Completely Connected

Completely Connected cover   “Completely Connected is brilliant, authentic and potent. Rita Marie Johnson puts leading edge theory into groundbreaking practice and offers us a medicine that is both soulful and acutely relevant.”  – James O’Dea, author of Cultivating Peace

“Combining empathy and insight, as Johnson has shown, is a valid and proven way to improve human relations.”  – President Oscar Arias, Nobel Peace Prize Laureate

This is a book that gives me hope. Rita Marie Johnson is an

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

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

extraordinary woman who received a calling to be a teacher of peace at the age of ten. After developing a set of practices that resolve conflicts, she has trained hundreds of school teachers, positively affecting over 160,000 students in Costa Rica alone. She has fought her way back from lymphoma twice, always learning and growing, and is passionate about spreading the steps she calls “the Connection Practice” far and wide.

Johnson offers story after story in which people of all ages and from many countries and walks of life have experienced breakthroughs using the Connection Practice. It involves identifying one’s own feelings and needs, those of others, and using the “Quick Coherence Technique” to get our hearts and brains into sync.

School children

Joe, a fifth grader, had just failed a math exam and he pulled a classmate across the playground by her hair. Instead of punishment, he was given empathy for his anger, hopelessness, and need for belonging. After being led into a state of harmony between heart and brain, he had this insight: “I could ask for what I need instead of hurting someone.” Later, this same child became a school mediator.

“When we deny the most basic aspects of ourselves–our feelings and needs–and don’t teach young people how to express themselves safely, it’s far more dangerous than not letting them open up,” writes Johnson.

Two rival 5th grade gangs were in conflict. When a teacher assisted them to list the feelings and needs of each, the need for communication emerged. This was because one gang spoke Spanish, causing suspicion and distrust. They agreed that everyone would speak English when they were together, and conflicts ceased as friendships formed.

Teachers

Not only are misconduct reports cut in half; the teachers benefit too. Several public school teachers shared that their marriages turned around by the end of the week-long course in the Connection Practice. One teacher was on the brink of separating from her husband; instead, she offered empathy to him and they connected “for the first time in ten years.” They are still together years later.

Brain research shows that naming feelings reduces the amygdala’s response to stressors, and naming needs enhances empathic responses.

Businesses

Two CEOs who’d had a 10-year conflict used “Feelings and Needs” cards to name their own feelings, and then to guess each other’s needs. The CEOs resolved their conflict, and then decided to have their executive teams do the same exercise. The two organizations agreed afterwards to use the cards to resolve any future conflicts.

A study of businesses showed that employers spend nearly 3 hours each week dealing with conflicts between people. One business now uses the Connection Practice at Monday morning meetings. A management consultant said, “The Connection Practice allows me to get clear about the needs I have and to consider the needs of the group…a much easier way to come to a solution or strategy that can work.”

Recovery

A 12-step participant said, “I got the skill set that transformed me from codependent behavior to unconditional love and acceptance.” Another wrote, “After all these years I’ve finally been able to forgive my father, and he has forgiven me.”

International

Students from all over the world attend the University for Peace in Costa Rica, one of the places where the Connection Practice is taught. Comments from students:

“This course has saved me years of therapy; it has empowered me.” – Mayn from India

“This practice can be applied in every country in the world.” – Maham from Pakistan

“I went home with the sensation of a clean soul.” – Laticia from Brazil

“This practice can be very important for preventing gender-based violence.” – Marion from Australia

For classes with Rita Marie Johnson, please visit www.rasurinternational.org. She is offering web based courses. For classes in the Asheville area, please contact cathyfholt@gmail.com or call Cathy at 828-545-9681.

 

 

Getting Connected

Completely Connected coverIn her new book, Completely Connected, Rita Marie Johnson recounts some of the insights she received when she was in a state of “heart-brain coherence”–the times when our breathing, our heart rhythms, and all our systems line up in synchrony, and spontaneous intuitions come freely. This state can be invited through a process known by the Institute of HeartMath as “Quick Coherence”: focus on the heart, breathe through the heart space, and experience feelings of appreciation.

Sometimes, Johnson writes, the message is simple: “It’s not time to leave Costa Rica yet.” This was not the message she wanted to hear at the time, yet she deeply realized it was for the best, and later events proved it. She recounts how the heart-brain insight can be used to understand a dream: when she was traveling all over the U.S. teaching courses and staying with friends, and feeling a bit “homeless,” she dreamed she owned a large apartment complex. Upon practicing coherence and requesting an insight, she realized that “the ‘apartment complex’ was made up of all the bedrooms of my many caring hosts.”

Here are a couple of examples from a recent course I taught in Asheville:

One woman stated that she had been bothered by a recurrent nightmare, at least weekly for over eight years. It usually left her feeling unsettled for a day or two. In the dream, she was trying to discover the “rulebook” of life. She requested a heart insight on the dream during our course. After I had led her into coherence, she kept her eyes closed for a long time and I hesitated to speak to her. When I finally asked if she had received an insight, she responded, “It’s still coming in.” Afterwards, she shared that her insight was that “there is no rulebook;” we need to ask for guidance day by day, situation by situation. This was a huge paradigm shift for her. A month later, she reported that she had not had that dream again!

Another woman in the class had been recently told by her doctor that she would need to start taking medication to lower her blood pressure, and she was reluctant to take it, but willing to monitor her blood pressure periodically. After the first Saturday of the Connection Practice, she dashed into a K-Mart to check her blood pressure and it was rather high. She decided to try an experiment, and used her heart focus, slow breathing, and a delightful memory to bring herself into coherence. A few moments later she again checked her blood pressure and it was 120 over 58, the lowest she could remember it being. She checked it again, just to make sure the reading was not a fluke. She felt so empowered, knowing that now she had a tool for instantly lowering her blood pressure!

Rita Marie’s new book, Completely Connected: Uniting Our Empathy & Insight for Extraordinary Results, is available at www.Amazon.com. I’m inspired by reading it, as I hope you will be too! The book is already #2 in Conflict Resolution & Mediation and #5 in Communication & Social Skills, on Amazon’s best-seller list!

Here’s what James O’Dea, renowned peace activist and educator, had to say:

Completely Connected is brilliant, authentic and potent. Rita Marie Johnson puts leading edge theory into groundbreaking practice and offers us a medicine that is both soulful and acutely relevant.”

President Oscar Arias of Costa Rica, a Nobel Peace Prize Laureate, said:

“Combining empathy and insight, as Johnson has shown, is a valid and proven way to improve human relations.”

Gratitude: the Honey in Our Hearts

“Near your breastbone, there is an open flower. Drink the honey that is all around that flower.” -Kabir

Honey, in my heart

Honey, in my heart

“Love is the answer, whatever the question.” -A Course in Miracles

“Long life, honey in the heart.” -traditional Mayan blessing

Our hearts have a gift to offer, to us and to the world. According to the Institute of HeartMath (IHM), the heart generates an electromagnetic field which is 5,000 times stronger than that generated by the brain and permeates every organ, every cell in our bodies. It is the most powerful generator in the body, and this field extends at least three feet beyond our own skins. If we are frustrated, angry or upset, the heart rhythm (heart rate variability pattern) is erratic and irregular. But if we are breathing calmly while focusing on gratitude and appreciation, the heart rhythm becomes smooth and regular. This state is called “heart-brain coherence.”

What happens as a result? Every system in the body is “entrained” with the heart, which allows it to function at its best. That means that the digestion, the immune system, the nervous system, and yes–the brain–all work much better. Studies done by IHM show that during states of high coherence, stress hormones like cortisol drop, while levels of DHEA (an anti-aging hormone) rise.  Benefits have been demonstrated for blood pressure, digestion, asthma, diabetes, insomnia, congestive heart failure, anxiety, and depression.

How does all this affect our brains? We can think much more clearly, even access creative insights and intuition from this state of maximum well-being known as “high coherence.” Consider: when we are very stressed, we are in a state of “fight or flight,” in which our old reptilian brain takes over and we are not using our higher cortical brain functions. We are wired that way for survival, actually. The problem is that most of our everyday, chronic stressors–technology, interpersonal conflicts–do not call for fleeing or fighting, but do require the ability to think clearly and communicate well.

So how can you cultivate high coherence? It’s simple!

1) Focus on your heart. Drop your awareness from the mind to the heart. Touch or tap on your chest if that helps you.

2) Breathe quite slowly and rhythmically, feeling your belly and chest expand with the breath and relax with the exhalation.

3) Focus on a feeling of appreciation or gratitude, the warm feeling in your heart that is evoked by a beloved pet (such as cuddling with my sweet cat, Honey), or a dear grandchild, a beautiful place like a waterfall or a beach–whatever comes most easily and naturally to you. It’s not the thought, it’s the feeling that produces all the benefits.

4) Continue your slow, rhythmic breathing and enjoy the feelings of love and appreciation, knowing that you are attaining heart-brain coherence!

5) Here’s one additional practice that I often do with my cat: Breathing slowly into my heart, I feel my loving feelings; breathing out, I imagine sending this energy to her heart; breathing in, I take in a bit of her heart energy and I sense her love for me. You can do this with a person, a pet, a tree, a stream…the person does not have to be present. Observe how you feel as you do this. Are you calmer, more content and clear?

Practice this frequently, so that when you are frustrated or overwhelmed, you can interrupt the runaway train of stressful thoughts and reactions, and return to peace and clarity. A daily practice firmly establishes a helpful habit!

“Love is that flame that, once kindled, burns everything, and only the mystery and the journey remain. We have no immunity to love, and gratitude is one of the great arms of love.” -Rumi

 

 

 

The Power of Gratitude

Even after all this timeEarth

The sun never says to the earth,

You owe me.”

Look what happens

with a love like that,

It lights the whole sky.

     – Hafiz

“…to live gratitude is to touch Heaven.” – Johannes A. Gaertner

What if gratitude were the key to an open heart? What if the heart’s intelligence could help us move beyond the mind’s illusion of separation? How would our communications change, if we connected with our own heart, and another person’s heart, before speaking? Research from the Institute of HeartMath (IHM, www.heartmath.org) has been providing scientific support to these concepts.

IHM’s extensive research found that the heart’s rhythms entrain all other body systems. When we are frustrated or angry, the heart’s erratic rhythms have negative effects, such as suppressing our immune system. But when we enter a state of gratitude and appreciation, the heart’s smooth, coherent patterns enhance our immune response, problem solving and intuition, and balance our nervous systems.

The heart is much more than a pump. It’s also an endocrine gland that secretes hormones affecting how we learn, remember, and explore. Over 60% of the heart’s cells are neural cells, like in the brain, and many more signals go from heart to brain than the other way. The heart is an organ of perception and communication. It is also the most powerful electromagnetic generator and receiver in the body, with a magnetic field that’s 5,000 times more powerful than that of the brain!

lotus2Heart Coherence

Other systems automatically entrain to the heart: the respiratory, digestive, immune, and nervous systems. When we feel frustrated, our heart rhythms become disordered, sending an incoherent message throughout our body and nervous system. But when we are in a calm state of gratitude, everything works harmoniously—a state known as “coherence.” In this state, stress hormones decrease, and we think more clearly.

We can use our heart’s intelligence to make better choices. When a judgment pops up, along with the turbulent emotions that generates, we can learn to turn instead to our inner guidance system.

Three Steps to Quick Coherence®:

1) Whenever you are “out of sync,” begin by acknowledging your present feelings, whatever they are: frustration, anxiety, overload, anger…

2) Bring your awareness to your heart, and begin slow, rhythmic breathing, in and out of your heart center.

3) Recall vividly something you are grateful for—such as your dog or cat, your grandchild, a beautiful scene in nature– and breathe in a feeling of gratitude and appreciation into your heart. Continue your slow, regular breathing while enjoying the feeling of gratitude.

One of my favorite memories is of a little boy I used to care for after school, and our daily goodbye ritual: when I left the house, he would climb out the window, run after me and give me a big, giggly hug!

Any time we can make the shift from anger or frustration to gratitude, appreciation, and caring, we have helped our own bodies tremendously–since just five minutes of anger suppresses our immune system for over six hours, while just five minutes of sincere appreciation enhances it for a similar time period.

IHM uses a simple biofeedback device to monitor heart rate variability, thus allowing people to learn the quick coherence® technique easily, and increase time spent in heart coherence through practice.

Many Teachers of Gratitude

Angeles Arrien, a cross-cultural anthropologist with whom I was fortunate to study for a year, teaches powerful spiritual practices from many indigenous traditions. She suggests a daily practice of gratitude. “Giving gratitude every day keeps the heart open,” says Angeles. “When the heart is open a capacity for generosity emerges. It’s in our deepest DNA to contribute, help, and serve others… World-wide traditions offer four doorways or portals for giving gratitude:

  • Gratitude for our blessings
  • Gratitude for our learnings: Where have I grown? What inspired, challenged, touched or moved me today?
  • Gratitude for the mercies we extend to others or others extend to us
  • Gratitude for the experiences of protection or safety for ourselves and loved ones.”

Martin Seligman, renowned researcher on the psychology of happiness, has a similar formula for chasing away the blues: At the end of each day, review and write about what went well in your life, and notice what you can do to help that process.

Research shows that a ratio of five appreciations to each complaint or criticism is essential for the health of relationships. Gratitude strengthens our immune systems, creativity, and productivity. (The Psychology of Gratitude by Michael Emmons and Michael McCullough)

Gratitude for Teachers

I’m extremely grateful for the wonderful teachers and mentors I’ve had. My biofeedback professor, Dr. Erik Peper (yep, Dr. Peper!) was a brilliant and empowering teacher; he has served as president of the Biofeedback Society of Europe, as well as the American Association for Applied Psychophysiology and Biofeedback. When I looked doubtful, he’d grin and say, “It will be FUN!”—thus reframing a challenge, such as grading student papers, into a joy or a gift. The power of gratitude again! Imagine a classroom of 80 students meeting in small groups to discuss their daily practices of relaxation and imagery, and later the results of their own self-healing plans. Erik’s students experienced remarkable recoveries from long-standing migraines, chronic pain, digestive disorders, and more.

Communicating for Peace

Another amazing teacher I was fortunate to learn from was Marshall Rosenberg, founder of Non-Violent Communication (NVC). Through humor, puppets and role playing, Rosenberg demonstrates the power of expressing feelings and needs instead of criticizing or attacking. He calls it “creating the quality of connection in which everyone’s needs can be met.” We learn to connect empathically by guessing the other person’s feelings and needs, and to make requests instead of demands. How can we express gratitude in the most meaningful way? Rosenberg suggests that rather than telling someone “You’re great!” or “You did a terrific job,” we share how we feel, and what need of ours was met. That way we give more useful information, and the recipient truly can take it in.

How would our world change, if children could learn this way of communicating while still young?

Rita Marie Johnson: Synthesizing Coherence and Connection

Costa Rica is the only country without a military, as well as offering a peace curriculum in grade schools. I went there in January to study at the University for Peace with Rita Marie Johnson, initiator of the “BePeace” school program. This American woman received a calling to work for peace at the age of ten; she went on to study with both the Institute of HeartMath and Marshall Rosenberg, founder of NVC. Rita Marie recognized that when we’re triggered emotionally, we don’t communicate well. This has been my own chief stumbling block in the practice of nonviolent communication. Her teaching: coherence and connection can help us resolve many relationship problems. We go to heart coherence to access our hearts’ wisdom and calm when we are triggered, before we attempt to speak. Using the language of feelings and needs allows us to connect at the heart, empathically. She also teaches the importance of accessing our hearts’ wisdom for problem solving. Please see www.rasurinternational.org for more about BePeace.

The principal of Oakley Elementary School in Texas, after incorporating the BePeace program, wrote: “We started with a hope, but we ended with a sense of awe and gratitude. Teachers and students of all age levels learned how to reduce barriers and gain insight…the awe factor was to watch the students begin to own the tools and use them in their own lives.”

In September, I had the privilege of assisting Rita Marie in facilitating a BePeace Foundations Course in Florida.

HeartSpeak: Listening and Speaking from the Heart

Gratitude can be defined as the recognition that one has received a gift, and the desire to acknowledge it. At this point in my life my biggest goal is to share the gifts and learnings I’ve received. Teaching always helps me learn at a deeper level. After several years of teaching communication skills to adults, last fall I began a weekly elective of “HeartSpeak” for 6th-8th graders at Francine Delany New School for Children. The students made their own sets of Feelings and Needs cards which they used for checking in with a buddy, and for practicing empathy. They relished acting out a feeling and having their classmates guess it. We identified “war words” (like should and have to) and “peace words.” Finally, they created a skit for the rest of the school, demonstrating the power of compassionately guessing feelings and needs when a classmate is feeling badly.

At the start of each class, we spent a few moments in heart coherence, appreciating a favorite pet, person or place. I invited them to practice heart coherence before tests, or during challenging moments with parents, teachers, or peers. To my delight, students would run up to me outside of class saying, “Cathy, I did my heart coherence today!”

I’m grateful for the opportunity to teach in any school, as it is my dream that someday, all schools will teach these life-enhancing skills to their students. Recently I had the honor of training teachers at Azalea Mountain School and Rainbow Community School.

Mediating a young couple who were having trouble, I taught them the heart coherence practice and helped them to identify their own feelings and unmet needs, as well as to guess those of their partner. The result was a dramatic increase in the couple’s ability to see each other’s humanness, and a great deal of tension and anger dissolved so that love could flow again.

Upcoming: There will be a free “Empathy Circles” evening at EarthFare (Westgate) on Friday, November 15, from 7-9pm. After an introduction to empathy, everyone will have a chance to share the joy and comfort of giving and receiving this beautiful form of caring. Come and get a taste of HeartSpeak! Please see www.heartspeakpeace.com for more classes and offerings.

To you, dear reader, I feel pleased and grateful that you have read this article, because it helps me meet my need to be seen.

 

Heart Coherence: Personal and Global

Rollin McCraty and Howard Martin of the Institute for HeartMath recently dialogued on “Three Keys for Increasing Personal and Global Coherence.” Here are some highlights.

Solar Activity and Us

sun-big-solar-flare-100910-02It has been shown that the Earth’s magnetic field, influenced by solar activity, affects our brain, central nervous system, blood pressure, heart rate and heart rate variability, hormones, and more. At times when solar activity peaks, there can be an increase in social conflicts, depression, accidents, and heart attacks. However, these are also times when creativity is heightened. It’s a great time to practice “inner ease” and access our intuitive intelligence.

We can use our heart’s intelligence to make choices. When a judgment pops up, along with the turbulent emotions that generates, we can learn to back off, and turn to our inner guidance system. Information from our Higher Self, communicated to us as our heart’s wisdom, allows us to make more intelligent choices. Our goal is to be open-hearted and connected in this present moment. At this rather stressful time on the planet, a wonderful resource is to access the state of “ease” and to embrace that as a way of life, to enable us to flow through challenges. “Inner ease” is a quiet doorway into Presence. Here’s how:

Steps to Inner Ease

1) Whenever you are “out of sync,” begin by acknowledging your present feelings, whatever they are: frustration, anxiety, overload, anger, or others.

2) Bring your awareness to your heart, and begin slow, heart-focused breathing.

3) Breathe in a feeling of ease and emotional balance into your heart.

4) Make a heartfelt commitment to anchor this feeling in, as you re-engage with the world.lotus2

5) Radiate out the inner ease to everyone.

6) Start each day with this practice, and revisit it frequently.

Personal, Social, and Global Coherence

The field we generate when our hearts are in a state of coherence goes out and resonates with the Earth’s geomagnetic field to cause increased coherence in the environment, benefiting all living systems! DNA information is transmitted via electromagnetic waves. Earth’s electromagnetic field is a carrier of biological information.

earth's em fieldIndividual coherence creates more social and global coherence, which in turn benefits each individual.  At the end of the day, we might ask ourselves, “What did I contribute to the global field?” Did we add emotionally chaotic energy like frustration or anger? Or did we add ease and kindness?

Patience and kindness with ourselves also “feeds the field,” so don’t forget to practice those! Any time we can make the shift from anger or frustration to gratitude, appreciation, caring and connection, we have helped our own bodies tremendously–since just five minutes of anger suppresses our immune system for over 6 hours, while just five minutes of sincere appreciation enhances our immune response for the same time period.

Compassion for ourselves and others is an intelligent aspect of love. Practicing coherence attracts fulfilling and rewarding experiences and people to us.