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.

 

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.

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 miraculous human heart

 “Near your breastbone there is an open flower. Drink the honey that is all around that flower. Waves are coming in; there is so much magnificence near the ocean!”  – Kabir

“And now here is my secret, a very simple secret; it is only with the heart that one can see rightly; what is essential is invisible to the eye.”  – Antoine de St-Exupery

heartOur human heart beats 100,000 times a day, 2 gallons of blood/minute, yet is much more than a pump. The heart is also an endocrine gland, secreting 5 hormones, and is part of the central nervous system.  The heart’s hormones affect how we learn, remember, explore. Over 60% of the heart cells are neural cells, like in the brain; the heart stores memories (especially emotional ones). The heart has its own intelligence. The amygdala, a part of the old “reptilian” brain which can trigger the “fight or flight” response, is a receptor of cardiac information. Much new information impacts the heart first, and then the brain.

The human heart is the most powerful electomagnetic (EM) generator and receiver in the body, and is an organ of perception and communication. The magnetic field produced by the heart is a torus (fractal); it is 5,000 times more powerful than the brain’s EM field! And it’s detectable over ten feet from the body. EM fields produced by the heart regulate DNA, RNA, protein synthesis. The bloodstream conducts EM impulses throughout the body. The heart both transmits and receives EM energy and thus is highly involved in perception.

All living organisms give off electric energy and magnetic fields. Electromagnetic (EM) communication goes on between all living organisms, all the time. Magnetic fields influence enzymes, cell growth & metabolism, and tissue repair. Both electrical and magnetic signals can be amplified.

Migrating species (salmon, birds, bees) use earth’s geomagnetic lines for navigation.

The hippocampus in the brain responds to magnetic frequencies, communicates with the amygdala and modulates emotional responses and immunity, and deciphers meaning. Too much sustained cortisol (stress hormone) in the system means the hippocampus can’t do its job.

Entrainment

When the EM fields of two hearts come together, they entrain to each other and interchange information. In fact, heart sparkleswhen the EM fields of any two life forms come together, they entrain. The mother’s and infant’s fields are entrained in utero, and during holding and breastfeeding. The infant’s heart must have this or it cannot develop properly.

Alterations in the heart’s EM spectrum are emotions, which show up as changes in heart rate and heart rate variability; the heart thus conducts information from the world to the central nervous system and brain, encoded in cardiac wave patterns.

scan0002Heart Coherence involves synchronization, resonance, and entrainment. One may begin by shifting to a heart focus, or focus on external sensory cues. The heart is the most powerful oscillator in the body. Other oscillating systems in the body automatically entrain to it: respiration, the sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous systems, and the digestive system synchronize. When the parasympathetic dominates, the body relaxes.

For heart coherence, it’s helpful to remember and re-experience feelings of caring, love, and appreciation. As coherence deepens, hormones in the body alter: a 23% drop in cortisol; 100% increase in DHEA (anti-aging hormone, assists healing); dopamine production in the heart is enhanced, improving information transfer from heart to brain; and IgA (an immune enhancing hormone) increases.

In addition, blood pressure drops, peripheral vision increases, hippocampal activity increases, sending messages to the neocortex. Learning and intuition increase. There are fewer arrhythmias, and improvements in congestive heart failure, asthma, diabetes, fatigue, mitral valve prolapse, PTSD, anxiety, and depression.

The coherent heart field affects others positively. We are immersed in living energy fields of communication generated by intelligent life forms, including all living beings. The heart is an organ of perception, whereas the brain is more like a computer. The verbal is linear, but the heart is holistic.redbud

Imagine the electromagnetic field of a tree (and its state of coherence).

We can breathe in the tree’s energy, breathe out our own heart energy back to the tree. Or we can do that with each other’s hearts. As wonderful as it feels to get into coherence just by ourselves, the combined energy field when several people are breathing together and practicing coherence is yet more profoundly peaceful.

Much of this material is derived from The Secret Teachings of Plants by Stephen Harrod Buhner.

 

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!