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

 

 

 

What Your Feelings Are Trying to Tell You (part 1)

An Empath’s View of Emotions and their Gifts

I’ve been reading and appreciating Karla McLaren’s book, The Language of Emotions: What Your Feelings are Trying to Tell You. McLaren was molested repeatedly at the age of three, and suffered from dissociation and lack of boundaries, as many abuse survivors do. She developed amazing empathic abilities as a result, which was disturbing to her as she had no idea what to do with all she was picking up from other people—feelings that they often refused even to acknowledge. “Emotions are given very little respect,” she writes. “They are not honored as the brilliant messengers they are—vital tools of our greatest humanity and evolution…Much of the information we have tells us to stop the natural flow of the emotions.”

Through her work as a counselor, McLaren came to realize that feelings are an aspect of our innate intelligence, and that each emotion bears its own gifts, when we learn to channel it properly. Anger helps us recognize when a boundary has been violated, and lets us rebuild it to protect ourselves. Fear can increase our focus, resiliency to change, and intuition. Sadness enables us to let go of what is no longer useful, such as unworkable attachments. Shame and guilt can pinpoint boundary violations and help us break destructive agreements. Even a suicidal urge can illuminate and eliminate the soul-killing aspects of our lives.

Balancing Our Elements

McLaren draws on the metaphor of the four elements: air represents the mind, water the emotions, earth the body, and fire the spirit and visions. All four must be in a state of balance, she believes, for our full intelligence to operate. Often the intellect gets too much dominance.  Emotions are meant to flow, like water. Like water, they give life, and like water, they sometimes need to be channeled to avoid damage. However, we receive socialization messages that tell us some emotions are “good” and others are “bad.” McLaren writes: “Joy and happiness are lovely in their place, but they’re not by any stretch of the imagination better than fear, anger, grief or sadness. Each emotion has its own valid place in our lives…We can’t just pick and choose our emotions. That would be like picking and choosing only certain organs: I want only my heart and brain, none of those messy digestive organs!”

It seems easier to hide our honest emotions and shun them in other people. The problem is that we truly need our emotions, and can’t live functional lives without them. Emotions convey messages between our unconscious and conscious minds, and give us needed energy, skills and abilities to deal with life’s changes. Shoving emotions back into the unconscious without consciously processing them “creates a short-circuit in the psyche.”

Not Repression or Expression, but Channeling

Repressers cannot feel emotions, cannot address trauma with consciousness, but avoid, distract, and dissociate, hence suffer. Abusers hurl emotions onto and hurt others, destroying their own ego structure, cycling through rages and isolation, and often turn to addictive substances. Neither repression nor expression can heal our old traumas, but honoring and conscious channeling of the emotions heals us, and bolsters our relationships rather than destroying them.

A Buddhist saying: “Suffering is discomfort multiplied by resistance.” Spinoza wrote: “Suffering ceases to be suffering as soon as we form a clear and precise picture of it.” If we resist feeling an emotion (repress it), this may lead to depression or illness. In the case of anger, repression can cause apathy, depression, loss of energy, loss of boundaries, enmeshment with others (co-dependency), and self-abandonment; other people are damaged, when we allow them to violate our boundaries. We also resist feeling through addictions and distractions, which give us a temporary “fix” or relief but never let us resolve the issue or form a clear picture. A well-meaning adult may react to a child’s anger or sadness with distractions like cookies or cute toys; later we learn to do this for ourselves with food, consumer goods, or alcohol. Instead, we can learn to follow our emotions from imbalance to understanding to resolution.

“When emotions are allowed to contribute their brilliant and unceasing energies to the psyche, they provide a flowing conveyance into and through the underworld of trauma; they provide the energy and information needed in each part of the journey,” writes McLaren.

She believes that we need forgiveness, but first we need our anger to restore our boundaries; thus, anger and forgiveness, far from being opposites, can work together and support each other.

 Five empathic skills help us navigate through the emotions and move them through us.

  1. Get grounded, using healthy, flowing sadness and fear.
  2. Define our boundaries, using healthy, flowing anger and shame.
  3. “Burn our contracts” (such as agreements with people, expectations, beliefs, or behaviors that don’t serve us), to help channel emotions.
  4. Practice “conscious complaining” to shake off negativity or free clogged-up emotions.
  5. Rejuvenate ourselves with nature, or by imagining ourselves filling up with light.

 

 

 

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.

 

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.)

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.