Bring your life into balance

Empathy works. It always does.

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Empathy with my judgments

Remember The Corleones?  Sonny, the hothead, who gets killed in the Five Families War? Fredo, the traitor, who sells out his family to Hyman Roth and is killed for it by Michael’s gunman? Michael, the cold-headed strategist who is willing to order the killing of his older brother to protect his family? And then of course Vito, the first Don, the founder of this mafia empire.

20-corleone-familyWell, just so you know, they are living in my head.

All the time. And if not all the time, a lot of the time. They are ready to take down anyone they judge as a threat to the safety and well-being of the family. They will jump at you, drag you out of your house, roll you in a carpet and bury you under the concrete floor.

If I don’t listen to them and their judgments, if I don’t promise to include the values they stand for, well, heck, all hell breaks loose. At best they dominate all my thoughts and impact all my feelings, leaving me unable to share my truth in a way that supports understanding and collaboration. At worst, they hijack my vocal ability and speak in such unpleasant terms that any chance of understanding and connection evaporates. Most often, I am so scared they will strangle the person I have an issue with, that I withdraw and avoid any dialog.

For the longest time I have tried to pretend I wasn’t part of the Corleone family, that somehow I had nothing to do with their judgments and black-and-white thinking. It worked for a while, sitting on my meditation cushion, bringing my awareness to my breath. Till they found out I had excluded them and broke down the door of my meditation sanctuary.

They don’t take ‘no’ for an answer, and only make offers I can’t refuse.

I have learned my lesson. I have accepted them as family, with their sensitivities for respect and safety. I call them out in a joint meeting, before I even think of addressing an issue with someone else. I sit us in a circle and invite each of them to speak. I listen with respect until they know I get them. And I don’t talk to the person I have an issue with, till they express their trust. Sometimes it is hard and it takes several rounds of empathizing with their perspectives and needs.

It is well worth it. I have clarity and peace of mind when I talk to this other person. I know how to include The Family’s and this other person’s needs.

And isn’t that what life is about: finding ways to support all needs?

I see my family nod in agreement.


You want to listen to the judgments in your head? Contact me 512-589-0482 for a free discovery session to see how I can help.

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Painful behavior is a tragic expression of unmet needs

We celebrated Father’s Day at our Sangha last Sunday. We received a heart upon entrance. A red one if our father had passed away. A white one if he was still alive. I got a white one. When we started our mindful walking, we were asked to pause at the altar, wait for the mindfulness bell to ring, and put our heart on the altar, while saying the name of our father aloud.

Papa Four Days Marches, 2011

I felt so touched, that my tears needed almost a minute, before I felt calm enough to pronounce my dad’s name loud and clear.

It was a sudden awakening to the deep appreciation, gratitude, and love I feel for my father.

I am well aware how lucky I am with my dad. He is 81, in vibrant health, he has a keen interest in people, he easily walks long distances, sometimes 25 miles a day, he loves to learn new things and skills, he offers compassion and support to those in less fortunate circumstances, he laughs, listens, and shares his insights.

Not all of us are that lucky. Some of us had dads who drank too much. Some of us had dads who lost interest in connection and life. Some of us had dads who needed more support than they could give.

If your dad was like that, it might be hard to celebrate Father’s Day. You might have sadness, grief, sorrow, anger that your dad didn’t show up in a way that worked for you.

It might help you if you see all behavior as an attempt to meet beautiful, universal, human needs and painful behavior as a tragic expression of unmet needs. To see the little boy in the adult. A child who needed as much acceptance, love, belonging, understanding, and support as you do and who might have received as little as you did. Your dad probably just tried to support his needs, and maybe even yours, in circumstances that were not his choosing. That doesn’t make him a shitty person, it makes him a human being with painful behavior.

When you see behavior as a tragic expression of unmet needs, you might be able to hold your own unmet needs with care, and his behavior with more compassion. And if you receive enough empathy and compassion for your pain, you might even open up to some appreciation for something he did for you, however small.

You want help to practice seeing painful behavior as a tragic expression of unmet needs? CONTACT ME 512-589-0482 for a free discovery session to see if I can help you.


How my bougainvillea can help you understand the difference between needs and strategies

Imagine a bougainvillea. You can imagine any plant you like, and I take a bougainvillea, because I have two in a pot that are blooming excessively.

Image courtesy to David NayerSo, we have this bougainvillea and she has certain needs. Universal, precious, plant needs. She shares those with all other plants: she wants growth, personal development, nourishment, protection, support. Since she lives in a pot and is dependent on me for her survival and thriving, she probably needs to be heard, so I understand how to best take care of her.

It took me a while to understand her non-verbal signals what she needed, and now I can proudly say that I get them. I know exactly what she wants and I am willing and able to meet her needs.

Does the bougainvillea care if I am the one watering her? Would she mind if my husband did that instead?

I doubt it.

I would be surprised if the bougainvillea would say: “Hey, I want water, and I only want you to water me, not David.” Or: “I want to be in the sun, and I want you to place me there, not David.”

She just wants her needs met, and is not attached to who meets them. She understands the difference between needs and strategies. Since she is not attached to a specific person as the only strategy to meet her needs, she can flourish and bloom, even when I fly to the Netherlands to visit my family and friends. She will happily be taken care of by David.

Now, it might be that I know better than my husband how to take care of her, which would explain if she preferred me as a strategy to meet her needs. But as soon as my husband is up to speed in taking care of her, that attachment would dissolve.

What goes around for plants, goes around for human beings. We all have the same universal, precious, human needs, like connection, support, understanding, growth. But saying I have a need for connection with you is confusing the need with the strategy. You might be the best strategy for connection, because I know that you understand, accept, support me. And as soon as he is up to speed with understanding, acceptance, intimacy, support, he is an option too.

Once you understand the difference between needs and strategies, you have way more opportunities to meet your wonderful needs.


You want help to find more ways to support your needs? Contact me 512-589-0482 to schedule a complimentary discovery session.


VegaNVC 2/3

Food is one of the most primordial ways of connection. It connected us to our moms when we were in her womb. It connected us to our caregivers when we were little babies. And throughout the rest of our lives, eating and sharing food is a simple and direct way to experience connection, community, belonging and acceptance.

No wonder it is hard to change your food pattern to a diet that seems to exclude you, set you apart, and provoke misunderstanding, criticism, and judgment.

That’s why I encourage you to be gentle on yourself when you transition to a vegan diet.

Image courtesy to cidrap.umn.eduI invite you to support all needs on the table: your need to contribute, care, and expand your compassion to all living beings and your needs for acceptance, understanding, and belonging.

Some people shift to a vegan diet cold turkey (haha, forgive me the pun).

I didn’t.

I first stopped eating meat and birds, and continued eating everything else. I even made my vegetarian hamburger in the same pan in which my ex-husband made his steak. I continued eating fish, dairy, and eggs.

This was relatively easy to do. Most people knew how to make a vegetarian dish (or at least, leave the animals out) and it was simple to order something in a restaurant without raising eye brows. This phase also helped me to wean off meat and birds, and get used to my new food choices.

It’s not perfect compassionate eating, and then again, we’re not striving for perfection. We’re striving for growth, one step on the path of expanding compassion and empathy at a time.

Then another, then another. It’s okay to take a break once in a while. It’s even okay to fall back once in a while. We want to develop a habit that is enjoyable to continue, not a punishment and discipline we will finally give up on, because we’re failing our own standards of perfection.

You don’t want to decrease compassion by judging yourself that you’re not good enough. You want to increase compassion by embracing all your needs, feelings, and thoughts.

My path towards a vegan diet has cycled me through the fear of the thought that I am seen as crazy and abnormal, the loss of never using my grand mom’s cook book again or eating herring with my mother, the challenge of not eating all the stuff I ate most of my life. I stayed with all these feelings and worked on figuring out ways to nurture the underlying needs. What other strategies could I think of to support those same needs?

Vegan cook books help. Vegan communities help. Dialogue and expressing my experience help. Accepting and celebrating my choices help. What can you do to support all your needs?


You want help to make choices that include the needs of all living beings? Contact me 512-589-0482 to schedule a complimentary discovery session.

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From blame and criticism to self-connection and understanding

Everything always starts with connection.

Image courtesy to David Nayer

Image courtesy to David Nayer

Well, maybe not always. Maybe not even so very often. Maybe, just maybe, hardly ever. Maybe, we usually start with a judgment, a counterattack, a criticism. We hear a message and something in us gets triggered. The message doesn’t even have to be a difficult one, it can be a neutral one, or even a positive one. Instead of listening, wanting to connect, trying to understand, we stand ready with our well-trained battalion of jackal thoughts.

“Michelle is offering a free intro Nonviolent Communication at church.”

Just that one sentence, and off you go. ‘She is an idiot. She has no clue what Nonviolent Communication is about, she has only be teaching it for half a year, she didn’t even study with Marshall Rosenberg himself, she just took some classes with Peter, who is an idiot too. Why didn’t they ask me? I have facilitated classes for more than three years, participated in all kinds of programs with renowned trainers X, Y, and Z, etc., etc.’

An endless stream of angry, blaming thoughts.

Oops. No connection there. Just disconnect through labels, judgments, criticisms. Doesn’t sound very NVC, does it?

And yet, these thoughts contain an immense richness, a whole world of inner experience, a wealth of feelings and needs if we would just empathize with them.

Maybe you feel hurt, you want acknowledgment and appreciation for the value you add. Maybe you feel frustrated, because you care about the integrity with which Nonviolent Communication is taught. Maybe you feel scared, because you want people to really get the support they need. Maybe you feel sad, because you were hoping for more collaboration and inclusion. Maybe you feel lonely, because you want more connection and acceptance.

Behind these jackal ears outward is world of beautiful, precious, human, universal, and timeless needs. And that is the basis for connection.


You want help to translate your jackal ears outward into feelings and needs? Contact me for a complimentary, discovery session 512-589-0482. I would be delighted to talk with you and see if and how I can help.


Everything always starts with connection

You want to ask for a raise. You have been working in this job for several years, and you feel confident that you add value. You want appreciation for the unique qualities you bring to your clients, acknowledgment for the results you’ve accomplished, and support for your financial sustainability.

You feel anxious even thinking about it. Expressing yourself vulnerably, is just not something you’re good at. You have some shame around your feelings and needs, and you fear rejection, ridicule or simple lack of interest. How can you ask for support for your needs?

It starts with connection.

Everything always starts with connection:

Sharing your feelings and needs. Your fear, your anxiety, your vulnerability. Your needs for acceptance and support. Maybe just your needs, if your boss is not a touchy-feely person.

You can ask for a reflection to make sure that the message intended is the message received. The other person might hear blame, or that you’re playing the victim, or a demand, even if that was not your message. Asking for a reflection allows you to clarify your message.

You can also ask for a response. Maybe she feels irritated, upset, or embarrassed. Maybe she needs understanding, connection, or acceptance. Giving her space to tell what’s going on for her deepens the connection.

This connection creates a context for your request.

Well. That’s easier said than done!

At least for me. I so often struggle with asking for what I want, that I often don’t even try.

The Mediate Your Life Intensive helped me.

We did a neat exercise: ‘the need behind the no’. You share your need for appreciation, acknowledgment, and support. You share your vulnerability and anxiety. You make a present-tense, action-oriented, positive-language request: “I want to earn $20 an hour starting next week.”

Your practice partner says ‘no’.

Hum? That’s not what you want! You’re stuck… Now what?

Well, the simple next step is to ask your partner which needs would be unfulfilled if he would say ‘yes’! Invite him to think of something that would support his needs and your needs!

To you it probably sounds as simple as 1+1=2. For me it was an eye-opener.

Engage your partner in a collaborative effort to brainstorm solutions that nurture ALL needs.

Not just his, not just yours, but everyone’s.

I’m gonna practice this right now with you, hoping to support your need for choice, and my needs for connection, acceptance and support.

It’s about my blog. I feel tender, excited and honored when I imagine you subscribe to my blog, because you find it funny, interesting, and encouraging. More subscriptions help me build an ‘author platform’ and -eventually- publish my book. Are you willing to decide today if you want to subscribe? I post five blogs a week, it is free, and you can always and easily end it. And if not, are you willing to share in one sentence why not? To support our need for understanding, and hopefully connection?


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A holy journey into my fear

I get in my car to drive off for my salary negotiation. I feel anxious. A deep fear comes up that I have to face I’m not that important, that I don’t matter that much, that I won’t be heard.

I stop.

Image courtesy to

Image courtesy to

I do a quick self-connection practice. Breath. Physical sensations. Feelings. I relax. What, if I view this conversation as a holy practice of loving speech and deep listening. What, if I see this as an invitation to meet my inner demons? What, if I use this as a journey into my fear of conflict, disconnection, and not mattering, like my tree climb was a journey into my fear of heights? What, if I commit myself to stop, breath, and connect to myself as soon as fear arises? And trust that our connection offers support, so I won’t fall? Imagine that my friends are here to be my belay to catch me if I do fall, so I won’t hurt myself?

I relax. A peace comes over me. I can do that. It’s not about a salary raise, it’s about the practice of sharing honestly what’s alive in me, what I want, and hearing deeply what’s alive in them, what they want.

And about using every sign of anxiety, fear, discomfort, as an invitation to connect. To myself. To take good care of my fear. To own it, and be responsible for it.

I walk into the conversation with an open heart and a clear mind.

I walk out of the conversation with pride and appreciation. For all the times I shared honestly from my heart, vulnerably. For all the times I caught myself being scared and stopped talking, breathing into my fear and letting it be. For all the times I listened to really get what my employers are saying. For all the times I captured their message and reflected it back. For the level of integrity and courage I showed to myself.

I leave my employers with appreciation and gratitude. For all the times they expressed themselves directly. For all the times they listened. For the offer they made.

And the salary? That is just a strategy to support our needs for contribution and to be seen for our contribution. We can work that out. Easily.


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