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.

Little Blue Flowers

Sometimes I look at my progress, shake my head, and find fault with myself.  I see myself as putting out inconsistent effort, procrastinating, playing it safe, shrinking, contracting. One class I taught went especially badly, partly because I did not see the people as my “target audience” and did not prepare with my usual attention and energy. The unconscious pattern I was falling into was that by focusing on what I’m doing wrong, and feeling inadequate, this leads to more of the same and I was going into a downward spiral.

Luckily for me, I have a housemate who is such a good friend that when she heard me starting down this path recently, she offered a corrective. Instead of saying, “No, it’s not true, you really have worthwhile things to offer, don’t feel so bad,” she gave me much more. “Cathy, remember how you were beaming the other day when you told me about going out in the morning to water those little blue flowers near the stairs, and how pleased you were when you saw a few more?” I agreed. Then she said, “What about seeing your work like those little blue flowers? Remember that class you taught for the Moms Against Gun Violence? That’s a little blue flower. Those clients you have are more flowers. Celebrate and build on your successes, and don’t dwell on the failures.”

She was reminding me that feeling gratitude for the small successes will lead to more progress than finding fault with myself for my shortcomings. Intellectually, I know this, but it takes a good friend sometimes to keep me on track because the old patterns still sneak up on me.

How about you? Do you know how to communicate caringly, yet old entrenched patterns surface and get in your way, leading to results you don’t want in your relationships? Do you find yourself in an anxious or stressed state frequently? Could you benefit from having a coach who, like a good friend, gently points out your strengths and helps you to build upon them?

I’m now offering a 4-session package of HeartMath Coaching for Resilience, in which you learn to get your heart and brain into “sync”, or “coherence.” Here’s what’s included:

1st session:

  • Mapping your stressors
  • Heart-focused breathing
  • Biofeedback – learn coherence in real time
  • Acknowledging your own feelings and needs
  • 2nd session:

  • From depletion to renewal
  •  Quick Coherence Technique
  • Biofeedback
  • Active listening and empathy for others
  • 3rd session:

  • Plugging energy leaks
  • The Inner Ease technique
  • Effective decision making
  • Gaining insight through coherence
  • 4th session:

  • Connection through empathy
  • Communicating your truth without judgment
  • 3 strategies for sustaining coherence
  • Action plans going forward
  • Special offer

    This package of 4 sessions, regularly priced at $320, is now available for just $250 if you sign up by the end of April. Meanwhile, I’m going to keep watering my little blue flowers!

“It is only with the heart that we can see truly.”

www.heartspeakpeace.com

828-545-9681

 

Our Hearts, Our Selves

heartekgOur Hearts, Our Selves

Did you know that the heart has its own “brain”? Yes, over 60 per cent of our hearts’ cells are nerve cells, and the heart has a brain with its own memories and preferences. The nun who received a heart transplant from a young man killed in a motorcycle accident was surprised to find herself craving Budweiser and chicken mcnuggets! And our hearts are sending messages to our brains more frequently than in the other direction. (Are we listening??) heartmath

HeartMath®: the rhythms of the heart 

The heart, according to the Institute of HeartMath®, is the “master regulator” for the whole body. As goes the heart, so go the nervous system, the digestive system, the respiratory system, the immune system, and the brain. The heart’s electromagnetic field is at least a hundred times more powerful than the brain’s, and it extends out beyond our bodies, subtly influencing everyone we encounter. Have you ever walked into a room where there has just been an argument, and felt the energy? Sometimes these energies are not so subtle!

Health benefits abound

When we are feeling peaceful, loving or grateful, our heart rhythms entrain all the other organ systems in our bodies to work at their best. This state is called “heart-brain coherence,” and it can be taught.  The Institute of HeartMath® has done extensive studies on the health benefits of practicing coherence. Some of the conditions that can be helped include: high blood pressure, digestive disorders, asthma, diabetes, insomnia, asthma, congestive heart disease, fatigue, PTSD, depression, and anxiety. HeartMath® has been used by health professionals, businesses, veterans, police, the military, schools, universities, nonprofits, and athletes.  (Please see www.heartmath.org)

It’s not just for adults. Students benefit because they can learn to diminish test anxiety and think more clearly, resulting in improved test scores. They also improve their social and emotional functioning in school.

Self-regulation skills

When I first encountered HeartMath® in the 1990’s, I was a biofeedback therapist. I was very impressed with their research, and hoped they would create a way to monitor and “feed back” the heart data so that people could learn these skills. And a few years later, they did! The Emwave® is a simple device that attaches to an earlobe and your computer and gives you information about your coherence level, and the Inner Balance® can go everywhere–it works with an iPhone.

This year when I became a certified HeartMath® coach, I was surprised and pleased to learn how to manage my own energy better using HeartMath® skills. Now if I am frustrated or worried or anxious, I pause and ask myself if I want to stay in that contracted state that is draining my energy. NO! It may take a few tries, but I can usually shift to heart-focused breathing and generate a feeling of appreciation or ease. At night if I am not falling asleep right away, I do my HeartMath® practices, and feel the bliss of deep relaxation followed by sleep. When getting ready for an important phone call, teaching a class, or meeting someone, my goal is to “get coherent” in preparation. These are the basics of self-regulation and resilience: taking charge of my own well-being.

Heart Insights

Best of all, I can frequently access intuitive insights that flow when my heart and brain are “in sync.” These insights can be as simple as “I could be taking better care of my health and slowing down more,” or they could be in response to a question I’m having about a relationship. When I first received a heart insight, it was in a class called “BePeace,” taught by Rita Marie Johnson, with practices for combining empathic communication skills with heart coherence and insight. The results were profound: I was able to heal a rift with a brother that had resulted in a communication breakdown, after having that insight!

Rita Marie trained me to be a teacher of her courses. Her new book, Completely Connected, just won the Nautilus award in psychology (an award previously held by the Dalai Lama, Thich Nhat Hanh, Deepak Chopra, and Marianne Williamson).

Get the benefits…

You can receive the HeartMath® benefits by:

  • Taking the BePeace course with me on the weekend of October 15 and 16 at Unity of the Blue Ridge. Please see heartspeakpeace.com for more information.
  • If you prefer individual coaching sessions in HeartMath®, please contact me at 828-545-9681 or cathyfholt@gmail.com. Your first consultation is free!

 

 

 

 

What is the true cause of addiction?

In a Huffington Post article by Johann Hari, author of Chasing the Scream: The First & Last Days of the Drug War, a startling answer is given.

Why don’t hospital patients on morphine stay addicted once discharged? Rat studies showed that isolated rats used cocaine addictively, while rats in a comfortable, social cage did not, despite easy access.

“The street-addict is like the rats in the first cage, isolated, alone, with only one source of solace to turn to. The medical patient is like the rats in the second cage. She is going home to a life where she is surrounded by the people she loves. The drug is the same, but the environment is different…

“Professor Peter Cohen argues that human beings have a deep need to bond and form connections. It’s how we get our satisfaction. If we can’t connect with each other, we will connect with anything we can find — the whirr of a roulette wheel or the prick of a syringe. He says we should stop talking about ‘addiction’ altogether, and instead call it ‘bonding.’ A heroin addict has bonded with heroin because she couldn’t bond as fully with anything else.

“So the opposite of addiction is not sobriety. It is human connection.”

After describing the miserable future of imprisonment and joblessness that await addicts in our society, Hari comments:
“There is an alternative. You can build a system that is designed to help drug addicts to reconnect with the world — and so leave behind their addictions.

“This isn’t theoretical. It is happening…. Nearly fifteen years ago, Portugal had one of the worst drug problems in Europe, with 1 percent of the population addicted to heroin. They had tried a drug war, and the problem just kept getting worse. So they decided to do something radically different. They resolved to decriminalize all drugs, and transfer all the money they used to spend on arresting and jailing drug addicts, and spend it instead on reconnecting them — to their own feelings, and to the wider society. The most crucial step is to get them secure housing, and subsidized jobs so they have a purpose in life, and something to get out of bed for. I watched as they are helped, in warm and welcoming clinics, to learn how to reconnect with their feelings, after years of trauma and stunning them into silence with drugs.

“One example I learned about was a group of addicts who were given a loan to set up a removals firm. Suddenly, they were a group, all bonded to each other, and to the society, and responsible for each other’s care.

“The results of all this are now in. An independent study by the British Journal of Criminology found that since total decriminalization, addiction has fallen, and injecting drug use is down by 50 percent. Decriminalization has been such a manifest success that very few people in Portugal want to go back to the old system. The main campaigner against the decriminalization back in 2000 … offered all the dire warnings that we would expect … But when we sat together in Lisbon, he told me that everything he predicted had not come to pass — and he now hopes the whole world will follow Portugal’s example.”

https://www.heartspeakpeace.com/1209-2/

Monitoring your energy: what drains or replenishes you?

batteries1Energy and Choices

We all want to feel alive, energetic and vibrant.  An “energy gain” is an activity, task, or thought that makes you feel better and more alive—those things we want to or choose to do. An “energy drain” is something that leaves us feeling less alive and even depleted—those things we believe we have to or must do; often something that we do not want to do.  In almost all cases, it is not that we have to, should, or must do a thing, it is actually a choice.  Even though you may believe “I have to cook dinner,”  it is a choice.  You can choose not to cook, and instead eat a prepared food or restaurant meal. Our thoughts and perceptions of an activity can make a big difference in our energy. Simply feeling frustrated can deplete us, while feeling grateful can replenish our energy.

Energy drains and gains are always unique to the individual; what is a drain for one can be a gain for another.  Energy drains can be doing the dishes and feeling resentful that your partner or children are not doing them, or anticipating seeing a person whom you do not really want to spend time with. An energy gain can be meeting a friend you enjoy, going for a walk in the woods, or taking a relaxing bath.

So often our lives are filled with things that we believe we “should do” instead of want to do.  “If I did this, my family and friends won’t like me”, or “I am not sure I will be successful so I will do something that is safe.”  How well charged are your energy batteries?

 

Explore strategies to decrease the energy drains and increase the energy gains. Try the following to observe your energy fluctuations:

  1. For one week monitor your energy drains and energy gains. Notice the events, activities, thoughts, or emotions that increase or decrease energy at home and at work. For example some drains can include cleaning bathroom, cooking another meal, or talking to a family member on the phone, while gains can be taking a walk, talking to a friend, completing a work task. Be very honest, just note the events that change your energy level.
  2. After the week look over your notes and identify at least one activity that drains your energy and one activity that increases your energy.
  3. Develop a strategy to decrease one of the energy drains.  Be very specific how, where, when, with whom, and which situations drain your energy.  Anticipate obstacles that may interfere with reducing your drains and develop new ways to overcome these obstacles. For example, trading tasks with others (“I will cook if you clean the bathroom”).
    Develop new ways to increase energy gains – such as doing exercise outdoors, or even taking a few minutes to breathe deeply.
  4. Each day intend to reduce one energy drain and increase one energy gain– and observe what happens.

Initially it may seem impossible, but many people report that the practice made them aware, increased their energy, and they had more control over their lives than they thought.  It also encouraged them to explore the question, “What is it that I really want to do?”  So often we do energy draining activities because of convention, habit and fear, which makes us feel powerless.  In observing our energy drains and energy gains, we become aware of choices.  Sometimes, the choice is not changing the tasks, but how we perceive and feel about them.

How the Connection Practice Helps Facilitators

Conflicts can arise in any group. To resolve conflicts, a skilled facilitator helps everyone to calm their reactivity, and then to see one another’s needs behind their positions.

Learn two ways to calm reactivity and rebuild connection and trust within the group, while encouraging creativity.

  • We’ll practice the skill of “translating” by respectfully re-stating each participant’s statement to reflect the underlying feelings and needs, without blame or judgment.
  • Creative insights frequently emerge when groups practice getting into synchrony of breathing, heart, and brain known as “coherence.”

 

Empathy in writing to my sister

I’m posting this email I sent to my sister (D) after a visit with our 97-year-old father in the summer.

KONICA MINOLTA DIGITAL CAMERA

   Dad & D

An incident that was painful for both of us: I had a project of interviewing him, and my sister very much wanted to be a part of it, to the point of taking over and asking most of the questions at one point. The second time, I started without her, and she was upset about not having been told and included in the entire project.

In this email, I did my best to guess empathically my sister’s feelings and needs, express my regret, and let her know some of what I was feeling as well.

Dear D,

I have been reflecting some on our visit to Dad and my behavior toward you. It seems to me that when you saw me interviewing Dad without having told you I was starting and including you for the whole time, you might have been feeling sad, left out, nervous, and really wanting inclusion and being a part of the whole process. I’m wondering if you might have thought I was trying to exclude you from some important and close moments with Dad. Was that how it was for you?  I regret that I did not look deeper to see that this could have been going on.

At times when you were speaking and the family was listening, I was wondering if you were feeling the pressure of so much to say, that you wanted the family to hear, in such a short visit – to help you feel understood and heard and acknowledged, and to meet your need for connection with Dad especially. I regret that I was seeing you in a negative way because I did not want to re-examine my habitual thoughts. Now I see how what I was labeling as your “dominating” the conversation was small in comparison to the many ways I have dominated YOU over the years, even bullied you when we were younger.

My apologies, D, for all the unconscious old behavior you had to experience from me. I felt ashamed and guilty that I did not muster up the ability to give you more genuine empathy while we were together, not only because I want to “walk my talk,” but also because I want to be more compassionate.

Love,
C

A NVC Trainer Reports from Botswana

Nonviolent Communication, or NVC has trainers who go all over the world to share the skills of listening and speaking from the heart. My friend Roberta Wall, a certified NVC trainer, wrote this touching story of her recent trip to Botswana.

Supporting HIV Healthworkers

There are many thousands of children and teens infected with HIV in Botswana, the virus transmitted to them at birth. Sometimes the same healthcare worker will follow these children from birth on, and many of them are now in their teens.

About 30 doctors and nurses gathered for an NVC training this week at the Baylor pediatric clinic in Gaborone. I asked them if they had had any situations where they tried to communicate something to someone and they felt frustrated or disappointed at the results. A woman doctor raised her hand and said that one of her 17-year-old patients, whom she had known since he was an infant, told her that he was not going to continue taking his medicine. Even after she told him that he could die, he said he didn’t care.

We spent the next hour and a half with numbers of different doctors, nurses, social workers and counselors role- playing how to speak to a young person in this situation. Every single one of them has encountered this over and over.

One exploration that touched me deeply was when the doctor who had been role playing the teen said, “I’m in the circle now”—meaning  “I’m going to share something outside of my role as a caregiver.”

Sometimes, he said, we have to stop trying to “win” with our clients: if all we are doing is trying to get them to comply with our plans, our protocol,  and our needs in order to feel successful, we aren’t creating the quality of relationship that will be a “win-win” —the essential ingredient for building trust and giving these kids a sense of understanding, respect and empowerment.

“What does that mean”, another asked—that we say, “Okay, go die?”

We began to explore what is for me one of the most challenging aspects of the path of Compassionate Communication—how do I genuinely value and connect with someone’s choices and experiences,when I am terrified that they will hear my connection as agreeing that they should do something that I think will be harmful to them? How do I give empathy to a teen who says he won’t take his medication when I believe that his doing so will kill him?

We decided to try role-plays with the doctors and caregivers playing themselves, looking for ways to hear the young man’s needs, to empathize with his needs, and also to hold onto our need to support his health and—yes, our need to make a contribution that has meaning and purpose.

Early in the role-plays, we learned that the boy was very angry at his mother, who had birthed him with the virus, and that he had expressed at some point the desire to ” expose” his mother as not giving him the love and support that he wanted. Then we learned that the mother had been present in the doctor’s office, so we added her into the role-play.

One of the other doctors present said that she was facing the same situation with a 14-year-old boy, and she wanted to know what she is supposed to say when she explains to him why he needs to take the drugs, and he says no.

I said that one of the practices of Nonviolent Communication is to look for the Yes in the No. What is it that he is saying Yes to? And can we ourselves become curious about what it is that he is saying Yes to— can we get curious about what is behind his No?image

We explored this in many role-plays and conversations during the rest of the session. We saw that when the doctors really stepped into the shoes of the young man, it was much easier for them to imagine what it was that he was saying Yes to. Some autonomy, some control over the life that had been given to him with this disease. Some choice about whether he wants to continue on— perhaps the ultimate expression of autonomy. We also noticed in several of the scenarios where doctors were involved with teens, that the teens’ anger at their parents often would be expressed by the teens saying that they would not take their medicine.

We want to use all of our observations, to gather everything that we notice and all of the information that we have, to help us guess what needs these teens are meeting in refusing to take their medicine. In several cases we guessed that the medicine and the choice to take it was a source of empowerment for the teens – it was a way of getting their parents’ attention, of getting their parents to hear what was important to them, and in some cases to get their parents to agree to things that they wanted in their own lives and felt otherwise powerless about.

“At least…”

woman-with-shameHow Not to Give Empathy

It all came back to me. When someone tells you their problem, their story of sadness, and you want to give empathy, DON’T say, “Well, at least this or that didn’t happen” or “At least you still have…” That is just minimizing, or cheering up. Not empathy. Brene Brown says so.

But a few weeks ago, I found myself chatting with a friend with a young son, who told me about having broken up with her husband. I expressed my sorrow at the news, then heard myself say, “Well, at least your son had his dad for the first couple of years.” My friend looked at me for a moment, then looked down and said, “I don’t know much about how to give empathy, but I heard that saying ‘at least’ isn’t it.” I gulped, filled with embarrassment, looked back at her and said, “I think I need to take one of my own classes, right?”

And in a book study group on The Art of Empathy by Karla McLaren, a participant was talking about his sadness over not having as wide a circle of friends as he would like. I recalled having read the same section of the book and having had the insight (in high school) that just one close friend was all I really needed, so I began chirping about that insight, until another group member respectfully interrupted me and gently reminded me that this was not empathy for the first speaker.

As I apologized, I went into a full-blown shame reaction. Karla McLaren writes about shame. And here I was experiencing it, while watching myself, reporting on it to a group of people who were also interested in this emotion. I felt a wave of heat coming up my back and right up into my face, causing me to redden. McLaren says the action required by shame is: “Moderate your behavior so you don’t hurt or embarrass yourself or others.” The questions she suggests are: “Who has been hurt?” and “What must be made right?” I saw clearly how my talking had been diverting attention away from the first speaker’s sadness, minimizing his pain, and attempting to “cheer him up.” I took a few breaths, humbly acknowledged this behavior and how much I still had to practice, and brought back attention to the firt speaker’s needs.

Of course, he and the group forgave me, and even thanked me for being so open and vulnerable about describing my shame response.

These two experiences reminded me why I teach communication skills. The main reason is so that I can learn them better myself!

The Power of Gratitude

 

Even after all this time

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 rhythmicity entrains all other 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 rhythms enhance our immune response, problem solving and intuition, and every other system in the body as well.

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 cells are neural cells, like in the brain, and many more signals go from heart to brain than vice versa. The heart is an organ of perception and communication. It is also the most powerful electromagnetic (EM) generator and receiver in the body, with a magnetic field that’s 5,000 times more powerful than that of the brain!

Heart 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.

Steps to 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, heart-focused breathing.

3) Recall vividly something you are grateful for, and breathe in a feeling of gratitude and appreciation into your heart. Continue your slow, rhythmic breathing while experiencing gratitude.

4) If you are grappling with a problem or decision, ask your heart “What do I need to know about this?”

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 6 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.

Biofeedback: the Mind-Body Connection

Imagine receiving information about one’s own body and observing how muscle tension, heart rate, blood pressure, and other physiologic functions are influenced by thoughts and emotions! Biofeedback teaches people to self-regulate, deliberately affecting their physiology. Research supports biofeedback as a helpful tool for overcoming migraine and tension headaches, TMJ (temporo-mandibular joint pain/ teeth grinding), chronic pain, insomnia, irritable bowel, panic attacks, repetitive strain injury, even asthma and high blood pressure. And now, we can learn to increase our heart coherence at will.

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 delight.  Picture 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 with whom I was grateful to study in California 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. So many of our social-emotional problems stem from unskillful communication, and here was a method for practicing peace. I have now taught communication classes at several churches and libraries, HelpMate, LEAF, and schools; I facilitated an NVC practice group at Westwood CoHousing.

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

Rita Marie Johnson: Teaching peace to kids

Inspired by Costa Rica–the only country without a military but offering a peace curriculum in grade schools–I went there in January to study 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 Marshall Rosenberg, founder of NVC, and the Institute of HeartMath. 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: use heart coherence to return to 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’ insights for problem solving.

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.”

Other 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, serve, and help 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 (at least three things), and notice what you can do to help that process.

Research shows that a ratio of five appreciations to each complaint 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)

Among my teachers I give honor and gratitude to my parents, Drs. Bob Holt and Louisa Howe, who provided awesome role models, generously nurtured my growth, and encouraged me to give my gifts.

HeartSpeak: Listening and Speaking from the Heart

At this point in my life my biggest goal is to share the gifts and learnings I’ve received. And I’ve always taught what I most want to learn myself. Last fall I began teaching a weekly elective of “HeartSpeak” for 6th-8th graders at Francine Delany New School for Children. The students made their own sets of “Feelings cards” and “Needs Jewels” 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 their 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: 

* HeartSpeak class at Kenilworth Presbyterian Church for 4 Thursdays, starting Oct. 3, 7-9pm. Address is 123 Kenilworth Rd., cost is $60 including a private, confidential coaching session for each participant.  If you’re wanting more connection and less conflict in your relationships, come to this interactive class where you will get lots of practice in the compassionate practice of empathy. Please pre-register, cathyfholt@gmail.com. Bring a friend, receive a 30% discount!

* Prefer Wednesdays? HeartSpeak class at the Jewish Community Center on Charlotte St., 4 Wednesdays starting Oct. 23, 6:30-8:30pm. As above; please pre-register.

* “Empathy Circles” evening at EarthFare  (Westgate) on Friday, October 11 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 free taste of HeartSpeak!

* HeartSpeak at Malaprop’s Bookstore: Monday, October 21, 7pm. Introducing the handy HeartSpeak minibook, and an introductory workshop.

(This article will appear in the November issue of WNC Woman.)