Bring your life into balance

Empathy works. It always does.


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A car driver shatters my enemy image

My husband and I are on our daily walk around the block. We do that twice a day, to connect, listen, and hold hands. It’s always the same circuit, more or less 1.5 miles long. It’s drizzling, so I’m extra worried and aware that cars might not be as attentive as I wish.

And heck, for sure: an SUV backs out of the driveway, straight into us. Being alert, we’re already on the lawn of the opposite house by the time it would have hit us.

I feel annoyed. Mainly scared, but it shows up as annoyance. As a committed commuter cyclist, I have had my fair share of almost being hit by cars who don’t look around enough. For the last three years, at least once a month, I have to jump the curb, swivel around, or do an emergency break to avoid being run over.

I confess, I have thoughts of breaking car windows to teach this damn driver a lesson.

Thank God I don’t.

Once the car is out on the street, the driver rolls down the window. “I’m sorry. I’m so sorry…” I see a fifty plus woman with tears in her eyes. “I’m really distracted, … my mom is dying … I’m off to say goodbye to her …”

She stops the car and sits there quietly, I assume to calm herself, before she drives off.

I feel shocked. And embarrassed. Never in the world would I have expected that.

My enemy image of car drivers shatters in a thousand pieces.

I remember Thich Nhat Hanh’s advice to always ask “Are you sure?”. He invites us to write this question down and put it somewhere where we will see it: a bathroom mirror, the fridge, our calendar. And live by it.

As I regret my quick jump to the conclusion that she was inconsiderate of my need for safety, I stutter “I am so sorry for you.”

She drives off. I ask my husband to confirm which house she came from, and I make a promise to myself to drop off a condolence note.

I go home and write the note.

And a sticky note “Are you sure?”.

It’s up on my bathroom mirror to remind me to not jump to conclusions about someone’s intentions and character.

How does this land for you? Let me know, I would love to hear from you.


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My dentist inspires me to transform my enemy image

I am at my dentist. I like her. She has an effervescent energy, a big smile, and bouncing red curls, and she explains what she’s gonna do. And, I get a heated cherry pit pillow in my neck and a bright pink blanket over my legs, every time I’m in the chair.

This time the procedure takes two hours. It is more complicated than she anticipated. In the middle of working with me, she walks away to work on someone else. I can hear them chatting cheerfully through the wall. She didn’t tell me she would be gone for half an hour, and she didn’t ask what she could do for me so I would feel comfortable in her absence.

I am left alone, confused and lost about what’s going on.

Soon, I need to go to the bathroom. I don’t know how to do that.  I’m hooked up to something and I can’t call for help to untie me, because there is a divider jammed in my jaw. All I can do is make a muttering sound. I can tell my mumbling doesn’t draw her attention: her chatter continues cheerfully.

After half an hour, she comes back, finishes up, and presents me the bill.

Ouch. Financially, physically, and emotionally: I wanted more care and consideration.

I am too exhausted to complain. Instead — I build an enemy image of her. “She is incompetent. She is an idiot. She doesn’t care. And I certainly should never, ever go back.”

It takes several days, before I find the compassion to unwind it. Nonviolent Communication offers the following advice to shift enemy images:

  1. notice your unmet needs and any feelings they bring
  2. guess the needs the “enemy” was trying to meet by their behavior
  3. acknowledge that their behavior left your needs unmet
  4. distinguish between who they are and what they do

This last step of distinguishing person and behavior is essential. The fact that my dentist acted in a way that didn’t meet my needs for consideration and care doesn’t make her an inconsiderate person. There is a difference between what someone does (specific in space and time) and who someone is (generalized and ongoing). Compare “I am a thief” and “Last Monday, I took a $10 bill from the desk of my employer, and I knew it wasn’t mine.”

Sure, there were things she could have done differently, but that doesn’t make her an idiot or an incompetent dentist. It makes her someone who didn’t have the spaciousness, awareness or creativity to figure out how to meet all needs. If anything, she needs help to succeed at that, not criticism or judgment.

I do want my needs to be seen and valued.  So my work is to receive enough empathy to know what I could ask of her at my next appointment. A request that’s about my experience, not her character.

Let me know how this lands for you.


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Running around, looking for my Buddha nature

I’m up early. Before the crack of dawn. I love it. I feel energized and excited about a new day, about being alive and having the opportunity to contribute, learn, and receive.

I get dressed and make my tea. Green tea. Yum.

Then I hear the alarm on my phone go off. First softly, then loudly. I rush toward the sound, I don’t want my husband to wake up. It gets louder, the closer I get to the bathroom.

As soon as I think I am getting close, the sound fades. Shoot! So where is it? I don’t want it to go off next to his ear. I feel relieved to hear it again, in the kitchen. That makes sense, it must be on the counter, where I made my tea.

And again, as soon as I think I am close, the sound subsides. No! My husband worked late last night and needs his sleep. Where is my phone?!

The sound increases, in the dining room. I look around, more frantic now. Nothing to be found nowhere.

Then it dawns on me. My cell phone has been in my pocket the whole time.

My alarm sounds like ocean waves rolling on the beach: softer and louder with each wave coming in and fading away. The precious thing I was looking for, was right there in my jeans all the time.

It made me think of a story Pema Chodron tells in “When Things Fall Apart”. It’s about a woman who’s sent out into the world with only a coat. She ends up destitute, with no means to support even her basic needs for survival. She complains about her poverty. Her coat goes to shreds, and in the hem she finds diamonds. Plenty enough to sell and support her.

That woman is me, running around, looking for my Buddha nature, my Christ essence, my basic goodness. All the while, I’m stuck in my anger, fear, jealousy, and judge myself for having these feelings.

I hope there comes a moment where I realize that I had Buddha nature all along, buried in my hardened heart. The place where I stop, connect, and celebrate my innate compassionate nature. Where I acknowledge my love, care and gratitude as “enough conditions to be happy”. Where I see my happiness and suffering as expressions of our shared humanity.

Our shared humanity with people I like, and people I don’t like. People who think and vote like me, and people who do the opposite. People whose words and actions are in alignment with my values, and people who speak and act in ways that conflict with my dreams for our world.

I imagine that when I am grounded in my own goodness, I can offer my insight to help others see theirs. To help them pause, take a breath, and smile at life.

I think that thàt is the best gift I can give to others.


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Judgments, criticism, and blame are tragic expressions of unmet needs

Unfortunately, we usually hear them as a message of wrongness of us, of who we are in our core being. We take the message personally and defend or doubt ourselves, or we withdraw within.

It is often easier to hear criticism, blame, and judgment from a stranger, from someone who is not that close to us. As soon as the message comes from someone who matters to us and the issue is tied to our sense of self-worth, we struggle.

How’s that?

Empathy with a partner, dear friend, or sibling when they express blame, judgment, or criticism is harder, because they are more important than a stranger. Their opinion of us matters more than the opinion of someone we don’t care about. We spend so much time with them, that they become our main strategy to meet our needs for love, acceptance, belonging: essential needs for our human existence.

David Schnarch talks about differentiation as “your ability to maintain your sense of self when you are emotionally and/or physically close to others-especially as they become increasingly important to you.” Differentiation would be very helpful to hear hard-to-hear messages more easily. Unfortunately, differentiation is not something that’s being taught at school.

Image courtesy flickr.com/photos/quinnanya/8043877054Now what?

I offer two tips that can help you reach enough differentiation to hear hard-to-hear messages without too much upset.

Localize the criticism

Translate the negative message about you as a person into an event that is localized in time and place. Transform an evaluation of you as a person, into feedback about something you did. It is about, for example, the fact that you left without saying goodbye yesterday afternoon, instead of being judged as a cold and uncaring person. When you help your loved one distinguish between you and your behavior, it is easier to empathize with what they are trying to say.

Guess feelings and needs

We experience our shared humanity at the level of feelings and needs. We all know what it is like to feel sad, lonely, angry, disappointed, scared, ashamed, embarrassed. We all have needs for acceptance, love, support, understanding, safety, reassurance, connection, belonging, play, autonomy. When we move beyond the details of the story into the depth of feelings and needs, we develop a sense of understanding. We might even ask questions to better understand the other one: “Tell me what saying goodbye means to you?” “What rituals did your family have around saying goodbye?” “In an ideal situation, what would saying goodbye look like?”

Go practice!

I am pretty sure that these two tips help you to hear your spouse, child, co-worker share their hard-to-hear-message with more acceptance, compassion, and understanding.


You want help to listen with empathy to hard-to-hear messages? Contact me 512-589-0482 for a free, discovery session to see how I can help.


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Creating your dream, one step at a time

You didn’t like the last board meeting. At all. One of the board members raised his voice, in an attempt to be heard. You left feeling upset, anxious, agitated. You want more respect, safety, mutual understanding, and -of course- collaboration. A real sense of working together for a shared purpose, in a way that nurtures the relationships between the board members.

You are aware some old pain is being triggered from your family of origin. So, -Nonviolent Communication savvy as you are- you decide to get support from your empathy buddies. And after five empathy sessions, role plays, and mediation exercises you realize the issue is not just this one board member, it is also the way the meetings are facilitated, the group dynamics, and historical baggage that some board meetings carry into the meetings.

4. Creating Your Dream One Step at a TimeThe whole situation seems so overwhelming and complicated, that you have no confidence that you can contribute to more compassion and collaboration. You are ready to resign and give up on your dream of a harmonious, collaborative, respectful board. Done. You just can’t do it, it’s too hard…

Well?…

Is it?…

You hear this voice in your head ‘Creating your dream is one conversation at a time. Creating your dream is translating your vision into concrete, do-able, action-oriented, time specific, tiny steps and getting support to take these steps.’

So you set-up your support system: empathy from your buddies, advice from your mentors, encouragement from your friends, and self-care from yourself.

You are ready to take the one step that maximizes your chance of success. A small step, sure, and still: one first step. You invite the board member for coffee to talk about this board meeting, so you can understand where he was coming from. You rehearsed the one sentence you want him to hear. You enter the conversation with confidence and trust in your compassion and empathy skills. And that is enough. No matter the outcome of the conversation, you succeeded. Because you showed up in a way that was in alignment with your dream of collaboration, respect, and safety.

What could be your first step? You want help to set yourself up for success? Contact me for a free, discovery session, 512-589-0482.


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Screaming in giraffe

GiraffeMy friend is unhappy at work. She wants her boss to understand her troubles and acknowledge their shared responsibility in the problems. She hopes this will inspire him to support her finding a position where she will be seen and appreciated for her qualities.

Current conversations haven’t helped. She wants my advice how to proceed.

I tell her that I would start with “Beginning Anew”, and use feelings and needs language. As I talk, I notice that she grows quiet. I ask her how this idea lands with her.

It doesn’t. At all. She is sick and tired of having to listen first, of being the empathic and compassionate one. So far it turned out that her listening ended any conversation. The other responds to her accurate reflections of feelings and needs with “Exactly, that’s it” and walks away. No interest in her experience. No intention to include her needs.

I understand my friend.

Listening is just another strategy for connection. Reflecting feelings and needs can help to establish trust and understanding.

And it might not be sufficient.

Nonviolent Communication is not very nonviolent if it sustains an imbalance in resources. It is not very nonviolent if it excludes the needs of some and emphasize the needs of others. It is not very nonviolent if it silences the have-nots and favors the haves.

Sometimes we need self-expression as a strategy for connection. Sometimes we need to “scream in giraffe” (a term coined by Marshall Rosenberg) to be heard. Sometimes we need to take action to make sure all needs are included, also ours. Peace, connection, understanding are not possible if not all needs are supported.

Let’s practice using NVC to express our anger and unmet needs AND maintain connection. Let’s practice using NVC to support ALL needs. Let’s practice using NVC to awaken our awareness that our needs are interdependent, and that none can be happy if not all are happy.

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You want to learn to scream in giraffe? Contact me 512-589-0482. I would be excited to work with you!


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Building collaborative communities

Mediate your LifeThank you, John and Ike, for facilitating the Mediate Your Life retreat.

I thoroughly loved it. I loved the community, the safety, the acceptance, the learning, and the comradery on the path of compassionate communication. I feel grateful for all the practical tools and practices that I directly can use in my daily life. And most of all, I feel touched, inspired and appreciative of the respect, inclusion and openness you showed towards any idea offered by anyone at any time. With all your years of experience in teaching, training and mediating you never pretended you knew it all. Every day seemed like a fresh, new day with new answers to new challenges to best support the participants in this workshop at this moment.

You modeled how I want to build community and collaboration. Not contracted and constricted, guarding my carefully crafted opinions. Not scared that my ideas will be swept off the table as irrelevant and uninteresting. Not attached to my points of view, thinking that I know the truth, and the only truth.

I aspire to stop my chatter mind when someone offers an idea I don’t know, or might even feel resistance to. And then listen. Just listen. What does the other person have to say? What is important to them? How are they contributing to expanding my world view? Where is the valuable gem in their words? How can I honor their willingness to share their unique wisdom with me?

It seems so simple. Just stop and listen. And then, with an open heart and curious mind, explore their ideas. Like tasting wine. Or chew chocolate. Oh, the wonderful nuances of this idea… how it reveals itself… what an unexpected surprise to hear this…

My monkey mind immediately protests. ‘What if the idea is harmful, like blacks are lazy?‘ I don’t have any other answer than that you can always empathize with them. Understanding where the speaker is coming from, their fears, pain, desires. How those are captured in this idea. How there might be something precious in their idea, even if I don’t like the way they express what is important to them. And I can imagine that creates connection, and maybe a new understanding for both of us.

It sounds simple. Just stop and listen. I guess it takes a lot of personal growth, radical honesty about where you’re stuck, and courage to let go of preconceived ideas, before you can show up like that.

Ike and John thank you so much for being role models, as I strive to be who I want to be.

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Contact me if you want support to open up to new ideas and build collaborative communities 512-589-0482


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Doing less, being more

Doing lessMy sister had great advice for me the last time I visited the Netherlands: do even less.

I immediately implement it. At the Nonviolent Communication retreat,  I continuously stop myself in my tracks, in my well-developed habit of speaking or doing if no one else does, and ask myself ‘Why do I want to say this?’ ‘Why do I want to do that?’

It takes a while, before I can answer those questions. I have such a strong habit of being helpful, I am so used to making sure everyone is happy, that I only can say that doing much is a strong pattern.

The why behind the doing

After a day or so, I connect to the ‘why’. I just want to belong, be accepted, and be seen. And I have learned that being helpful, kind, funny are great ways to get a sense of acceptance. I can not imagine I will matter, belong and be appreciated, unless I actively work on getting them.

‘I don’t get anything, unless I work hard for it.’

So here I am at the retreat, asking myself non-stop ‘Why?’ And then stop, focus on my breath, feel into my experience. And leave it at that. Only talk and act if I have a wildly enthusiastic impulse to speak or act.

The relief in the not-doing

That what I fear, is not happening. People don’t fall apart, the world doesn’t collide into catastrophe, I am not blamed for all the suffering in the room. Nothing terrible happens if I don’t speak or do something. The world does perfectly fine with me just sitting on my spot, enjoying my breath and the life in and around me.

The acceptance and appreciation for being you

A burden is taken of my shoulders. I am not responsible for everyone’s well-being. People can take care of themselves, of each other, yes, even of me. I can relax, lay back, and see everyone doing their own thing. And be part of the gang. Just by being me. Laughing wholeheartedly when I feel amused, showing my vulnerability, being present when someone cries. Just being me brings me everything I want.

I never received as much appreciation as at that retreat.

I did less, and was more. That was enough.

Try it for yourself: do less and be more. You’ll love it.

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If you want help letting go of your habit of having-to-do: Nonviolent Communication is a perfect tool to work on that. I am happy to coach you in those skills. Contact me 512-589-0482.


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Self-Compassion, day 1: I’m doing the best I can

Wangari Maathai shares a beautiful story about a hummingbird and the forest. The forest is on fire and all the animals flee away, terrified of the fire and immobilized by fear of what will happen to their sacred home.

The hummingbird flies off too. To the lake. He picks up one drop and flies back to the forest and drops it on the fire. Then he flies back to the lake as fast as he can and picks up another drop. And another. And another.

All the animals watch him and ask: “Why are you doing this? It’s not gonna help? Your beak is too small, the fire too big, and your wings too slow.” The hummingbird pauses a second, then replies “I’m doing the best I can.”

Sometimes we feel overwhelmed with our situation, the situation of our world. We see all the suffering, within ourselves, in other people, nearby, far away. The task is too heavy, the stakes too high. Something needs to be done, and it needs to be done now, but whatever we have to offer is nothing compared to the grief and suffering. There is too much to do, and we stand to lose it all. The situation seems overwhelming, and we get paralyzed.

Those are the moments that we can stop. We stop to appreciate everything we are doing. Every thought we create, every word we speak, every step we take. We appreciate how we contribute to more abundance in the world, more prosperity, more security, more love, connection, peace, joy, and harmony. We acknowledge how our efforts bring more loving-kindness, compassion, support and understanding into the world. We appreciate how we work to sustain ourselves, our loved ones, and those we don’t know yet. We might not create the results we want. But, we’re doing the best we can.

And that’s enough.


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Appreciation in 4 steps

There is a tender beauty in expressing appreciation. There is something precious in sharing how someone’s actions enriched your life. A little line of connection between two people on this earth, who care enough about each other to find joy in supporting each other.

Even if you only say “thank you”, you water the seeds of joy, love and trust within yourself. Appreciation reinforces awareness of everything you have and everything you receive that is positive, pure and good.

No matter how grim your circumstances seem, how dark your future, how gloomy your past, appreciation highlights the moments of joy, love and harmony that you do have.

My friend suggested four steps of appreciation. Three to express to your friend, partner, parent, sibling, neighbor. One to express to yourself.

1. Observations

You start with a specific observation of what the other person did. Simply, as if you are a fly on the wall who recorded the event with a camera. The less interpretations, evaluations, judgments, the easier it is for the other person to know what you are talking about.

2. Feelings

Then you share how you felt when you observed what happened. Maybe you felt happy, touched, relieved, proud, tender, joyful? You can use your physical experience to locate and connect to your feelings.

3. Needs

Then you share how the action of the other person nurtured a need in you. Needs are universal throughout space and time. All feelings point to universal, human needs we all share. Maybe your friend supported your need for support, acceptance, understanding, compassion? Sometimes sharing your needs feels a little vulnerable, because we own up to what is important to us. We are a little bit more seen than before, a little bit more naked.

4. Your contribution to the event

You end with acknowledging the qualities you brought to the table to invite this experience in your life. You appreciate your consciousness and choices that made this possible. Maybe you were courageous enough to ask for support. Maybe you are grateful enough to notice the unfolding leaves on the tree. Maybe you are helpful enough to support your friend in need. There is always something in you that made this experience possible.

You’ll notice a big shift in your experience of life, if you practice these four appreciation steps twice a day for one month. Start today. Life is too short to postpone what’s important.