Out beyond ideas of wrongdoing and rightdoing,
there is a field.
I'll meet you there.
When the soul lies down in that grass,
the world is too full to talk about.
Ideas, language, even the phrase each other
doesn't make any sense.
- (Sufi Poet Rumi)

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Love is Born

One of my favorite movies is "Love Actually," a Christmas movie that lifts up the song, "Love is All Around." In it, one character says, "Whenever I get gloomy with the state of the world, I think about the arrivals gate at Heathrow Airport. General opinion's starting to make out that we live in a world of hatred and greed, but I don't see that. It seems to me that love is everywhere. Often, it's not particularly dignified or newsworthy, but it's always there - fathers and sons, mothers and daughters, husbands and wives, boyfriends, girlfriends, old friends. When the planes hit the Twin Towers, as far as I know, none of the phone calls from the people on board were messages of hate or revenge - they were all messages of love. If you look for it, I've got a sneaking suspicion... love actually is all around."

Our daily lives may not be particularly dignified or newsworthy, but in every moment it seems as if we have the chance to connect to the great desire of life to flow through us, and our responding dream to give life back, to give love back. Looking around at trees, birds, faces of friend and stranger, and the stars above, we see evidence of life as it shines on us. If we look for it, I suspect that our lives are like the most touching movie, and we become stars as we see the world as it is, a place of possibility that we can choose love, and hence choose life for all.

How might love be born in you this holiday season?

Monday, December 14, 2009

If I Were Abby

I ponder what an advice column would look like in Compassionate Communication terms. I long for empathy free of judgments in such columns, for my dream of the beloved earth is that all beings have inherent worth and dignity, and recognition of their beauty calls us to find a way to stay in relationship with them, or with life affirming needs that our judgments illicit. To satisfy my need for connecting to such a dream, and for fun, I played around with how I would respond to the letter below if I were Abby.

Original Response from Abby:

DEAR JANET: Your feelings are not "ridiculous." It was cruel of your adoptive mother to promise to share your birth mother's letters with you and then to destroy them. She may have done it because she was deeply insecure about whether she would measure up in your eyes if you saw them. Her comment at the time of your engagement was also cruel in light of the fact that you had no clue that you were adopted when she

Was this woman EVER a loving and supportive parent? If so, then try to forgive her. But from my perspective, "Mom" has some glaring personality flaws, and whether you speak to her is strictly up to you.

My Response:

Dear Janet: I see that you are longing for connection with both your birth and adoptive mother, and that you are seeking meaning in your life and belonging. Is that right? The recent events have probably stimulated feelings of sadness, despair, and I suspect anger as well. Would you be willing for me to respond to your letter in terms of nonviolent communication? If so, read on (and you too dear readers!)

When I am in situations where I am severely disappointed with the actions of others I seek as much self empathy as I can muster. This helps me open my heart not only to them, but to myself and to all of life. In this way I move from thinking my feelings are ridiculous or my needs unimportant to full acceptance of who I am. In this way I can empathize with others. I then imagine myself as the other person. In your case, what might be going on for your adoptive mother? Does she feel disappointment and shame over her parenting skills, and loss and sadness of how she was parented by her own parents? Does she experience fear that she will lose you, or that her efforts of parenting are not appreciated? What you are trying to do is move from considering that your mother has personality flaws or to label her actions as cruel. Your goal is to be see her as a beautiful, whole being who if you can communicate this to her, might just open up to hearing your needs, and in this way your relationship can shift, heal, and even flourish.

I wonder what comes up for you readers when you hear my perspective on this? Are you curious about learning more? If so, visit my website where you can comment and learn more about life giving communication that will nurture your spirit and help heal your world:

Original Column:


DEAR ABBY: I am nearly 50, and learned when I was in my early 30s that I was adopted. I became engaged to a man my adoptive mother did not like. When I told her the news, her response was, "Do what you want -- you aren't ours anyway!" I was devastated. I didn't realize it was literally true until years later, when several of my cousins confirmed it.

Since then, I have located my birth family, although my birth mother died long ago. I asked my adoptive mother (who was and still is "Mom" to me) to please send me all the documents she had relating to the adoption, as well as some letters she mentioned that my birth mother had sent in later years saying she was thinking about me and hoping I was well. Mom told me she had thrown them all out! I was devastated all over again.

Mom says I'm overly sensitive, that the papers were worthless trash and were hers to dispose of. Over the years she had promised several times to show them to me but never did. Now she claims I knew all along that I was adopted and just wanted to find a better mom.

Abby, am I being ridiculous? I still have a hole in my heart because I'll never speak to my birth mom, although my siblings have filled in a lot for me. I was able to get my birth certificate and some other papers, but would have loved to have read the letters my birth mom wrote asking about me. I haven't spoken to Mom since, and I'm waiting on your verdict now. --- JANET IN TEXAS

DEAR JANET: Your feelings are not "ridiculous." It was cruel of your adoptive mother to promise to share your birth mother's letters with you and then to destroy them. She may have done it because she was deeply insecure about whether she would measure up in your eyes if you saw them. Her comment at the time of your engagement was also cruel in light of the fact that you had no clue that you were adopted when she

Was this woman EVER a loving and supportive parent? If so, then try to forgive her. But from my perspective, "Mom" has some glaring personality flaws, and whether you speak to her is strictly up to you.

Monday, December 7, 2009

Pearls of Peace

On this day 68 years ago, Japanese fighter planes and bombers attacked Pearl Harbor, Hawaii. It struck hard at the emotional core of many people, whose wounds still are with us today. How difficult it must have been for these survivors to come to terms with the "enemy" that killed their own. So great is the pain, surely someone must be to blame for the loss and sorrow in our lives. I don't doubt that people's actions and strategies do result in grievous harm, however, when we diminish our ability to empathize and have compassion for others, we have moved them from having inherent worth and dignity to being the different "other" that deserves what they get, and all that we can give them. The end result is that we pass on to others and to future generations this concept of enemy and people who "deserve" less than we do.

Whenever I diminish the worth of others in my thinking I pause to wonder what needs of mine am I not recognizing that I put the responsibility onto others? What needs unmet have I yet to mourn, or needs met I have yet to celebrate? If I perceive an enemy, a foe, or have a judgment against someone, it is a great opportunity for me to lift up my values, needs, and dreams. In this way I renew my spirit in our common humanity, and in this way can engage in difficult relationships and struggles against oppression and injustice with even a sense of gratitude for my enemies. For they tell me what is mine to hold dear.

I recall a quote from the 1985 movie "Enemy Mine:"

Davidge: "If one receives evil from another, let one not do evil in return. Rather, let him extend love to the enemy, that love might unite them." I've heard all this before... in the human Taalmaan.
Jerry: Of course you have. Truth is truth.

What a pearl of wisdom - enemies are not mine to keep apart and wreck revenge upon, but to grow my love so that we may yet be united.

(From the movie "Enemy Mine")

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

No Thanksgiving

I know this is the season for giving thanks, but I’m of the frame of mind to suggest that we also need a season of not giving thanks. How often do we say “thank you” not because we are really grateful for the life sustaining actions of others and a desire to celebrate that appreciation with others, but instead say thank you from a place of politeness or wanting to make sure that others accept us? Sometimes when we say “thank you” I imagine that we do so to manipulate the other – to get them to keep on meeting our needs with their actions or words. Others do the same to us, and with every “thank you” heard it’s as if it is a demand to get us to do what some one else wants and not what we want. We oblige because we wish to stay in relationship, never questioning shared practices that do not strengthen relationships and can foster resentment. Often these practices are subtle and we don’t realize how we are like an army recruit at basic training that after being punished by the drill sergeant, we are trained to say, “thank you sir, may I have another?” To the practices of oppression and violence that induce individual and societal suffering, isn’t it time to say, “no thanks?”

How do we say, “no thanks?” I believe we can do this by telling others how we feel based on life sustaining needs met (or not). We don’t mindlessly offer up thanks or ignore chances to share gratitude, but honestly and courageously express the true desire of our hearts and minds, which are based on a dream of loving and empowering relationships, and equality.

It can be challenging to express our disappointment with others in an empathetic way. So start small and practice with easy things. Perhaps when offered this week a second helping of candied sweet potatoes, which you don’t really like you can say “no thanks, I’m quite satisfied with the wonderful meal we’ve already shared.” With practice we can from candied yams to saying no thanks to poverty, to lack of health care, to domestic violence, and to anything that does not say yes to life for all beings.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Mighty Mouse


The mouse soul is nothing but a nibbler.

To the mouse is given a mind proportionate to its need,

for without need, the Almighty god

doesn't give anything to anyone.

Need, then, is the net for all things that exist;

man has tools in proportion to his need.

So, quickly, increase your need, needy one,

that the sea of abundance may surge up in loving kindness.

Rumi, Mathnawi, II 3279-80: 3292

Perhaps one of the kindest, most compassionate gifts we can offer ourselves and others is to recognize the great need in each of us. We all are needy - we long for love, community, health, beauty, safety, and peace. If we recognize the greet need in our species, and indeed of life on this planet, I believe that we open up the doors of love and power to flow through us. It is not us who own the needs, but interconnected life. To deny our needs, then, is to deny life. I believe that if we can make friends with the needs pressing around us, we ease up with the exact strategy to fulfill these needs, and this brings compassion, empathy, and healing into our relationships.

Where in your life, perhaps as parent or teacher, do you deny that you have needs and that life is inviting you to open to this so that you may fully live?

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Certifiably Crazy

Tomorrow I travel to Seattle, and then on to Vancouver Island for my final step in Nonviolent Communication Certification as a Trainer. I wonder now what it means to be "certified?" In some ways there is a contradiction here - to use labels to categorize oneself or others can shut down an openness to learn about the other and to listen to them. Isn't Compassionate Communication all about not using labels or categorizing people? Perhaps, except when labels, positions, or categories can meet needs. What we long for in our lives is choice - and to have total choice this means that we can opt for judging others to meet needs. In my case, to be a "Certified Trainer" opens up doorways to support others within Unitarian Universalism and peace and multispecies activism, and this means a lot to me. I long for harmony, choice, and beauty and if being labeled as a "Trainer" helps others feel supported and have confidence in compassionate communication, then I will gladly wear that label. Perhaps I'm a bit certifiably crazy to dream of such a world where choice, interdependence, peace, and autonomy are the hallmarks of relationships. How about you?

What labels do you use on yourself? What needs are met by being "certified" as a parent, teacher, student, or spouse?

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

When is a Jerk a Jerk?

In recent conversations I have heard others argue, "sometimes you just have to call people jerks." They aren't saying that you need to say this out loud to others, or that the people whose behavior doesn't meet your needs aren't children of God or the Universe. What they are trying to communicate to me is that certain behavior is "not acceptable." By calling people a jerk you have passed a judgment on the actions and not on the people themselves who of course, according to our Unitarian Universalist principles, always have inherent worth and dignity. So it's okay to let the inner chatter label people as jerks, right? Or to use this label or any other label as a short cut to trusted friends to speed up and clarify communication, right?

I've been thinking about this and here's what goes on for me. If I use the word "jerk" or categorize people in any way, even just in my thoughts, I shift. My heart constricts and I am less open to listening, empathizing, and connecting to other people and the dream of the way I wish to live. As a practitioner of Compassionate Communication therefore I attempt to identify the needs of what others are attempting to meet and let that be both the inner and outer conversation. In this way my heart opens to life and possibility and what we might do together.

Practice: One time today, observe when you label someone and she how you feel with this. Then identify the needs the person is pursuing and attempt to empathize with them. Does this make a difference in how you feel?

Monday, September 21, 2009

You Lie

In recent news we heard how Representative Joe Wilson from South Carolina shouted, “you lie” at President Obama during his speech on health reform to the joint congress. In the days to follow I heard much talk about this, and in people’s sharings there was a sense of despair and hopelessness that we will not be able to work things out with such disparity of views and incivility in the public realm. How can we work towards the common good if we can’t even talk to one another?

I’m guessing that if you are reading this you aren’t a member of Congress, so let me bring this sense of “name calling” to our own lives. Where do you assume bad intentions of another person when their words or actions don’t meet up with your needs and expectations? I’m guessing it’s rather often. How can we work towards the common good if we in our own lives can’t talk to another without “name calling” and assuming we know what the other person means and what they intend?

Perhaps in your own life it might be like this. A friend of yours did not show up for a date you had set to go to dinner. You think, “she doesn’t care for me enough to call,” or “she never really wanted to be with me, I’m boring. I just wish she wouldn’t lie to me.” What if you checked out your paranoia by calling her and saying that you were disappointed that you didn’t have a chance to share this planned meal together and would she be willing to tell you what happened, why she didn’t show up?” You might get responses such as “My child was sick and we had to go to the emergency room,” or “I was so depressed I could not even get to the phone to call you.” This might be an opening for honest communication and a deepening relationship, or perhaps a deepening connection to life for both of you.

If we can hold onto this dream of how to communicate with one another, maybe one day, an angry and frustrated Representative might instead call up the President and say, “I am do disappointed with the process of legislation and I wonder if you’d be willing to talk with me about your values, views, and strategies so that we might come up with a plan that serves the common good and not just our individual or party agenda?”

If we could do this, we as a people would shout not “you lie” but would shout with gladness.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

I Want Both of Us

I Want Both of Us

I want both of us
To start talking about this great love

As if you, I, and the Sun were all married
And living in a tiny room,
Helping each other to cook,
Do the wash,
Weave and sew,
Care for our beautiful

We all leave each morning
To labor on the earth’s field.
No one doesn’t lift a great pack.

I want both of us to start singing like two
Traveling minstrels
About this extraordinary existence
We share,

As if
You, I, and God were all married

And living in
A tiny

In Compassionate Communication, this heart-warming poem is a wish, desire, or longing and may invite empathy and dialog. For me it is a profound invitation to engage with the wonder and awe of life, and extend as much kindness as I can out towards others because we are all so precious and all struggling so. There is a difference, however, between this poem’s wishful qualities and a specific request. A specific request goes like this: would you be willing to tell me what comes up for you when you read this poem and read my words of reflection? I may want both of us to live a life based on love, but until I ask with concrete, doable, in-the-moment possibilities, I have not made a request.

In your day-to-day life, what would a request look like that asks someone else to talk with you about a great love?

Sunday, September 6, 2009

We Are Of Love

We are of Love

In Gainesville, Florida there is a congregation that posted a sign that says, “Islam is of the Devil” on their lawn. This raised public outcry, which was further inflamed when the school year began and the children from this church were sent home from school because they wore t-shirts with the same message on them. My son who works at a local market was sitting outside during break this week when a woman wearing one of those t-shirts came up to him and asked him if he was a Christian. The woman said her message spoke the truth and the only way to God was through Jesus. My son, a devote evangelical Christian, countered that we humans cannot know the truth of how to bring people to love and to God, but we can only let love and God live through us. He said that the woman, with her two young children, would stand a better chance of witnessing for God if she didn’t wear such a t-shirt. Instead, as she spoke to him people who walked by told the woman she was racist and wrong.

This incident is perhaps a more extreme example of how we all tend to get hooked on specific strategies or outcomes. Is this true for you? By setting our sights on our way of doing things, or of being right, do you find that you lose sight of the original dream, value, or need? In this case this woman is saying that the only way to love and to transcendence is through Jesus, and anything else is wrong. Do we in our own ways feel that there is a specific path for love, compassion, and community and judge others if they don’t agree with us? What if we just set our sights on love, connect to that energy, and let go of how we do things? For instance, what if in your congregation you let love flow through you and let go of the kind of music sung, the length or tone of the sermon, or the specific methods used in faith development for children and youth. I imagine that in my own congregation and it is how I wish to live in community – not idolizing my own perspective or even that of humanity, but instead looking inward and outward towards the dream of the community forming power of love, which some give the name of God.

With this potential within us all, I believe that we as a species are not of the devil, but of God, and when are not of evil, but of love.

What bedevils me is when I get stuck in the details of what I want, instead of what sustains my family, my friends, my congregation, this earth, and me.

What sustains you? What devils are in your details?

(Tasmanian Devil)

Monday, August 31, 2009

Common Sense for the Common Good

Mounting scientific and archeological data supports the idea that humans evolved to be both collaborative and competitive – to seek self interests as well as interests of others. We have it in us to place a high priority on our own needs, as well as on the needs of others. What then do we do when self-interest competes with other interest, or we perceive that it does? When this happens to you, do you blame others for “not doing their share,” yourself for being “selfish” or for society being beyond redemption? Do you end up choosing between self-interest and other interest, and also losing connection with others, yourself, and your deepest dreams and longing?

I believe that there is another way. Common sense suggests, as does my experience, that there is a way that self-interest can align with other interest, and that is when I strive to meet my needs while also considering the needs of others. Pursuing the common good benefits all people, indeed all beings, without diminishing any ones needs. When two friends, a family, a community, a congregation, or a society or nation can put the common good (equally considering everyone’s needs) in the forefront, we will find that we have abundant resources and creativity to build better relationships and experience more beautiful and joyful moments, and hence realize the beloved community. This is my prayer not just for the future, but now, in the very next thought and conversation you and I have. May it be so. Blessed Be.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Faith Without Works

I heard a sermon from Unitarian Univeralist minister Rev. Christine Robinson today as a podcast and was struck by something she said – “faith without works dies” (, April 6, 2009 sermon ). By this she means that if we don’t act on that in which we put faith, the bedrock of meaning and hope in our lives will dwindle away. I wonder what you have faith in? Perhaps it is that we are here to serve? Maybe you feel that love is the highest aspiration of human relationships and endeavors? You might also say that you have faith in God, Unitarian Universalism, human possibility, or Compassionate Communication. In any of these value rich professions of faith, what actions live out the deep core of your being? What is the dream of living in this world, and how can you help make it so?

Perhaps you are unsure how to have faith, for love seems so far away or hard to do. Serving others doesn’t seem to make any difference. Maybe God, your congregation, people you know, or the 4 steps of Nonviolent Communication have failed you. How can one have faith in one’s deepest longings and dreams when it just doesn’t work out the way you want it to, or need it to?

Here’s the paradox for me. Faith isn’t to “work out” or “produce results.” But resting in faith, connecting to that divine energy of belonging and being beyond wrongdoing and rightdoing, can nourish you to do work based on this faith without being attached to outcomes. In this way your faith can grow as you cocreate with life around you. By resting in our faith, we can feel how life’s call is a clear bell sounding full of promise, an invitation to joy, and in the parlance of nonviolent communication, the bittersweet a request that may or may not produce results.

I sometimes find myself feeling overwhelmed thinking of the heart and body ache in this world. I can either work too hard to try to save the world and wear myself out, or not even want to venture out of the house because the “to do” list is too long, too demanding, “too important.” If I rest for just a few minutes, as I am doing now, letting my feelings of sadness or despair connect me to my needs, values, and longings, I find my spirits uplifted and prepared now to put myself out there into the world, working to build upon my faith, and maybe, just maybe, to build the beloved community.

In faith,