Help me

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“Help me”

Something softens in me. My heart opens up. I am not alone, I can ask my friend to help me figure out what would work for ALL of us.

“Help me”

It is a message of courage and vulnerability. I open up and own my needs for mattering, acceptance, support. I share how stuck I am in my strategies. I let go of my fear and pride and convey that I don’t know, that I am not as strong and well-together as I would like to be seen.

“Help me”

It is a message of mattering. To myself. That my needs are important enough to be considered. That I am important enough to receive support for my happiness.

“Help me”

It is a message of trust. To my friend. That I know her compassionate heart, her spaciousness and willingness to include my needs in the choices are enough to collaborate. That I matter enough to her to help me.

“Help me”

It might be one of the most powerful messages of connection. Here I am. Vulnerably, naked in my needs. Scared with my thoughts that I won’t belong, accepted, matter. Tender to reach out for your helping hand. I trust that you have the wisdom, compassion, and love to support all our needs.

“Help me”

This might be the most powerful message to my friend to convey my love and care for her, my sincere intent to include her needs, my regrets for all the times that my behavior was a “tragic expression of unmet needs” (quote Marshall Rosenberg), and my dedication to learn how to nurture all needs, most certainly hers.

Let me say no more. Just “Help me”.


You want help to learn how to ask for help? Contact me 512-589-0482 to schedule a complimentary, discovery session to see if and how I can help.

Giving advice is not always so helpful

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You’re sitting down for tea with your friend. She tells you about the latest rupture in her marriage. It sounds shitty. They had a fight, with yelling, disconnection, and thoughts of divorce. Again. She doesn’t know how to support her needs for peace, ease, and harmony in her marriage. It sounds like a recurring problem. Sure, they patch up, reconcile, and have moments of happiness, and still… It never seems to last.

You want her to be happy. Just plain happy. Because you care for her.

You know that if he would be more satisfied with the little things in life, and less striving for promotion, he would be more relaxed and available for the love and intimacy she longs for.

You tell her to tell him that.

It doesn’t land well. She starts to be defensive and explains why it wouldn’t work.

You’re confused. You really just want to help, and your friend refuses your advice. Now what?

Start empathizing first. Guess her feelings, needs, and the implicit request she’s making by telling about her troubles. Maybe she just wants to be heard? If that’s what she wants, how can you let her know you’re listening and understand her stress and pain?

Ask. “Hey, I hear about your troubles. It sounds really important. I want to make sure that I get you. Shall I tell you what I heard you say?” Super simple, and often forgotten in our eagerness to respond, fix, reassure. You’ll be surprised how relieved your friend feels, when she hears that you get her.

If she wants more support, ask first what she thinks could help her marriage. After all, she has unique inside information about the pitfalls and highlights of her marriage, what works and what doesn’t. Inviting her own solutions, affirms empowerment, inner wisdom, and creativity. It taps into the wholesome part of herself.

If you still think your advice is invaluable you ask if she wants to hear your two cents. Asking permission before offering advice supports autonomy and choice. If your friend says ‘no’, too bad. You want to support her, and apparently your advice strategy doesn’t work for her. Her ‘no’ does offer an opportunity to ask her what would work better. If she says ‘yes’ you share your advice, and ask for a reflection to make sure you expressed yourself clearly. Then you ask “How does that land for you?” to support inclusion and connection.

I like it. It is spacious, and fosters connection, autonomy and collaboration.

Try it out yourself the next time you talk to your friend.

Thanks, Miller and Rollnick, for your suggestion to use an elicit-provide-elicit process to nurture connection while giving advice.


You want help to learn how to best support your loved ones? Contact me 512-589-0482 to schedule a complimentary, discovery session to see if and how I can help.

What’s your story?


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What’s the story I’m telling myself?

A few nights ago my husband didn’t show up the way I wanted, and we got into a big conflict. My needs were unmet, you know?! And when I don’t know how to include them, I get pretty frustrated. Well, maybe more than frustrated. Maybe more towards plain angry. Very angry. I start yelling, and fantasizing about getting a divorce. That’s a pattern of mine. My needs are unmet, I don’t know how to ask for support, and I run away.

Okay, so here I am in bed, lot ‘s of upset, struggling to fall asleep.

Then it strikes me. Something Dian Killian talked about: “When you observe what happens, as if you’re a fly on the wall, with no emotional vocabulary, which feelings come up? And what’s the story you’re telling yourself?


What’s the story I’m telling myself?


That I don’t matter. That I’ll never receive support for my needs. That I am not good enough to be happy, that there is something wrong with me.


With a shock I realize that I am creating my own suffering. Through the glasses of this perspective, I only see those actions that confirm that I don’t matter, the actions that reinforce the story that I am not good enough. If I drop the story, I can include all that’s happening around me. Every action that tells me that I do matter. That he ordered cake for my birthday, that he invited friends for celebration, that he scheduled his work hours to spend time with me.

All of a sudden I realize that if I drop the story, I can expand my observations to include all of reality. The good, the bad, and the ugly.


You want help to learn to explore your story and include all of reality? Contact me 512-589-0482 to schedule a complimentary, discovery session to see if and how I can help.


Watering the seeds of happiness

I am inspired to write about watering the seeds of happiness, joy, and love. And I know no one who writes more clearly and profoundly about that practice of appreciation and support as Thich Nhat Hanh.

“Whether we have happiness or not depends on the seeds in our consciousness. If our seeds of compassion, understanding, and love are strong, those qualities will be able to manifest in us. If the seeds of anger, hostility, and sadness in us are strong, then we will experience much suffering. To understand someone, we have to be aware of the quality of the seeds in his store consciousness. And we need to remember that he is not solely responsible for those seeds. His ancestors, parents, and society are co-responsible for the quality of the seeds in his consciousness. When we understand this, we are able to feel compassion for that person. With understanding and love, we will know how to water our own beautiful seeds and those of others, and we will recognize seeds of suffering and find ways to transform them…”

“If we feel that there is someone whom we cannot help, it is only because we have not yet looked deeply enough into his or her circumstances. Everyone has some seeds of happiness. In some people they are weak, while in others they are strong. You might be the first person in many years to touch your friend’s seeds of happiness. Helpfulness lies in our ability to see and to water those wholesome seeds. If we only see greed, anger, and pride, we have not yet looked deeply enough.” (Understanding Our Mind, Parallax Press, 2006, p-45-46)

Wow. I feel so touched. I feel inspired to think of the one thing I can do today to water the seeds of joy, happiness, and love in my friend. And to think of one thing I can do today to water the seeds of trust, mattering, and appreciation in myself.

What is the one thing you can do today to water your own seeds of belonging, inclusion, and harmony in you and in your friend? What can you do today to strengthen the positive seeds and contribute to a better world?


You want help to learn to water the seeds of peace, joy, and love in yourself? Contact me 512-589-0482 to schedule a complimentary, discovery session to see if and how I can help.

Dear Thay

Image courtesy to Wikimedia“Dear Venerable Teacher Thich Nhat Hanh, Dear Beloved Teacher Thay,…”

Even thinking about writing a letter to Thay to ask him to accept me as an aspirant member in the Order of Interbeing brings tears to my eyes. I feel so moved to approach him directly.

My hero, my role model, my anchor point in times of trouble, my light at the end of the tunnel, my hope and encouragement.

In this moment of despair and my inability to open my heart to my suffering, I feel so deeply moved to know that support is available, that I have a path through this moment of grief, sadness and pain.

Just sitting here and thinking about my letter to Thay, asking him directly for help on my path of mindfulness and compassion, telling him how much I want to be able to hold all suffering, all pain -my own, as well as those of others- touch the seeds of hope and trust. I enjoy feeling the gentle touch of my tears rolling down my cheeks.

None of my troubles have been resolved yet, I still feel my loneliness and grief, and I feel relieved to be in touch with these feelings. This rawness, this tenderness, is such a better place to be in, than this constricted wall around me.

“Dear Thay, I write to you with so much reverence, so much appreciation, and so much respect for your teachings in this world. My life has changed profoundly ever since I attended your retreat in 2008, and I started reading your books. My understanding and skillfulness has deepened so much since I started to practice with my beloved Plum Blossom Sangha. I know that this path helps me to transform my suffering and sorrow into love, joy, and harmony. I trust that this transformation will benefit all beings, my family, my friends, my society. I love you.”


You want help to find your source of support and encouragement? Contact me 512-589-0482 to schedule a complimentary, discovery session to see if and how I can help.

Who am I? A glimpse of understanding my true nature.

Jesus and Buddha“Who am I?” That’s the first question on my pre-retreat contemplations with my Sangha.

Of course, I know the right, enlightened, Buddhist answer: “I am the unique manifestation of continuous presence, impermanent, consisting of self- and non-self elements, interdependent with all other beings and non-beings. I am the wave that knows it has been water all along.

That’s the answer in the ultimate dimension.

The answer in the historic dimension is that I am Elly van Laar, a Dutch 49-years old woman living in Austin, married to David Nayer, who works with kids and grown-ups on self-compassion and empathy, and loves her family, friends, birds, animals, flowers, trees and plants and hiking and meditating. She also likes fruit, vegetables, and nuts and talking, listening and reading.

That answer seems more true. I have a strong sense of Elly-ness, even though I ponder about the non-self ellyments (little pun) in me, such as the apple and grapefruit I just ate.

Thich Nhat Hanh speaks of the Buddha playing hide and seek. Sometimes the Buddha shows up as the golden leaf, sometimes as the rose bud, sometimes as your neighbor, a car, a new teacher. But he is always here, available in this moment. Because he is a manifestation of the ever present life source that this universe is made up of.

Yesterday, as I was cleaning the kitchen door, the thought flashed through my head “This door consists of a Jesus-element”. And then, as I was cleaning the doorknob “This doorknob consists of a Buddha-element”. And then -all of a sudden- I’m thinking “I consist of a tree-element”. The insight struck me very viscerally. Just briefly, then it evaporated.

In that split-second I had a glimpse of understanding of my true nature.


You want help to connect to your true nature? Contact me 512-589-0482 to schedule a complimentary, discovery session to see if and how I can help.

Grades, autonomy and authenticity

Image courtesy to WikimediaGrades are great of if you get A’s, especially if you’re among the few who get an A+. Even if you get an Aor a B+ they can still feel good.

Grades are less fun when you get a B or a B, and they start to become painful if you get a C or less.

Instead of inspiring us to bring out the best in us, to nurture our own aspirations and values, to reach out for our own desires and dreams, grades teach us to strive for the goals others have set. They turn autonomy and authenticity into compliance, sometimes even fear.

What if every student always gets an A? By default? What if the student and teacher collaborate to figure out what the A is for? What if they clarify the observations underneath their appreciation? It might be the speed of their work. Or the congruence between their writing and the dictionary’s writing. Or the autonomy they pursued when they handed in an empty paper.

There is always a unique contribution, a precious quality in every action.

My dear friends, what would your A stand for? Maybe for your efforts to stay focused, your willingness to work on hard stuff, even if your attention is drawn elsewhere? Maybe for your ferocious trying to get it, even when you struggle? Maybe your courage to make mistakes and keep on trying to capture a new skill?

Thanks, Marshall Rosenberg for your work on Nonviolent Communication and for your revolutionary insight to speak from our hearts and our needs, instead of our evaluations and rewards.


You want help to appreciate your efforts to learn? Contact me 512-589-0482 to schedule a complimentary, discovery session. I would be delighted to talk with you to see if and how I can help.

The raw beauty of being alive

Image courtesy to FlickrLet me just cry a little. Being reminded of the loss and love of my cat Toulouse. Watching my nanny kids and their friend pour their soul out as they sing and dance to “Let It Go”, so sincerely, so seriously. Receiving a birthday card and present from my beloved friend, who moved to Ohio and offers to pay half the fare when I come to visit. All these small acts of great love.

Nothing substantial enough to be remembered hundred years from now. Nothing powerful enough to create world peace. And all essential to make life more wonderful.

To love and be loved.

That’s all there really is to life.

As a child, born from parents who lived through the horrors of World War II, I grappled how it was possible that people committed the most horrendous of crimes, and walked away with it. No amends, no retribution, no consequences.

The only thing I could think of that supported my need for restoration and responsibility, was that Hitler and his consorts had punished themselves by taking the actions they took.

To live in a world with that much fear, hatred and anger, is to not live at all. To never relax into this moment, is cutting yourself off the opportunity to love life. To not have support to meet your needs in ways that include those of others too, must be utterly lonely.

The only choice we can make in each moment is to open up to the raw beauty of being alive, to try to transform suffering, to bring joy, love, and harmony, or to shut down and close off.

To love and be loved. That’s all there is to human life.


You want help opening up to the beauty of being alive, of being you? Contact me 512-589-0482 to schedule a complimentary, discovery session. I would be delighted to talk with you to see if and how I can help.

Touching Toulouse in the ultimate dimension

Brutus to the left, Toulouse to the rightI’m reading “Opening the Heart of the Cosmos, insights on the Lotus Sutra” by Thich Nhat Hanh and learning about the historic and ultimate dimension.

The historic dimension is the reality as we know it in our current body and is bound by time and space. We are born, we live, we die. A car is manufactured, used and disassembled. A song is written, popular, and forgotten. There is a beginning, middle and end.

The ultimate dimension is the continuous flow of life, of unlimited being, of the one and the all.

Once we touch the ultimate dimension, we lose our fear of death, because we understand that we cannot die, that we were never born, that we have always been. Our present appearance is just one of the multitude manifestations of the ultimate dimension. A wave cannot die, it just returns to water, which it has been all along.

I don’t claim that I get it. I think if I did, I would be way more open, loving, and relaxed. I would be less anxious, jealous and angry.

And last night I realized that I am probably seeing a glimpse of the ultimate dimension in the loss of and continued connection with my cat: Toulouse.

She was my buddy, soul mate and Bodhisattva of unconditional acceptance, boundless love, and immeasurable appreciation. She followed me around the house, the garden, out on the street. She used any opportunity to jump on my lap, cuddle with me on the couch, crawl under the comforter and find her favorite spot in my arms.

I left her behind with my ex-husband, when I got a divorce and moved to the USA. I was heart-broken. Whenever I felt upset, I took her picture and held it to my heart. I’d fall asleep like that. Even now, five years later, I feel a raw, scourging pain in my stomach. She was the love of my life.

I went back to the Netherlands twice a year, and always visited my ex-husband and my two cats. As soon as I opened the door, she’d run up to me and claim my lap. She loved me as ever before. She never held a grudge that I had left her behind, as if she honored my choice, and accepted my departure.

The last time I saw her was December 2010. She could hardly walk, lost 10 pounds, and couldn’t get up on the couch.

My ex-husband took her to the vet Jan 21, 2011 to let her die.

I wasn’t there.

Despite all the grief, sadness and loss -that I even feel right now as I write about her- I feel this incredible joy of knowing that I never lost her. She is here with me,  right now. She is always available with her love, affection, and acceptance. Her appreciation never died.

I understand it better now.

I am touching Toulouse in the ultimate dimension.

Puppy training and skillful means

Image courtesy to Commons CreativeTraining a puppy is like training yourself in skillful means.

Thich Nhat Hanh describes skillful means as the ability to deliver your message in a way that liberates the listener. It is the skillfulness to adapt your message, so that your friend gets what you’re talking about and taps into the unlimited wealth of peace, love and freedom within themselves. Someone with skillful means understands the inner experience of their friend and changes his message accordingly.

It is not about thinking what is right, being stuck in dogma’s, or how things should be done. Skillful means is only about what works.


I realize I have not been that skillful in training the puppy to listen to me, to understand her place in the pack, and to be safe around the kids.

After I see Luna play with other dogs, I know how to change my training strategy. She bites the dogs, jumps on them, almost attacks them. And they bite back, chase her around, push her away. And from the wagging of the tails, I can tell they are playing and loving it. They are excited to be together and be buddies.

All of a sudden I understand that I have tried to impose my language on her. I am trained in Nonviolent Communication and have learned to ask people to contribute to my needs, to give from their heart, from the joy of giving. And if they don’t want to, to guess the needs they are trying to fulfill by not supporting your request. And then find a solution that works for everyone and every need.

That probably is not the language of a puppy.

This puppy understands me grabbing her in the neck when she bites, pushing her down when she is too riled up, giving her treats when she listens, being petted when she calms down. A simple strategy of admonishment and rewards.

It seems more manipulative, yet it creates the same results: everyone’s needs are supported. The kids need for safety, the puppy’s for belonging, and I feel relieved that I don’t need to be on edge all the time.

I guess that is skillful means.


You want help to develop your skillful means and support everyone’s needs? Contact me 512-589-0482 to schedule a complimentary, discovery session. I would love to help!