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How the Tibetan People Made Me a Better Attorney

Frances M. Phares with Tibetan woman

Fran is not your typical attorney. She also holds dual masters’ degrees in Pastoral Studies and Counseling and is a certified suicide-prevention counselor and hospice volunteer. Her main focus is to represent clients who have experienced a personal tragedy due to major commercial transportation accidents or injuries from defective pharmaceutical products. She is a student member of the Louisiana Counseling Association, the American Counseling Association, and the American Group Psychotherapy Association. In addition, she facilitates a spirituality group for women in her community.

In 2011, Fran traveled to India, where she studied global ethics and sociology and partnered with Tibetan refugees in a cultural exchange program. We asked her to share her experiences there which have made her more receptive and aware of her clients’ needs.

Part One

Low-hanging clouds troubled the tops of distant mountains, alternately shrouding them in thick blankets of gray and swirls of mystery as I stepped onto the third-floor balcony of the Ahimsa Guest House. This was my first morning in McLeod Ganj, India, and rising before me were the majestic Himalayas of movies and my imagination – The Abominable Snowman, Everest, and Seven Years in Tibet. Today, we were to meet our Tibetan Mutual Learning Partners and walk the kora around the Dalai Lama’s temple in exile.

After my children graduated from high school, I had returned to college as an older adult student. One day a colorful poster outside the classroom caught my eye. It pictured Tibetan monks dressed in saffron and ruby and announced “Attend Summer School in India!” Something stirred: I was going on that trip.

Now, six months later, here I was, traveling with two professors and fifteen other students in a country of turmeric and saffron, vibrantly colored saris and salwar kameez of yellows, orange, red, blue, and green, skin-and-bone cows aimlessly wandering amid honking mini cars and rickety carts on narrow, muddy lanes edging sheer cliffs and dropping thousands of feet below, with packs of roaming dogs and monkeys leering from overhanging branches.

My learning partner Dorjee arrived. She was a beautiful and slight young Tibetan woman with long, shiny dark hair. She spoke a little English. We smiled shyly, bobbed heads at each other, linked arms, and began the sacred path of the kora.

Tibetan Buddhism traditions include “circumlocution” or circling sacred places and praying for an end to suffering. That morning, the circling path was crowded with elderly Tibetan pilgrims in native clothes, long dresses called chupas, leaning heavily on walking sticks, heads bent uphill, shambling, then lingering at white-painted stones, fluttering prayer flags or the many prayer wheels, giant and small. Their ancient, deeply weathered and lined faces reminded me of mesmerizing National Geographic photographs of the oldest of the old.

Dorjee showed me how to gently spin the prayer wheels counterclockwise, repeating the Buddhist mantra for compassion, Om Mani Padme Hum. The path was so craggy and steep that before long, I was panting from the exertion. As we rested on a worn stone bench high over a distant foggy valley, knees touching, the air felt both freighted with a people’s suffering but light with anticipation and new hope.

We opened umbrellas against the pattering rain which was now falling and lingered in companionable silence.



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