Sitting as silent witness as my birthday celebration

“What did you do for your birthday?”

“I sat as silent witness.”


tdcj-adam-ward-execution“I sat as silent witness at the steps of Texas State Capitol, as Adam Ward was executed at Huntsville Death House for killing a city inspector.”

“That doesn’t sound like fun.”

It wasn’t. I sobbed as the church bells rang at 6 pm, the moment when Adam was tied to a steel bed frame and forced to receive his lethal injection.

It is hard, every time I sit. It doesn’t get easier over time. I grieve the loss of every precious life. I mourn our inability to support our children growing up into adults who are able to include all needs. I suffer from our inability to use protective force, instead of punitive.

I lost my excitement to eat my birthday apple pie with friends afterwards.

Yet the awareness of our impermanence also seems fitting. What better way to appreciate the life I’ve been given, than by reflecting on the preciousness and vulnerability of it? What better way to value the love and support I receive from my family and friends, than to mourn those who grew up without love and support? To grieve for the children who are left to the violence of their caretakers? How better to celebrate my blessings, than to show up for those who have come to believe they have none at all?

For Adam Ward, sitting as silent witness is a completely ineffective action. We sit at the moment he is killed. Our sitting has no impact whatsoever on the proceedings of his execution or on his life. Hardly any driver at Congress and 11th takes notice of us, or reads our simple sign: “Stop Executions”. Of those who see the sign, one puts out the down-turned thumb. Another wildly gestures “no” in aversion of the idea that we would stop killing the killers. A third rolls down his window to yell “KILL THEM ALL”. I bow to them and their responses. They are my teachers of the human experience. In my aspiration to expand my compassionate heart, I wish to include everyone: those that agree with me, and those that don’t.

And some people honk in agreement or wave their hands. One woman walks up to us and says: “We don’t believe in that punishment either. We are Catholics. We care for life.”

I cry.

At my birthday party, I am not alone. Others care too. I have a small group with me who also grieve the loss of another precious life.

Yes. This is how I want to celebrate the precious life I’ve been given.

You want help to honor your life? Contact me, 512-589-0482 for a free, discovery session.

Thank you, David Nayer, for editing this post during your travels. I am inspired by your shaping of words, the clarity and focus you bring to my writing, and your dedication to contribute!

SXSW: Did I climb the ladder against the wrong wall?

Did I climb the ladder against the wrong wall? Did I get faster to a place I didn’t want to go? Am I being a manager instead of an effective leader?

“Management is doing things right; leadership is doing the right things.” (Peter Drucker in: Covey, S. The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, 2013, p. 108)

20160312_122328As I wind down from all my excitement and focus on SXSW and reap the fruits of my investments, I wonder if I lost some of my mindfulness and compassion along the way. Was I so rushed to finish all my chores (print business cards, update website, register for Square, install online scheduling tool, post Tweets and FB messages), that I forgot it’s not about what we do? That it’s about who we are and the intention behind our action? About the values we are serving, more than about the actions we complete or not complete?

I realize that in the hassle to get things done, I neglected my spiritual nourishment. I haven’t been to my mindfulness Sangha in more than two months. I haven’t read Thich Nhat Hanh’s writings in more than four weeks, I hardly sat on my meditation cushion since I came back from the Netherlands in February.

Reviewing all I did and didn’t do, AND all I was and wasn’t, I realize that at the end of my life I probably won’t care about the success of my business, the money I made, the fame I built. At the end of my life I hope that others will appreciate me for how caring I was, how I focused on connection, how I walked towards conflict and misunderstanding to resolve it, and how dedicated I was towards empathy and compassion.

And I make a new pledge to myself: “I will practice looking deeply to see that the happiness and suffering of others are not separate from my own happiness and suffering; that true happiness is not possible without understanding and compassion, and that running after wealth, fame, power and sensual pleasures can bring much suffering and despair” (Second Mindfulness Training, transmitted to me by Thich Nhat Hanh in 2011 with my Dharma name “Joyful Harmony of the Heart”).

That’s all I am asking of myself: To master the art of friendship in the context of mindfulness.

You want help to be a leader in your own life? Contact me, 512-589-0482 for a free, discovery session.

Thank you, David Nayer, for editing this post during your travels. I am inspired by your dedication to contribute!

SXSW and Confirmation Bias

Empathy works. It always does.

Also with online harassment.

SXSW-screenshot-350x321That’s the main message for my panel participation at SXSW (Yes, with President Obama as keynote speaker).

A friend tells me that my tagline is an opinion, not a fact. It’s a moralistic judgement. He acknowledges it is my truth, and he tells me I could present it more authentically if I show up in it.

“I believe empathy works. I think it always does.”


Not so powerful. Not so snazzy. More cumbersome.

And yet. He is right (he often is). It is just my belief, based on my years of empathizing NVC-style. Am I suffering from confirmation bias? A cognitive bias wired into our brains that creates the tendency to see confirmation of our core beliefs in our experiences, while disregarding experiences that don’t affirm our core beliefs?

What happened to my scientific scepticism, so well-trained during my graduate studies at Rijksuniversiteit Leiden? Should I actively seek out situations –or create them?- that might disprove my thesis? Something like: Empathy works: In these cases? And not in those?

Gosh, that actually sounds enticing. Can I find situations with a high likelihood of empathy failure? Can I pretend I am initiating research on the limits of empathy? And are you willing to send me examples where you think empathy isn’t enough to create respectful understanding? I would be excited to see how empathy might work, even in the most difficult cases.

You want help to develop awareness of your confirmation bias? Contact me, 512-589-0482 for a free, discovery session.

Thank you, David Nayer, for editing this post during your travels. I am inspired by your dedication to contribute!

SXSW and sympathetic triggers

My friend is excited about his piano recital. He is anxious too. He expects around 80 attendants.



I have much more to be excited about. And anxious. Speaking at SXSW. Potentially 575 attendees. Probably national exposure. YouTube video. The same festival that has President Obama as the keynote speaker. Thàt, my friend, is something to be excited about. And anxious.


Whàt am I thinking?! (Thank God, not saying!). How did I get into this comparison game?

Nonviolent Communication calls this a sympathetic trigger. It happens when someone talks about something that reminds us of our own experience, especially when we have unfinished business with that experience or unmet needs around it. Instead of keeping our focus on our friend’s experience, our attention is drawn to our own sympathetic world. The trigger turns our attention inward with potentially obnoxious consequences: consequences that don’t include our friend’s needs, and maybe not even our own.

There is nothing wrong with sympathetic triggers per se. They are one of the many ways we can connect to others. Sometimes it brings it’s sibling one-upping, giving advice, or reassuring. Things that are not empathy. They can be a way of connecting, if our friend wants to support our style of listening and reacting.

If we’re sympathetically triggered and our friend wants empathy instead, it won’t work. There is a mismatch between what he is asking and what we are offering.

If that’s the case (which for me happens frequently enough), we have choice: We can self-express: “Hey, I hear you’re excited and anxious about your piano recital. As I listen to you, I notice that I am distracted by my excitement around my  panel participation at SXSW. Would you be willing to listen to me for a bit, and then I focus back to you?” Or: “I don’t think I can listen to you with as much presence as I wish, is there someone else you could reach out for to give you empathic support?” Or: “Are you willing to give me a minute for self-connection to support myself first, and then I come back to listen to you?”

Those are strategies that both support our trigger and honors our friend’s need to be heard. We try to compassionately recognize all needs, what’s alive in our friend and what’s up for us listening to our friend.

You want help to work with your sympathetic triggers? Contact me, 512-589-0482 for a free, discovery session.

Thank you, David Nayer, for editing this post during your travels. I am inspired by your dedication to contribute!