Oregon State Bar Bulletin — JUNE 2010
Parting Thoughts
Into The Woods
By Salvador A. Mungia

A rabbi’s child began going into the woods each night. At first, his journeys were brief. But with each night, it seemed to his father that the boy was gone longer and longer. The woods were dangerous. The father became concerned. Finally, one day the father took the son aside and said, “I see that each night you walk farther and farther into the woods. What are you doing there?”

The boy replied, “I go into the woods to find God.”

The father was both happy with, and proud of, his son’s response. He was also slightly amused and replied, “My son, that is very admirable but you realize, don’t you, that God is the same no matter where you go.”

The boy looked up at his father and said, “I know, Father — but I’m not.”

The Finnish bus driver, who spoke about as much English as I did Finn, opened the bus door and pointed. I grabbed my backpack, stepped out into what looked to be the middle of nowhere and looked back at the driver with what was more than a little apprehension. He smiled, gave me a thumbs-up, closed the door and drove off. The only thought going through my head was, if this wasn’t the spot on the map that I had pointed to hours earlier to the driver, I was going to be in a world of hurt.

Months earlier I searched my travel books trying to find a place where I could truly be alone. Well, I got my wish. I was in Norway, northern Norway — the Arctic Circle, in August. Nothing but blue sky, lots of reindeer, grass and rocks.

I was in a remote part of a foreign country where I didn’t know a soul and no one knew me. My goal: no people — no clients, opposing counsel, judges, law partners, nobody. No phones, cell or otherwise, no faxes, no e-mails, no way of my contacting anyone or anyone contacting me. A place where even if I had a change of mind, it wouldn’t do me any good: my return bus stopped once a day, and not where I was dropped off, but miles away in Finland. My quest: not to find God — as the story goes, God is the same everywhere. No, my quest was to see if I could be different, if only briefly, to get a little closer to my God.

I shouldered my backpack, found the trailhead and started hiking. Whenever I hike, especially solo, the transformation quickly happens. The weight of obligations, both familial and professional, melts away. No appointments, no deadlines, no meetings, no duties. As opposed to perpetual motion, I was in a setting where doing nothing came naturally. And I did just that — nothing.

I experienced the wisdom of Buddha’s teaching: “If you wish to know the Divine, feel the wind on your face and the warm sun on your hand.” I felt the power of the Biblical prescription: “Be still and know that I am God.” I sat in the middle of arctic brush, surrounded by lakes, rivers, mountains and reindeer, with the sun, wind and silence and nothing else. And I needed nothing else.

I was at peace. I was alone. I was different.

I love being a lawyer. I love the profession, my fellow lawyers, our ideals. But let’s face it, there are times when we have to deal with stress that would drive a monk to drink, our lives moving at the speed of light, no time for reflection, no time to nourish our soul. It’s tough to slow down in a profession that demands so much.

We cannot forget and of course are often reminded in bar journals of the need to take care of our bodies, stay involved with our families, remain active in our communities. What is never mentioned in bar journals, at continuing legal education seminars or at bar gatherings, however, is the need to take care of our spiritual selves — our souls, the essence of our beings. Almost every person, not only in this country, but indeed the world, acknowledges that we are spiritual beings. Yet we are afraid of discussing that critical aspect of ourselves and, as a result, fail to support one another in keeping that part alive and vital.

As someone who deeply cares about our profession, about our members, I’d like to see that changed. I’d like to see where we can support one another in all the aspects of our lives: physically, mentally and spiritually.

So, go into the woods. Take time to be still. Take time to nourish your spirit.


Salvador Mungia is a lawyer in Tacoma, Wash., and serves as president of the Washington State Bar Association. This article originally appeared in the April 2010 issue of Washington State Bar News and is reprinted with permission.

© 2010 Salvador A. Mungia

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