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I read somewhere that the best part of writing a book is the day you sign the contract and the day the book is published. Becoming an author is not glamorous. It’s a lot of time spent locked up in solitary confinement. It’s a lot of battling your inner demons. It’s difficult. Each day, you show up and do work. , you’re happy with the fruits of your labor. Most days, you’re shaking your head at how awful your work is. It’s like psychotherapy on overdrive, except there is no therapist. Just you and the words inside of your mind. Here’s my journey – on becoming an author. 

Be curious, not judgmental. ~Walt Whitman

Through random connection on Twitter and synchronicity, I got a book deal with the American Bar Association to write a book on mindfulness for lawyers. I remember when the editor asked me “so, do you have a book proposal for me?” (I was totally not expecting this question), the words that flew out of my mouth was “yes, I’d like to write a book titled The Anxious Lawyer and show lawyers how to use mindfulness to cultivate a happier, saner law practice.” As the words came out of my mouth, I wanted to grab it and take it back. Part of me screamed “OMG! Don’t you dare say that!!! What are you talking about???” To my utter amazement, the response was overwhelmingly positive.  “Great!” he said. I’ll send you a template for our book proposal.

I was both overwhelmed with joy and frightened. Over the next couple of weeks, Little Miss Perfect AKA inner critic was dominating my every thought that had to do with the book proposal. I had a lot to say about mindfulness. I deeply believed in its power and the potential to help everyone. I desperately wanted to bring this work to the legal community. But I felt unsure about my ability to write an entire book on the subject. I was even less certain that anyone would actually read what I had to say. That familiar voice kept screeching who do YOU think you are?

Few weeks went by where I’d sit down to write the proposal, stare at the blinking cursor, write a few words, read it, decide it’s awful, delete it, write a few more words, delete it. Often, I’d just stare at the blank screen. I’d read the questions on the proposal like “why are you uniquely qualified to write this book?” Those words uniquely and qualified hung in my head like dark smoke. I kept thinking of all the things I have not done which disqualified me from writing the book. I haven’t been meditating for 30 years. I didn’t live in an Ashram in India. I wasn’t a law professor teaching contemplative lawyering. I didn’t have 10,000 hours of experience. I wasn’t a certified MBSR teacher. I wasn’t a certified CCARE instructor. I wasn’t certified in any of it. I didn’t hold a degree that said I can write about it. That I was allowed to teach it.

The word FRAUD occupied my mind – a lot. This thought pattern of not being good enough is such a familiar one to me. I’ve been dancing with it for as long as I can remember. This time though, it was different. I had a new tool in my toolbox. I had mindfulness. I purposefully sat each morning with the intention to look at the inner chatter. I wanted to be able to see the thoughts and simply observe. Not forcing it to change. Not making it go away. Not criticizing it. Just observe and watch it. I also observed how the thoughts felt inside my body. When a thought rises, what impact does that have on my body?

Eventually, I connected with my dear friend, Karen Gifford, a long time meditation practioner and also lawyer. We decided to co-author the book together. (Don’t you love life’s synchronicity?) We put the book proposal and sent it off to the editor. Then we waited for the approval. Few weeks later, we had an executed contract. We negotiated a few terms and on December 31, 2013, we had a final contract! My husband and I went out to dinner, ate oysters, drank beer and celebrated. That was a happy day.

January 2014 rolled around and I was eager to get the book done. I made a schedule for myself. I gave myself deadlines. I figured, I’ll write ~1,000 words per day and get the first rough draft done by May. I wanted to give myself plenty of time for revisions, for feedbacks, for rewrites. I had all the right intentions but Little Miss Perfect had her own ideas. For the first month, I wrote less than 1,000 words. Each day, I’d get up, do my morning meditation and sit at my desk, ready to write. I’d sit with the Word document open, staring at the cursor and no words came. It felt as though the blinking cursor was cursing at me.

I’ve always enjoyed writing. I kept a journal from the time I was in elementary school. I’ve always been told I was a good writer so the fact that I seem to have run completely dry of words was – unthinkable. In despair, I stopped writing for a couple of months. I practiced being very gentle with myself. I went through a Compassion Cultivation Training Class at Stanford University. I took a class called Love Yourself for Everyone Else’s Sake with my meditation teacher, also at Stanford. In 2014, I completed three week-long meditation retreats, six mindfulness training courses, taught three mindfulness for lawyers classes, and gave sixteen talks on mindfulness. I also wrote twenty articles, including a few interviews on podcasts.

I fully committed to integrating mindfulness into my life. I had to embrace this topic I was writing about. I had to know it intimately. I also recognized (after many many months of struggling) that my struggle was what was going to make the book valuable to the readers. I needed to live through my insecurities, my inner challenges, work with the inner chatter, of feeling not good enough, not knowing enough, etc.

Towards the end of 2014, I found a renewed sense of dedication for the book (and there was a lot of Oh S***! panic at the looming deadline). I stopped writing on my computer, bought a Composition notebook (like a first grader) and started handwriting the book each morning. I also went through the two volumes of Moleskine notebooks, with collection of notes from all of my training, teaching, and public speaking. Handwriting the book was helpful because I couldn’t easily delete chunks of what I had written. There was a lot less editing, a lot more writing.

Just a few weeks ago in December 2014, I submitted the first draft of The Anxious Lawyer to my editor at the ABA. I felt excited, happy, yet at the same time, hesitation. It felt as though the book had been in gestation for the past 12 months and I didn’t want to let it go. I felt very protective of it. I was afraid of the comments, the criticisms. Again, I turned to my practice to get me through this as well. I found an inner strength, an inner resilience that said you got this.

What I learned on being an author is this: embracing what’s hard – wholeheartedly committing to it – this is the way out. There’s no shortcuts. The only path is through.

I went to a writing workshop by Tara Mohr and she explained my struggle in this way in her new book, Playing Big. (It’s an awesome book. Go read it. Seriously.)

Jeena Cho, author of The Anxious Lawyer, grappled with “but I’m not an expert” thoughts when it came to her calling. A San Francisco bankruptcy attorney and practitioner of mindfulness meditation, Jeena explains, “Having a meditation practice allows me to build up my resilience so that I can listen to my clients’ issues with compassion, yet not lose myself in their suffering. I also feel more focused so that I can help develop strategies, from the legal perspective, that will solve their problems.” After experiencing these effects of meditation on her own law practice, Jeena felt a calling to bring mindfulness meditation to other lawyers. The idea of spreading meditation throughout the legal world just wouldn’t leave her alone.

And yet, when she was approached by Lawyerist magazine to be interviewed on the subject, her inner critic kept saying, “but you don’t know enough.” Jeena explained, “I was literally poring over a dozen books on mindfulness so I could properly educate myself, despite the fact that I have been meditating since the age of twenty-one and have gone through two eight-week courses on top of numerous retreats.”

Jeena was making two mistakes. She was underestimating the level of expertise she did have. Second, she was assuming she had to be an “expert” in the traditional sense, to make a valuable contribution. Jeena wasn’t a conventional expert on meditation, but she was a practicing lawyer and meditation practitioner. Really, who would be better to teach mindfulness to lawyers – Jeena or a conventional expert?

Jeena was what I call a “survivor” or “insider” when it came to her topic. “Survivors” or “insiders” have lived the experience the experts study. Survivors often have insights that the experts don’t. They frequently bring forward neglected perspective and a reality check on the experts’ take. They have the power to inspire, not just to inform, and they tend to bring a greater sense of passion and compassion to the work at hand. Many women aren’t “experts” in the area of calling, but they are survivors or insiders.

Jeena learned what many women learn as they step into sharing their unique survivor or insider perspective: What they have to share is more than enough. The contribution they make is all the more unique, all the more potent because they have a personal story to share rather than the official experts’ take.

Playing Big: Find Your Voice, Your Mission, Your Message, Tara Mohr

 

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If you want to stir up your inner world, get to know your mind, dig up all the s*hit that you’ve been supressing/avoiding/neglecting, go on a week long silent meditation retreat. In 2014, I went on three week-long retreats. Each one was difficult, painful and completely joyful – all at the same time. In a single sitting, I experienced everything from delirious bliss to pain so great that I thought surely my heart will burst. As uncomfortable as it can be, I appreciate each experience. Every meditation session is an opportunity for deeper self exploration, understanding and healing. It’s like peeling away the many layers of who I am.

The most recent retreat at Esalen was no exception. There was one sit where my mind decided to replay every case I’ve ever lost like a movie reel. It felt as though my own mind was taunting me “you’re such an awful lawyer, look at ALL these cases you’ve lost! You’re such a loser.” I wanted to run out of the room screaming as loud as I can, “shut the f-up!!!” I wanted to cry. Needless to say, it felt… awful.

As much as I wanted to and as tempting as it was, I didn’t run out of the room. I didn’t go crazy or lose my mind. I noticed what was happening, gently reminded myself that I am not my thoughts. That this experience too shall pass. I brought the attention back to the breath and relaxed into the moment. The movie reel eventually stopped playing. Behind the reel was a feeling of intense anger. Anger is an emotion that I’ve become very familiar with. My first retreat of 2014 was entirely dedicated to feeling, understanding, seeing and working with anger. So, once again, I eased into the moment and dug deeper. What I realized was that behind the inner critic, behind the anger was the part of me deeply committed in pursuing justice, doing the right thing, and helping people.

Being a lawyer gives me the opportunity to fight for what I believe to be just. However, it also means risking losing. Risking falling flat on my face. Risking embarrassment. Risking failing. Risking feeling anger. Risking feeling sadness. Of course, it also means getting the result I was after, helping my client, doing good in the world. No risk, no gain.

A day or two later, I was in a sitting period where I came across yet another pain point. The thought I noticed was “You’re broken.” This idea of being broken is one I’m also very familiar with. For as long as I can remember, I struggled with an inner critic that always said “you’re broken. You’re like a broken toy. No one will ever want to play with you. You’re unlovable because you’re broken.” Broken. Broken. Broken.

One of my friend calls her inner critic Little Miss Perfect. I love that name. When I think about my inner critic, I imagine a little girl, dressed perfectly in her mother’s clothes, hair, nails, makeup, clothing, and pumps – all perfectly done. Pretending to be perfect. Looking for confirmation from others of her perfect-ness.

So, I’m sitting in a yurt at Esalen (one of the most beautiful places on earth), listening to the ocean, on a meditation cushion. Even though I’m at the most peaceful place imaginable, my mind is anything but. I’m standing face-to-face with my inner demon, Little Miss Perfect. I’m feeling frustrated and angry. Not only at Little Miss Perfect but because I can’t get my thoughts to do what I want – reach peace, joy, and giggly happiness. I’m judging everything – my poor meditation abilities, my inability to control my thoughts, the negative thoughts, and my mind fills with the dreaded shoulds. I should be happy. I should be having a “good” meditation. I should be savoring this amazing retreat more. I should be over this already.

Sometimes, when I’m faced with such strong, painful, and disturbing pattern of thoughts, the only thing I can do is simply surrender. Instead of fighting or arguing with the thoughts or with my mind, I just allow it to work its way through. It often feels like I’ve been hanging on to a tiny branch for dear life over a Rabbit Hole. Surrendering is where I let go of the struggle and let go. I commit to letting the thought/experience work its way through instead of fighting it. (Have you ever tried to get your brain to not think of a pink elephant? Impossible. Right?)

There I am, sitting with my brain full of awful thoughts about how broken, unlovable, unworthy I am. I let the feelings wash over me. Thought rises You’re like a broken toy! I see the thought. I let it go. Next thought rises You’re an awful human being. No wonder no one loves you. I repeat the mantra I am not my thoughts. My thoughts are not fact. That thought also passes. Next thought No one likes you because you’re broken! Broken! Broken! I breathe in. I breathe out. I notice the heat rising from somewhere deep in my stomach and rise all the way to the face. I notice the tension in my chest. I notice the tension in my eyebrows.

It feels like forever (in actuality, it was probably only 20 minutes) but eventually, the layers of thoughts fall away. Some wiser part of my brain kicks in and asks the question What if the only thing broken is your belief? What does it mean to be – broken? I’ve been trying to fix myself for as long as I can remember. Much of my efforts are spent on either denying that I’m broken (and therefore overcompensating) or trying to fix myself. This constant struggle to fix, to prove that I’m worthy, I’m good, I’m lovable, it only separates me further from authenticity.

I wonder, what if instead of going into fixing mode when Little Miss Perfect rears her ugly head, I just love her? What if instead of struggling and fighting, I bring compassion? I imagine sitting at the edge of a bluff, overlooking the ocean on a beautiful day and I have a pile of stones next to me. Each stone has a word on it. I grab the stone, one by one, read the word and I throw it into the ocean full of care and tenderness. Some words are positive, happy, cheerful like Love, Kindness, Gentleness, Acceptance. Other stones have painful or unpleasant words on it like Failure, Broken, Selfish.

During a sit, I reach a moment of complete bliss where I feel perfectly accepting and okay with myself and the world. I begin to see that I am not a broken toy. I have my strengths and weaknesses. I have good days and bad days. Sometimes I act with grace and courage. Othertimes, I fail. Miserably. I’m introverted. Often, socially awkward. I hate speaking in public. I often feel embarrassed when people pay attention to me. I feel, deeply. I’m a daughter, sister, wife, friend, teacher, student. I’ve won. I’ve lost. I’ve had my heartbroken, many, many times. Sometimes, I get angry. I’m often impatient. But broken? No. I’m imperfect, like everyone else. I’m just an ordinary human being with my insecurities, talents, intense curiosity, and all the things that make me who I am is what defines me. But I’m not any one of those things. No singular characteristics define who I am. It felt like a monumental step towards healing. And healing is one of the reasons why I sit, everyday.

May we have the courage to live courageously.

photo credit: iNafih via photopin cc

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Death & Dying: Farewell

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  Few weeks ago, I woke up to find these words in an email “…he committed suicide.” Suicide: the action of killing oneself intentionally. I stood, staring at my iPhone as the word suicide repeated over and over in my head. There were so many emotions that washed over me all at once – anger, […]

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Body Scan Meditation (30 Minutes)

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When I started meditating, I hated the body scan. The teacher would say, “now feel your left foot” and I’d want to scream, “what do you mean, FEEL my left foot?” When I told him about my very negative reaction, he suggested I approach those feelings with curiosity. That suggestion really annoyed me. Why would […]

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Death & Dying: Living Each Moment

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Last weekend, I went camping with my husband. While there, I saw our neighbor’s dog – a golden retriever walking towards us. He was limping and clearly in pain. His hair was frizzy and felt rough to the touch. His owner (along with a 6 month old baby) came by and explained the dog had cancer and […]

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Day 112 – Reliving Childhood Injury

I’m taking a Journaling class at The Writing Salon. There’s about 12 students, all women. Frequently, we’ll be given a prompt and asked to write about it. We wrote one on childhood injury or illness. As we went around the room and shared our writing, I thought it would make for a really good This […]

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Day 113 – Meditation 101

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Meditation is good for the brain. I think about meditation as exercise for the brain. It’s also a time where I can tune in and pay attention to what’s going on inside my body, my heart, and my soul. If you’ve wanted to try meditation, here are some tips and suggestions. How to Meditate Sit […]

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Day 114 – Living with the Inner Critic

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The Amazing Brain The brain is an amazing problem solving organ. When you pose a question, the brain immediately goes into doing mode and comes up with the answers. The trouble is, we don’t always ask the right questions, especially when the inner critic is doing the talking. Meet the Inner Critic The inner critic is […]

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Day 115 – Perspective on Pain

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Pain. It’s the black sheep of the emotional family. In meditation, we are encouraged to cultivate a friendly attitude towards all emotions that bubble up during our sitting practice. This includes exploring pain. For a long time, I resisted this idea. After all, it seems crazy – why on earth would I spend any time […]

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Day 116 – Put down the damn iPhone!

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I really really really love my iPhone. It helps me stay connected to my Facebook and Twitter friends. I can stay connected to my clients and my work. I can text people. There are gazillion apps to solve every woes. It promises almost endless hours of distractions. Somewhere along the way, I became one of those people. […]

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