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Nonviolent Communication

Intention, Love, Mindfulness, Nonviolent Communication, Personal Growth, Relationship

To be heard

Have you ever had a conversation with someone and could tell they were listening yet didn’t feel heard? I recently was getting to know somebody new and found myself perplexed at the lack of connection I was feeling with them. I shared with my therapist some examples of our exchanges that felt amiss. In one instance, I was talking to this person about the mood of the day, and referenced the building tension brilliantly captured  in Spike Lee’s, Do the Right Thing. That feeling when it it is so hot that it can’t get any hotter without everything boiling over into chaos, when things are on a precarious edge about to explode. I may have been overly dramatic in comparing the mood of the day to the film, but instead of engaging with what I shared, this person said to me: “Oh, I was almost in a Spike Lee video.” And proceeded to talk about that. Another time I was telling him that I loved the poetry of Coleman Barks who interprets the words of the ancient mystic, Rumi, in stunning simplicity. Again, instead of relating his experience of Rumi’s poetry or connecting to how I felt about Barks’ work, this person exclaimed, “I’ve met Coleman Barks. I’m friends with his girlfriend!” The fact that this guy is also a name-dropper is annoying, but not the real issue.  If someone tells me about a Sonic Youth song they love, I too, would likely interrupt to giddily announce that I met the band on my 16th birthday. The difference is that I would then shift back to focus on them and the feeling tone of what they were saying. I would respond not only to my own interest in the subject, but to my friend’s interest, experience, and emotions. The more important theme than the name-dropping was that this guy turned most of what I shared with him into an opportunity to talk about himself, even if it was only tangentially related. My therapist put it like this to me: “It sounds like he’s relating to the content of what you’re saying rather than relating to you.”

Relating to the content instead of the person.

For some reason the way my therapist stated this was a revelation. I thought of other friendships in which conversations lack a deeper connection and recalled a recent lunch date with a long-time friend. How was it that I could feel so drained after a meal with someone I like, someone who is sweet and kind? I thought back to our meeting–our communication never touched into that fulfilling place of sharing oneself below the personality, in a mutual exchange of feeling known, and of seeing each other, in our realness. It was something we never had in all our friendship, as much as I have tried. Our conversation constantly floats at the surface of our experiences, never drops into what we are feeling, really, what we want or who we want to be, really. When I share something, she says something that shows she was listening, with words that are similar to mine, on a topic that is similar, but it does not invite us to drop down and explore that more, does not really reflect on what was shared, it shuffles us on to a new example, and then back and forth like that. We move quickly from anecdote to story to random thought. And after an hour or two, I am weary and bored from having traveled so long yet not at all deep.

It was fairly easy for me to identify some friends and acquaintances who seem to have this superficial style of expression–harder to admit that I sometimes default into this lazy kind of relating when I don’t feel present or engaged. I started noticing myself doing this in some interactions, when I was more preoccupied with my own feelings and thoughts than I was focused on listening. We, otherwise well-meaning, caring people sometimes stay at the surface of things. Maybe we are tired, overextended, are only maintaining some friendships out of a sense of duty once we’ve grown apart.

We’re not perfect so we’re bound to do this sometimes, but if it’s a consistent pattern in some of your relationships, you might want to check out how much it’s serving  you to still be involved with that person or find a way to break this pattern and shift the energy to make for a more alive and dynamic relationship.

This practice of relating to the person rather than the content is very much what I’m learning as a counselor–to track the emotions and experience of the client who is sharing and respond with my whole being to their whole being. My life coaching trainer, Kate Courageous, reminded us of this approach with this phrase: “Coach the person, not the problem.” As friends, we don’t have to show up with the same standards that we would expect of therapists or coaches, so perhaps this is a steep demand or big ask of ourselves, but I tell you, in the words of Bjork, “it’s ever so, ever so satisfying” to really respond to the person, not the content.

Here are some ideas for how to breathe in some vitality into a connection that feels lifeless and lacking depth

  • Admit when you’re not up to it. If you can’t really attend to the act of listening because of your own stress, mood, introversion, or tiredness, accept and acknowledge this fact without judgment and schedule another time to have a conversation.
  • Make eye contact. Focus in on the connection, on each moment.
  • Don’t multi-task. Listen while listening, don’t get distracted by some other activity.
  • Bring mindful attention to the act of listening. Become aware of what you are hearing in each moment, of the fact that you are attending to this person’s voice, of your breath and sensations while you listen, turn it into a meditation.
  • Tune into the feelings behind what the other person is saying. Imagine what moods and thoughts they have as they are relating their story to you.
  • Ask them open questions to go deeper and resist the urge to move on to another subject.
  • Refrain from advice-giving, one-upping their story with a “bigger, badder, more extreme” version of your own, or pitying them. Stay with their feelings and thoughts rather than imposing your own or adding your opinions.
  • Speak up. Say it out loud if you are feeling disconnected from your friend or the topic–ask to experiment with either a new subject matter or style of conversation.
Boundaries, Compassion, Curiosity, Emotions, Life Coaching, Love, Nonviolent Communication, Relationship

There is a field

In my relationships, I strive for honesty and openness. I want friends and loved ones to call me out if I do or say something that is hurtful, unfair, selfish, or inconsiderate. For a healthy, adult relationship, moving towards growth, there has to be room for us to tell one another how we feel and make a request for acknowledgement, apology, and change. What there is no room for, though, is SHAME.

shame

A lot of communication in our culture is oriented around judgment and blame, rather than connection and compassion. When we get on our high horse and give someone a piece of our mind, we may get a temporary ego boost and adrenaline rush of righteousness. However, when we do this, our relationships suffer, chipping away at trust and emotional safety. And, really, are we in integrity and practicing self-respect when we express ourselves in this way? Check it out for yourself–only you can know if this behavior is in step with who you want to be.

Honest sharing with an open heart deepens intimacy and friendship. If, on the other hand,  we make ourselves feel better by proving a point and haranguing someone, then we may jeopardize the relationship and push people who care about us away.

When people lash out, the anger is often covering up some fear or anxiety–of being alone, abandoned, smothered, maybe, even, of their own mortality. But instead of getting in touch with that feeling of fear and tapping into a deeper need, many blame the uncomfortable emotions on someone else. They miss out on an opportunity to be vulnerable, where someone can meet them in their tenderness with love and compassion. We can still feel compassion for that person who is feeling those difficult and scary emotions, but we need not condone or tolerate inappropriate shame and rage attacks.

Ways people use shame to stay in control and avoid vulnerability:

  1. They make you responsible for their feelings –You cannot make someone feel an emotion. While someone may feel hurt because of something we do, what they feel is their reaction and belongs to them. It is 100% valid for them to feel what they are feeling, but that doesn’t make it your fault. There is a difference between fault and responsibility–you can take responsibility for your actions and regret how they impacted someone, without being to blame for how they feel.
  2. They make it about you being wrong instead of focusing on how they feel. Rumi offered: “Out beyond ideas of wrongdoing and rightdoing, there is a field.” This field is where healthy communication happens. Even something that seems “wrong” is motivated by sincere human needs–when we work to understand what needs drove someone to make certain choices, we can feel closer to each other. When we understand what feelings, desires, hopes, anxieties, fears were behind the action and reaction, this makes for authentic connection. This changes the conversation from “You shouldn’t have done that,” to “Tell me, why did you do that?”
  3. They do not accept your heartfelt apology –Say you own up to what you did and accept responsibility.  You might say, “I can see how that hurt you and I really wish I had not said/done that.” If the person moves right past your apology and continues on the offensive, they are not sincere in wanting to heal the relationship. When we refuse to drop into the vulnerable place where we must meet to reach an understanding, we are less interested in building intimacy, and more interested in bolstering ourselves and asserting control.
  4. They call into question your character and worth –Again, rather than focusing on how they are feeling and what needs want to be met, they suggest that what you said or did “means something” about who you are, as a person. They hint that your actions show that you have a fundamental flaw. You are not flawed. At one time or another, we all say and do things–intentionally or not–that elicit difficult emotions in others. This does not make you bad, a failure, worthless, a fuck-up, stupid, or call into doubt your kindness, overall.
  5. They make personal attacks, roll their eyes, call you names, use sarcasm, express disgust or contempt –Who wants to spend time with someone who goes here? Beyond high school, we should be grown up enough to communicate without resorting to tactics to exert control or get our way.

If someone shames you, have compassion for what they are feeling under their criticism and anger, but first have compassion for yourself. Set boundaries! Lovingly disengage and remove yourself from the situation until the person is willing to communicate with openness and respect.

And anytime you want to communicate a grievance to someone, remember to approach with more curiosity and less judgment.

Awareness of Sensation, Compassion, Discernment, Healing, Love is Space, Mindfulness, Nonviolent Communication, Psychology, Suffering, Wisdom

When Distraction is a Good Habit

Walking through my local co-op grocery store this evening, i noticed the latest issue of Tricycle magazine.  In orange and black typeface its cover commanded: “DROP DISTRACTIONS.” Its subtitle continued: “And find time for what really matters.”

i browsed the article and it had some great advice on paying attention to what websites we’re visiting, how much time we’re spending behind a screen, noticing the feelings that are driving our habits, and taking steps to move our attention to something else–going outside, scheduling times for email and blocking our social media sites for a chunk of time.

it can be helpful to discover how it is we are using our leisure time and to reprioritize according to our values. it can be helpful to unplug and open our awareness to the magic of life beyond a screen.

but something was missing from this perspective.

buddhajam

it doesn’t surprise me to see distractions–especially of the tech variety–being cast in such an unquestionably negative light in a Buddhist magazine. then again, i think of how Buddhism is also a practice of using what is human to wake up. being distracted is just a part of reality, and we need not judge ourselves for going there, nor judge our choices, as Tricycle does (inspired by this kid’s classic) as “terrible, horrible, no good, very bad.” i mean, there are no “bad” habits–just ineffective and painful ways of trying to meet our legitimate needs. instead, we can practice compassion. and more, we can use distraction mindfully.

Accept Distraction.

Sometimes we need a break. From painful emotions, intense thinking, or physical discomfort. We can consciously choose to distract ourselves without it meaning we are being unmindful, unspiritual, or self-indulgent. Knowing our limits and being tuned into our needs means approaching the internet, technology, tv, games, or other activities generally regarded as time or mind wasters in a way that can be healthy and helpful. Really.

Distract yourself effectively, mindfully, and skillfully by finding ways to draw your attention from worries, stress, or suffering into activities that feel relaxing or amusing. Set an intention and say it aloud to yourself. For instance: “Right now, I consciously choose distraction to help me cope and relax during a difficult time. My intention is to feel some lightness and relief.” It’s okay to choose to totally forget and have fun for awhile if your nervous system is heightened and needs some TLC. Or any other quality R&B.

Notice how you are feeling as you are doing whatever you are doing…allow the distraction and bring in awareness of sensation. Do you feel any relief…where? Any lightness…where? Any emotions at all…where in the body? Breathe into it and just be with it as you continue to distract yourself with whatever diversion you’ve chosen.

Meet the Underlying Need.

The Tricycle piece takes a step toward this when asking “What’s this all about?” We can see what feelings are coming up that may be expressing themselves or repressing themselves through busyness or entertainment. That is, sometimes anxiety and fear show up as lots of grasping for information and answers, insecurity and loneliness might be behind compulsive email and social media surfing, boredom and disconnection could be under our marathon tv binge.

It’s not enough to just see this and then change our activity, as much as we believe we’ve rationalized our way out of these emotions, they are likely going to return and show up even in our more so-called wholesome activities. We can be walking in the woods or sitting on a zafu and still be ruled by distraction.

treesshadow

So go deeper…

What is this feeling really telling me? What is it needing?

My own reassurance, my own love, my own presence, my own patience, my own encouragement, my own faith, my own surrender.

Keep going…

How can I give this to myself now? What is a step I can take toward meeting my needs?

Take some full belly breaths. See yourself as already 1000% being reassurance, love, presence, patience, encouragement, faith, surrender. Make a welcoming gesture with your arms, allowing the feeling in and giving yourself fully over to it…in your attention, your understanding, your compassion.

Because you know what really matters? You do. Trust yourself to make smart choices for you!

Compassion, Discernment, Healing, Love, Nonviolent Communication, Power Within, Radical Acceptance, Sacred justice, Spiritual Activism, Suffering, Tonglen, Transformation

what to do when we don’t know what to do

i want to talk about Baltimore. more.

after police have been charged in the death of Freddie Gray, many are feeling temporary relief and hope. only the first step in a long road towards justice, how do we stay sane and centered along the way? and how can we respond to the suffering that is still a reality in Baltimore and across the US, where black women and men disproportionately face poverty, imprisonment, and state violence?

when we really grasp the history of our nation and understand just how entrenched institutional racism is, it can be easy to feel discouraged and powerless. while i don’t have some magic formula for creating real change, i offer here practices, tips, and contemplation for when we don’t know what to do in the face of so much suffering.

LoveandJustice

1. turn off the the radio and tv news. limit online article intake.

wha?? why would we do this? don’t we want to stay engaged with what’s happening? well…is the news really what is happening? No. does revisiting the trauma repeatedly help to undo its horror and tragedy? No. once we learn the facts there are to know, maybe it’s time to step back and breathe.

i noticed on day 3 that letting skewed media reportage set the tone for my day with my morning alarm set to NPR was sending my nervous system into a tizzy.

signs to watch for: tension in the body and tightness in head, jaw, neck, shoulders, shallow, fast breathing, a general unsettled feeling and despair or gloom.

i decided to turn it off.

it may be a privilege of being one state + one district removed from events to choose to not take in media coverage of what’s unfolding in Baltimore. and certainly some do not have the luxury of an off switch when it comes to living in a hostile or oppressive environment. but feeling stress in our bodies will not relieve anybody else of their stress. being miserable does not free anyone else.

so shut it off, take a break. underwhelm yourself.

instead of adding more suffering to the planet, focus on peace. outer peace will require bold change and great patience. so what can we do to bring ourselves into an inner sense of calm? not to deny what is happening, but to be able to act instead of react. to know it is us, our own clear minds and wise hearts, responding, and not layers of stress and media-induced despair causing us to act out, and likely, be ineffective.

get quiet. settle into yourself. respond from who you are, not what others are doing.

which leads me into step 2…

2. know who you BE. then act.

i once went to graduation festivities for a community organizing institute a friend did with Oakland’s Applied Research Center–what’s now known as Race Forward. this was in my Bay Area living days, early aughts when i worked at a local Planned Parenthood. i believed vigorously in the power of community organizing, but after a semester internship with Chicago’s ONE, i came to terms that i didn’t have what it takes to be an effective organizer myself. i lamented to the then leader of this organizing institute that i felt i wasn’t doing enough and wish i had it in me to do this essential work. she came back at me with: “We need revolutionaries in every field. We need revolutionary teachers, doctors, lawyers, scientists…” & she listed off various careers I can’t recall 15 years later. the sentiment has stayed with me, though. we need revolutionary life coaches. and we need you to be who you are. when we see thousands in the streets, it is inspiring, it is necessary, and it is not everyone’s calling.

beyou

knowing who we are means action happens as a natural and spontaneous expression of life moving through us. when we allow ourselves to be moved, and where we go is to protest: great. if we are forcing ourselves to show up against what our bodies and intuition tell us, we suffer. not feeling the call doesn’t mean we are lazy or not willing to participate in change. change needs to happen in so many ways and in so many places. go where you are truly called. be the change.

here are some ways that may or may not resonate, to show up for others’ suffering. know who you BE. move from that awareness.

practice power with

try donating! and more donating!

try showing up! across the US or in North Carolina.

try writing a letter to the editor!

for white folks, try speaking up! to other white folks in your community.

practice power within

try tonglen! this is a Buddhist lovingkindness practice that is my go-to for when i am facing difficult emotions, and is a powerful way to both heal ourselves and tap into our compassion for others. keep the flame of compassion burning bright even when the media moves on.

try empathy! as much of a stretch as it might be, we must remember that everyone is suffering and that, oftentimes, the biggest challenge can be extending compassion to those with whom we don’t sympathize, those whose actions we abhor. why would we let them into our hearts? for me, those who commit murder, who trample on the rights of the historically disenfranchised, who unconsciously replicate the implicit biases and blindness of a system in which they were raised are suffering from ignorance–of not knowing themselves, of lacking discernment, of not being connected to their own humanity, of being filled with rage, judgement or hate. if i wish to see them free of suffering, it means i wish for them to know who they are, to claim their humanity, to be humble, open, and surrendered to a power greater than their egos. if i take on the same rage, judgement or hate, even if on the side of morality and justice, i end up suffering, and not being so unlike those whose actions i condemn.

try meditation! this is a quiet way to feel the power that can never be bound, locked up, or stripped away from us. few of us ever face conditions that really test our spirits and force us to cultivate the kind of inner fortitude and self-connection that triumphs over our own personal and external limitations. all of us can access the transpersonal, though, and can sense the space and compassion it opens up for us and for all beings.

May all sentient beings have happiness and its causes,
May all sentient beings be free of suffering and its causes,
May all sentient beings never be separated from bliss without suffering,
May all sentient beings be in equanimity, free of bias, attachment and anger.