While I stand in the center of my sunny living room, I open an envelope and unfold a letter. Immediately, I see the date—just two weeks away. I call on the Beloved but still feel the shift inside me. It’s a darkness that spreads like black ink in water, weakening my arms so the paper trembles between my fingers. I make my way to the couch and sit down.
The letter from the Santa Fe Magistrate Court invites a handful of my neighbors and me to stand before a judge to argue a case against a woman on our community well who refuses to pay her bills.
It is simple, so why does it fill me with this dark dread?
This situation mirrors my childhood. The neighbor, a powerful woman who works on Wall Street, holds a similar bully vibration to my older sister. For the 26 years of her life, my sister’s rage held those around her hostage.
But it’s not only her. Because I try to be so “nice,” I have manifested a long line of bullies in my life, from students when I was a child, to co-workers, friends and mates as an adult. For more about this, read My Bully Neighbor Is Me.
That bully vibration so intimidates me that I lose myself, and so I lose my “home.”
This little letter, this court hearing, holds that threat. My mind, in its habitual way, thinks the outcome could mean the loss of my material home.
The woman, who I’ll call Dee, has promised to take everything from us. She threatened to sue us for all we have, offering as example a Canadian man she sued, winning his house and all his assets.
As well manager, I am to stand up to her.
I want to take a trip, drink red wine, find a man to deal with this—anything but stand before that judge.
Instead, I go to my computer and send out an email to my neighbors and our engineer witness. From my cabinet, I pull out the files of evidence I have gathered.
Over the next few days my neighbors agree to attend, but the witness informs me that he will be in Turkey. He is supposed to attest to the fact that I read the well meters properly, which is Dee’s biggest contention.
She also complains of poor water pressure and insists that one well member does not belong on the well. Her list of reasons for not paying continually grows.
I have done my best to answer each contention, with evidence to back up our side. But is it enough? As I shuffle through the papers, the black dread creeps in again. I know that she has a ruthless attorney, who I will have to face. Meanwhile, our attorney doesn’t try cases in this court, so we are without a lawyer. I try to enlist another one to help, but he never gets back to me.
My mind wants to stay in the fight. It wants to go over all the reasons Dee’s wrong and we’re right. It also wants to enumerate my own mistakes over the years—most notably a few math errors that have become huge in my head.
Instead I rivet my attention on the Beloved and on what’s before me right here, right now.
Over the next few days, whenever I think of the hearing, my limbs again weaken. But one day, during my spiritual practice, I see that I want to rely on the witness and attorney, when really they are not the key to this.
All I really need in that courtroom is my Beloved.
Suddenly, the weakness transmutes into strength as I see that it doesn’t matter whether we win or lose. All that matters is that I keep my Beloved close and tell the truth.
The morning of the hearing I awaken from a deep sleep. Strength courses through my limbs. During my spiritual practice I realize that I have already won, no matter what the judge determines.
This woman represents my material mind. She races among three homes scattered about the U.S., her attention hostage to prestige and money. In degree, she represents the old me.
But the Beloved has graced me with new ideals: love, kindness, balance. These now rule my life.
Just two days ago, the new attorney called to say he would present our case, and our witness informed us that he had changed his travel plans.
Accompanied by my mother, a posse of neighbors, the attorney and witness, I step into the courtroom and sit at the plaintiff’s table. The sterile room smells of ammonia, has maroon carpet, rows of seats in back and a faux wood judge and witness stand in front.
We assumed Dee would be armed with her attorney, but she sits alone at the defendant’s table surrounded by clutters of paper.
When the judge enters, we all rise.
Our attorney presents our case, noting simply that the defendant does not pay her bills.
When Dee stands to present her case I note how small she appears, with bleached hair and a frantic step. Her lips peel, her shoulders slump. She contends that there are many complexities to the case, most notably that we read her meter wrong.
Soon I am on the witness stand explaining our side. When Dee questions me, she asks about the mistakes I have made. My heart pounds fast, but I steady myself. I call on my Beloved, remembering that I corrected each as soon as I noted the error. The issue evaporates.
When our attorney questions Dee, she evades answering and complicates the simplest issues. She fidgets in the witness box, bites her lips and bats at her hair. Finally, the judge, exasperated, threatens her with 180 days in jail for contempt of court if she doesn’t answer directly.
Our witness attests to my correct meter readings. But when the defendant cross-examines him, he leans toward her, as though mesmerized by her blue eyes and blond hair. She flirts with him, offering a coy smile. Suddenly his answers become confused, his words stuttery.
So once the closing arguments are complete, I wonder whether we have won or lost. Throughout five hours, I have kept the Beloved close, but still my body shivers with tension.
The judge sits forward in her chair and clears her throat. “It appears to me, based on your evidence,” she says to Dee, “that you created all of these problems yourself, and you want to blame others.”
In the judge’s words I can hear the resonant truth of that statement. The material mind, with its desires and attachments to the security of things, creates all its own problems.
“For that reason,” continues the judge, “I rule in favor of the plaintiff.” She orders Dee to pay the well charges and all attorney fees.
I sit back in my chair, the knots in my shoulders releasing. My neighbor, an old Hispanic man with diabetes-blue skin who has trouble hearing, taps me on the shoulder and asks what happened.
I smile at him and say, “We won.”
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