Teachers of Peace

Week of SplendorIMG_0520

In the mythical village of Quizur, in Costa Rica, one day a teacher appears and silently calls the children from the village deep into a mountain. There he teaches them about the treasure within their hearts and their connection to nature. Their worried parents are searching everywhere for them, but when they approach the mountain they hear joyous singing and are reassured. When the children return in the evening, they share their newfound knowledge with their parents.

Then, every day for a week, they return inside the mountain to learn more from the mysterious teacher. During that week, the entire village of Quizur comes alive with creativity and is transformed into a happy and harmonious culture of peace. Amid the protests of the children, Rasur announces that he must leave for the next village. Upon his departure, the villagers realize that “before directing the lightning in the sky, we must first harness the storms in our own hearts.” In the end, all Costa Ricans look forward to following the example of Quizur, with peace spreading throughout their country.

This is the story told in an epic poem called “Rasur: Week of Splendor,” written by a Costa Rican educator, Roberto Brenes Mesen, in the 1940’s. He was well ahead of his time, understanding the importance of the inner life of each person, and their ability to have harmonious relationships, in creating a culture of peace.

Photo-Rita-Marie-JohnsonRita Marie Johnson

That epic poem inspired Rita Marie Johnson, a young woman who had received a calling to be a teacher of peace when she was ten years old. After her 1993 move to Costa Rica, Johnson wrote a book and a musical about Rasur. She began seeking a method of social and emotional learning that could help promote both inner and outer peace.

After ten years of research, including study with the Institute of HeartMath and the Center for Non-Violent Communication, she came to believe that empathy grows from a conscious connection to feelings and needs, and insight is accessed through heart-brain coherence. The synergy between empathy and insight maximizes our social and emotional intelligence, builds resilience and enhances performance. Johnson originated Rasur Foundation International (RFI), with the mission of creating a world where every person practices the art of connection and passes this gift to the next generation.

Costa Rican Public Schools and the University for Peace

In 2004, Johnson created and began offering the “BePeace” curriculum in Costa Rican public schools. It has since been re-named “The Connection Practice.” Now close to 1500 teachers have been trained, positively affecting nearly 40,000 students. Annual evaluations revealed that bullying, intolerance, conflicts, violence and misconduct reports had decreased.

The Connection Practice, now used by individuals, schools and businesses, brought her the 2005 Ashoka Changemakers Innovation Award, chosen from 79 projects in 32 countries. Since 2010, Johnson has taught the Connection Practice Foundations Course at the United Nations University for Peace, a graduate school for international leaders.  In addition to presenting seminars in the USA, Canada, Japan, Europe and Central America, Johnson was a keynote speaker at the Department of Peace Conference in Washington DC in 2009, and a Global Summit for Ministries and Departments for Peace in 2009.

Spreading Peace
Through trainers certified by RFI (Dallas, TX), the Connection Practice is spreading rapidly in schools, businesses and faith-based communities in the United States. In 2012, the first US school pilot project in Houston was deemed a success (as shown in the short video at this link). St. Rita School in Fort Worth was the next success and now other schools are implementing the curriculum. To learn more, please visit www.rasurinternational.org.

I had the privilege of learning The Connection Practice through classes with Rita Marie, and this spring I assisted in facilitating a 4-day class in Melbourne, FL at a Unity Church. This experience really let me experience the depth of transformation that can take place in a group from the combined practices of heart coherence and empathy. I am now a certified trainer myself; I welcome the opportunity to train teachers, coach individuals, and hold classes for nonprofits, churches, and businesses.

 

The miraculous human heart

 “Near your breastbone there is an open flower. Drink the honey that is all around that flower. Waves are coming in; there is so much magnificence near the ocean!”  – Kabir

“And now here is my secret, a very simple secret; it is only with the heart that one can see rightly; what is essential is invisible to the eye.”  – Antoine de St-Exupery

heartOur human heart beats 100,000 times a day, 2 gallons of blood/minute, yet is much more than a pump. The heart is also an endocrine gland, secreting 5 hormones, and is part of the central nervous system.  The heart’s hormones affect how we learn, remember, explore. Over 60% of the heart cells are neural cells, like in the brain; the heart stores memories (especially emotional ones). The heart has its own intelligence. The amygdala, a part of the old “reptilian” brain which can trigger the “fight or flight” response, is a receptor of cardiac information. Much new information impacts the heart first, and then the brain.

The human heart is the most powerful electomagnetic (EM) generator and receiver in the body, and is an organ of perception and communication. The magnetic field produced by the heart is a torus (fractal); it is 5,000 times more powerful than the brain’s EM field! And it’s detectable over ten feet from the body. EM fields produced by the heart regulate DNA, RNA, protein synthesis. The bloodstream conducts EM impulses throughout the body. The heart both transmits and receives EM energy and thus is highly involved in perception.

All living organisms give off electric energy and magnetic fields. Electromagnetic (EM) communication goes on between all living organisms, all the time. Magnetic fields influence enzymes, cell growth & metabolism, and tissue repair. Both electrical and magnetic signals can be amplified.

Migrating species (salmon, birds, bees) use earth’s geomagnetic lines for navigation.

The hippocampus in the brain responds to magnetic frequencies, communicates with the amygdala and modulates emotional responses and immunity, and deciphers meaning. Too much sustained cortisol (stress hormone) in the system means the hippocampus can’t do its job.

Entrainment

When the EM fields of two hearts come together, they entrain to each other and interchange information. In fact, heart sparkleswhen the EM fields of any two life forms come together, they entrain. The mother’s and infant’s fields are entrained in utero, and during holding and breastfeeding. The infant’s heart must have this or it cannot develop properly.

Alterations in the heart’s EM spectrum are emotions, which show up as changes in heart rate and heart rate variability; the heart thus conducts information from the world to the central nervous system and brain, encoded in cardiac wave patterns.

scan0002Heart Coherence involves synchronization, resonance, and entrainment. One may begin by shifting to a heart focus, or focus on external sensory cues. The heart is the most powerful oscillator in the body. Other oscillating systems in the body automatically entrain to it: respiration, the sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous systems, and the digestive system synchronize. When the parasympathetic dominates, the body relaxes.

For heart coherence, it’s helpful to remember and re-experience feelings of caring, love, and appreciation. As coherence deepens, hormones in the body alter: a 23% drop in cortisol; 100% increase in DHEA (anti-aging hormone, assists healing); dopamine production in the heart is enhanced, improving information transfer from heart to brain; and IgA (an immune enhancing hormone) increases.

In addition, blood pressure drops, peripheral vision increases, hippocampal activity increases, sending messages to the neocortex. Learning and intuition increase. There are fewer arrhythmias, and improvements in congestive heart failure, asthma, diabetes, fatigue, mitral valve prolapse, PTSD, anxiety, and depression.

The coherent heart field affects others positively. We are immersed in living energy fields of communication generated by intelligent life forms, including all living beings. The heart is an organ of perception, whereas the brain is more like a computer. The verbal is linear, but the heart is holistic.redbud

Imagine the electromagnetic field of a tree (and its state of coherence).

We can breathe in the tree’s energy, breathe out our own heart energy back to the tree. Or we can do that with each other’s hearts. As wonderful as it feels to get into coherence just by ourselves, the combined energy field when several people are breathing together and practicing coherence is yet more profoundly peaceful.

Much of this material is derived from The Secret Teachings of Plants by Stephen Harrod Buhner.

 

BePeace – Rita Marie Johnson

IMG_0518I attended the BePeace Foundations course for one week at the Universidad para la Paz, in Costa Rica, in January 2013. It was a rich experience so I have divided it into several posts.

Rita Marie Johnson is a blond, blue-eyed American woman. At age ten, a sunset had burst her heart open with gratitude, and her inner voice said, “You will work for peace.” She had heard how in 1948, Costa Rica became the first country in the world to abolish their army, and was inspired to go there. She formed a friendship with Robert Muller, a former secretary-general of the U.N., and he became a mentor to her. It was he who introduced her to the story of Rasur.

The Story of Rasur

Rasur, an 85-page epic poem, was written in 1946 by Roberto Brenes Mesen. Mesen was a legendary Costa Rican educator.

Rasur is the name of a teacher who one day silently calls the children of the Costa Rican village, Quizur, deep into a mountain. There he teaches them about the treasure within their hearts and their connection to nature. Joyfully they return home to share this knowledge with their worried parents. They return each day to the mountain for more teachings. During that week the whole village is transformed into a place of peace and creativity. Upon Rasur’s departure, the villagers realized that “before directing the lightning in the sky, we must first harness the storms in our own hearts.” A seed of hope was planted–for Costa Rica to become a culture of peace. Just two years after the poem was published, the army was disbanded.

Rita Marie went on to write the libretto, in Spanish, for a musical version of the story, with a children’s choir and orchestra and much more!

Rasur Foundation International and Schools

IMG_0530Rita Marie had studied at the Institute for HeartMath and began by introducing their techniques in a small school she had founded. Later, she studied with Marshall Rosenberg and added Non-Violent Communication (“speaking peace”). Rita Marie began Rasur Foundation International to help carry forward the vision of educating children for peace; the program she created and introduced to the schools in 2004 is called “BePeace.” To date, over 36,000 children have been impacted by her curriculum. In addition, some 50 certified teachers in Texas, Vermont, and other states are introducing the curriculum in their schools. The definition of BePeace: “a synergistic skill set that combines coherence and connection to build social and emotional intelligence. This combination allows us to access our natural wisdom and compassion, which efficiently shifts us from stress to peace.” Evaluations revealed decreases in classroom conflict and aggression.

 

BePeace – University for Peace

To visit Cathy’s other blog, “Earth & Us,” please click here.

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.