Four steps for healthy communication in relationships

One of the biggest reasons people seek coaching is for help in their relationships. Whether it’s a marriage where it’s becoming more difficult to connect…or a work situation where communication has shut down…or a family with old unhealed wounds that seem to get re-opened frequently, relationship stress can be very painful! Typically, we choose to avoid conflict, often by putting up walls,  communicating minimally, and distancing. Is this happening for you?

Most people lack skills in “emotional self-regulation” – the ability to take care of oneself emotionally. Without those skills, we will typically “act out” our feelings rather than express them to ourselves and others. Acting out can be as subtle as an angry expression on my face, could take the form of coldly criticizing someone, or be as blatant as yelling an insult.

What is the alternative?

  • Taking some slow, calming, deep breaths while focusing on my feelings
  • Acknowledging to myself when I feel angry, upset, fearful, and exploring what need or needs of mine aren’t being met (this one step has been proven to lower stress levels significantly!)
  • Taking care of myself by meeting my need another way
  • Asking another person to just listen

In a coaching session, first you’ll receive deep listening and empathy for the painful situation you’re in. Next, you’ll learn and practice self-regulation skills. As you become accustomed to slowing your breathing and shifting your focus, you’ll have the opportunity to receive intuitive guidance from your own heart. These are resiliency skills from HeartMath. You will learn the skills of giving empathy to yourself, and to other people, even when you are in the midst of a disagreement, and without having to agree with them. You’ll have an opportunity to do role-plays in which you try on seeing the world through another’s perspective. The result: improved communication and greater ease in your relationships!

Would you like to explore further? Call or email me to book a time for your FREE one-hour consultation, in person or by phone. If you choose in-person, you are invited to have a cup of tea or coffee with me at my home office. 828-545-9681.

The Connection Practice helps our youth!

Many people in our time feel disconnected – the opposite of feeling heard, supported and lifted. This disconnection results in confusion, conflict, bullying, depression, and addiction and is reflected in the rising number of at-risk kids.

We need a solution that restores hope.
The Connection Practice is a self-empowerment skill that does that.

This scientifically-based practice is elegant in its simplicity and awesome in its application.  The award-winning Connection Practice combines empathy and insight to enhance social and emotional intelligence, resolve conflicts and heal relationships. It integrates methods from the Institute of HeartMath® and Non-Violent Communication to help people understand one another through heart connection.

When this practice is integrated into classrooms and considered as important as reading, writing and math, the numbers of at-risk kids will decrease rapidly.

“Threat Assessment in Schools,” a guide by the US Secret Service and Department of Education, calls connection the “critical emotional glue” and “a central component of a culture of safety and respect.”

Teaching empathy and creating connection are at the core of the Connection Practice. Integrating the Connection Practice into the school day can take as little as 10 to 15 minutes. It makes teachers’ jobs easier by improving behavior, preparing children for learning, creating more cooperation and teaching children how to handle conflict themselves. Guidance counselors are embracing it too.

A new tool that can streamline the process of bringing empathy into classrooms (and even boardrooms) is the magnetic Connection Practice Board. This video will give you a brief introduction: https://vimeo.com/303564198

Heart-Brain Coherence

Heart-brain coherence, which plays a major role in the effectiveness of the Connection Practice, has been thoroughly researched by the Institute of HeartMath®. For example, a study funded by the U.S. Department of Education showed a statistically significant connection between reduced test anxiety and improved test performance, in students who had learned the skill of heart-brain coherence.

  • 75% of the students experienced lower levels of anxiety during tests.
  • The test scores improved on average by 10 to 25 points.
  • Students experienced less fear and frustration, and made fewer rash decisions.  They participated more in class activities and demonstrated emotional connection, humor, persistence and empathic listening.

In addition to K-12 classrooms, the Connection Practice is an effective tool for after-school programs, university courses, and community classes.

Individual coaching is available for adults, couples, or families. I am a certified coach and curriculum instructor with Rasur Foundation International, which originated the Connection Practice, as well as a certified HeartMath coach and holistic health guide. For a FREE consultation, click here. For a sample of what I can offer to a classroom, click here.

Website: https://connectionpractice.org

Rita Marie Johnson, founder of the Connection Practice,
exhibiting at California Student Mental Wellness Conference

Love Your Body!

“Love Your Body” – Free Consultation Offer

Do you have a health issue that isn’t responding to treatment?

Using slow, deep breathing and imagery, I help people with health concerns to relax deeply and listen to what their bodies really need in order to heal. I help you uncover unconscious patterns that could be sabotaging your efforts to get well. Then we create an action plan together to cooperate with your body’s wisdom.

I’m a certified HeartMath® coach, with experience in biofeedback, guided imagery, and respiratory therapy. Email me this month to set up your FREE consultation session. Your body will thank you! cathyfholt@gmail.com

Take your connections up a notch this year!

Rita Marie Johnson, founder of The Connection Practice

Would you like to experience more rewarding connections with family, friends, co-workers? There is now an affordable way to get top-notch instruction in the Connection Practice, from its founder, along with personal coaching!

Here is a FREE introductory video with Rita Marie, called “A Simple Solution for Our Disconnected World.”

The Connection Practice increases your empathic communication skills–both for yourself, and with others–while developing your ability to calm yourself under stress and access your heart’s own insights.

The result is that you can move forward in your goals, and even heal damaged relationships. This social-emotional skill set, pioneered by Rita Marie Johnson, is being used in families, businesses, schools, nonprofits, and universities with remarkable results.

Now you can watch Rita Marie’s lectures and demonstrations to learn these transformative tools at your leisure, in your own time-frame, through a pre-recorded series of five webinars. To bring it home and help you with your personal challenges and skill-building, you can receive four hours of personal coaching from me via Skype or in-person. I am a certified coach and teacher of the Connection Practice, as well as a HeartMath coach. If you are local, you can experience biofeedback of your heart rhythms in order to learn and experience heart-brain coherence.

What people are saying about the Connection Practice: 

“This course brought me valuable insights, from my own heart, that changed my relationship to myself and my family. The depth of learning from the heart goes way beyond what is possible using only the intellect. Powerful and transformative life-changing experience; feeling the authentic empathy allowed me to process and gain a great measure of peace regarding traumatic issues recently experienced. Thank you for creating safety and supporting this journey of the heart!” – Kathy Austin

See more testimonials here.

Special offer

The regular price for four private coaching sessions with me, without the webinar, is $220-$320, sliding scale.

This special offer includes the five webinar sessions with Rita Marie, plus four private coaching sessions with me, for only $297!

Email or call today to schedule your FREE consultation. 828-545-9681.

 

The Connection Practice – at the Shift Studio

When: Saturday, June 9, from 10 am to 1 pm

Where: The Shift Studio, 708B Fleming St., Hendersonville

Come and learn how empathy and insight can transform your relationships!

  • Learn to be present compassionately with your own feelings and needs
  • Gain practice in giving empathy to others to build deeper connection and resolve conflict
  • Decrease your stress and enhance your resilience with heart-brain coherence
  • Access intuitive insights from your heart
  • Love offering

Compassion Camp, June 28 – July 1

at Earthaven Ecovillage

Black Mountain, NC

An immersive gathering for people interested in learning and living compassionate consciousness, building community, networking, and deepening our skills in compassionate communication.

A collaboration of the REAL Center, 10,000 Love Letters Project, Culture’s Edge, and the School of Integrated Living, organized by Steve Torma.

Relational activities including Open Space, interactive learning, singing, dancing, storytelling, and silence. The Connection Practice will be presented by Cathy Holt.

For more information, please click here.

Heart and Right Brain Insights

My Stroke of Insight by Jill Bolte Taylor, Ph.D. is a fascinating true story written by a neuroscientist who had a stroke at age 37, about her lengthy but full recovery and what she learned about the left and right hemispheres of the brain. When an aneurysm ruptured in her left brain, leaving her without language temporarily, she discovered the wonders of her right brain. A blissful sense of peace, fluidity and oneness, like nirvana, enveloped her. She was able, with great difficulty, to make the phone call for help which saved her life. 

While her left brain slowly recovered, Jill was at first unable to understand any words spoken to her or to communicate verbally, but she was acutely aware of the energy and intention a person brought to her – kindness and compassion, or frustration and impatience. All sound was chaos, noise; everything radiated pure energy, without clear boundaries. The inner dialogue was silent. She was aware of how everything affected her energy; that some people (anxious, irritable) quickly drained her energy while others (kind, gentle) gave her energy. She no longer thought linearly, and had to be taught to put socks on before shoes. 

“I liked knowing I was a fluid. I loved knowing my spirit was at one with the universe and in the flow with everything around me. I found it fascinating to be so tuned in to energy dynamics and body language. Most of all, I loved the feeling of deep inner peace the flooded the core of my very being,” she wrote. Whenever her wounded brain needed time out from an overload of stimuli, which was often, she would sleep. This was crucial to her recovery. Her mother devoted herself to Jill’s care and gradually introduced new things to re-learn. After 8 years, she decided she was fully recovered.

“I learned how to feel the physical component of emotion. Joy was a feeling in my body. Peace was a feeling in my body…I could feel when a new emotion was triggered. I could feel new emotions flood through me and then release me…I learned that I had the power to choose whether to hook into a feeling and prolong its presence in my body, or just let it quickly flow right out of me…Certain emotions like anger, frustration or fear felt uncomfortable when they surged through my body. So I told my brain that I didn’t like that feeling and didn’t want to hook into those neural loops… I suddenly had much more say about how I felt and for how long…Nothing external to me had the power to take away my peace of heart and mind. That was completely up to me.” She realized that the surge of an emotion (such as anger) lasted just 90 seconds before it was completely flushed out of the blood stream; and at that point, we are at choice about whether or not to keep running the circuit of anger and return to the present moment. She calls this “stepping to the right” – choosing a peaceful mind.

Prior to her stroke, she believed, “the judging and analytical character in my left mind dominated my personality,” inhibiting the right brain. “At the core of my right hemisphere consciousness is a character that is directly connected to my feeling of deep inner peace. It is completely committed to the expression of peace, love, joy, and compassion in the world.” It seems clear that the right hemisphere is connected more with the heart and emotions and with intuition; some call the right hemisphere the “feminine” aspect. The question of balancing the hemispheres showed up for Jill as the desire for normal functioning in the world while retaining the ability to access deep inner peace, compassion, and oneness. 

“Sadly, the expression of compassion is often a rarity in our society. Many of us spend an inordinate amount of time and energy degrading, insulting, and criticizing ourselves (and others) for having made a ‘wrong’ or ‘bad’ decision.” These negative thought patterns generate increased levels of anxiety and/or hostility. The more we repeat these patterns, the more ingrained and automatic they become.

“My right hemisphere is all about right here, right now. It bounces around with unbridled enthusiasm and does not have a care in the world…it is filled with gratitude…content, compassionate, nurturing, and eternally optimistic…my right mind character is sensitive to nonverbal communication, empathic, and accurately decodes emotion…it is my intuition and higher consciousness…it is tuned in to my gut feelings…My right mind sees unity among all living beings, the big picture.”

On the other side, “My left hemisphere is preoccupied with details and runs my life on a tight schedule…It clenches my jaw and makes decisions based upon what it learned in the past. It defines boundaries and judges everything as right/wrong.” She adds, with appreciation, “My left mind is responsible for taking all of that energy, all that information about the present moment, all the magnificent possibilities perceived by my right mind, and shaping them into something manageable.” She refers to the left brain as a great weaver and teller of stories. “Most impressively, our left brain is brilliant in its ability to make stuff up, and fill in the blanks when there are gaps in its factual data.” She realized that this story-teller created upsets because of these fabrications and repetitive thought-loops. 

Tending the garden of the mind: “Learning to listen to your brain from the position of a nonjudgmental witness may take some practice, but once you master this awareness, you become free to step beyond the worrisome drama and trauma of your story-teller.” When her brain is running loops that feel out of control, counter-productive or harshly judgmental, she surrenders for 90 seconds for the physiological emotional response to dissipate, acknowledges the feelings, then says firmly: “I am really not interested in thinking these thoughts or feeling these emotions anymore. Please stop bringing this stuff up.” Jill believes that we must pay close attention to how much time we spend hooked into anger or despair, acknowledge these emotions, and then make a conscious choice to return to the present moment.

If the story-teller persists, she recalls something fascinating to ponder, or “something that brings me terrific joy,” like her dog. “I whole-heartedly believe that the feeling of deep inner peace is neurological circuitry in our right brain…constantly running and always available for us to hook into, in the present moment.” To come back to the present moment, we must consciously slow our minds, not be in a hurry. Focusing on slow, relaxed breathing is a great way to do this. Attending to smells, sounds, sensations in the body, or listening to music can help. “When I am simply grateful, life is simply great!”

“Once I consciously take over the responsibility of tending my mind, I choose to nurture those circuits that I want to grow, and consciously prune back those circuits I prefer to live without…with determination and perseverance, even the gnarliest of vines, when deprived of fuel, will eventually lose its strength and fall to the side…You alone choose who you are and how you want to be in the world…Own your power and show up for your life.”

I believe that this book sheds light on the heart-brain connection. It seems as though the ego has its home in the left brain, while the heart is in close contact with the right brain and they share emotional qualities of connection, compassion, gratitude and intuitive wisdom. So when we bring our awareness to our heart and away from the “thinking” brain, essentially we are choosing to experience through the right side of the brain, where we can access insight and see the bigger picture. 

It’s very valuable for me to recognize that a pure, biochemical emotion runs its course in just 90 seconds. This can be seen in babies, who have not developed the “thought-loops” we adults hook to our emotions that can keep us stuck there for hours or days. After a red-faced, all-out screaming fit, within a minute a baby can be smiling and cooing. Jill taught herself the skill of detaching from those thought loops by “moving to the right” side of her brain, and even by purposely interrupting the repetitive thought patterns. 

The tips she shares for “moving to the right mind” are very much like what HeartMath teaches: setting the thoughts aside, slowing and deepening the breath, being in the present moment, focusing on a beloved pet or something that brings joy. 

What Jill learned through the painful process of recovery from a cerebral hemorrhage can guide us all in our goal of becoming balanced: less frequently highjacked by our stressful stories, better able to recover from emotional upsets, more aware of energies, more compassionate with ourselves and others, able to access the bliss of oneness. 

Brooke Medicine Eagle: The Power of the Deep Feminine

Brooke Medicine Eagle, a ceremonialist, Earthkeeper, author, healer and visionary, spoke eloquently as part of the “Shamanism Summit” on the Shift Network. I love how she inspires us to practice accessing the resource of our loving heart, to share love and connect.

According to Brooke, the time of the feminine is here now. Patriarchal cultures feared the female power to give birth, the power of creation. Women have been suppressed and disempowered for so many years, and their anger at the abuse is coming forward in the “Me Too” movement. Many women are angry today, Brooke acknowledges, yet the time has come not to “conquer” the oppressive regimes (the old way), but to create something new.

The dark womb is the first power, holding us all in love; all potential is within that darkness, yet invisible. Honor and respect for the feminine, Brooke believes, is the beginning of all power. What wants to be born now? At this time, all the negativity is being pushed to the surface, revealed, in order to be acknowledged and cleaned and cleared. We are in the clearing phase now, so that kindness and unity consciousness and connection can arise, finally. Love is the magic. Unity and loving connection with all beings is the essence of shamanism, Brooke believes. Suffering is caused by our belief in separation. Creator pours love into us at all times.

“Close your eyes and go back to a time of feeling HUGE love,” Brooke instructs. Whether it was holding an infant in your arms, or seeing a dear one running toward you with arms open wide, or looking into the eyes of a beloved person or animal and feeling your heart open. Find it in your body, how does your body know you are feeling the love? Is it in your chest, are you smiling, are there tears? This loving feeling is a POSITIVE RESOURCE. Find it in your body, and call that feeling in. That’s embodiment, not just being in our head. When we’re in our heads, we’re not grounded or embodied, not using the great gift of the heart. Enjoy the practice of calling up the love, and sending it out to people, animals, flowers, any life form.

Intention, commitment, practice, taking 100% responsibility for creating the feeling we want, gives us true power. Abraham (Hicks) advised: “Be angry for 16 seconds, yell and shake it off, then let it go, and choose another feeling.” The spiritual warrior chooses what to feel and create. Brooke adds, “When we pour our love out to everything and everyone around us, it’s the best feeling in the world!”

Malidoma Some says that in a Dagara village it is believed that our “job” is to call forth the best in everyone else.

Trees, in drought, bring water to the surface for smaller plants. They are role models for us.

The shaman is not only the bridge between the animal, plant and human worlds, but also the bridge between the physical and spirit worlds. “Power is stepping into the great stream of connection. When we step into love and unity, there is great power, which can wash away the oily scum on everything, revealing the rich beauty of love and caring,” Brooke affirms.

Let’s remind one another that we are birthed in love, held in love, infused with love. When we send love to a flower, the flower’s life force is enhanced. As we overflow love, more comes to us!

Digging deeper into the dirt

Digging deeper into the dirt

Sometimes I really slip up on my goal of regulating myself when I get into a bad mood. Usually that mood accompanies some judgment I am having.

We three housemates have a Friday night meal, and it was up to T. or me to cook. M. was working  that day and T. was busy on the phone and seemed content for me to cook the meal. I had hoped T. and I would be cooking together, and began to judge her behavior as “entitled.” M. came home from work and jumped into making a salad.

Some part of me is a really nitpicking score keeper, obsessing about fairness, and after dinner when M. was helping clean up, I said I thought she was helping T. too much–as if I was trying to even the score, for T. not helping us cook! In reality, we all have times when we are busy and do less, and times when we put in more effort on behalf of the household.

After dinner we were planning our gardens, and when T. started drawing the existing garden beds on the whiteboard, I thought I would contribute by adding a little piece, but T. erased it. This happened twice. I got triggered because I judged T. as “controlling” and left the room saying, “This is really annoying.” What I wish I had said was, “When you erased my drawing, I felt hurt and annoyed because I interpreted that as a lack of respect or negating my input. I was judging you as controlling. I value cooperation and collaboration, and I need to be seen and heard.” When I came back I played with my phone, not even looking at T.’s drawing. T. explained that it was easier for her to be the one doing the drawing and that she was open to verbal input. She acknowledged my discomfort and even came and rubbed my shoulders!

The next day, M. and T. got started digging out a garden bed to put a vole-barrier of hardware cloth into it. They had agreed to do that the previous evening and I was not actually asked to take part; however, I thought it was only fair for me to offer to help, so I started shoveling too. The hardware cloth needed to be bought, and that was easier than shoveling, so I volunteered but neglected to research the best place to find it for a good price. When I got to Lowe’s, the price seemed high so after phoning T. and M., I made several calls to other stores. I started feeling stressed that the cost was so high. M. had offered to help make calls and call me back, but I said it would take longer that way. She still offered to help, and I gruffly said, “Whatever,” and hung up. I had not realized how much time it would take to get the errand done and I was getting impatient, hungry, and hadn’t had lunch yet. Yes, I was “hangry!”

When I got home she expressed to me that she did not like how I had spoken on the phone, and especially being hung up on, and I apologized.

Later I wrote: “Were you feeling stressed, hurt and sad when I said ‘Whatever’ and hung up the phone, because you need respect, harmony, and consideration for how you’re trying to help? I’m feeling embarrassed and regretful because I didn’t self-regulate or attune to you.  Instead, I was out of control with my grumpiness! I did not mean it personally. I need more self-awareness and to walk my talk. I would really like to be more mindful and respectful with you.” She thanked me and forgave me.

When I have a day like this, I’m often hard on myself. I think, “Who am I to teach heart coherence or compassionate communication? I’m not practicing it when I hit a rough spot, and instead I vent my impatience and bad attitude on other people, the opposite of being compassionate!”

So I stopped myself, took a breath, and acknowledged that even though my behavior was far from my ideals, I had communicated in a better way afterwards and had been forgiven by both housemates. Going deeper into questioning my high reactivity, I was aware that I was feeling envious of T. for the important and meaningful work she is so deeply engaged in, and that I had been in a self-critical and financially stressed place over not having generated enough work for myself. I had been looking forward to an afternoon to nurture myself on Saturday, and didn’t like spending part of it shoveling and running errands, but imagined that there was peer pressure to do so…a story I was telling myself, since T. and M. said they did not have that expectation. The pressure came from my own desire to be seen as a collaborator, someone who does her fair share.

And so by writing this blog I am sharing with you the truth that we all struggle with our old patterns, I am not proud of my bad habits but they give me plenty of opportunities for growth and learning!

Resources for Parents

I’ve discovered a great resource for parents who are struggling to communicate in a compassionate way with their ornery children! (And they are all ornery sometimes!) It’s the website of Lori Petro, www.teach-through-love.com.

Lori has a series of brief YouTube videos in which she discusses how to give empathy to children when they are acting in ways you wish they wouldn’t– from fighting with siblings, to whining, to refusing to do a task, refusing to go to bed, hitting others… And she always gives great empathy to the parent, as well!

Lori also has a set of “Conscious Communication cards,” which I love, because they are organized by the typical words a parent might say, such as “Hurry up” or “Do your chores,” along with the frequently used guilt trips, demands, and judgments. Below that is a set of suggestions for new ways to approach the problem, using empathy, curiosity, validation, and compassion. Fostering connection!

Pathways to Peace

“Violence is a tragic expression of an unmet need.” – Marshall Rosenberg, founder of Nonviolent Communication

In a recent interview on the Shift Network, Roxanne Manning discussed the great need in these highly polarized times, to connect across our differences. Roxanne is a certified trainer in Nonviolent Communication, living in the SF Bay Area and originally from Trinidad.

“If we view everyone’s behavior as their best efforts to meet their needs, we can connect more easily,” she stated. When we are in anger or fear, our fight or flight response is triggered, which leads to demonizing and stereotyping the “other.” This can cause disconnection or even violence.

Instead, Roxanne suggests:

  1. Slow down, take a breath.
  2. Ask yourself, “What are my needs?” Our feelings can give us clues to discover our needs.
  3. Can I share that, or shall I find out what the other person’s needs are?

She offered an example of a time when her young daughter excitedly jumped on her when she came home after surgery. She was able to say something like, “Ouch, that hurt! I need care for my body. And I see you’re excited and want to connect with me. Please hug me gently.” (Notice that she shared her own feelings and needs, guessed those of her daughter, and made a specific request, all without any blaming.)

“We all need to know that we matter,” she continued. “When we say no, we can reassure a person: ‘I can’t do the specific thing you’re asking, and your needs matter to me. Let’s find another way to meet your need.'”

Shame, Roxanne believes, is one of the most excruciating and triggering emotions. When we go into shame, we lash out. Human dignity must always be tended to.

“Listen for a person’s needs, without an agenda, with your heart open,” she advises. “Hear what is real for the other. When your needs and mine are on the table, a solution becomes apparent.”

When speaking to someone across a political divide, it’s important to convey: “I know you want what is best for you, and I want to understand your perspective,” until they can say, “Wow, you got it, you understand me.” Then, they will be more open to hearing your perspective. You might be able to say, “I don’t agree with your strategy, but I’d like to know what’s behind that,” and look for their needs; notice which of those needs are also important to YOU, and join with them around those. “Here’s why I’m worried that that particular strategy won’t get us what we want and value… Would you be open to discussing other strategies?”

“Hold each person’s needs as universal, valid, and important,” she advises.

 

Connection Practice Free Webinar!

Learn from Rita Marie Johnson, founder of the Connection Practice!

Rita Marie Johnson, founder of The Connection Practice, Rasur Foundation International

Free webinar with Rita Marie on Thursday, Sept. 7, 8:30-9:30pm Eastern time.

  • You will hear how putting feelings and needs into words and creating coherence between the heart and brain reduces the reactions of the amygdala, the part of your brain that is associated with emotions, aggression and memory.
  • Listen to real-life examples of how the Connection Practice has been used to find creative, effective solutions to conflict and challenges.

Sign up here to access.

This free teleseminar will be followed by a series of six weekly seminars that you can enroll in, to experience the whole course. Learn the steps to growing your empathy and accessing insights from your heart. During the course, coaching with a trained mentor such as myself is available to deepen your learning. Write to: info@rasurinternational.org and you will receive all the details!

Rita Marie’s work has been recognized by the Ashoka Foundation Changemaker’s Award. She is the author of Completely Connected: Uniting Our Empathy and Insight for Extraordinary Results. The book has won the Nautilus award and is a bestseller in conflict resolution. For more on Rita Marie, go here.