The Connection Practice at Jubilee!

The Connection Practice:

Empathy and Insight for Healing Relationships

Sunday, Nov. 12, 1:30-4:30pm

Jubilee! Garden Room, 101 Patton

Donation: $15, no one turned away

Experience the powerful synergy of empathy and insight!
  • Improve communication
  • Create harmonious relationships
  • Instantly lower stress
  • Access your heart’s beautiful wisdom

Powerful and transformative, life-changing experience. – participant in weekend Connection Practice

See testimonials here.

To register or for more information: cathyfholt@gmail.com

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.

 

“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!

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.

 

 

 

What is a HeartSpeak class?

“What will I learn in a HeartSpeak class?”

scan0001HeartSpeak is the language of feelings and needs. It’s based on “Nonviolent Communication,” for which I am very grateful to Dr. Marshall Rosenberg. Can communication sometimes be violent? Verbal violence is not only making threats of punishment. Much more of our speech is violent in that it is not respectful of the other person. Our minds may be full of thoughts, opinions, evaluations, judgments, criticisms, comparisons and analysis. Unfortunately, when we communicate these things to others, it usually does not help us connect with them. It takes us out of our hearts and into our heads.

On the other hand, when we speak about our own feelings and needs, these are universal and less likely to provoke a defensive reaction. It allows others to hear us better. For example, if in the midst of a conversation I say, “I’m really upset, and I need some space!” it will have a very different impact than if I said, “You shouldn’t tell me how to live my life!” A person hearing “You shouldn’t…” may feel angry and defensive, and start arguing, defending, justifying–none of which helps people to connect at the heart.

Empathy is the effort to recognize, and reflect back, the feelings and needs of another person. Since we can never really know, it’s always a guess–such as, “Are you feeling overwhelmed right now, and are you needing some peace and quiet?” Even if we guess wrong, the other person is usually helped to get in touch with what their own inner state is, and that is a gift. Although we may really want to help them solve their problems, most people prefer to come up with their own answers with the help of the reflection you give them through respectful, empathic listening.

Like any new language, HeartSpeak is not learned in a day, and it’s helpful to practice and try it on! That’s why a HeartSpeak class includes lots of experiential exercises like role-plays and sentence-completions. And it’s fun! We laugh a lot.

The first of the upcoming HeartSpeak classes is a free taste. After that, there are five more classes, for $60. I encourage you to take all six classes so that you can establish a firm foundation and get plenty of opportunities to practice! You’ll be learning to make neutral observations that avoid triggering people; expressing feelings (not thoughts) and needs (not strategies); making a positive request that’s do-able in real time; and giving empathy to ourselves and others. We devote special time to anger and how to manage it effectively, without suppressing it but recognizing the judgmental thoughts that give rise to it.

I hope you’ll visit the other pages on this website to understand more!