CAUTION: Contains TMI and MTP (Maybe Too Personal)
Exactly 50 years ago today I dropped to one knee and proposed to the Love of My Life. Drusilla accepted and we embarked on 45 fiery-but-steadfast married years. Although she died in my arms nearly fours years ago (lung cancer), the memory of Dru’s lessons and love continue to be the most profound influence of my life. So, for you who’ve not yet found the love of your life, keep looking. For you who’ve found it, keep working— as we did— to make it last as long as you can.
CAUTION: Contains TMI and MTP (Maybe Too Personal)
I’m sitting in Drusilla’s former office, listening to the opera (CAVALERIA RUSTICANA) whose theme became Dru’s wedding processional. I’ve just put down one of her best-selling books (BLOOD ORANGE), re-reading it and pausing every paragraph or so to relive the event or conversation that lay behind passages she wove into her story.
Three years after she died in my arms, my own story still contains occasional tsunamis of grief. Risking taunts of narcissism, perhaps it’ll help to share with friends some thoughts that are flashing through my mind.
In my life of 73-1/2 years (yes, halves are important when you’re seven and seventy), there have been only three things I’ve wished for with all my heart. First, was to be an Olympian. Although mediocre competition in Appalachia (at Stonewall Jackson High School, I’m proud to say) stirred that hope, I smacked into reality at Harvard. There it became clear I was neither the sprinter nor boxer of my dreams.
Second, I wanted to win San Diego’s largest citizen-protest trial which, thanks to the prosecutor, was named “People versus Drusilla Campbell, et al.” Along with my clients, my hope was to turn public opinion— right here in Missile Land— against the insane global nuclear arms race. Ironically a sympathetic juror convinced her peers that “our cause” didn’t really need the not-guilty verdict I’d striven so hard to secure, but rather for my clients to become convicted martyrs.
My third heartfelt wish, shared with Drusilla, was to live into dotage with the Love of Our Life. She left me so, so much— treasures her memory continues to bestow— but could not stay herself.
Now, I’m on my way to choosing a memory-care facility to which my two sons can consign me when I lose my inevitable struggle to stay alone in the home Dru and I crafted over a quarter-century. But before that day shuffles through my door, Dru’s memory prods me to live to the fullest, as she did: “Someday is now.”
So, tomorrow I’m embarking on my first flight in a glider plane. Next day I’m resuming the world’s fastest (and second-most lethal) sport, polo. After four years layoff, the frustration of merely watching the game outweighs the frustration that made me quit. That was when a fall severed the nerves in my right shoulder-blade, so I couldn’t hit the ball straight. I’ve still got two of my original four horses left, and they’ll love getting back in the game.
Contrary to the fabled Genie, sometimes not getting your three wishes bestows the greater gift of appreciating what you once had and still have. For instance, there still remain music, novels, memories and, at 5 o’clock, martinis!
I just finished the frustration of figuring out– for the umpteenth year– how to wire up my six-foot, artificial Christmas tree. Each year I groan and squat and kneel and bend and curse— trying to remember what I did last year to wire it up correctly. So, this year, foreshadowing future jaws of Alzheimer’s alligator, I printed some instructions to assist me in future years. If not helpful, I hoped their language might at least forestall a future Holiday Rage.
● First, carefully cradle all three sections of the tree together and lift them out of their crawl-space coffin. Try to leave the two buried male-female couplings intact. (I know: they’re tired. But they mate for life.)
● The situation: Apparently there are 5 male and only 2 female plugs (the latter suffering the perils of pre-Harvey-Weinstein holiday parties.)
● After the tree is erect (don’t go there…) and its zillion arms nudged into more horizontal positions, see if the two male-female couplings are still intact from last season. If not, you’re fucked. But not totally.
● What you’ll now be striving— with patience, patience, PATIENCE— to end up with is (a) three male plugs inserted into a three-way extension cord the other end of which is inserted into a wall outlet; and (b) two male plugs inserted into the available two female plugs.
● Sound easy? Not so fast. You’ll need to mix and match the seven plugs until all three sections of the tree’s bulbs light. Good luck. Perhaps some well-laced eggnog would help. It took AWC about a half-hour of experimenting in 2017 until the entire tree lit up. And then he did.
The day started like my usual ebullient Saturdays at the River Valley Equestrian Center (nee Hering Ranch.) I’d just finished exercising one of my Thoroughbreds, Khourney. At 40 years he’s a Guinness-book-of-records candidate. Today he was so full of T-bred heart that he wanted to gallop or extended-trot around two laps of the track. I left him temporarily tied to the hitching post outside my tack room, so I could next exercise my Arabian, Zarahas, for a couple laps. When I returned, I was told Khourney had untied himself and dashed a hundred yards down the dirt road to check out a black Great Dane. (A few months ago, he’d gotten loose and chased two Dane-sized black goats all over the ranch.) The Dane’s owner grabbed Khourney’s halter, returned him to my hitching post, and secured him with a double knot
The next part of my Saturday routine was watching AprilLuv, my other Thoroughbred, play polo under someone else. I sat with spectator friends, happily chatting and sipping beer, while Zarahas stood behind me. As he’s done for years, Zarahas draped his head over my shoulder and waited to perform his bowing, counting, kissing tricks for whomever hadn’t seen them. At halftime we usually dash fullspeed down the field, around the goal posts, and back— both of us mentally re-living highlights of our 14 years of playing the world’s fastest contact sport.
When the fourth chukker ended, Rik Crane rode over to the spectator stands, announced they were short one player for the next chukker, and would I fill in. “Thanks, Rik, but you know I can’t hit straight anymore.” (That’s why I’d quit polo four years ago: a faceplant-fall during one tournament severed nerves to the shoulder blade of my mallet-swinging arm.) Rik persisted: “Come on, Art— April’s all tacked up and ready to go another fast chukker.” My mind started churning more negative reasons, but my legs were rapidly heading to my tack shed.
Within 5 minutes I had (literally) blown the dust off my old polo helmet and safety glasses, strapped on knee pads, and was galloping AprilLuv down the field taking practice swats at the ball.
What next ensued was one glorious, adrenalin-laced dream in a WayBack Machine, a peak experience in the twilight of one 73-1/2-year-old’s waning life of sports. I hadn’t enough time to don boots or spurs and I’d forgotten to grab my whip. Nonetheless, AprilLuv sensed my exhilaration and needed no additional encouragement to race down the field, wheel, reverse, bump, and ride off opponents with complete abandon. When the chukker ended, of our team’s three goals, I’d scored one and set up a second. (I also barely saved myself from an embarrassing fall by grabbing AprilLuv’s sturdy neck when she made too quick a turn behind the goal post.)
In retrospect, I’m painfully aware “you can’t go home again.” But sometimes friends can suddenly and miraculously open a door to the WayBack Machine. And— if you wholeheartedly leap in— the experience can become one of the highlights of your life.
“APRILLUV & THE TIME MACHINE”
When your body and mind merge
with a thousand-pound athlete,
you’re dancing with stars—
not on tv, but the galaxy.
DATELINE: Poway, California, 25 May 2015. “Responds best to your leg. Soft mouth— go easy on his reins. Won’t need spurs, just a tap of your whip.”
That’s all I knew about Max, the horse my good friend Susan lent me for my last polo tournament. The incident would emerge as one of the highlights of my life.
I’d retired from polo nearly two years ago from a fall that had severed nerves to my right-shoulder blade. I was ultimately left with no physical pain— just utter frustration at not being able to swing a mallet with any consistency. I now tell friends, “I played polo for fourteen years. The rest of my life I just wasted.”
So why play now? Because the tournament was a memorial for one of my closest friends, Russ Sheldon, the man I hailed as “Mr. West Coast Polo.” When the Lakeside Polo club called for volunteers I heard myself say, “Sure, I’ll make a fool of myself for Russ— I know he’d be tickled.”
As I drove up to Poway’s polo arena, I grinned at a large new sign, re-naming it for Russ. The day before, Poway’s mayor came to a packed memorial in the arena and declared it “Russ Sheldon Day.”
Mingling with the crowd who’d also come to pay their respects, I felt a surge like a sudden reunion with friends I’d not seen in years. I exchanged long hugs with Russ’ son Billy and daughter Sherry. Billy is a heralded polo instructor and umpire; he also holds an international player-ranking close to the top. His sister Sherry is one of the country’s finest female competitors.
Sherry related lending me her horse Spanky years ago for my very first tournament in this same arena. The game little guy got me the award for most-valuable-player. Sherry added, as if loss of her father were not grief enough, Spanky, aged and in pain, had been put down three days ago.
Five minutes before my chukker started, I warmed up Max in a nearby field, impressed by how sharply he turned, how quickly he stopped. Waiting for the arena gate to open I chatted with one of the umpires, Shane Sheldon, grandson of Russ. I’d watched him play polo since he was a tad; now he’s a premier player in the U.S. of A.
When our chukker was called, I lined up between my two teammates. Abigail would guard our front, controlling the throw-in or jamming her opponent. Frankie, one of our club’s best players, was stationed behind to quarterback our movements.
The chukker’s seven-and-a-half minutes flashed by so fast! Throughout the barely controlled chaos of arena polo, Max gave me all I asked for and more; three times he stopped so abruptly on cue that I nearly sailed over his neck. Time and again we sprinted the hundred yards between each team’s goal, swerving, reversing, bumping, riding off, hooking mallets, straining to reach and smack the ball.
Although my hitting was still erratic, Max and I managed to score our team’s first goal. A second shot I slapped into goal was rightly called back; wheeling Max to leap for the ball, I’d crossed an opponent’s right-of-way. Near chukker’s end Frankie scored a super two-pointer, firing the ball to the the field.
As Max and I left the arena, different folks kept asking, “Well, Art, how did it feel?” I showed them my uncontainable ear-to-ear grin, saying either “better than ten cans of Monster Drink,” “better than coke,” or “better than sex!”
When points from all chukkers were tallied, Lakeside had bested Poway 11–9. Twelve victorious red-shirted players posed for pictures, selected prizes from a table of Sheldon largesse, then happily rehydrated with water or beer. Sherry and Billy each presented me with “a special gift from Dad that he’d want you to have.” They derived from revels with Russ on levels too raw to describe his gifts here.
Driving alone back to San Diego, I felt tears of joy and sorrow. I wanted so much to have shared this last game with Drusilla— my wife who’d died in my arms of cancer seven months ago. A former delight in polo tournaments had been pretending I was her knight in medieval jousts.
How many 71-year-old jocks get to turn back the clock one last time and replay their favorite sport? Brigadoon had magically emerged from the mist and let an old Scot inside.
Before going to sleep that night, still wanting to share it with Dru, I invited my Doberman, Makybe Diva, onto the bed. With an emotional understanding only a few dogs and horses possess, she held my gaze as I recited this whole story to her— just the way Russ would have.
Dear friends and acquaintances of Dru Campbell: At 3 a.m. on 24 October 2014 Dru peacefully stopped breathing. According to her wishes, she expired at Crickety (her home), without pain, dying in my arms, with her son Rocky beside her. My last words to her were, “I love you, but you must feel free to let go of your riddled body. Wherever you go, I’ll find you.” Also as she wished, I bathed and dressed her body before consigning it for cremation. When her body was carried from Crickety she had one arm curled around her first doll and the other embraced a childhood toy koala. Dru’s celebratory memorial service will take place in approximately a month in St. Paul’s Cathedral, San Diego, where her remains will be interred in the cathedral’s columbarium. She died knowing she was loved by many.
If you’re interested in reading how a lively, observant, and honest woman (Drusilla, my wife) deals with an out-of-the-blue death sentence (Stage 4, lung cancer), you can follow her thoughts on http://drusillacampbell.com/blog/ In September San Diego’s UNION-TRIBUNE called her blog “staggeringly honest.”
An Interview of Art Campbell by James B. McEnteer
© 2014 by James B. McEnteer & Arthur W. Campbell
Arthur W. Campbell and James McEnteer became close friends before either went to college. Campbell graduated from Harvard College in 1966. During 1967-68, after a year of law school at West Virginia University College of Law and waiting to be called into the Air Force, Campbell returned to Harvard and worked as a night janitor. While there he systematically , combed through the university’s considerable Zen collection. After learning to navigate low-level, special-operations planes, Campbell returned to law school, graduating in 1971. Going on to earn a master’s degree in criminal justice on a fellowship from Georgetown University, he practiced law in Washington, D.C. as both a federal prosecutor and criminal defense counsel. Campbell also became an adjunct professor at, and taught students from, the five major law schools in D.C. In 1976 he began full-time teaching at California Western School of Law in San Diego. His legal treatise, LAW OF SENTENCING, has been cited as authority over 750 times. Campbell’s three-part memoir, TRIAL & ERROR: The Education of a Freedom Lawyer, has achieved critical acclaim. He and his wife, the novelist Drusilla Campbell, have been married for what he calls “40-plus volatile years.” Having raised two sons, they now raise dogs and horses. Campbell has studied and practiced both Zen and law for nearly half a century.
James McEnteer was educated at Wesleyan University (BA), the University of British Columbia (MFA) and the University of Texas at Austin (PhD). His published books include: Shooting the Truth: the Rise of American Political Documentaries, Deep in the Heart: the Texas Tendency in American Politics and Fighting Words: Independent Journalists In Texas. He also edited a collection of short stories. His work has been translated into Spanish and Chinese. McEnteer was a Fulbright researcher in New Zealand and later a Fulbright professor at the University of the Philippines in Manila. In both countries he studied and wrote about the role of mass media in national political campaigns. He has taught and lectured at universities in the United States, Europe, Asia, Latin America and the South Pacific. McEnteer was a research fellow at the Joan Shorenstein Center for Press, Politics and Public Policy in the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University. His work has appeared in the Harvard International Journal of Press/Politics. A journalist for many years, he continues to publish articles and opinion pieces in print and online in various venues. McEnteer lives in Quito, Ecuador with his wife and two children.
* * * * * * * *
McENTEER: As you know, I’m interested in how you reconcile practicing law and practicing Zen.
CAMPBELL: Wow, I didn’t think there was a problem til you asked that question!
CAMPBELL: That’s okay. “No problema,” I should say. But let me start by stating I’m not qualified to speak for Zen. I can only talk about my own experiences. Zen masters warn that to pontificate on the subject is “to stink of Zen.” So now I’ll totally disregard my disclaimer and…
McENTEER: … Uh-oh, let me move a little downwind.
CAMPBELL: You comfy now? Returning to your question, let’s agree on its two central terms. A basic definition of practicing law is “applying legal rules to facts.” And a useful definition of practicing Zen is “directly apprehending reality— being totally awake.” Now, since I can apply legal rules to facts and still be awake, I feel no basic tension between Zen and law. But you asked how I “reconcile” the two. That question seeks an answer on the abstract level. You know, a Zen master might…
McENTEER: … hit me over the head…
CAMPBELL: … hand you a cookie, smile, and then hit you over the head. The hit would come from an existential level— as an attempt to wake you up and kick you off the level of abstractions. But since law profs generally teach on the abstract level, let me stay there and address a couple squirrelly issues I see running around the base of your question.
McENTEER: Would those squirrels stop if you offered them a cookie? Seems you don’t need me or my questions to keep you going. How about you just talk to Mikey Microphone while I go get a cookie?
CAMPBELL: No stay! I’ll write “cookie” on this slip of paper. You can wad it up and swallow it. It’s abstract, of course, but some lawyers and professors live their lives as if abstractions were real.
McENTEER: Okay, since I’m a journalist, I’ll stay and save the paper-wad in case I get desperate. So let’s explore those under-running issues.
CAMPBELL: One way to view the difference between practicing law and practicing Zen is to see them operating at different levels of the same reality. Lawyers use their analytical minds to solve client problems on the abstract level. They’ll pull up conceptual boxes and choose one into which they’ll fit the problem. For example, some larger boxes bear the label “Property,” “Torts,” “Contracts,” “Criminal Law,” etcetera. Attorneys fish around inside their chosen box to find the best solution for the interests of their client. By comparison, Zen practitioners open their intuitive minds, try to be aware of all levels of reality, then act upon whatever level or levels best harmonizes interests of everyone and everything concerned.
Another way to view their differences is to see attorneys marching down an abstract spectrum labeled “time.” They stride to the past (legal precedent) to find solutions to control a portion of their client’s future. Zen folks know “past” and “future” are abstractions that can serve as handy tools, but what’s basic, essential, and real can only happen in the present. So, although Zennists don’t disregard the concepts of chronology, they prefer to dwell in Now. Whoa, those distinctions just triggered more thoughts in my head!
McENTEER: Maybe I should go downstairs, bring us up some coffee, and leave you with your “present.” Can you keep firing off your thoughts to Mikey Microphone?
CAMPBELL: Sure! At least Mikey Mic will listen. But, I wonder— can he hear?
McENTEER: Does he really need to— as long as we’re all one?
CAMPBELL: Well, some of us are more aware of that than others. And though Mikey’s on the level, I’m not sure which level.
McENTEER: Okay I’ll stay and hold off our caffeine fixes for a while.
CAMPBELL: Hear, hear! Let me spill these thoughts your question started spinning in my mind. First, let’s return to viewing Zen and law as working on their different levels of reality. Law, with its abstract categories and precedent— plus special rules controlling just what evidence can be considered by a jury or a judge— could be seen by Zennists as creating heaps of maya, or illusions of the mind.
Yet I still don’t feel a basic contradiction in being both a Zen man and a lawyer. For instance, a Zen attorney outside court can often solve a client’s problems without resort to law’s boxes of abstractions or precedent. Focusing on Now, she might show her client that at deeper levels of reality there’s nothing to be “fixed.” In some cases she may point out that what seems a “problem to be solved” is simply “life to be lived.” In other words, sometimes the most effective way to deal with a situation is attitudinal— not negotiable, contractible, or litigatable.
Even inside court a Zen lawyer could work to expand those little legal boxes or include more levels of reality. Coming from the Now, she can employ the tools of humor and compassion to nudge the judge or jury to embrace more viewpoints or vital information, aiming toward an outcome that’s more satisfying to all concerned.
CAMPBELL: Wait, wait, there’s more!
McENTEER: What, you’re offering me free Ginsu knives… but only if I buy your product “now” while operators are standing by?!
CAMPBELL: Yes, you’ve got it! But let them sit down while I “stab” a few more skittering thoughts. Your initial question jumped from the middle of a cultural assumption. Our society does see Zen and law as conflicting. It also slaps its frames around them, often calling one “religion” and the other a “profession.”
However, when I place Zen inside a frame, its borders embrace the entire universe. By contrast, law’s frame only holds a few man-made abstractions. If the cosmos were a framed sand-painting, only a few grains would represent the law. On the other hand, a Zen roshi would kick apart the painting to show reality is what’s outside all frames.
McENTEER: But isn’t Zen a way of life, rather than an organized religion?
CAMPBELL: Right on. Zen sidesteps many of the rigid formalities, hierarchies, and dogmas of conventional Buddhism. Except for a few rituals in its monasteries and meeting places, Zen is as dis-, non-, and un-organized as any wisdom warehouse I’ve walked through. Indeed Zen’s hallmark is to question all authority and accept only what is verified. In other words, Zen strives to apprehend what’s real by way of one’s experience. On the other hand, I see most religions striving to prescribe what’s real according to their founder’s experience. Then, of course, there’s law as an institution which strives to control what’s real, at least on the finite level.
McENTEER: Doesn’t it get confusing for you to work towards two apparently contradictory objectives, apprehending versus controlling life?
CAMPBELL: I confess, occasionally my elevator gets stuck between floors. For instance, I exhort my first-year students to master “legal analysis.” But sometimes I wonder if I’m lockstepping them along the road of pure abstractions, blind to what is real, thus increasing their illusions. I’ve often quipped, “Tenure for professors means…
McENTEER:… never having to say you’re sorry?
CAMPBELL: Oops, I’ve probably relied on that too much. But it also means I can “profess” not only law but also what is real. Of course, good lawyers definitely need both. And teaching’s a profession where sellers want to give more than their buyers paid for. Still from time to time I ask myself, “Am I hiding a Zen robe beneath my shirt and tie— a wannabe roshi in drag? Am I baiting students with a law degree, so I can hook them with a little life? How can I convey that law is just a tool that can be used in, but should not be confused with, life?” Maybe we’ll explore these issues later in our interview.
McENTEER: No, go ahead, El Senõr Professor. I see you’re on a roll.
CAMPBELL: Okay, let me lug some boxes of abstractions to our talk. When I work inside a box called “negotiation,” I’ll help put a deal together and draft a contract to control the parties’ future actions. Other times I’ll work inside a “corporate” box as member of a board of directors, trying to group-solve business problems. For years I operated in a “litigation” box. Later on today I’ll stand inside a “teacher” box, helping students see how they can function ethically inside boxes called “crim-law” or “copyright.”
Regardless of which box I’m working in, when I’m there with other lawyers, I’ve found we tend to operate and view the world on the same level. We’ll clothe selected facts and abstract thoughts with special lingo and then— voila— we’ll treat our manikin as real!
But lawyers working inside boxes function with such starved and artificial views of what is real! To begin with, in this country our reasoning is limited by the Judeo-Christian-European logic that undergirds it. Next, laws are limited by changing cultural norms that brand them “good,” “bad,” or “irrelevant.” Finally, along with rules for what’s considered “evidence,” lawyers narrow what is real by employing only facts that match their box’s label: “contracts,” “property,” etc. All these pressures work to shrink the sides of boxes in which lawyers peer to find what they can work with as if real.
Of course, collectively the boxes brim with legal rules— legislative, judicial, administrative— designed to govern problems previously stuffed inside the designated given box. But usually lawyers aren’t allowed to look outside that box for rules to solve their clients’ problems. The exception to this way of doing things— one honored as “creative lawyering”— merely plucks solutions from some other box.
So there’s great potential mischief when attorneys try to view new, large, multi-leveled problems with old, small, single-level lenses— then “fix” them using old-box formulas. On the plus side, this process lends great stability and predictability to society. Of course, latent hazards rise from law’s disregard for facts and views that don’t fit in its prefabricated boxes.
McENTEER: Doesn’t that disturb you when you see it happening in court?
CAMPBELL: It used to. I recall frustration when I first practiced as a litigator. I’d be aware of a solution to some problem in a case but couldn’t get the judge to buy it since it didn’t come already wrapped in same-box precedent. Or I’d get aggravated when the judge refused to let me present crucial facts before the jury because they fell outside the box of “admissibility.”
At times I’d get steamed at law’s refusal to recognize a larger view of what is real. Once I threw my hands into the air and said, “Your Honor, can’t you see what’s really going on here?” And His Honor pinned me with a glass-eyed stare and answered, “Yes, Mr. Campbell, I know exactly what’s going on here. And unless you present your case in a more lawyer-like way, I’m going to hold you in contempt. I suggest you take five minutes, go out in the hall, and recall you’re an attorney.”
McENTEER: That sounds almost hopeless, a Catch-22 that zaps you if you see too much but makes you keep on fighting with one eye. What made you stay inside the ring?
CAMPBELL: Well, that day I strolled down the hall and replayed my confrontation with the judge as if I’d been observing from the balcony. From that different level I saw my petty strutting on the stage. Then I closed my eyes and pondered all the good law does. One extremely valuable aspect of law’s limited approach to problem-solving is its insistence on appropriate procedures for doing so. This creates a vital counter-weight to our human herd’s frequently primitive reactions to what its leaders or mass-media dub a “problem.” Due-process also checks what otherwise could be tyrannical control by powerful folks and entities over the powerless. So, for all its faults, law provides society with problem-solving methods that at least aspire to be fair and impartial.
McENTEER: Does this mean the law contains a built-in equilibrium, a yin to balance off its yang, like both sides of Dame Justice’s scales?
CAMPBELL: Yes, that’s a useful way to view it. The trouble is that judges and attorneys sometimes get so fixated on legal process they forget their ultimate goal is to find fair, workable solutions to disputes between citizens or businesses (“civil law”), or find justice when the government accuses one of us (“criminal law.”) From what started as a pig with too many curls in its tail, often there’s scant value in what’s squeezed out through the judicial meat-grinder.
Zen, on the other hand, is suspicious of trying to capture and transform what’s real— life that’s happening now— inside boxes of abstractions. Indeed, it takes a dim view of the conceptual boxes I’m creating as we speak! So Zen’s doubly wary of using abstractions to force “solutions” onto what in many cases is just “the way life is.”
McENTEER: So how do Zen folks operate in the real world? Aren’t there times when they recognize a problem— or is everything always just “the way life is”?
Oh, yes, Zennists still see problems. Although most folks’ mental suffering is needless— caused by refusing to acknowledge or accept what’s real— there are factual problems too. Zen practitioners are keen to sense an out-of-balance situation. Once they can completely grasp the multi-level aspects of a given set circumstances, often they can see the need for some harmonizing act or acts. If the practitioner is a bodhisattva— a fully awake person whose purpose is to help the world— she’ll take that action with compassion for everyone and everything involved. Remember Saint Augustine’s famous maxim, “Love God and do what you please?”
McENTEER: Yes, I really liked that saying when I was a teenager at church socials—especially later, driving back with my date.
CAMPBELL: Me too— weren’t we devils quoting scripture! Anyway, a Zen analog might go, “Be awake and do what you must.”
McENTEER: That’s a curious pick-up line but I’m not sure where it leads. For instance, what about karma? In your work as a Zen lawyer and law prof, what role does karma play in “do what you must”?
CAMPBELL: Uh-oh, you’ve tossed in a real zinger. You know, Buddhism defines “karma” differently depending on the context. Still, the driving engine of its diverse meanings is the force of cause-and-effect. Let’s see if I can place this in a couple contexts of Zen lawyering and teaching.
When advising clients, some Buddhist lawyers (not I) might say, “Whatever will be, will be. Leave things alone and let each cause have its own natural effect; don’t mess with karma; don’t interfere. Whatever ‘problem’ you think you’ve got will work out naturally. I’ll just help you see what’s real and what you’ve manufactured in your mind.”
Likewise in trial, some Buddhist attorneys (again not I) might say, “Let the other side present its evidence; I’ll present my client’s side; then let the jury say which they prefer.” Or in a classroom some Buddhist profs (not I) might say, “Let my students read books, come to classes, take exams, and become whatever kind of lawyer that comes naturally.”
But— by emphatic contrast— I feel it’s my karma to nudge clients, trials, and students closer to a natural, balanced order of things.
McENTEER: Can you explain, when you face cosmic karma greater than your own, why you even try to intervene? When you functioned as a trial lawyer, didn’t verdicts always come down the way they were meant to, or supposed to, come down…?
CAMPBELL: Let me get a little picky here. In my view verdicts come down as they must— not as they’re meant to, in some predestined way, or supposed to according to my clients, my opponents, or the press. In other words, any given outcome was what it absolutely had to be at that time and place. It was the sum of all the causes and effects that worked on the judge’s or the jurors’ minds. But— and here’s the vital catch for me as litigator— those results included my own efforts.
As I matured I grew to recognize that basic truth, regardless whether I was prosecutor or defense attorney, regardless if the government won or the accused walked free. But because I held this karmic view about the end of trials, that meant before the verdict my karmic duty was to strive with utmost vigor as a trial lawyer— or now as negotiator, problem-solver, or teacher— to influence the ultimate outcome with the strongest evidence and arguments available. So I’m a Zen man who’s aware of cosmic karma much more powerful than my own. But at the same time my contribution is a vital part of that collective force.
Indeed, trying to stay conscious of this fact— alert to signals that it’s time to actualize my karmic duty— could be labeled my “morality,” “salvation,” “at-one-ment with Yahweh ,” or “surrender to Allah’s will.” But I prefer less grandiose terms and think of myself— and my duties as lawyer, teacher, human being— as the proverbial Zen laborer. I’m just a guy who’s chopping wood and fetching water, doing his job in the most aware and compassionate way he can.
McENTEER: Is the law a koan?
CAMPBELL: Hmmm, I’ve never thought about the law in that regard. But no, I don’t think so. A Zen koan is a statement that can’t be grasped by abstract concepts. But law insists on being held that way. Indeed, if you turn law inside out, you’re looking at a microcosm of the human mind, how we only “see” realities inside frames created by our culture and desires. The way law boxes its selected facts, excluding others, and then looks inside its fact-packed box for chosen fixes— is both utterly human and utterly primitive: “Don’t sit there staring at the sunrise, Throgg! Go out and kill someone who’s got a blue-dyed beard. Last night our elders said they’ve got to die, so our red-dyed tribe survives!”
Sometimes I imagine Lady Justice as a child draped in black, slumped upon a stool, trying to pound square pegs into rounded holes. As I said earlier, although purporting to reflect reality, law is a classic example of maya, an illusion we shape wearing mind-forged manacles. But it’s so classically and marvelously human, that seeing this— law’s blind power and yet magnificent aspiration of its illusions— could push a person to enlightenment the way a koan can.
McENTEER: Earlier you mentioned the potential dangers of conventional legal solutions. Are these what you mean by square pegs pounded into rounded holes? Can you elaborate?
CAMPBELL: All sorts of difficulties can arise— often in the form of unintended consequences— when judges, lawyers, or professors mistake law for what is real. From a Zen perspective such errors sometimes look like karmic jokes, like watching an attorney, judge, or law-prof march smugly down the road of his solution and slip on the banana peel he refused to recognize. But when that peel is a person’s, nation’s, or a planet’s life, the outcome can be truly tragic.
As a Zennist I’ve often grappled with how far I should go with judges, lawyers, clients, students with my view that life is one majestic game we’re playing. They needn’t snuggle up to my vision of a larger game in order to consider some idea or solution I’m suggesting. On the other hand, I question, especially in this country, why they play their games with such ferocious— sometimes suicidal/homicidal— seriousness?
McENTEER: So the challenge of how far to go follows you into the classroom?
CAMPBELL: Yes, I frequently confront it there. I want my students to realize they can become effective, ethical lawyers— instruments for global good— and at the same time know they’re players in a zillion interlocking karmic games. Many first-years aren’t yet ready for that truth. It would shatter their pre-law expectations about law’s grandeur and the impact of their own careers. If I become too flip or jokey when I teach, they’ll write me off, treating what I say in this regard with suspicion or contempt. So I sometimes ease into a stance between their expectations and some other level of reality. Still, I can’t stand too far away from the level of abstraction because that’s where they’ll learn to think like lawyers and absorb the rules of law.
Sometimes, if I spot the opportunity, I’ll suggest we may be talking on some different level than they were conscious of. For instance, after an exhilarating socratic dialogue, when the class has penetrated to the heart of an issue and students are relaxed, smiling, and exuding confidence, I’ll ask if we’ve been “doing law or life?” Or I may point out that what a student did in answering my questions was just to ponder his prior unexamined mental frames or unexpected consequences of his thoughts. If students learn to catch themselves at this, they’ll find out more about the working of their minds, be more effective lawyers, and bring law and lawyers closer to reality.
McENTEER: Are there times you have to rein your students in, times they start stampeding blindly down a hallway of abstractions?
CAMPBELL: On occasion. Let’s say I see a student breaking through one of the hardest first-year barriers, mastering the skill of legal analysis. I’ll sense her mental light bulb flashing “Wow, I’ve finally got it!” Her feeling is analogous to Zen’s kensho, an overwhelming feeling of life’s one-ness. I don’t want to dampen her new-found confidence and well-deserved pride, but she needs to realize legal analysis is just a lawyer’s tool, a special form of abstract thought (like tools that architects or veterinarians use.) It can never capture the experience of a sunrise, seagull, or a symphony. Law’s boxes can’t contain the essence of these things.
So I caution first-years about wielding legal tools in domestic quarrels, especially with partners, parents, or their landlords. “You may think your logic trumped their arguments but then wonder why you’re asked to leave. You’ve won the battle and just lost the war.”
McENTEER: What about after your 1Ls acquire legal analysis and move on to their second and third years? As a Zennist and a law prof, do you then face different challenges?
CAMPBELL: You bet. To begin with, once they’ve mastered legal-think, I come across a couple students smarter than their prof.
McENTEER: What— how can that be, O Meister of Forensic?!
CAMPBELL: A coach can always spot a player with more talent than he has. He still can teach them special skills, some wisdom culled from his experience, help them find effective ways to use their talents or step around concealed pitfalls on their chosen path.
But here’s a toughie I confront when teaching students in the upper-class. First, I continue urging them to use law as tool for bettering the world. And I promise, if they do, they’ll find careers more personally rewarding than using law as just a way to gather money, power, and prestige. As 1Ls they were eager to accept this view; it matched their pre-law expectations.
But after they’ve been pounded by a year of legal-think, had their pre-law visions shrunk to little abstract boxes, many students change to cynics.
They abandon both their pre-school hopes and law’s aspirations. Other students slump with resignation, thinking it’s impossible to achieve both inner satisfaction and the world’s external wealth. Instead of searching for their individual ways to find fulfillment plus a decent share of worldly goods, they fall back to our culture’s current stance that posits these objectives are an either-or dilemma.
I’m pleased to find these cynics and resigners less enthralled with legal-think. But unfortunately they’ve also lost connection to the reasons they chose law as a career. It’s hard for me to keep their interest, motivate them, reach their core.
On the other hand, every classroom holds at least a couple independent thinkers. They see no need to stuff their dreams in artificial boxes. They’ll go on to lead fulfilling lives, plying legal tools discretely, tackling problems from different levels of reality, not conflating law with all that’s valuable and real.
Since all these students sit beside each other, I’m challenged to relate across the spectrum, supporting some on their own levels while trying not to turn off the others. Still, I relish this tough task and explore new ways every day I’m on my feet. Of course, there’s no fits-all formula to deal with what pops up in a zillion different classroom moments.
McENTEER: So when your workday’s done can you leave school, drive into the sunset, and let it all go?
CAMPBELL: That’s usually not hard. The trouble starts on days I let myself get sucked into my ego’s little game. Let me digress a sec and serve another slice of Zen.
McENTEER: Still no cookies, eh?
CAMPBELL: Nope, but how about some ego-thought for food? I view ego as a super-powerful but distinctly human abstraction. It’s our self-image, the mental concept of a “me” that most folks (even atheists) utterly believe is real. Even though I know it’s totally made up— cherry-picked historical events and traits— I feel its tug each day. Since I’ve operated so long from the influence of my ego, I affectionately call him “Posi,” my parasite of self-importance.
On days my mind slips into Posi’s tune, I’ll drive home, walk through my front door, and yet mentally be back in class, going over some experiment I’d tried. Posi’s gaily gnawing on his knucklebone of auld lang syne, not living in the now, not present when I greet my wife. On the other hand, if I spot that Posi pushed the replay button, I can pack those thoughts and teacher tools away inside their zippered bag. Then I can walk into my house and plant a fully conscious kiss on Timeless Bride.
McENTEER: Wow, I hope she’s ready!
CAMPBELL: After all our years of marriage she can tell if my heart’s in the Now or back in school, revising lesson plans.
McENTEER: So Zen might make you a better husband, but does it make you more effective as a lawyer?
CAMPBELL: Undoubtedly. Any player of a game who knows the borders of the field is more effective than one who doesn’t. Such attorneys can prevail over lawyers who can’t see law’s limits, who constantly mistake the law for life. As I said about my early litigation days— when trials felt more like life than games to me— I was frustrated having vital evidence I couldn’t get before the jury, seeing larger views of life I couldn’t argue, being blocked from what should be my client’s “win.”
McENTEER: So knowing now it’s just a game, do you still get frustrated?
CAMPBELL: Occasionally, especially when my inner warrior mistakes winning for survival. What prompts this once again is Posi. He’ll poke my Scottish Highland genes and whisper, “Come on, Art, you absolutely must prevail on this point!” Or he’ll slither up and chitter, “Art, at least make sure your self-image comes out looking good.”
Sometimes I’ll get irritated when I see a negotiation, boardroom, or classroom project veering from the balanced outcome I prefer. I’ll ask myself, “Isn’t there a better argument I can make, more research I can do, some fact I can uncover that would nudge us to a better result?” But, after doing everything I can to influence the result— after I’ve chopped all the wood and carried all the water— I’ll remind myself it’s time to recognize those larger karmic forces.
To put what I’ve just said in classic Buddhist terms, when I catch myself “craving” a particular outcome for the future or “clinging” to some aspect of the past, I know Posi’s biting me again. He whirls, whines, and hissy-fits when he’s confronted with a Now he doesn’t like.
McENTEER: As a Zen practitioner do you prefer negotiation over litigation?
CAMPBELL: Oh, yes, mucho gusto. Although I’ve currently laid down my warrior’s lance, that’s just a personal preference. Some of history’s most effective knights were Zen-trained samurai. Zen attorneys, modern knights, are quite successful battling in court. But the way our adversary system’s structured, litigation fosters win-or-lose outcomes. So I’ve switched to forms of lawyering where results can be closer to win-win. When you’re negotiating deals or mediating disputes you can bring together diverse points of view and then collectively create an outcome more harmonious than one from win-lose games.
McENTEER: Can you be more specific about how a Zen-trained mind can make you more effective when you practice law or teach?
CAMPBELL: Let me offer two examples. Now and then, negotiating or conferencing, I feel a pervasive sense of serenity, a lack of egoic separation between myself and others in the room. When I’m able to communicate this sense it sometimes urges other folks to drop their guards. Together we then reach surprising states of candor and creativity. After putting our egos away, an evolving mutual trust can lead the group to more profound and less polemic views of issues and the stakes involved. Our free-wheeling synergy uncovers new solutions we could never have arrived at as dedicated partisans. Similarly in classrooms, open and spontaneous discussions can reveal new and useful outlooks on our mental processes, blending real life to whatever subject’s under scrutiny.
I can’t say what triggers these unusual episodes. Maybe someone thinks, “Hmmm, today Campbell’s not waving his ego flag, so I’ll put mine down a moment.” Or perhaps one person says to herself, “Look how unguarded Campbell is. I wonder what would happen if I trusted our collaboration more?” Anyway, neat new things spontaneously arise. And all I did was tell my Posi it was time for him to go outside and play.
McENTEER: How about the reverse? Are there ways in which the law has made you more aware as a Zen practitioner?
CAMPBELL: Oh definitely. Law often tees me up so Zen can whack me in the butt. For instance I need constant reminders that Posi is seducing me. Practicing and teaching law before an audience tosses Posi handfuls of red meat. To extend my earlier example of carrying a problem home inside my mind, I’ll start innocently reflecting on something I said or did inside a class or conference room. I’ll review the scene from others’ viewpoints, asking, “How effective was I with this person or this point?” Then Posi sashays up and asks, “Art, how did your self-image— “I”— come across?” If I don’t recognize that voice as Posi’s, I’ll revise the scene on coulda-would-shoulda lines and replay it like it’s not a total fantasy!
That duplicates a hazard built into the law itself. As we’ve discussed, law traffics in abstractions, linking them to things that happened in the past in its attempt to control a portion of the future. In a Zen sense it’s dealing with what isn’t, is no longer, or is not yet real. And yet the lawyer’s goal— as litigator, negotiator, problem-solver, or professor— is to present abstractions so that they register inside their audience’s minds as real.
This leads to why and how attorneys sometimes hoodwink ourselves into conflating law with life. The more we reify abstractions— especially when we method-act inside our made-up dramas— the more our client’s viewpoint of the movie Roshomon appears to be not just a real version of what happened but the only real one.
So another difference between Zen and law that Zen first takes a trip into the mind, investigates, and then comes out. But law’s like what they used to say about Las Vegas: a trip into the mind that stays inside the mind.
McENTEER: Compared to when you started law and Zen, does it still boggle your mind, trying to do both?
CAMPBELL: Not much anymore. At least not on days I’m totally awake. But let me answer from a different level, from the “balcony.” Yes, sometimes I see my mind is boggled as I strut across law’s tiny stage. If I accept the boggle, see it’s caused by either law’s or Posi’s mind-forged manacles, I laugh out loud. I’m grateful for this sign I’ve wandered off the real road, the highway of the Now. Then, when I retake the stage, I can honor and appreciate law and life’s fabulous, impermanent, impersonal, and ultimately unsatisfying forms. So I’m glad my mind is boggled now and then. If it weren’t, I might miss the essence of both Zen and law.
Since I don’t play polo anymore, I crave adventure and take it whenever it comes.
This morning, instead of letting my best polo horse– April, my beloved 14 year-old, 16-2 hand Thoroughbred– be ridden by another player, I rode her in an obstacle-course “poker ride.” At each obstacle the rider draws a playing card for what becomes his “hand” at the end. At the sign-in grounds April got so agitated, tacked up in polo gear but not playing polo, that she pranced and snorted and spun and bothered some of the cool-as-rocks Western horses. Out of 30 or so horses she was the only T-bred and I was the only one with an English saddle and helmet. (My excuse? “I’ve had six concussions; one more, they’ll make me a judge.”)
When the ride began I asked other riders we came upon, as they plodded along on ribbon-marked trails, if we could go ahead of them “so I could take a little zip out of her.” Soon we found ourselves in front of everyone, and I let April have her head. She leapt to a gallop and sustained the pace for the whole poker ride, only slowing to trot at blind corners around Tamarisk trees. We added at least an extra mile to the course by taking wrong trails b/c I couldn’t spot the erratically placed ribbons. I finally figured out “pink” ones were for outbound and “orange” were for inbound.
So we arrived at the end of the ride, meaning back at the initial staging area, between 20 and 30 minutes before anyone else. (There were no points for speed but– what-the-hell– we loved it.) Despite April’s agitation, we conquered four of the five obstacles: (1) Opening and closing a “gate” made by a rope— at which April first backed up, preparing to jump it; (2) Taking a stranger’s jacket out of a mailbox, slinging it on my shoulder, then replacing it; (3) Walking across a 12’X12’ tarp placed over uneven ground and (4) Mounting from the horse’s right-side. (As April nervously danced around the mounting block, I flung myself on her neck and slid down to her back to cheers of “Ride-um cowboy!”) The one we flunked was the easiest: backing up for twelve feet between poles placed four feet apart. (Before leaving the ranch we’d practiced backing up in a straight line for 20 feet, no problema.) Still, like a Thoroughbred, after galloping in 90-degree heat for five miles, April remained keyed-up. Since we were way too early for the planned barbecue, we headed the half-mile back home.
When we returned to the ranch (now mouthfully called “The River Valley Equestrian Center”), four of the folks with whom I’d ridden over to the start of the ride were already back; they’d quit. What went wrong? Two had been thrown and two loyal friends quit to come back with them. Why, I asked? “Because of YOUR damned horse!” shouted one. Rather than talk about “proximate cause” (I was at least twenty minutes and a mile ahead of them when their horses freaked out), I simply accepted their blame and apologized. (Scared and shaken, the riders needed a cause for their terror and disappointment besides their own spooky mounts and poor horsemanship.) To try healing any bad vibes we’d created with other riders, I rode back to the staging area on Zarahas, my relatively placid Arabian. I ate lunch and chatted with other riders, Zarahas calmly standing behind me, hanging his head over my shoulder to inspect my victuals. Except for “Wow, he’s sure more mellow than that polo pony you rode at first!” the tale of my calamity-causing T-bred had apparently not spread to other riders. It will.
So, good-sporting aside, methinks being the only rider on a T-bred (“and on a $%&*! polo pony too!”) will make me persona-non-grata at next year’s poker ride. But perhaps I’ll try riding Zarahas instead. When I shared these thoughts with April, she just snorted, “Fuck ‘em if they can’t take a joke!”
NOSTALGIA & REALITY
(20 May 2014)
It’s been seven months since I hung up my polo mallets. Yesterday I took my longest one off its now rusted hook and climbed on too-tall April, my best polo pony.
My withdrawal from polo, one-day-at-a-time, has wobbled down an irregular path. For the first few weeks I exercised my three horses on non-polo days at Hering Ranch. That way I avoided the sight of horses tacked up in double reins and bright bandages and the whipsaw of emotions that would trigger. On polo days Susan Harris, my teammate for over a decade, tacked up and played April in club matches. Afterward she kindly texted me how Mare Mountain performed.
After a month of complete polo abstinence I ventured out to the ranch on a polo morning. I was surprised I could watch six chukkers— including April’s joyful and vigorous play under Susan— without getting overly emotional. Later, I drank beer and swapped stories on Kip Hering’s porch with old colleagues as if nothing had changed.
The last few weeks I’ve driven to Hering Ranch each Saturday, saddled my other Thoroughbred and my Arabian, and watched polo matches from their backs at various places along the sidelines. I’ve responded with smiling but firm “No thanks” to offers that I umpire or “just try a chukker or two.” I continue enjoying the camaraderie of post-polo beers.
Occasionally I track down out-of-bounds balls, dismounting to toss them back on the field. Between chukkers, while players change horses and tack, I ride my two geldings for exercise laps on the ranch’s half-mile track.
Last month after a game I overheard one player say to Susan, “You should put April in ride-offs more often. When she’s fired up, nobody rides off that big mare.” My mind flashed back to numerous times April and I shoved opponents off the ball while charging full-speed down the field. After that vivid reverie, walking along by myself, I was suddenly swamped in tears.
Last week threw another twist in my recovery road. Finding myself nearly alone on the 80-horse ranch, I first exercised my three horses on the track. I let 37-year-old Khourney quit early when he felt reluctant to go a second lap. Zarahas and April each put in a spirited mile. But, before untacking April, I grabbed that long polo mallet and remounted her.
Instantly she perked up her head and pranced to the polo field. Snagging a ball from the umpire’s net, I tossed it onto the just-mowed turf. April trotted patiently while I took a couple calibrating swings, then she leapt to gallop after the ball. It was old times again as we charged up the field, April deftly maneuvering to keep the ball in play. Thirty yards from the goal, I blanked my mind from everything except the sweet spot under the ball’s equator. As I swung my arm through the clockface of twelve to six, the ball sailed straight through the posts. Oh…my…god! Nostalgia surged through me like a whoosh of cocaine.
“Let’s do this again!” my addict-voice yelled. So we retrieved the same ball and flew down the field toward the other goal. Then reality struck. As I hit my woulda-coulda-shoulda goal shot at the large space between the posts, the ball flew wildly off to the right.
Now sobriety-voice took charge. “Your shoulder blade’s not a whit better, still floats whenever you raise your arm— no nerves have grown back. Your shots remain unreliable, erratic, the same frustration that led you to quit. This is what happens to heroin chippers. Time to return to the wagon, Art.”
“You’re right,” I sighed and soberly walked April back to our tack shed. More thoughts flooded my mind. I was no longer a contributor to or eager opener of the U.S. Polo Association’s monthly magazine. And even if I could recapture my past, the polo world has moved on. After owning and tending Hering Ranch more than a half-century, Kip has sold it. He’s stepped down as decades-long president of the Lakeside Polo Club; the new president is the real-estate agent who brokered the sale. Susan was badly injured and may never play polo again.
That’s it, my latest and smallest up-and-down tussles with my still favorite sport. I got a blast of nostalgia charging up the field, and a jolt of reality running back down. So I’ll return to just watching the game. But addictions never completely die. Though old addicts watch without touching their volatile drug, their minds— like the rhythm of hoof beats— remember, remember, remember, remember.