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)

Saturday, January 30, 2010

Desire: Distinguishing the Universal from the Particular

My spouse and cominister, Rev. Meredith Garmon, incorporated the theory and components of Nonviolent Communication (NVC) in a recent sermon he delivered to the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of Gainesville on January 17, 2010. I was pleasantly surprised with the novel approach for the component “need” in NVC. His thinking relies on the difference between a universal desire and a particular desire. A universal desire is life seeking to flow in all humans. You desire something because it is how our species evolved and how we may flourish. In NVC language we often call this universal desire a “need.” A particular desire is the specific strategy you might employ to respond to the universal desire. The reason to say “desire” and not “need” helps us see how we can decrease the urgency for any of our strategies. This allows us to be more open to alternate strategies that might meet the desires of ourselves, others, and our communities.

Here’s how it works.

  1. Think of something you’d really like to happen for you, or that you’d like to do. Perhaps it is something that you long for, or it’s absence causes you sorrow or stress. Maybe it is something that you think someone "should" be doing, or you "should" be doing.

  1. See this as a particular desire, a kind of strategy for meeting a universal desire you share with the human species.

  1. Now discover the universal desire behind the particular desire.

Example: Particular desire = Wanting your children to clean up their room or the house

Universal desires = order, beauty, support, ease

  1. Next see how you might “let go” of the particular desire in that there are many ways to respond to the universal desire.

Example: You might think of making a game of cleaning so that the children are having fun (meeting their needs) or you might consider hiring a house cleaner, or sharing house cleaning with other families. Perhaps you take a different track all together, for order, beauty, support, and ease can be met in so many ways. You gain a sense of freedom in that your house doesn’t have to be clean right now or that your children have to do what you say. You also gain a connection to life because you are connecting to the validity and presence of universal desires in your life which connects you to all the earth and her beings.

  1. Open yourself to let go of any urgency to meet the universal desire because the

freedom of choice offers you a chance to be fully live and powerful as you

embrace reality.

Example: Feeling connected to your own desires and perhaps that of your children, you are thinking of how important beauty is to you, and ease. Validating this gives you a sense of belonging in the world and of your interconnection and openness to others, even if they don’t do what you’d like them to do. One day you might come home and see how you don’t mind the house in disarray, and rejoice in the beauty in the people around you, and in yourself.

6. Celebrate or mourn the desire fulfilled or unfulfilled. The hope is to let go of

strategies, but to hold dear the life affirming desires.

May it be so!

Monday, January 25, 2010

Emotional Liberation

(Liberation in Holland, WW II)

I have been practicing and growing in nonviolent communication (Compassionate Communication ala NVC by Marshall Rosenberg) since 2003 and I continually am surprised (gratefully and pleasantly) with the depth of this construct to grow my heart and add richness to my life.

For instance, I recently pondered the idea of emotional liberation. Here’s how it works.

1. You are responsible for your own emotions and nobody else’s.

2. This freedom from being victim or judge allows you to fully connect with your needs and the needs of others.

3. The result is that you can live more fully, embracing choice and love with an ever opening heart.

I can think of numerous examples in my own life where I think I take responsibility for my own feelings, but deep down, I assign away the rights of my interior life to external stimuli. For instance I had a relationship with my mother growing up from which I have observed came much emotional bag gage. From a emotional free distance I knew of her struggles in parenting and in healing her own child-hood wounds. I thought I had moved from blame to acceptance in much of this. With my mother’s dementia in the mix I find that off and on I am triggered emotionally by her behaviors, which are unpredictable, and with words that are full of blame and anger towards me and others. Unbeknownst to me, I have been holding her responsible for my discomfort and this results in a distancing in our relationship. Spending time (meditation and journaling) knowing that I can choose how I feel I discover relief and a lightness of heart, that in turn opens up ways for me to relate to her with a caring heart for her and myself

Where in your life are you held hostage or hold others accountable for your feelings? Would taking charge of our own feelings liberate you in any way?

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Wired for Empathy

The recent tragedy in Haiti confirms at least one thing in my mind. Humans are wired for non-empathetic responses to others. We go out of way to not witness the suffering, we deny, disbelieve, or rationalizethe stories, and send others in to address the human condition that we think must surely be someone’s fault.

In acute and massive events our empathetic channels open up, but over chronic situations that might even entail more individuals, our empathetic channels narrow. In times like this I wonder how we can keep empathy alive long enough so that the dire pre-earthquake circumstances in Haiti and similar countries and communities never happen.

Compassionate Communication gives us some tools to open our hearts and offer empathy so that we may strive for societal transformation in response to chronic oppression and not just respond with charity in catastrophic events.

Here’s one method that I use in my journaling and also my “time out” periods when I find myself responding to stimuli with expensive emotions that I’d rather not experience so I can instead use my energy on strategies to open myself and others to the full possibility of life.

I define empathy as recognizing my feelings and searching for what universal needs give rise to these feelings. Then I ask others, or guess, what they might be feeling based on needs met or unmet. Then I slow down, breathe, and take time to celebrate that I am connecting and open to life without judgment and open to whatever feelings come my way, and take time to mourn about the tragic consequences of disconnecting relational patterns in friends, families, and societies.

In the case of Haiti, I found my schedule rushed on those first initial days so I sat down for 30 minutes one morning and did the process described in the previous paragraph and then journaled about it. I discovered the possibility of doing this for a few minutes every day for those with whom I wish to connect (self, family members, friends, co-workers, people I know, people I’d like to know, people I regret knowing, and strangers near and far). My hope that is that I might I tap into enough empathy to endure the suffering of the world, and to grow in courage and strength to transform the suffering to global flourishing. This is my hope, this is my prayer, and may this be my practice.

Monday, January 11, 2010

Gender Doors, Not Wars

Have you ever had a conversation or experience with someone of another gender that you just couldn't understand? Did you have feelings that you weren't safe, that assumptions were made about you that weren't fair, or that you were thought of as over reacting, unfeeling, uncaring, blaming, or caviler? Subconsciously, if not consciously, I believe that we all are carrying the wounds and scars of gender categorization and oppression and that these unresolved issues undermine trust and intimacy in our every day interactions and friendships. I see this in myself and others in my home environment, work, congregation, and even in my dreams.

Broken relationships and costly emotions are tragic expressions of unmet needs. How do we strive to meet needs that arise from experiences in past relationships, our child hood, or even in our family and culture systems of decades past?

There are many possible approaches to this, and let me lift up one today: empathetic discussion. If you are having a difficult relationship with someone of another gender, consider taking out an hour sometime in the next week and have each person take a turn of saying what it has been like being "male," "female," or "transgender" - what are experiences that have caused pain or confusion, and joy or gratitude? Let each person speak for 5-10 minutes, uninterrupted, and then have the other person comment on what it was like for them, what feelings and thoughts arise in them, upon listening to the other stories. I have done this in large groups where the women go to the center of a circle and speak to one another of their experiences while the men listen, and then they switch. It has brought much healing, insight, and trust amongst those who were until recently arguing relentless over the toilet set lid being left up, the house unlocked, or household chores left undone. If you don't have a group or another person in which to share this, journal your own experiences and take a time to connect to the living energy of the needs met or unmet, and to mourn or show gratitude. By empathizing with ourselves and others, we open the door to creative solutions where we find that we all are on the same side, and indeed, there are no sides, only a continuum of biological expression striving to flourish in our culture.

Sunday, January 3, 2010

Dreaming of a Right New Year

Go ahead, dream big! Imagine the best world possible. What would it look like? Find someone to describe it to, someone who will listen to you for 3-5 minutes without interrupting or offering input. After those precious minutes, ask the person to identify any universal needs that came up in your description. As you listen to the needs behind your dream, rest in the energy of those needs without thinking if such a world is possible or probable. By connecting to life affirming needs you might, just might, dream into being a small part of the world you so long for.

For instance, what if your world included people laughing around you throughout the day, alternating with good music and hugs. What are the needs behind this dream? Comfort? Support? Fun? Diversion? Community? Love? As you connect to life through these needs you might realize how important they are to you and you might, just might, ask someone to tell you a joke, play a song, or give you a hug. Or you might, just might, tell a joke to someone else, look for a song you used to sing years ago, or offer a stranger a smile or a handshake. Or in the quiet of your own home (or perhaps the chaos of your own home) a smile comes to your face or a bitter sweet heart ache and you know that you and the world are right, just right.