Achieving Spiritual Justice for All.

                                                                                            An Interview with:

William van Zyverden

A s a boy, William van Zyverden was such a big fan of the “Perry Mason” television show that it inspired him to become a lawyer. Yet when he finally did graduate from law school, he knew he could not practice in the traditional way that encourages enmity and dis-empowerment. He saw how participants in that kind of system do not truly win if they lose their honor and dignity in the process. Furthermore, he knew that traditional law, based as it is on the notion of separateness, act-ively discourages healing.

So he practices holistic law, which meshes with his personal belief in individual responsibility within the unity of all things. Holistic law encourages unity through compassion and forgiveness, not the separation that comes with punishment and blame. Understanding that nothing happens out of context, van Zyverden helps his clients examine the process that brought them into contact with the legal system. He also encourages them to see the other side of the story—a process that often opens their hearts to the suffering of the other people involved, and thus to forgiveness and a sense of peace.

He is the founder of International Alliance of Holistic lawyers, headquartered at the Holistic Justice Center in Middlebury, Vermont. The alliance currently has about 700 members around the world.

Science of Mind: What is holistic law?

William van Zyverden: It means a lot of things to a lot of people, and that’s the beauty of it. The easiest way to embrace the concept is to compare it to holistic medicine. You don’t have cancer, you ye developed cancer. It didn’t come out of context. Your lifestyle or your whole being has somehow embraced this cancer.

The same is true of internal conflict. No one does anything that angers you. Something happens, and you’re angry about it. The anger is internally generated. So as a holistic lawyer, I ask, “Why did this happen to you? What is this experience doing for you?” From a spiritual point of view, I would say, “What is the opportunity for you here? Why has this come into your life? What are you here to learn?”

Everything happens in a particular context. Anything that happens comes from a past that compelled someone to be where they are in the present and is also launching them into places in the future that are fixed and known. Not that we’re predest-ined, but your past really conspires to place you where you are. You’ve had a cert-ain education and upbringing, so you will think along the lines that you were trained by, not along lines you know nothing about.

Other people might say holistic law is holy or spiritual, that it operates on a vertical, rather than a horizontal continuum, and that’s fine.

What do you mean by a vertical continuum?

The horizontal is the one I just described, which is a timeline. But a vertical continuum means that we are body, mind, spirit, and emotions—we are all those things. Looking at just the facts that describe the person is not enough. We really need to understand the emotions, the spirituality, and the intellect, and how they interplay with the body. We are all part of the One Life, and it’s now time to say, “No, there is no separation.”

Isn’t the whole concept of holistic law too idealistic for most people?

No . Litigiousness or non-idealistic contentiousness is just a part of our world. Everyone has feelings and worries and stress, and that emotional part gets jealous and envious and thinks the only way out is to blame or punish someone or sue somebody. But that’s a very small part of each individual. You can talk to people who are suing and ask them about their family, and they say, “Yes, all is well with my family.” Ninety-nine percent of their life is not involved in a lawsuit.

When people are angry, they feel that being defensive is the only way out. But in their calmer, more relaxed times, they can see the options and the real plus in being compassionate and working things out. Someone who sues sees only one side or one way out . I think lawyers could help by challenging their clients and suggesting that there is another valid side to an argument. I do it all the time. When someone comes to me and says, “1 want to sue this person,” I ask why. They explain it, and I say, “Tell me the other side . If you were the other person, what would you be feeling? What’s going on in your life? What are the possible reasons why you think you’re right?” I actually have them sit in a different chair because it gets them out of their place. It’s amazing to see how easily they can see there really are two sides to every issue.

You’ve said that traditional law operates through adversarial disempowerment .Please explain.

The traditional adversarial system separates you from everyone else, and so it really dis-empowers you. Once you feel that you’re right, but everyone else is wrong, you have an “us versus them” attitude, a survivalist attitude. It allows you to accuse someone of wrongdoing. It really plays into your ignorance. It takes you to those places where you’re mean and angry and jealous. You don’t want to be on the other side of someone carrying those attributes around. It’s very disempowering.

Can holistic law and traditional law coexist?

One of the nice things about holistic law is that it includes traditional law. The whole contains the traditional approach as one option among many.

Holistic law looks at the shared interests of the parties and so is based on the metaphysical concept of wholeness and oneness. Can people who don ‘t have a metaphysical or spiritual outlook accept the holistic approach to law?

Of course. Again, we’ll go back to the whole. Traditional law depends on the illusion of separate interests. The anecdote I like to use is that two kids on the playground are fighting over an orange. The teacher says, “I’ll solve this,” and cuts the orange in half and gives each kid half. They’re still crying . She asks, “Now what?” And one kid says, “I wanted the seeds,” while the other one says, I wanted the juice.”

That’s what holistic law points out. We think our interests are the same and that we are fighting over one thing. But when you start looking at underlying interests, you find that what we’re really fighting for is mutually exclusive and we can both get what we want. We just don’t have a system that searches that deeply. You ask your clients up front if they can accept a verdict that goes against them if it means they will retain their dignity. Why is such a question necessary?

Because in the holistic view, an apparent disadvantage in the short run may mean winning in the long run. But if you’re short-sighted, you don’t see that. If the client can accept that a negative verdict may be better for them in the long run, even if they can’t understand it now or see it, they need to be able to answer that question to be able to release attachment to the outcome.

Now we get into a more metaphysical, spiritual point of view saying that everything in the flow happens for the best. And the flow may mean you need to accept a set-back in order to learn a much bigger lesson. And I’ve been through that a lot, both for myself and with clients.

One example is, you might need to feel like what it’s like to be in someone else’s shoes or to be humiliated in order to really understand what it’s like so you don’t do it again or don’t wind up on the other side.

I was sued once, and I was so angry because a client felt I had done something wrong. I had to have a lawyer and the other side had a lawyer, and it got really messy. I got physically sick through the process.

I ended up losing on a legal technicality that we just couldn’t overcome with the judge, and I finished that saying, “Gosh, I now know what it’s like being a client going through that.” And I never knew before When I hear clients talk about losing sleep or how horrible it is, my old self would have said, “Don’t worry about it . It will work out in the long run.” I had these great words of wisdom, which didn’t resonate in the person’s soul because 1 wasn’t coming from experience. But now I share my experience about how terrible this felt, that I got physically sick, and clients nod their heads, and the bond between us is much deeper than if I’d never gone through that myself.

Can holistic law work in criminal as well as civil cases?

Go back to the first question and my answer that everything happens in context. In every criminal case that I handle, I sit with my clients for two to three hours just talking about their life history. It’s amazing what learning and awakening they go through in the process of understanding how they got there—that this didn’t just happen, that this is a pattern throughout their lives. They’re able to see for the first time that their actions had a negative affect on other people. Instead of looking inward, which they’ve been doing and really beating themselves up from the inside, they strike out, which harms other people. But their focus is so selfish, they don’t recognize the impact on those other people, and how it feels to be on the receiving end.

I’ve had conversations with thieves and stalkers, people who have threatened violence and admitted to aggravated assault, who don’t see their victims as human beings. People who steal don’t see it as stealing from another person. The victims, on the other hand, take it personally. They have the symbiotic story on the other side.

One of the great things happening in criminal law now is that we are looking at the reparative—the repairing—rather than punishing.. If the victim and offender meet and talk, they can learn this wasn’t done to anyone personally. They both heal as a result. The offender learns other ways to express the explosion that happens. It changes their lives forever, too. They understand that nothing happens in any one person’s life that doesn’t affect the whole of society. If that’s too metaphysical or spiritual, look at it as a community or family. There isn’t anything that you can say, do, or even think that doesn’t affect everyone around you.

Doesn’t holistic law lake the position that blame shouldn’t be an issue?

We speak less of blame, because blaming implies right and wrong. Responsibility implies there are consequences to be accepted and played out. For every action there’s a reaction, but not necessarily one that people can blame you for. You did something that has consequences, and that can be your way of learning.

The International Alliance of Holistic Lawyers. has a logo representing Thema, who is the goddess of justice, holding up one scale and not two, because justice is really about the individual and not about fairness or equanimity among many. It’s really the individual’s journey of taking responsibility and accepting the consequences, playing them through, learning the lessons, and moving on.

If we have been in a dispute and I don’t blame you, does that mean 1 forgive you?

Those two concepts are very close. In order not to blame someone, you have to forgive yourself, and you can’t forgive anybody until you’ve forgiven yourself. When you release judgment, you also see the greater picture. Your whole mind set changes. What you do and how you do it changes. So once you’ve stopped blam-ing someone else for your problems, you understand that you created your own problems. And you wind up embracing other people.

If you believe in blame, you believe there is both a victim and an offender. If you believe in forgiveness, you see that both of you are victims and offenders. And there were actions and reactions and consequences that both of you will play out, or not. It’s all up to you.

You have said that the bottom line on holistic law is that it allows people to be part of the solution instead of exacerbating the problem. How does that work?

Holistic law challenges the client to reveal who they are, if only to the lawyer. Law is the natural relationship between one event and the next. It’s why things happen. Things happen lawfully, not outside the natural occurrence. As with the law of gravity—you let go of something and it drops to the ground. This is lawful activity. In the practice of holistic law, people realize that things are happening in sequence and that nothing is happening out of context. A client may tell me, “My life turned upside down today because of I would respond, “You think it only started last night? Take me back twenty years—or five years ago, or last week—and let’s find the seed.”

You believe that holistic law wins every time, in the spiritual sense. Please explain that.

In a spiritual sense, there is no winning and losing. The soul learns, regardless of the outcome. The soul doesn’t care; it puts you in a situation and says, “What’s all this about?” Metaphysically or spiritually, you’re here for a purpose, to learn all things. You learn them and go on.

Holistic law is scary for some people because the real message here is taking res-ponsibility for yourself and looking inward rather than looking out . It’s very

simple, but it’s very scary.

                    “Transforming Legal Practice” is the theme of the 8th annual

conference of the International Alliance of Holistic Lawyers

                    to be held in Chicago, August 31 through September 3, 2000.

                    Many related organizations will be participating, such as the

                     International Network on Therapeutic Jurisprudence,.and the

                    Center for Restorative Justice and Peacemaking, and Religious -


                              For further information about the International Alliance

                              of Holistic Lawyers, visit the links page at


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