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Peace Hands
Practicing Peace, the Language of Liberation
By Christine King
 
Sitting on my cushion before sunrise, I listen to the ocean breaking against the shore and seals barking the day awake. The seashore is a constant reminder of the emotions coursing through me. I observe my breath. Thoughts arise, thoughts pass, no attachment, no clinging. I am the embodiment of calm, a peaceful Bodhisattva, at one with my zafu during that special time of transition when it is neither day nor night, and the spirit world reveals itself. --- And then day breaks and chaos takes over. Keep reading this article below >>

 
 
Mary Mackenzie
Five Meditations for an Empowered Life
Excerpted from Peaceful Living
By Mary Mackenzie
MEDITATION #1
Mere survival is an affliction. What is of interest is life, and
the direction of that life. ~ Guy Frégault - Loving Life

I spent much of my first 35 years just getting by. I didn't feel much joy. I didn't have many friends. I didn't feel passion. I just got through each day. In essence, I spent my life reacting to my perception of other people's feelings and needs, rather than being in touch with my own. Now, I understand that what is interesting about being alive is living. Keep reading this article below >>

 
 
 
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NVC Authors enter Ashoka's Competition: Activating Empathy: Transforming Schools To Teach What Matters

Sura Hart and Victoria Kindle Hodson have entered a "No-Fault Zone Game" based program based on The No-Fault Classroom in this international competition. Voting begins May 29. Wish them luck.
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"Empathy lies in our ability to be present without opinion."
 
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Practicing Peace ... continued

The peaceful Pacific is replaced by the cacophony of cars that buzz outside my window, and my peace of mind evaporates. The dog needs walking, breakfast needs cooking, and the children need to get to school and parents to work. The phone rings and the world intrudes.

I wonder what happened. It was all so simple and easy on the cushion. This is not a recent phenomenon; rather, it's a dilemma that has dogged me for over 25 years whenever I have re-entered the world from meditation and attempted to continue being present with an open heart, moment-to-moment awareness.

Bridging the Gap

It was my son who helped me bridge the gap between practice and life. As a teenager, he wrecked more than one car, experimented with all of the temptations that a California beach city offers, dropped out of school, quit his job, and bummed around the state—living in trees, churches and abandoned barns. In the midst of those events, I was an emotional wreck. I kept telling myself if only he would wake up, grow up and wise up, then I wouldn't suffer anymore. We tried therapy for several of his teen years, but eventually he would refuse to go after it became abundantly clear the therapists were biased toward my husband and me.

In the midst of my despair, I was asked to attend an in-service training along with the other staff and faculty at the Santa Cruz Waldorf School. The training was called Nonviolent Communication.
The weekend before the class, I stayed up half the night reading Dr. Marshall Rosenberg's book Nonviolent Communication: A Language of Life. While most of the book resonated with by Buddhist training and beliefs, I wondered if I could apply those four simple communication steps: Observation, Feelings, Needs and Requests. It seemed so canned and mechanistic. Wouldn't others see through the fact that I was following a speaking formula?

The trainer, Jean Morrison, was skilled and adept at using the language and made it seem so simple. But my judging mind was getting in the way. Jean used stuffed animal puppets. I told myself "she doesn't realize we use only natural toys in Waldorf Schools." I also kept thinking, "using mechanistic language would block true heart-to-heart communication." Yet desperate for any tool to help me better connect with my son, I persevered.

At first, I would practice NVC in the sauna at the gym, where people are surprisingly open about their lives. It took a lot of presence to remember the NVC components: a combination of both cerebral work (remembering the steps of the process), and heart work (as the process itself moves your from your intellectual mind to your heart). But I was getting results. People were responding, and I learned that what Marshall Rosenberg says is true: sometimes when someone speaks, it's just the tip of the iceberg.

Revealing the Rest of the Iceberg

If we show empathy, they begin to reveal more of the iceberg. Before we know it, we're learning that this person never felt they were good enough in their parent's eyes and have spent their entire adult life trying to prove they are worthy. Witnessing this process, I learned something very important: I don't have to fix anything, give advice, console, agree, or even sympathize.

The mere act of being present, getting in touch with feelings and needs, has tremendous possibility for spiritual growth and transformation. Thich Nhat Hanh calls this deep listening. Recently, I had the opportunity to go even deeper with this work at several week-long NVC retreats.

Many of the attendees had spiritual practices and a lot of silence was used during the training. In our morning empathy circles, I was privileged to once again witness transformation as individuals would share what appeared to be a conflict in their lives. Once we got down to the basic human needs (understanding, peace, cooperation, appreciation, love), we discovered the apparent discord was really just different strategies to fulfill the same need.

When this understanding resonated with the speaker, something shifted, and there was an ah-ha cathartic moment. As I witnessed others touching their suffering, my pain diminished as well. I came to the realization that empathy has the power to heal both the speaker and the witnesses.

Practicing Peace

Empathy is the practice of peace. Nonviolent Communication is the wise or mindful speech I have been missing in my life. The deeper I experience and enjoy using the NVC process, the more it complements my sitting practice and the more I am able to be empty, be present, and connect empathically with my family and friends. One of the strongest connections I see between the two practices of meditation and the NVC process is the idea of pure observation.

If I can observe without moralistic judgment and evaluation, then I can see clearly into the nature of things.

When I use my judging mind, I am no longer objective and there is a disconnect. And when I am in touch with feelings and needs, there is connection. Emotions are impermanent, constantly changing, and thus freedom of choice arises at every moment. I have a choice to look for the need behind an emotion, or simply observe it, as it arises and subsides.

Meditation has given me the mental clarity to see that other people's anger and frustration has nothing to do with me. Through studying and practicing the NVC process, I have learned that their anger is an expression of unfulfilled needs. Through the practice of empathy, I can serve others in helping them to discover the cause of their suffering. I can join them in a dance of discovery and not be intimidated or upset by their anger. And I've learned there is really only one war that I have control over, the war that goes on inside of me every day.

Being the Change

When I use self-empathy and stay aware of my feelings and needs, I am more at ease with myself and able to share that peace with others. Mahatmas Gandhi once said, "be the change you want to see in the world." This is what NVC offers.

My son is now 20 years old and living in La Paz, Mexico. When he realized I had no more demands or expectations for him to attend college or get a job, he took the first bus to San Diego and followed his heart to warmer climates. His Spanish is almost perfect now and he sends us hand-painted post cards. His voice on the telephone is joyful and contented.

He's talking about coming home for the holidays and re-enrolling in the community college for the spring semester. Whatever he decides, it will be his decision to choose his path without guilt, demands, or expectations from me. I am deeply grateful to him for being the catalyst that helped me touch my own suffering and healing—and discover how to actively practice peace moment-to-moment.
(This article originally appeared in the Spring 2006 Quick Connect issue.)


Christine King, credentialed teacher and certified trainer with the Center for Nonviolent Communication, is passionate about meditation and NVC. She is pursuing the application of the NVC process to issues of addiction and mental illness. Christine has taught NVC in schools, jail, universities, adult school, and privately. She lives in Santa Cruz, California (USA). Visit her at www.CommunicateForLife.com/

 

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Five Meditations ... continued

If I'm just getting by, unaware of what I feel or need, I do not fully experience life. It is the difference between living life in black and white, and experiencing full color. Why just get by when you can experience living color? Be aware. Be vibrant! This is your life. Make it work for you.

Commit to living today in full awareness of what you feel and need in each moment.

MEDITATION #2

I always say to myself, what is the most important thing we can think about at this extraordinary moment. ~ R. Buckminster Fuller

Being Present in This Moment

Have you ever noticed a tendency for your attention to be everywhere but where you actually are? You may be doing the dishes and stewing over a task you have tomorrow. Or changing the baby's diaper while fretting about something you said earlier that day. You may be talking to a friend while worrying about your trip next week.

Where is your attention right now as you read this meditation? Take a moment to connect with yourself. Tomorrow will come later and yesterday already happened. This is your moment to live.
How can you spend it in the way that you most enjoy? Be conscious and present as much as possible in your life and you will feel more connection and joy in all of your activities.

Commit to being present as much as possible in each moment of your life today.

MEDITATION #3

To listen well is as powerful a means of influence as to talk well.
~ Chinese proverb

The Power of Being Heard

I often hear people say this in my classes, "Yeah, but don't you think if I say anything at all, it will cause the situation to escalate?" This question came up in a recent class. The person who asked it was upset with his spouse about something, so I reflected what I thought his feelings and needs were. Instantly, he started to cry because he felt so touched that someone understood what he was trying to say. He had been having the same argument with his wife for years, but in that minute of empathy, he was heard for the first time.

To hear another's feelings and needs is one of the most powerful methods to defuse anger and create space for resolution that I have ever encountered. It may seem awkward at first because we are not used to talking with people in this way. It is okay to feel awkward; do it anyway. Soon it will feel as natural as breathing.
Be aware of opportunities to empathize with someone today.

MEDITATION #4

The cure for all ills and wrongs, the cares, the sorrows and the crimes of humanity, all lie in the one word "love." It is the divine vitality that everywhere produces and restores life. ~ Lydia Maria Child

Speaking Up for Our Needs in a Group

Sometimes, when a person first realizes that her needs are important, she becomes over-zealous in trying to meet them. For example, she may interrupt a group process because she just realized that her need for being heard or understood wasn't met.

In her urgency to meet a need to be heard, she can lose perspective on the bigger picture—what the group is trying to accomplish. Or she may forget that there are many ways to meet her need. It's tricky, because in my own experience, every single person in a group process makes a valuable contribution to the whole. Any person who is not fully present can hinder the group's ability to succeed.

On the other hand, if someone interrupts the group process to take time to meet a personal need, it can be a distraction. What can she do instead? She can consider empathizing with herself for a moment, silently connecting with her unmet needs and feelings. Then she can ponder whether it is worth it to her and the group to interrupt it for more empathy, or if she can meet her need in other ways that do not hinder the group's progress.

Remember, it's about valuing everyone's needs, not just her own. If you find yourself in such a situation, consider what would meet everyone's needs. And remember that there are unlimited ways to meet every need. Often our first knee-jerk solution does not fully value everyone's needs.

Notice how you participate in groups today. Are you fully present and participating? What could you do to meet your own and the group's needs?

MEDITATION #5

I'm no longer afraid of storms, for I am learning how to sail my own ship. ~ Louisa May Alcott

Achieving Safety

I spent most of my life looking for my personal safety in other people. With this attitude, I spent a great deal of time determining whether someone was safe or not, judging other people as abusive, and blaming other people when I felt hurt or disappointed.

The result was that I felt afraid because I depended on others to keep me safe, and I didn't feel empowered to manage my own life. Nonviolent Communication teaches that safety is not something that other people can provide.

I can best meet my needs for safety when I gain trust in my ability to take care of myself. In this model, safety can come from such tools as learning ways to meet my own needs, speaking up when I am unhappy or worried, and trusting my own instincts. When I trust myself, I am empowered to stop looking to others for my safety.

Be aware of how you look to other people to meet your need for safety.
(This article originally appeared in the Fall 2005 Quick Connect issue.)


Mary Mackenzie is a CNVC Certified Trainer, the executive director of the Peace Workshop International and co-founder of the NVC Academy. She holds an MA degree in Human Relations and is a trained mediator. Mary is the author of Peaceful Living: Daily Meditations for Living with Love, Healing and Compassion.

 

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