BePeace – University for Peace

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Our BePeace class of twenty adults, taught by Rita Marie Johnson,  included people from Japan, China, Korea, the Philippines, Nepal, Colombia, Canada, Sweden, India, IMG_0521Costa Rica, and the U.S.; some were fulltime students at the university, others like myself were just there for the one course. We spent about half our time in small groups; mine was led by a French Canadian woman, Monique, and included a Japanese man, a Filipino woman, a New York woman of Puerto Rican descent, and myself.

“A negative feeling is a signal of a perception of an unmet need,” said Rita Marie, emphasizing the word perception. I liked that right away. “Negative feelings come out in unconscious ways, including actions and words,” she went on, “and respectful guessing of an unmet need increases connection.” Our first small group exercise was using a spread-out deck of feelings and needs cards to talk about a painful or trying experience. We worked in pairs and gave empathy, guessing the other’s needs.  “Validation of our feelings and needs reduces their intensity,” said Rita Marie. “Then we are less likely to act them out.”

“Between stimulus and response, there is a space,” wrote Victor Frankl. “In that space lie our freedom and power to choose our response.” The problem is that when our amygdala is triggered in strong emotion, our brains don’t function properly, and violence occurs when the strong emotions rule. We feel and react faster than we think. The key is to introduce a “pause” and focus on our hearts at such moments.

Research at the Institute for HeartMath shows that a negative feeling such as frustration creates an erratic heart rate variability pattern. Such a pattern indicates that the heart and brain are not in “coherence” or harmony. However, a positive feeling such as appreciation brings the heart into coherence, which in turn pulls the brain into coherence. The heart sends far more information to the brain than the brain sends to the heart. The heart signals affect the brain centers involved in emotional experience, decision making, and creativity. In a state of coherence, the heart, mind and emotions are “in sync.” At this moment, we can ask our heart “What do I need to know?” and listen for an answer to a problem, or Heart Insight.

IMG_0525Rita Marie asked us to remember a person or pet, a place or experience that was easy to appreciate, saying that breathing deeply and rhythmically while experiencing feelings of appreciation is the easiest path to generating a state of heart coherence. “Heart focus, heart breathing, heart feeling of appreciation,” sums up the Quick Coherence Technique. In small groups, we each had a chance to work with the “em-wave” biofeedback device from the Institute for Heart Math, which provides feedback of Heart Rate Variability or HRV, and indicates when our coherence level is low, medium or high. “A positive feeling in my heart gives me the power of coherence.”

The Institute for HeartMath works with high school students, and after learning the technique, test scores improved up to 25 points; students demonstrated less frustration, more participation, empathic listening, humor, and persistence. Olympic athletes use HeartMath to increase performance, because all systems go into entrainment.

Heart Insight for Kids:

Gabriel was an 8-year-old with behavior problems. He was restless and aggressive in school, and at home tried to beat up his younger siblings. He drew a picture of his scan0002problem (his mother holding him back from attacking his siblings). Then he drew a picture of what he appreciated: himself playing at a beach, dolphins frolicking in the waves. The next step after feeling appreciation is to tune into heart wisdom and ask, “What do I need to know?” His third picture was of himself sleeping in his bed. His heart had told him he needed more sleep! Gabriel, who loved to read, used to hide a flashlight and read under the covers at night without his mother knowing. Having heard his own heart wisdom, Gabriel was willing to go to sleep earlier, and his behavior change was dramatic.