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.

 

Completely Connected

Completely Connected cover   “Completely Connected is brilliant, authentic and potent. Rita Marie Johnson puts leading edge theory into groundbreaking practice and offers us a medicine that is both soulful and acutely relevant.”  – James O’Dea, author of Cultivating Peace

“Combining empathy and insight, as Johnson has shown, is a valid and proven way to improve human relations.”  – President Oscar Arias, Nobel Peace Prize Laureate

This is a book that gives me hope. Rita Marie Johnson is an

Rita Marie Johnson, founder of The Connection Practice, Rasur Foundation International

Rita Marie Johnson, founder of The Connection Practice, Rasur Foundation International

extraordinary woman who received a calling to be a teacher of peace at the age of ten. After developing a set of practices that resolve conflicts, she has trained hundreds of school teachers, positively affecting over 160,000 students in Costa Rica alone. She has fought her way back from lymphoma twice, always learning and growing, and is passionate about spreading the steps she calls “the Connection Practice” far and wide.

Johnson offers story after story in which people of all ages and from many countries and walks of life have experienced breakthroughs using the Connection Practice. It involves identifying one’s own feelings and needs, those of others, and using the “Quick Coherence Technique” to get our hearts and brains into sync.

School children

Joe, a fifth grader, had just failed a math exam and he pulled a classmate across the playground by her hair. Instead of punishment, he was given empathy for his anger, hopelessness, and need for belonging. After being led into a state of harmony between heart and brain, he had this insight: “I could ask for what I need instead of hurting someone.” Later, this same child became a school mediator.

“When we deny the most basic aspects of ourselves–our feelings and needs–and don’t teach young people how to express themselves safely, it’s far more dangerous than not letting them open up,” writes Johnson.

Two rival 5th grade gangs were in conflict. When a teacher assisted them to list the feelings and needs of each, the need for communication emerged. This was because one gang spoke Spanish, causing suspicion and distrust. They agreed that everyone would speak English when they were together, and conflicts ceased as friendships formed.

Teachers

Not only are misconduct reports cut in half; the teachers benefit too. Several public school teachers shared that their marriages turned around by the end of the week-long course in the Connection Practice. One teacher was on the brink of separating from her husband; instead, she offered empathy to him and they connected “for the first time in ten years.” They are still together years later.

Brain research shows that naming feelings reduces the amygdala’s response to stressors, and naming needs enhances empathic responses.

Businesses

Two CEOs who’d had a 10-year conflict used “Feelings and Needs” cards to name their own feelings, and then to guess each other’s needs. The CEOs resolved their conflict, and then decided to have their executive teams do the same exercise. The two organizations agreed afterwards to use the cards to resolve any future conflicts.

A study of businesses showed that employers spend nearly 3 hours each week dealing with conflicts between people. One business now uses the Connection Practice at Monday morning meetings. A management consultant said, “The Connection Practice allows me to get clear about the needs I have and to consider the needs of the group…a much easier way to come to a solution or strategy that can work.”

Recovery

A 12-step participant said, “I got the skill set that transformed me from codependent behavior to unconditional love and acceptance.” Another wrote, “After all these years I’ve finally been able to forgive my father, and he has forgiven me.”

International

Students from all over the world attend the University for Peace in Costa Rica, one of the places where the Connection Practice is taught. Comments from students:

“This course has saved me years of therapy; it has empowered me.” – Mayn from India

“This practice can be applied in every country in the world.” – Maham from Pakistan

“I went home with the sensation of a clean soul.” – Laticia from Brazil

“This practice can be very important for preventing gender-based violence.” – Marion from Australia

For classes with Rita Marie Johnson, please visit www.rasurinternational.org. She is offering web based courses. For classes in the Asheville area, please contact cathyfholt@gmail.com or call Cathy at 828-545-9681.

 

 

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

 

 

 

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.

 

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!