Digging deeper into the dirt

Digging deeper into the dirt

Sometimes I really slip up on my goal of regulating myself when I get into a bad mood. Usually that mood accompanies some judgment I am having.

We three housemates have a Friday night meal, and it was up to T. or me to cook. M. was working  that day and T. was busy on the phone and seemed content for me to cook the meal. I had hoped T. and I would be cooking together, and began to judge her behavior as “entitled.” M. came home from work and jumped into making a salad.

Some part of me is a really nitpicking score keeper, obsessing about fairness, and after dinner when M. was helping clean up, I said I thought she was helping T. too much–as if I was trying to even the score, for T. not helping us cook! In reality, we all have times when we are busy and do less, and times when we put in more effort on behalf of the household.

After dinner we were planning our gardens, and when T. started drawing the existing garden beds on the whiteboard, I thought I would contribute by adding a little piece, but T. erased it. This happened twice. I got triggered because I judged T. as “controlling” and left the room saying, “This is really annoying.” What I wish I had said was, “When you erased my drawing, I felt hurt and annoyed because I interpreted that as a lack of respect or negating my input. I was judging you as controlling. I value cooperation and collaboration, and I need to be seen and heard.” When I came back I played with my phone, not even looking at T.’s drawing. T. explained that it was easier for her to be the one doing the drawing and that she was open to verbal input. She acknowledged my discomfort and even came and rubbed my shoulders!

The next day, M. and T. got started digging out a garden bed to put a vole-barrier of hardware cloth into it. They had agreed to do that the previous evening and I was not actually asked to take part; however, I thought it was only fair for me to offer to help, so I started shoveling too. The hardware cloth needed to be bought, and that was easier than shoveling, so I volunteered but neglected to research the best place to find it for a good price. When I got to Lowe’s, the price seemed high so after phoning T. and M., I made several calls to other stores. I started feeling stressed that the cost was so high. M. had offered to help make calls and call me back, but I said it would take longer that way. She still offered to help, and I gruffly said, “Whatever,” and hung up. I had not realized how much time it would take to get the errand done and I was getting impatient, hungry, and hadn’t had lunch yet. Yes, I was “hangry!”

When I got home she expressed to me that she did not like how I had spoken on the phone, and especially being hung up on, and I apologized.

Later I wrote: “Were you feeling stressed, hurt and sad when I said ‘Whatever’ and hung up the phone, because you need respect, harmony, and consideration for how you’re trying to help? I’m feeling embarrassed and regretful because I didn’t self-regulate or attune to you.  Instead, I was out of control with my grumpiness! I did not mean it personally. I need more self-awareness and to walk my talk. I would really like to be more mindful and respectful with you.” She thanked me and forgave me.

When I have a day like this, I’m often hard on myself. I think, “Who am I to teach heart coherence or compassionate communication? I’m not practicing it when I hit a rough spot, and instead I vent my impatience and bad attitude on other people, the opposite of being compassionate!”

So I stopped myself, took a breath, and acknowledged that even though my behavior was far from my ideals, I had communicated in a better way afterwards and had been forgiven by both housemates. Going deeper into questioning my high reactivity, I was aware that I was feeling envious of T. for the important and meaningful work she is so deeply engaged in, and that I had been in a self-critical and financially stressed place over not having generated enough work for myself. I had been looking forward to an afternoon to nurture myself on Saturday, and didn’t like spending part of it shoveling and running errands, but imagined that there was peer pressure to do so…a story I was telling myself, since T. and M. said they did not have that expectation. The pressure came from my own desire to be seen as a collaborator, someone who does her fair share.

And so by writing this blog I am sharing with you the truth that we all struggle with our old patterns, I am not proud of my bad habits but they give me plenty of opportunities for growth and learning!

Take your connections up a notch this year!

Rita Marie Johnson, founder of The Connection Practice

Would you like to experience more rewarding connections with family, friends, co-workers? There is now an affordable way to get top-notch instruction in the Connection Practice, from its founder, along with personal coaching!

Here is a FREE introductory video with Rita Marie, called “A Simple Solution for Our Disconnected World.”

The Connection Practice increases your empathic communication skills–both for yourself, and with others–while developing your ability to calm yourself under stress and access your heart’s own insights.

The result is that you can move forward in your goals, and even heal damaged relationships. This social-emotional skill set, pioneered by Rita Marie Johnson, is being used in families, businesses, schools, nonprofits, and universities with remarkable results.

Now you can watch Rita Marie’s lectures and demonstrations to learn these transformative tools at your leisure, in your own time-frame, through a pre-recorded series of five webinars. To bring it home and help you with your personal challenges and skill-building, you can receive four hours of personal coaching from me via Skype or in-person. I am a certified coach and teacher of the Connection Practice, as well as a HeartMath coach. If you are local, you can experience biofeedback of your heart rhythms in order to learn and experience heart-brain coherence.

What people are saying about the Connection Practice: 

“This course brought me valuable insights, from my own heart, that changed my relationship to myself and my family. The depth of learning from the heart goes way beyond what is possible using only the intellect. Powerful and transformative life-changing experience; feeling the authentic empathy allowed me to process and gain a great measure of peace regarding traumatic issues recently experienced. Thank you for creating safety and supporting this journey of the heart!” – Kathy Austin

See more testimonials here.

Special offer

The regular price for four private coaching sessions with me, without the webinar, is $220-$320, sliding scale.

This special offer includes the five webinar sessions with Rita Marie, plus four private coaching sessions with me, for only $297!

Email or call today to schedule your FREE consultation. 828-545-9681.

 

The Connection Practice – at the Shift Studio

When: Saturday, June 9, from 10 am to 1 pm

Where: The Shift Studio, 708B Fleming St., Hendersonville

Come and learn how empathy and insight can transform your relationships!

  • Learn to be present compassionately with your own feelings and needs
  • Gain practice in giving empathy to others to build deeper connection and resolve conflict
  • Decrease your stress and enhance your resilience with heart-brain coherence
  • Access intuitive insights from your heart
  • Love offering

Compassion Camp, June 28 – July 1

at Earthaven Ecovillage

Black Mountain, NC

An immersive gathering for people interested in learning and living compassionate consciousness, building community, networking, and deepening our skills in compassionate communication.

A collaboration of the REAL Center, 10,000 Love Letters Project, Culture’s Edge, and the School of Integrated Living, organized by Steve Torma.

Relational activities including Open Space, interactive learning, singing, dancing, storytelling, and silence. The Connection Practice will be presented by Cathy Holt.

For more information, please click here.

Conscious Communication for Parents

Are you a parent who would like to communicate more effectively with your children? Frustrated with the lack of cooperation, or regretful at losing your temper?

You’re invited to a Parent Peer Support group with Cathy Holt, certified coach in the Connection Practice and HeartMath.  Love offering requested.

When:  Wednesday, March 21, 6-7:30pm

Where: Rainbow Community School, 574 Haywood Rd., West Asheville

We’ll work in pairs with the “Conscious Communication Cards” of Lori Petro (www.teach-with-love.com) and the Feelings and Needs cards, plus heart coherence from the Connection Practice. You will receive empathy from peers, and learn to give empathy to your kids, while holding boundaries.

Please let me know if you can come: cathyfholt@gmail.com, or 828-545-9681. Please visit my facebook event.

Pathways to Peace

“Violence is a tragic expression of an unmet need.” – Marshall Rosenberg, founder of Nonviolent Communication

In a recent interview on the Shift Network, Roxanne Manning discussed the great need in these highly polarized times, to connect across our differences. Roxanne is a certified trainer in Nonviolent Communication, living in the SF Bay Area and originally from Trinidad.

“If we view everyone’s behavior as their best efforts to meet their needs, we can connect more easily,” she stated. When we are in anger or fear, our fight or flight response is triggered, which leads to demonizing and stereotyping the “other.” This can cause disconnection or even violence.

Instead, Roxanne suggests:

  1. Slow down, take a breath.
  2. Ask yourself, “What are my needs?” Our feelings can give us clues to discover our needs.
  3. Can I share that, or shall I find out what the other person’s needs are?

She offered an example of a time when her young daughter excitedly jumped on her when she came home after surgery. She was able to say something like, “Ouch, that hurt! I need care for my body. And I see you’re excited and want to connect with me. Please hug me gently.” (Notice that she shared her own feelings and needs, guessed those of her daughter, and made a specific request, all without any blaming.)

“We all need to know that we matter,” she continued. “When we say no, we can reassure a person: ‘I can’t do the specific thing you’re asking, and your needs matter to me. Let’s find another way to meet your need.'”

Shame, Roxanne believes, is one of the most excruciating and triggering emotions. When we go into shame, we lash out. Human dignity must always be tended to.

“Listen for a person’s needs, without an agenda, with your heart open,” she advises. “Hear what is real for the other. When your needs and mine are on the table, a solution becomes apparent.”

When speaking to someone across a political divide, it’s important to convey: “I know you want what is best for you, and I want to understand your perspective,” until they can say, “Wow, you got it, you understand me.” Then, they will be more open to hearing your perspective. You might be able to say, “I don’t agree with your strategy, but I’d like to know what’s behind that,” and look for their needs; notice which of those needs are also important to YOU, and join with them around those. “Here’s why I’m worried that that particular strategy won’t get us what we want and value… Would you be open to discussing other strategies?”

“Hold each person’s needs as universal, valid, and important,” she advises.

 

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.

 

 

 

 

 

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