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.

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.”

The Connection Practice Launches!

 The Connection PracticeThe Connection Practice was offered for the first time in Asheville, NC at Jubilee Community, last weekend, with three trained facilitators leading small group activities. It was such a thrill for me to see people engaging earnestly and joyfully in learning the skills… as they perused tables full of feeling and needs cards, thoughtfully selecting the ones they guessed their companions were experiencing; as they engaged in “heart-brain coherence” with music or with the Em-wave biofeedback games…as they shared a personal challenge with one another.
“The feelings of love and coherence in the room were palpable,” one facilitator stated.

Sarah, Duncan & Michelle, facilitators

Sarah, Duncan & Michelle, facilitators

Comments from participants:

“Fundamentally transformative…I can use this practice of gratitude for freeing myself from emotional reactions, and to better connect with & listen to my heart.”

“Amazing periods of self-discovery, … deep & loving insights, experiencing already the benefits of learning new behaviors.”

“Experiential focus made material meaningful & relevant…I feel competent to use what I have learned to enhance my own inner work as well as deal creatively with conflicts that might arise.”

The Connection Practice will be offered again at the end of this month!
​Saturday, February 28, 9:30am-5pm and Sunday, March 1, 1pm-5:30pm

Odyssey Community School, 90 Zillicoa St.

with Cathy Holt, certified teacher, coach, and curriculum instructor with Rasurinternational.org

Cost: $125 by February 20.
* May sign up for Parts 2 & 3 to be held March & April, $295 for all three.
* Bring a friend or family member, receive 50% discount yourself!
* All teachers of youth are eligible for partial scholarships.
* Class size limited to 20.
To register, please contact Cathy, 828-545-9681 or cathyfholt@gmail.com.

“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!

Transforming Demands into Requests

Knowing what to say is one thing, but practicing it consistently is another. The other day at the residential treatment center for teen girls where I work part-time, I was in the kitchen supervising after-dinner cleanup. The girl in charge of delegating tasks had not assigned anyone to put away food yet, and the one who was supposed to wash the pots and pans was waiting. It was nearly 8 pm and the possibility of an after dinner movie was getting more remote. At that point, I yelled out into the dining room, “We could really use some support here with putting away the food!” Five minutes passed, no response. I walked out to the dining room and said, “We need to get the food put away!” Finally a girl showed up and I helped her get the food into plastic bags.

Shortly afterward, the girl in charge of assigning tasks said she had some feedback for me. “I didn’t like your demanding tone in the kitchen.” I gulped and thanked her for the feedback. This girl avoided me for the remainder of the evening. My jaws started to ache. I realized that it was because my speech was not in line with my values; I was not talking my talk!

Once I was home, I did some slow breathing, got into heart coherence, and asked my heart, “What could I have done differently?” Of course! I could have described what I was noticing, stated my feelings and needs, and made a request. So I wrote her a note.

Dear S,

I regret my demanding tone last night. Here’s what I would say, next time:

When I was in the kitchen and noticed that there was nobody putting away the leftovers, while G was waiting for some pans to wash, I felt concerned because I value efficiency. I also was wanting G to be able to finish her task. Noticing that it was nearly 8pm, I was worried that the other girls might be irritated if we did not have time to watch the movie. I value cooperation so that all of our needs can get met and we can have a good time. Would you be willing to delegate a girl to put away the food within the next 5 minutes or so?

Sincerely,

Cathy

The next afternoon when I saw S, I gave her the note and after she read it she came and thanked me, with a big smile on her face. I felt so much better! It’s comforting to know that even though I blew it the first time, I could repair the damage. Now my goal is to be more consistent in expressing my feelings and needs, and to transform my demands into requests before they leave my mouth.

 

 

 

 

 

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.

 

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