Since I was young, I wanted to work in law. It was how I thought I would best be of service to my fellow human beings. But that heart of service, and true fulfilment, would elude me for almost two decades as I tried to pursue a traditional legal career. It is only recently that I have discovered my soul purpose in life and law.
After I graduated from law school with my Juris Doctor, I worked for one of Canada’s leading firms for close to a decade. Then I spent several more years working in different, but equally traditional, law roles. I had the benefit of fantastic mentorship throughout these formative years, and learned a lot. The positions were secure, well-paying, intellectually stimulating, and I had all resources needed to support success. But I always felt there was something missing. I couldn’t quite put my finger on it, but the search for that missing piece propelled me into different positions, first within the large firm and eventually outside of it, as I tried to discover what it was.
I thought that perhaps I needed to simply step away from the antagonistic litigation files that I worked on. But when I moved into commercial law, the missing piece wasn’t there either. I found that no matter what kind of law I practiced, there was always an adversarial undertone, which seemed the antithesis of the harmonious service-oriented law practice I had once envisioned.
Though I was able to provide well for my family, income didn’t bring me peace. I was helping my clients advance their interests, and was being of service in that respect. But beneath it all, wasn’t I only working to get something in return—i.e., a paycheque? The unspoken sense of “what’s in this for me” ran throughout my work. It was far from the altruism with which I had started law school, and which I still held as my ideal. Years later, I finally discovered that what had been missing from my practice was heart—my heart.
In December 2014, my close friend Parvati invited me to become an initial member of the now-international charity Parvati Foundation, to support a healthy future for all life. I joined the all-volunteer team, and I remain a volunteer to this day. As General Counsel for Parvati Foundation, I was given the privilege of writing the unprecedented Marine Arctic Peace Sanctuary (MAPS) Treaty, which is the legal mechanism by which MAPS will be realized to protect all life.
I have been deeply inspired by how, in MAPS, there is no trace of antagonism or division. MAPS weaves humanity together in a tapestry of hope and protection. It is free from all feelings of “what’s in this for me,” as MAPS is carried forward by a global team of volunteers working selflessly to protect the Arctic Ocean for the good of all. In this way, it is not unlike the Arctic Ocean itself, that for millennia has selflessly provided the conditions needed for all life to evolve and thrive. MAPS is a powerful vision. Its realization offers immense possibility for our collective future.
Through working for MAPS, my legal horizons have broadened in a way that I could never have envisioned when I embarked on my career. I never thought that I would write an international treaty designed to protect all life, or that I could work as a full-time volunteer for so many years and find such contentment in doing so. Serving without the expectation of receiving something in return—other than the happiness of knowing how MAPS will help unite our divided world, in addition to protecting all life on the planet—is everything I could ever have asked for from the practice of law, and then some.
I have discovered that MAPS is all about the heart. And through my efforts for MAPS, I have reclaimed my own heart. I have learned that to act in harmony with my soul is an expression of self-love and love for all—my fellow citizens, the life-giving ice, Nature, and the beauty inherent in life itself. I am now using my legal skills in service to these, to safeguard what I hold precious and dear. In this, I have finally found the fulfilling law practice I was looking for all along.
Vandana Erin Ryder is the General Counsel and Communications Lead for Parvati Foundation, and author of the MAPS Treaty. Her extensive legal career includes a major Canadian law firm, the Law Society of British Columbia, and the British Columbia Ministry of the Attorney General.