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HeartMath

Heart and Right Brain Insights

My Stroke of Insight by Jill Bolte Taylor, Ph.D. is a fascinating true story written by a neuroscientist who had a stroke at age 37, about her lengthy but full recovery and what she learned about the left and right hemispheres of the brain. When an aneurysm ruptured in her left brain, leaving her without language temporarily, she discovered the wonders of her right brain. A blissful sense of peace, fluidity and oneness, like nirvana, enveloped her. She was able, with great difficulty, to make the phone call for help which saved her life. 

While her left brain slowly recovered, Jill was at first unable to understand any words spoken to her or to communicate verbally, but she was acutely aware of the energy and intention a person brought to her – kindness and compassion, or frustration and impatience. All sound was chaos, noise; everything radiated pure energy, without clear boundaries. The inner dialogue was silent. She was aware of how everything affected her energy; that some people (anxious, irritable) quickly drained her energy while others (kind, gentle) gave her energy. She no longer thought linearly, and had to be taught to put socks on before shoes. 

“I liked knowing I was a fluid. I loved knowing my spirit was at one with the universe and in the flow with everything around me. I found it fascinating to be so tuned in to energy dynamics and body language. Most of all, I loved the feeling of deep inner peace the flooded the core of my very being,” she wrote. Whenever her wounded brain needed time out from an overload of stimuli, which was often, she would sleep. This was crucial to her recovery. Her mother devoted herself to Jill’s care and gradually introduced new things to re-learn. After 8 years, she decided she was fully recovered.

“I learned how to feel the physical component of emotion. Joy was a feeling in my body. Peace was a feeling in my body…I could feel when a new emotion was triggered. I could feel new emotions flood through me and then release me…I learned that I had the power to choose whether to hook into a feeling and prolong its presence in my body, or just let it quickly flow right out of me…Certain emotions like anger, frustration or fear felt uncomfortable when they surged through my body. So I told my brain that I didn’t like that feeling and didn’t want to hook into those neural loops… I suddenly had much more say about how I felt and for how long…Nothing external to me had the power to take away my peace of heart and mind. That was completely up to me.” She realized that the surge of an emotion (such as anger) lasted just 90 seconds before it was completely flushed out of the blood stream; and at that point, we are at choice about whether or not to keep running the circuit of anger and return to the present moment. She calls this “stepping to the right” – choosing a peaceful mind.

Prior to her stroke, she believed, “the judging and analytical character in my left mind dominated my personality,” inhibiting the right brain. “At the core of my right hemisphere consciousness is a character that is directly connected to my feeling of deep inner peace. It is completely committed to the expression of peace, love, joy, and compassion in the world.” It seems clear that the right hemisphere is connected more with the heart and emotions and with intuition; some call the right hemisphere the “feminine” aspect. The question of balancing the hemispheres showed up for Jill as the desire for normal functioning in the world while retaining the ability to access deep inner peace, compassion, and oneness. 

“Sadly, the expression of compassion is often a rarity in our society. Many of us spend an inordinate amount of time and energy degrading, insulting, and criticizing ourselves (and others) for having made a ‘wrong’ or ‘bad’ decision.” These negative thought patterns generate increased levels of anxiety and/or hostility. The more we repeat these patterns, the more ingrained and automatic they become.

“My right hemisphere is all about right here, right now. It bounces around with unbridled enthusiasm and does not have a care in the world…it is filled with gratitude…content, compassionate, nurturing, and eternally optimistic…my right mind character is sensitive to nonverbal communication, empathic, and accurately decodes emotion…it is my intuition and higher consciousness…it is tuned in to my gut feelings…My right mind sees unity among all living beings, the big picture.”

On the other side, “My left hemisphere is preoccupied with details and runs my life on a tight schedule…It clenches my jaw and makes decisions based upon what it learned in the past. It defines boundaries and judges everything as right/wrong.” She adds, with appreciation, “My left mind is responsible for taking all of that energy, all that information about the present moment, all the magnificent possibilities perceived by my right mind, and shaping them into something manageable.” She refers to the left brain as a great weaver and teller of stories. “Most impressively, our left brain is brilliant in its ability to make stuff up, and fill in the blanks when there are gaps in its factual data.” She realized that this story-teller created upsets because of these fabrications and repetitive thought-loops. 

Tending the garden of the mind: “Learning to listen to your brain from the position of a nonjudgmental witness may take some practice, but once you master this awareness, you become free to step beyond the worrisome drama and trauma of your story-teller.” When her brain is running loops that feel out of control, counter-productive or harshly judgmental, she surrenders for 90 seconds for the physiological emotional response to dissipate, acknowledges the feelings, then says firmly: “I am really not interested in thinking these thoughts or feeling these emotions anymore. Please stop bringing this stuff up.” Jill believes that we must pay close attention to how much time we spend hooked into anger or despair, acknowledge these emotions, and then make a conscious choice to return to the present moment.

If the story-teller persists, she recalls something fascinating to ponder, or “something that brings me terrific joy,” like her dog. “I whole-heartedly believe that the feeling of deep inner peace is neurological circuitry in our right brain…constantly running and always available for us to hook into, in the present moment.” To come back to the present moment, we must consciously slow our minds, not be in a hurry. Focusing on slow, relaxed breathing is a great way to do this. Attending to smells, sounds, sensations in the body, or listening to music can help. “When I am simply grateful, life is simply great!”

“Once I consciously take over the responsibility of tending my mind, I choose to nurture those circuits that I want to grow, and consciously prune back those circuits I prefer to live without…with determination and perseverance, even the gnarliest of vines, when deprived of fuel, will eventually lose its strength and fall to the side…You alone choose who you are and how you want to be in the world…Own your power and show up for your life.”

I believe that this book sheds light on the heart-brain connection. It seems as though the ego has its home in the left brain, while the heart is in close contact with the right brain and they share emotional qualities of connection, compassion, gratitude and intuitive wisdom. So when we bring our awareness to our heart and away from the “thinking” brain, essentially we are choosing to experience through the right side of the brain, where we can access insight and see the bigger picture. 

It’s very valuable for me to recognize that a pure, biochemical emotion runs its course in just 90 seconds. This can be seen in babies, who have not developed the “thought-loops” we adults hook to our emotions that can keep us stuck there for hours or days. After a red-faced, all-out screaming fit, within a minute a baby can be smiling and cooing. Jill taught herself the skill of detaching from those thought loops by “moving to the right” side of her brain, and even by purposely interrupting the repetitive thought patterns. 

The tips she shares for “moving to the right mind” are very much like what HeartMath teaches: setting the thoughts aside, slowing and deepening the breath, being in the present moment, focusing on a beloved pet or something that brings joy. 

What Jill learned through the painful process of recovery from a cerebral hemorrhage can guide us all in our goal of becoming balanced: less frequently highjacked by our stressful stories, better able to recover from emotional upsets, more aware of energies, more compassionate with ourselves and others, able to access the bliss of oneness. 

Four steps for healthy communication in relationships

One of the biggest reasons people seek coaching is for help in their relationships. Whether it’s a marriage where it’s becoming more difficult to connect…or a work situation where communication has shut down…or a family with old unhealed wounds that seem to get re-opened frequently, relationship stress can be very painful! Typically, we choose to avoid conflict, often by putting up walls,  communicating minimally, and distancing. Is this happening for you?

Most people lack skills in “emotional self-regulation” – the ability to take care of oneself emotionally. Without those skills, we will typically “act out” our feelings rather than express them to ourselves and others. Acting out can be as subtle as an angry expression on my face, could take the form of coldly criticizing someone, or be as blatant as yelling an insult.

What is the alternative?

  • Taking some slow, calming, deep breaths while focusing on my feelings
  • Acknowledging to myself when I feel angry, upset, fearful, and exploring what need or needs of mine aren’t being met (this one step has been proven to lower stress levels significantly!)
  • Taking care of myself by meeting my need another way
  • Asking another person to just listen

In a coaching session, first you’ll receive deep listening and empathy for the painful situation you’re in. Next, you’ll learn and practice self-regulation skills. As you become accustomed to slowing your breathing and shifting your focus, you’ll have the opportunity to receive intuitive guidance from your own heart. These are resiliency skills from HeartMath. You will learn the skills of giving empathy to yourself, and to other people, even when you are in the midst of a disagreement, and without having to agree with them. You’ll have an opportunity to do role-plays in which you try on seeing the world through another’s perspective. The result: improved communication and greater ease in your relationships!

Would you like to explore further? Call or email me to book a time for your FREE one-hour consultation, in person or by phone. If you choose in-person, you are invited to have a cup of tea or coffee with me at my home office. 828-545-9681.

Little Blue Flowers

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

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

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

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

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

1st session:

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

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

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

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

    Special offer

    This package of 4 sessions, regularly priced at $320, is now available for just $250. Meanwhile, I’m going to keep watering my little blue flowers!

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

www.heartspeakpeace.com

828-545-9681

 

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.”

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.