Sue Cochrane came to Common Ground over fifteen years ago to learn mindfulness– she was facing her first serious cancer diagnosis while parenting three young boys and working in her judicial career. When Sue first came to Common Ground she had over 20 years practicing the 12 steps of AA and she went first to the “Mindfulness and the 12 step practice meetings.” It was new, just begun by Craig Vollmar, our beloved teacher, leader and friend who passed away from cancer several years ago.
Sue served on the Family Court Bench in Hennepin County, Minnesota for eighteen years, after a career in legal services. After her appointment to the Court in 1995, she pioneered a new model on her family court cases which transformed the structure and practice of Family Court into a humane, client-centered model.
Here are four quotes that have touched my heart and made an indelible impact on my practice, my work and my personal life. These are ones that I turn to constantly for support, and they always change my life for the better. It was deeply satisfying looking through a long list of my favorite quotes, which I have collected for years, and choosing these from the many.
- “The mind’s nature is vivid as a flawless piece of crystal.
Intrinsically empty, naturally radiant, ceaselessly responsive” — Shabkar
—I heard this in a talk from Joseph Goldstein years ago. It changed my understanding of emptiness from “drab” and “uninviting” to “radiant openness”— openness to whatever arises or happens or approaches. My understanding is that when we open, and allow everything, compassion arises. In this talk, Goldstein also says, “Compassion and emptiness are not polarities– they are expressions of each other.” He talks of Bodhicitta, relative and ultimate. A life-changing talk.
(Coincidentally I have been working on a memoir about my work in the courts called The Crystal Gavel and this quote added depth to my understanding of crystal.)
- “The practice of peace and reconciliation is one of the most vital and artistic of human actions.” —Thich Nhat Hanh
This quote affirmed my law work as “creative” —I realized when I read this, many years ago on a calendar, that I had not wasted my years as an artist. I struggled with regrets for years until I discovered this quote. Thich Nhat Hanh opened my eyes to see that by bringing my whole self to work—legal mind, artistic creativity, personal history—something artistic followed. Nothing needs to be left behind. This quote helped me realize trying to bring peace and reconciliation to serious conflict, every day, in ways that had not been imagined previously was an art. This work I did was based on what was needed in the moment. I loved working with that unpredictable and creative process, and am and grateful that Thich Nhat Hanh honors the work of peace and reconciliation for us all.
- “Be kind whenever possible. It is always possible.” —Dalai Lama
I first heard this in another Joseph Goldstein talk and now see it frequently. I brought it as a theme for an international symposium on Love and the Law I co-designed, soon after receiving a terminal diagnosis. The work allowed me to pull together everything that was meaningful to me. Cheri Maples and Tara Brach and Alex Haley were teachers there. I also used these words to conclude an article I wrote that was published after the Symposium, in the International Journal of Collaborative Law. I am deeply grateful this message of practicing kindness always, (which I applied to the institution of the courts) made quite a stir at first, and now is making its way into many minds and hearts around the legal world. An excerpt of the article was published by the Fetzer Institute.
- “Can this be okay?” —Mark Nunberg
When one of my sons was becoming aggressive and out-of-control, before we had an autism diagnosis, we had to turn to calling 911 to have him taken to the hospital for services. I was told by one psychologist he needed to go into an institution forever. I was crushed, but vowed not to let that happen. He made great progress after one intense hospitalization, and I was extremely hopeful; I was new to Common Ground and felt uplifted, thinking that my meditation practice was helping him and our family. I thought the worst was over. The very next day he tried to jump out of a moving car and went back into the same emergency psych unit. I lost all hope. I called Common Ground right from the ER. I am still amazed I did that. I did not know where else to turn. Mark answered the main number. I explained what happened, how all my hopes were dashed, and how devastated I was about his future. Mark’s first words were, “Can this be okay?” Standing there on the hospital’s hallway phone, listening as he said those words, I realized I could see my son. He was sitting on a hospital bed, with a security guard at his side. I suddenly knew, of course it is ok, it has already happened. I needed to open my heart to what happened, unconditionally. It was up to me to change in that moment, not him. I was able to feel my heart opening and felt burden lift. Over and over and over I turned to that question in my life with him, with all the difficulties and successes. He is thriving now. These are not just quotes to me, they are living practices. I am so grateful for the teachings you share so generously with us.
—Sue Cochrane, June 2017
Listen to Sue’s 2016 talk Awake in the Middleness of Life and Death