[The previous essays in this series are here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, and here.]

     In his 1921 poem, The Snow Man, Wallace Stevens reflects:

          One must have a mind of winter. . . .

          . . . not to think

          Of any misery in the sound of the wind. . . .

          For the listener, who listens in the snow,

          And, nothing himself, beholds

          Nothing that is not there and the nothing that is.

     A commentator who rated this “the best short poem in the English language” characterized it as “a recipe for seeing things as they really are. . . . [Y]ou must constantly challenge your own assumptions.”

     With wind already with us and winter well on the way, the perspectives and practices provided by the brief (except for the first) books below might be of interest to law and pre-law students, lawyers, and others.

     ● Daniel Kahneman, Thinking, Fast and Slow (2011).

     The Nobel Prize-winning economist who (with Amos Tversky) pioneered the field of “behavioral economics” creates a compelling catalog of cautions for even the most careful decisionmakers. 

     In a nutshell, “[your] intuitive [thought process] is more influential than your experience tells you, and it is the secret author of many of the choices and judgments you make.”

     Although intuitive thinking is “the origin of most of what we do right,” we may be tempted to rely on it too much.  “The way to block [intuitive] errors. . .  is simple in principle: recognize the signs that you are in a cognitive minefield, slow down, and ask for reinforcement from [your more deliberative processes of thought].”

     I am among those who have categorized dozens of the pitfalls identified by this book and by subsequent shelvesful of similar studies (including a work that notably presented and analyzed, as opposed to Stevens’s snowscape, a situation in which one might well not see something that actually is present).

     Although more recent researchers have found less experimental evidence to support some of their predecessors’ conclusions, the persistence and predictability of certain types of errors (for instance, seriously underestimating the time necessary to complete a project) should remain of concern to all counsel and clients.

     ● Dale Carnegie, How To Stop Worrying and Start Living (1948).

     This clear-eyed compendium of techniques, by the author of the much better known How to Win Friends & Influence People (1936), combines Carnegie’s historical, philosophical, and religious gleanings with numerous accounts from, about, and by celebrities and non-celebrities of his era. 

     Although its tone and references are somewhat dated, the book’s subject, and many of its common-sense strategies, are timeless.

     Carnegie stresses (so to speak) focusing on the facts of one’s situation (including assessing the probabilities of possible problems); immersing oneself in constructing and implementing plans, rather than ruminating; taking one day at a time (Chapter 1’s title: “Live in ‘Day-tight Compartments’”); and determining how much mental and emotional energy a particular issue is actually worth.

     ● Shunryu Suzuki, Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind (1970).

     The most frequently quoted of these passages, from talks by the Japanese monk who six decades ago founded the influential San Francisco Zen Center, is the prologue’s, “In the beginner’s mind there are many possibilities; in the expert’s mind there are few.”

     Although a later best-seller would notoriously recommend that for aspiring grandmasters in chess and other fields, “Ten thousand hours [of hard practice] is the magic number of greatness,” Suzuki advises, counterintuitively, “[T]he most difficult thing is always to keep your beginner’s mind.  There is no need to have a deep understanding of Zen. . . . This is also the real secret of the arts: always be a beginner.”

     Beyond addressing such basic elements of zazen (sitting meditation) as posture and breathing, the short chapters emphasize consistency of practice, both on and off the cushion, amidst life’s changes. 

     Yet Suzuki discourages what might be called spiritual striving or ambition:

     “If enlightenment comes, it just comes.  We should not attach to the attainment.  The true quality of zazen is always there, even if you are not aware of it, so forget all about what you think you may have gained from it.  Just do it. The quality of zazen will express itself, then you will have it.”

     ● Herbert Benson, The Relaxation Response (1975). 

     A Harvard Medical School cardiologist’s best-selling guide to his simplified, secular, and stress-busting version of Transcendental Meditation, a technique then relatively new to, and increasingly popular in, the United States.

    Benson’s approach, the actual details of which occupy only a few pages, involves “a very short set of instructions which incorporate four essential elements: (1) a quiet environment; (2) a mental device such as a word or phrase which should be repeated in a specific fashion over and over again; (3) the adoption of a passive attitude, which is perhaps the most important of the elements; and (4) a comfortable position.  Your appropriate practice of these four elements for ten to twenty minutes once or twice daily should markedly enhance your well-being.”

     Benson was among the many experts interviewed by the pseudonymous “Adam Smith” (George Goodman) for the perceptive and charmingly irreverent Powers of Mind (1975), which surveyed a panoply of “New Age” practitioners and programs, in some of which Goodman participated.

     ● Jon Kabat-Zinn, Wherever You Go, There You Are (1994)

     Subtitled “Mindfulness Meditation in Everyday Life,” this book “is offered particularly for those who resist structured programs and for people who don’t like to be told what to do but are curious enough about mindfulness and its relevance to try to piece things together for themselves with a few hints and suggestions here and there.”

    Kabat-Zinn punctuates practical instructions in meditation with such refreshing advice as:

    “It helps to come to the [meditation] cushion or to the chair with a definite sense of taking your seat. . . . There is energy in the statement the sitting makes as you take your seat, both in the choice of spot, and in mindfulness filling your body. . . There is a strong sense of honoring place and placement of body and mind and moment.”


     “Every time you get a strong impulse to talk about meditation and how wonderful it is, or how hard it is, or what it’s doing for you these days, or what it’s not, or you want to convince someone else how wonderful it would be for them, just look it as more thinking and go meditate some more.  The impulse will pass and everybody will be better off—especially you.”

     ● Kerry Egan, On Living (2016). 

     Although recounting numerous conversations that she had with patients, Egan emphasizes that she and other hospice chaplains “are sort of the opposite of storytellers.  We’re story holders. 

     “We listen to the stories that people believe have shaped their lives.  We listen to the stories people choose to tell, and the meaning they make of those stories. . . .

     “We do not get to cut off someone’s suffering at the pass by telling them it has some greater purpose.  Only they get to decide if that’s true.  All we can do is sit and listen to them tell their stories, if they want to tell them.  And if they don’t, we can sit with them in silence.”

     Egan observes that, “When I first started working in hospice, someone told me this: In most of life, you can be weak inside and get through by putting on a tough outer shell.  But if you work in hospice, you have to stay soft on the outside.  So in order to stand up straight, you have to have a spine of steel.”

     In one of the book’s last chapters, Egan encourages readers, “Become who you want to be while you can enjoy it.  Don’t put off doing the work of becoming who you want to be.  Waiting will not make it easier, and time is short.”

     Or, as Mary Oliver memorably asked in The Summer Day (1990), one of the many eye-, mind-, heart-, and soul-opening poems collected in her Devotions (2017):

     “[W]hat is it you plan to do

     “with your one wild and precious life?”

     ● Heather Plett, The Art of Holding Space (2020). 

     Plett identifies and discusses more general aspects and applications of the technique employed by Egan’s “story holders.”

     “Holding space is what we do when we walk alongside a person or group on a journey through liminal space [that is, a period of personal transition].  We do this without making them feel inadequate, without trying to fix them, and without trying to impact the outcome.  We open our hearts, offer unconditional support, and let go of judgment and control. . . .

    “Holding. . . space is one of the most sacred acts we can perform for each other.  When we do it, we stand on holy ground.  And we can’t do it well unless we are well-grounded and well-supported ourselves.”

    Among the qualities that a practitioner offers: witness, containment, compassion, selective non-judgment, selective guidance, space for complexity, autonomy, flexibility, connection, and allyship.

     Among the qualities that guide her: intuition, discernment, humility, courage, and curiosity.

     ● Viktor E. Frankl, Man’s Search for Meaning (1946; English translation, 1959). 

     In the hundred pages of the book’s “Part One,” the psychiatrist concludes from his harrowing experiences in concentration camps including Auschwitz that, “Man can preserve a vestige of spiritual freedom, of independence of mind, even in such terrible conditions of psychic and physical stress. . . .  Fundamentally, any man can, even under such circumstances, decide what shall become of him, mentally and spiritually.  He may retain his human dignity even in a concentration camp.”

     Frankl notes, of himself and his fellow prisoners, that “it did not really matter what we expected from life, but rather what life expected from us. We needed to stop asking about the meaning of life, and instead to think of ourselves as those who were being questioned by life—daily and hourly.   Our answer must consist, not in talk and meditation, but in right action and in right conduct.  Life ultimately means taking the responsibility to find the right answers to its problems and to fulfill the [unique] tasks which it constantly sets for each individual.”

     In an introduction written in 1983, Frankl advises, “Don’t aim at success—the more you aim at it and make it a target, the more you are going to miss it.  For success, like happiness, cannot be pursued; it must ensue, and it only does so as the unintended side-effect of one’s personal dedication to a cause greater than oneself or as the by-product of one’s surrender to a person other than oneself.  Happiness must happen, and the same holds for success: you have to let it happen by not caring about it.”

     According to his autobiography, Recollections (2000), while still a medical student in Vienna in 1929, “I had developed the concept of three groups of values, or three possible ways to find meaning in life—even up to the last moment, the last breath.  The three possibilities are: 1) a deed we do, a work we create; 2) an experience, a human encounter, a love; and 3) when confronted with an unchangeable fate (such as an incurable disease), a change of attitude toward that fate.  In such cases we can still wrest meaning from life by giving testimony to the most human of all human capacities: the ability to turn suffering into a human triumph.”

     Frankl’s original manuscript on “the essentials of [his meaning-centered psychology of] logotherapy,” hidden in the lining of his overcoat, was abandoned “when I had to throw everything on the ground” on arrival at Auschwitz.  Years later, he would write, “I am convinced that I owe my survival, among other things, to my resolve to reconstruct that lost manuscript.”

     His tools: “For my 40th birthday an[other] inmate had given me a pencil stub, and almost miraculously he had pilfered a few small SS forms.  On the backs of these forms I scribbled notes. .  . .”

     Near the end of Recollections, Frankl reports that during his post-publication practice:

     “I received [a phone call] around three o’clock in the morning.  This woman had decided to end her life, and she was curious about what I had to say.  I offered all the arguments against such a step and we discussed the pros and cons.  We finally reached the point where she promised to postpone her plans and to come see me at nine that same morning.

     “She appeared on time and began: ‘You would be mistaken, doctor, if you thought that any of your arguments last night had the least impact on me.  If anything helped me, it was this.  Here I disturb a man’s sleep in the middle of the night, and instead of getting angry, he listens patiently to me for half an hour and encourages me.  I thought to myself: If this can happen, then it may be worthwhile to give my life another chance.’” 

     He notes, “In this case it was more the human response that helped, not any technique as such.”

     Finally, from a solstice sunnier than that of Stevens’s century-old Snow Man:

     ● Ray Bradbury, Dandelion Wine (1957).    

     A warm and wonderful wealth of wisdom, about the rituals, reversals, and revelations of a twelve-year-old boy and his family, friends, and neighbors in the quietude of Green Town, Illinois (a fictional version of Bradbury’s hometown, Waukegan) during the summer of 1928.

     Memory, maturity, mortality, and multiple metaphors (such as the title liquid itself: “Every time you bottle it, you got a whole chunk of 1928 put away, safe.”)

     Magically evocative prose that often reads like poetry.

     A celebration and a savoring of simple, seasonal, and sometimes-spontaneous satisfactions.

     Life-affirming lessons for the town’s jeweler and tinkerer, after he

 takes far too seriously the boy’s suggestion to “Invent us a happiness machine!”  

     And, at a crucial moment, just a breath of winter.

     But there snow spoilers here.