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Lessons in Right Attitude

by Daniella Nitya Ferrari
Winter 2009 13 Comments

From a young age I was very opinionated and often spoke and acted impulsively. If criticized, I would usually respond with anger and counter-attack with a few offensive comments of my own. Having the freedom to express negative reactions was, in my opinion, “fun” and part of being “alive.”

One of the great blessings of meditation is that I am less reactive emotionally and can now view situations more objectively. Gradually I am learning that it’s possible to remain centered and act with kindness even in harsh or chaotic circumstances, whether in my personal life or in my work as a Family Court attorney.

Do we reap what we sow?
A recent experience with a tenant in a rental house I own brought greater clarity around these issues. This tenant—a woman—was living in the house when I bought it. I was counting on the rent payments to help offset the monthly mortgage payments and was pleased I didn’t have to find a tenant on my own.

At first, this woman, who owned a small business, seemed reasonable and paid her rent on time. After a few months, however, she started paying the rent later and later in the month. Over the course of two years, she often experienced financial difficulties in her business and would fall behind in her payments.

My task, which I did not enjoy, was to call her whenever the rent was overdue. Whenever I called, I made a special effort to treat her with kindness and respect. I also prayed for her well-being. From the spiritual teachings, I assumed that if I planted “seeds” of love, kindness, and respect in my dealings with this woman, eventually I would “harvest” the same from her.

As the months passed, however, she responded more and more rudely. Often she accused me of being a “ruthless attorney” for asking for payment, in light of her financial troubles. I disliked her treatment of me but I assumed her anger reflected disappointment and pain about her business difficulties. I continued to pray for her and to treat her with kindness and respect, hoping that the seeds I was planting would eventually soften her attitude.

Toward the end of the two years, things worsened. Without my permission, she rented out one of the bedrooms in the house. By then, she owed three months back rent and refused to discuss any plan for paying the past due amount. There were no signs of improvement in her behavior toward me. In fact, she berated me each time I called and let me know she was paying other debts but choosing not to pay me.

After calling one last time, I served her with a notice to vacate and filed an eviction action. She moved out of the house, leaving it in a condition requiring major repairs.

Disappointed and hurt
I was hurt and disappointed in how things had turned out. I found myself questioning whether the spiritual teachings were even true. If they were true, why, then, didn’t she treat me with the same courtesy and respect I had shown her?  Why didn’t my kindness bring kindness in return? It upset me to think that she had perceived my kindness as weakness and looked upon me as someone she could manipulate.

Worst of all, I found myself wishing the same kind of negative treatment for her! I was ashamed of such thoughts and prayed and did japa whenever they arose. Nonetheless, my negative reactions persisted. When I meditated, thoughts of her behavior distracted my mind and prevented me from meditating deeply.

Gradually, over the next two months, through prayer and meditation, my feelings became more neutral. I felt more empathy for her, less focused on my hurt feelings.

Acting with non-attachment
Calming my negative emotions helped me understand that the spiritual teachings on “cause and effect” were true—the sages weren’t wrong!

But my understanding had been too simplistic. I now understand that when and how I reap the benefits of my positive energy depend on many things, including the strength of my magnetism, my tenant’s receptivity, and whatever karma I need to balance.

I may have behaved well in the situation with my tenant, but I certainly haven’t behaved well in all my relationships. Perhaps I had behaved badly toward my tenant in a former life. Or perhaps she was a “stand-in” for someone to whom I owed a karmic debt.

I had also lost sight of one of the most important teachings of the Bhagavad Gita—to relinquish attachment to the fruits of my actions. Meditation was helping me calm my emotions, but I was nonetheless very attached to my tenant’s responding a certain way.

Today I feel only compassion for my tenant for the suffering she experienced and gratitude for the important spiritual lessons I learned. As often happens, those who upset us the most turn out to be our most important teachers.

Emotional distress and physical pain
Not long ago I reached a point where the emotional challenges of my work as a Family Court attorney were pulling me down. Most of my adult clients are charged with child neglect or abuse. Some are incarcerated and many are emotionally unstable. I also represent abused and neglected children who are in foster care or with a family member pending the outcome of their cases. The eyes of every child I represent express deep sadness even when the child smiles.

Often I carried my clients’ pain and suffering in my own body, as either emotional distress or physical pain. Doing japa throughout the day was helpful, especially in dealing with my emotionally disturbed clients, but I needed something more.

Inner guidance: say healing prayers
At a certain point I felt the inner guidance in meditation to recite healing prayers whenever in the presence of others, and especially during my workday. The next day there were plenty of opportunities to pray for people. Whenever not completely alone, I would say the healing prayers I’d learned from Ananda:

Divine Mother, Thou art omnipresent. Thou are in all Thy children. Thou art in this person. Manifest Thy healing presence in his/her/their body, mind and soul.

Sometimes I used a shorter prayer: “Receive Lord in Thy light this child.”

Praying for others
In the courthouse hallway while waiting for my hearing to be called, I said healing prayers for my client and everyone who passed by. At the hearing, I prayed for the judge, his assistant, the court reporter, the opposing party—and everyone else in the courtroom. Anytime I didn’t have to speak I prayed. I found that I could listen attentively to others and pray at the same time.

While driving home, I prayed for all the drivers on the road, for my loved ones, my clients, my dog, and anyone I could think of who needed a prayer. Time flew as I drove 70 miles from the courthouse to my home.

When I arrived home I felt uplifted and deeply grateful in my heart. Surprisingly, my body and mind felt refreshed, even though I had worked long hours.

Amazing changes in everyone
Each day, whenever I could remember, I continued to say healing prayers, asking Divine Mother to bless all, to heal all. One day, I had twenty hearings that involved extensive contact with clients with major mental health problems. I prayed while listening to my clients and while waiting to speak at the hearings—and I was amazed by the changes I saw.

One teenage client arrived for his hearing looking very distraught. While sitting next to me, his body shook and his face twitched. He moved his hands constantly—either snapping his fingers or hitting his thighs. Within a few minutes of praying for him he was much less distraught and his twitching and hand movements had slowed considerably.

Another time, while waiting for a hearing to start, I was confronted by the mother of an adult client in prison. She had previously phoned and asked for copies of all documents in her son’s case and had not been pleased that I could not provide them without her son’s consent.

Now, when we met for the first time outside the courtroom, her eyes were angry and she breathed heavily. I immediately started saying healing prayers for her. Soon her breathing calmed down and she began to relax. During the hearing, I sent healing prayers to everyone in the courtroom. Afterwards, my client’s mother thanked me and has not called since.

Effects of healing prayers
I find that healing prayers help both my clients and me. Healing prayers take the burden of my clients’ pain and suffering from my shoulders and place it on God, where it truly belongs. Now, whenever my heart starts to ache over a client’s situation, I am reminded to pray and the pain dissolves.

As I feel less burdened by my clients’ suffering, I am freer to help them in ways that I can—primarily with my advocacy skills. As the instrument I too am blessed. I feel more compassionate toward my clients; sometimes a sweet positive energy suffuses our encounters. Where previously I often saw them as a burden, they are now reminders of God’s wisdom and love.

My clients are helped in other ways. Previously my adult clients were very angry and blamed “the system” for removing their children from their homes. However, with time and many healing prayers, they now pull their lives together and are either reunited with their children, or consent to the children’s being adopted or placed in foster homes. Most of my cases are now settled without a trial.

A divine experience
Recently I was driving home after a long day of visiting clients, both children and adults. I was tired, the traffic was noisy, and my business clothes were uncomfortable. Suddenly, my heart was soaring. Tears of joy filled my eyes and I heard myself say, “I love God.”  Never before had I felt such bliss.

Healing prayers have opened my heart to the flow of God’s love through me to my clients. In the process, my heart has become more open to God’s love—and to loving God. That is the greatest blessing of all.

A spiritual seeker since 1991, Daniella Nitya Ferrari is currently the leader of the Ananda Meditation and Book Study Group in Sedona, AZ.  In her work as a family law attorney, she represents indigent clients and abused and neglected children.

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13 Comments »

  • Tricia says:

    Dear Daniella,

    What an inspiring, deeply moving account of your life experiences, and instructive for us all. Thanks for sharing.

    Blessings,

    Tricia

    .

  • Jennifer says:

    This is wonderfully inspirational; thank you for sharing.

  • Michael ODonnell says:

    Daniella

    I work in social services also with the handicapped – so I do understand your struggles with different ones. Thank you for you dedication and hard work, Blessings Michael

  • Nothing ever comes to one, that is worth having, except as a result of hard work.

  • Justin Thelen says:

    Thank you for such wisdom! I have just been asking how to keep God ever more present in my daily life! Thank you for the great inspiration and the important reminder to relinquish attachments to the fruits of actions!!! This is much needed!

    Blessings to you
    Justin

  • Pranaba says:

    Dear Daniella,

    A wonderful and insightful article. Thank you so much for sharing valuable ways of dealing with the challenges of the world.

    joy,
    Pranaba

  • julie roberts says:

    Thank you for the inspiring article! It has reminded me of the ability I have to pray for everyone all day long too! Blessings to you, Julie

  • Miriam Brown says:

    Dear Daniella,

    What a beautiful story. I’ve lived in an Ananda community for over 10 years and sometimes it’s easy to forget the pain-filled world outside. Before I found Ananda, I worked as a visiting nurse and often had to deal with tragic, abused, angry, and even violent patients or family members particularly in the slums of East and West Oakland. I’d have given anything to have the powerful tools we have in these teachings to have been better able to help those patients. I didn’t know the word “mantra” but I often recited the words of Christ, over and over to myself, “When you’ve done it unto to the least of these my brethren, you’ve done it unto me.” Mother Teresa described her work in the Calcutta slums, as seeing the distressing disguise of Jesus, in the sick and dying. Through your experiences you have shown a deep and spiritual way we can help and even heal those who are suffering.

    Thank you for writing your story and sharing it with all of us.

    so much joy in Master,
    miriam

  • louis fioretti says:

    Hi, Daniella,
    I can share some of your experiences. It took me a lot of years to get rid of 70% of my negative reactions…………peace lou

  • Muriel Percy says:

    Dear Daniella,
    Thank you for sharing your insights and wisdom. I was particularly struck by your well stated intention, “to transfer your clients’ pain and suffering to God where it belongs”. I work as a social worker with disadvantaged, often impoverished, individuals and often over burden myself (and eventually burn out) when I “forget” to pray. Thank you for the reminder. I desperately needed to hear/read that today. God bless you in your service.
    Warmly,
    Muriel Percy

  • Bill Grady says:

    Dear Daniella,
    Thanks so much for your inspiring message and story. You are talking about the kind of spirituality where the rubber meets the road…dealing with everyday tough life situations. I applaud your willingness to take on clients and situations that most people would naturally shy away from. That to me takes courage. I live at the Ananda Portland community. It is great to read how others on this path are bringing their spirituality “into the trenches.”
    Thanks again!
    Namaste,
    Bill Grady

  • Nitya says:

    Dear Otavio,
    Thank you for taking the time to read the article and to post your thoughtful comment. Blessings to you and your family.
    Nitya

  • Otavio Pascarelli says:

    Dear Daniella,

    Thanks for sharing the experience you had about the disappointing tenant. As I was reading it, I thought that everything was going to turn out well at the end. My train of thought brought me to the same conclusions you arrived (hurt and disappointment). It was inspiring to see how you handled it afterwards.

    In Divine Friendship,
    Otavio Pascarelli

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