther King Jr. was correct. “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.”
In the face of what I considered our country’s choice in favor of very obvious racism, misogyny, lying, and economic advantage taking, I was devastated. I was angry. Anger is different than sadness but in my experience, it was equally, if not more, mutually inconsistent with happiness. And as good a spin doctor as I am, I couldn’t shake it.
Then one day I saw that Claudia Cummins was doing a “Meditation for Action” event, co-hosted by Annamarie Fernyak at the Butterfly House. I had never meditated before but it sounded like a fit for what I needed. I went and it was.
It was the start of my mindfulness journey that has continued through ongoing participation, mostly at the Butterfly House or events they sponsor, with meditation, yoga, retreats, Coffee Talks, Align Times, book references, and just plain good thought provoking conversation.
That journey has helped bring me back to the importance of an awareness of the moment, even as it sits in the arc of history. It is a “practice” that like practice at anything builds muscle memory. It has made it easier for me, at any particular point in time, to affirmatively choose what I focus on and what I ignore. It has made me a better trial attorney in litigating my own perception of the events in my life. It has made it easier for me to choose happiness in all aspects of my life.
Lest this sound like shameless self-promotion on the part of Mind Body Align, please show them a little compassion and know that I snuck this in on them. I work downtown and am a two block away neighbor of the Butterfly House. I feel very grateful for their contributions to creating a neighborhood here.
Dictionary.com includes a definition for “neighbor” that I find both literally and figuratively fitting to the Mind Body Align experience. It reads: “a person who shows kindliness or helpfulness toward his or her fellow humans.” With neighbors like these, the pursuit of happiness is made all the sweeter. Lucky me, lucky us!
The views and opinions of this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy, opinions or views of Mind Body Align or it’s employees.
Cathy Goldman moved to Mansfield in fifth grade and happily calls it home still to this day. After stints at the University of Vermont and OSU Law School, Cathy began her law career at the Richland County Prosecutor’s Office. While there Cathy handled hundreds of cases including the trial of multiple crimes of violence from simple Assault through Murder. Her professional experience also includes serving as a Magistrate with both the Common Pleas and Juvenile Courts which included responsibility for a child abuse, neglect and dependency docket. Cathy is now a partner at the law firm of Weldon, Huston & Keyser where she specializes in all aspects of Family Law. Cathy and her husband Paul are avid travelers, both within the USA and around the world. Gardening and outdoor play keep her grounded. Her three 20-something sons and daughter in law continue to bring her joy from both near and far.