This is an exerpt I have contributied to an upcoming book on Nonviolent Communication and Aikido
“Imagination, helps provide meaning to experience and understanding to knowledge; it is a fundamental facility through which we encounter everything.“ Webster’s
Imagination is a question to the body.
“Imagination … is more important than knowledge. Knowledge is limited. Imagination encircles the world.” Albert Einstein
“Life is all about relationship”. Carolyn Hartness
Some years into my practice of Nonviolent Communication at a workshop led by NVC trainers Barbara Larson and Kathleen McFerrin, I was given the instruction to sit and listen with empathy to two women who were engaged in a role play conflict. As with other workshops I had attended, I found the various explanations of empathy to be somewhat abstract and vague, so, I filled in the instructions with my imagination.
As the role-play got underway, I quieted my breath and thoughts in order to just listen. I imagined that my attention had a slight texture to it as I let it expand out my pores to fill the space around me. My field of attention grew to include the two women, extending my reach to hold them in care. The space was charged with an aliveness that bridged the distance between us, something akin to being in a still pool of water with another person and feeling the gentle waves that emanate from his or her movements as it laps up against my body. Holding a container of loving protection, I became a quiet participant and stabilizing presence in their conversation. The gates to all my senses opened more as I felt a heightened sensitivity and a connection to who these women were below their words. I had a sudden epiphany. This is Aikido! In this moment I realized that “empathy in Nonviolent Communication was the same as a “Ki” field in Aikido, and that what I was doing with these two women was something I had been practicing for 20 years prior in my Aikido training!
In my moment of epiphany, possibilities flooded my mind with ways that Nonviolent Communication’s practice of empathy and connection could be enhanced by the mind/body/spirit practices of Aikido. Since then, many years of fascinating cross training between these disciplines has confirmed that NVC and Aikido are virtually two different entrances into the same circle. The ways these two holistic disciplines complement, inform and add dimension to one another’s training is endless. NVC brings an elegant language to those who study aikido and aikido lends kinesthetic elements to every aspect of Nonviolent Communication training. Most importantly, Aikido’s physical practices of communication are training to bring us home to the wisdom of our bodies and back to our senses during challenging and triggering moments.
I discovered Aikido when I was 26, while looking for a place to work out after a day of intense focus at my goldsmith’s bench. I went to watch a class, with my apprentice who had heard about a certain sensei (martial arts instructor) in the nearby town. We watched this teacher throw students effortlessly across the mat as they attacked. He seemed to move before they even began their attack. I have since learned an old adage in aikido “You attack. I move first.” We were intrigued. In Aikido we learn how when someone attacks to surround him or her with a “Ki” field of loving attention, much like I did with the two women in the NVC exercise. We do this in order to sense the needs below the interaction and by doing so, meet the attack at it its source, before it has the time to turn to violence. In this way, Aikido, done well, gives each situation what it actually needs, and does so with the lightest of touch.
At our workbenches the next day my apprentice and I deliberated over what we had seen the previous evening. Our response was 75% skeptical but still curious to want to learn. The mastery of the teacher, Sensei Koichi Barrish was felt. Aikido is essentially non-verbal, nonviolent communication. Aikido is a way of harmonizing conflict, not avoiding it. By learning to conflict well, it is possible to find the meaning that is trying to emerge from the conflict and drink deeply from that well.
Aikido’s founder, Morihei Ueshiba, was considered the greatest martial artist in Japan around the time of World War 2. At the peak of his mastery he had a moment of clarity where he recognized that the most powerful budo (warriors way) is love. Aikido–in the founder’s words– is “a way to reconcile the world”. Encoded in all of the movements and techniques is loving protection for all. If someone attacks you, not only do you want to protect yourself, but you also want to protect the attacker. This was a great evolution in the world of martial arts. The practice of aikido is a complete metaphor for how I want to be in relationship. I found that if it worked on the mat, it worked in my life.
A core teaching of Nonviolent Communication recognizes that individually and collectively, our deepest needs are one and the same. Both Aikido and NVC training develops our sensitivity to the ground level needs below our interaction, and in this way gets to the heart of a conflict before it turns to violence.
Thinking and Feeling
Take a moment and think about where you are. Look at the room or the view from where you are standing or sitting and just think about it. Notice the quality of your attention; what it lands on and how you would describe what it is like to think about this moment. If there is someone nearby, think about him or her. Notice the quality of your attention.
Now, take a deep breath and feel. How doe the space around you feel. Feel others who might be around you. Notice the quality of your attention as you feel. If there is someone near by, feel what that is like and notice this shift of attention from thinking.
Now again, take a deep breath and for about 20 seconds think about where your are. Just think. Notice what that is like and go back and forth a few times between feeling and thinking, taking 20 seconds to be in each of these two states. Take note of what is different about them. Our bodies are always communicating something
The last time I talked with Joanna, an old and dear friend of mine, she spoke of her son who had died. She lamented how she wished that she had learned more about bringing the body into her communications with him while he was alive. She regretted that she had spent more time talking to him than transmitting what is important through touch. Nonviolent Communication is about touching and although words are very prominent in the practice, it is in the non-physical touch of empathy that I am referring to. To hold someone non-physically, words must be clear and aligned with a felt intention in order not to get in the way of the care and meaning within the empathic transmission. When we talk without feeling, even if the words are very correct the experience is left wanting for touch. In my opinion this is one of the places in the practice of NVC that needs the most shoring up. It is essential to deliberately connect the felt sense, a quality of presence wanting to be shared, to the words being spoken. We must be very mindful to practice with intention during each repetition of the practices other wise we practice not being fully present in our words.
90 percent of what we communicate is not words. Whether, nonphysical or physical touching, the intention must be clear, otherwise touch can distract us from connection and in some cases, be violent. More importantly the feelings need be clear and true. What we feel is transmitted much more potently than what we think. Because touch is so intimate and powerful, it is up to each of us to be vigilant of our intentions and how we use it for connection. Words, together with empathic attention, can hold and touch others. The miscommunication that happens when our words or touch are not felt is all the more painful against the backdrop of the desire to connect.
Physical and nonphysical touch can become more connective through intentional practice. I find the next practice, SURF, to be an exciting way to understand and integrate thoughts and feelings as well as a beautifully intriguing practice for extending an empathic field and imbuing it with a colorful palate of meaning.
S.U.R.F. Centering Practice
“Recalling an event of love or joy through creative imagination throws out a high frequency bridge from the prefrontal cortex to the limbic heart circuit. The heart automatically reciprocates on the that same frequency, lifting us into a higher level of the creative dynamic, defusing defensive reactions already in motion and opening an order of functioning not available to either intellect or imagination alone.”
Joseph Chilton Pearce
Centering practices train us to await our own experience and to listen to the wisdom of our bodies. It brings clarity of the moment in through our senses. When centered we can observe and listen more clearly. Centering brings a wholeness that can shed light on the pros and cons of relative terms such as good/bad, right/wrong, nice/mean, and smart/stupid to define and judge ourselves and others.
Living in relationship is so challenging, in part because we are always transmitting our emotional state. Some days we feel centered and expansive, sometimes we feel tense and contracted. Contraction or expansion can be felt when you walk into the house and someone in the other room is angry. You can feel when another person is open to you or not by how your body responds to theirs. Emotions like anger, hurt, frustration, sadness, shame and guilt are contracted states. Qualities such as honor, grace, gratitude, empathy, playfulness, curious, caring, dignity and joy are expansive states. More than just words, the SURF practice trains this vocabulary of qualities across mind, body, emotional and linguistic domains. Over time along with a greater versatility and understanding of these qualities as a whole self-experience, they become felt and transmitted in your presence and shape. Just like in meditation, how we shape ourselves effects the practices. Imagine a sitting meditation with your head cocked to the side or slumped over. It really is a different experience than if you are leaning back or sitting more vertically. The way we shape ourselves effects how we feel, how we listen and what we communicate. Try talking to someone while leaning forward towards him or her with your face contracted. If we genuinely smile at someone, we will create a different communication than if we’re frowning at someone. How we shape our selves actually changes how we are received, what we perceive and what we communicate. This is a practice that overtime can profoundly change the ways you shape your self. The practice of shaping and comporting yourself with more honor, grace, empathy, playfulness, joy, appreciation and such will bring more of those qualities into your life; from within yourself and from others around you.
The SURF practice, done regularly will enhance your ability to articulate and integrate your thoughts and feelings. It is an exploration that brings a multi dimensionality and distinctions to the nature of empathy and the many qualities of being that we can train to become.
Step 1: S – Shape Yourself
I practice this as a sitting practice, but it can be done while standing just as easily. First sit or stand in your full vertical length. Let your skeleton hold you up in alignment with gravity as it is meant to do with your head above heart above belly. If you are leaning, slouching or overextending, you are fighting gravity and using more muscle than you need to. To aid you in relaxing:
- Let your jaw go and let the back of your tongue relax.
- Let your shoulders fall and relax as if you were letting any weight you might be carrying in your life fall off.
- Let your sphincter muscles relax.
- Imagine the bottom of your feet opening to the ground as you connect to the earth you are standing on.
- If you are seated, feel your sit bone connect to your seat.
Step 2: U – Unify
Take one or two long, slow breaths in and then let them out with a relaxed “Ahhhh…” sound. Straighten your back as you breathe in, keeping the shoulders relaxed and uplifting from your back muscles- not by lifting the shoulders. Breathe up your back and release the breath down your front. Let your belly be relaxed. Continue to breathe in this way.
If you have more time, after a while, just let your breath naturally flow without trying to control it.
Step 3: R – Re-source
Take a moment to connect to your deeper needs and consider one quality you would like to draw up from within yourself. Choose one word that represents what you would love to have a little more of in your life, such as: peace, dignity, respect, openness, acceptance, courage, joy, understanding, appreciation, gratitude, empathy…..
Ask your body:
What would it be like if I felt a bit more _________? (Fill in the quality, just one)
- Live with the questions while the heart dances with the answer.
Try not to have a mental idea of the answer before you answer. Muster an attitude of open curiosity.
The quality you choose represents a forward movement of your spirit and by moving towards it, you embrace life. In the time between asking a question and getting an answer, there is a moment of not knowing, a state of openness. This is where intuition and creativity arise. We are trained from early on to want to know the answers and even give ourselves grief for not knowing. This is a wonderful practice for developing a tolerance for this open creative state.
Give yourself time and space for your body/soma to respond. Engage your imagination and just allow yourself to be curious as you let your body shift. Notice any changes in posture, breathing, body temperature, mood, etc. If you don’t know what it is like to have more dignity, for example, use your imagination to play with what it might feel like. Think of a person you know or a TV character that has that quality and try it on for yourself.
Step 4: F – Field
Sustain the shifts you felt inside in Step 3.
- Bring your attention to the space from your body to a few feet in front of you. Now place that that much attention behind you, above you, below you and then to the sides of you. You can imagine this as if you are in the center of a bubble. Try to equalize your attention all around you.
- Imagine the quality and feeling of the resource you feel filling the space around you.
Remember that energy follows attention: Notice how you can enliven the space around you just by how you focus your attention. In the course of the day, as you engage others, practice holding them in this field. This is the essence of empathic listening. It is essential to that as you extend the space to include others that you extend this “listening field” in all directions, not just towards the person you are listening to. This gives you more width and depth to hold them. As you do this process, do it with imagination engaged and curiosity. Be open and curious with an attitude of “Isn’t that interesting…?”It is important to make this work interesting for yourself; it must be compelling enough to draw you back from the drama of your life. Maintaining these kinds of practices on a daily basis is how you make real changes in yourself. This practice can take only 15 seconds, less than a commercial break. So do it several times a day. Imagine your listening to a word from your sponsor. This can also be a daily sitting or standing practice that you can enjoy for 15 minutes or more. My suggestion is to pick just one quality at a time and explore it in depth over a period of time such as a month, 6 months or a year.
The Spiral Blend
Becoming What You Need – Core Practice
“Under duress we do not rise to our highest expectations, we fall back to what we have practiced most.” Bruce Lee
“Our bodies change our minds, our minds change our behaviors and our behaviors change our outcome, so fake it till you become it.“ Dr. Amy Cudy
The more relaxed we are, the more aware we can be. The more we can feel, the more our emotions can point us towards what we care about. When we are relaxed, people around us relax.
The Spiral Blend
- Core Strategies
- Empathy and Honesty
- Mutual Strategies
VII. Internalizing the Practice
I have been together with my wife, Judith, since 1986 and for many of those years practiced and taught Nonviolent Communication. It takes time to embody the practice and become artful in it. It was pretty comical when we first started teaching together. We’d lead a one-hour Nonviolent Communication intro class and then come home and argue for another hour or two as our newly practiced skills flew out the window.
Our love goes deep and although we have learned a variety of communication skills, we still argue about things. The Spiral Blend appeared in its early form one day while I was out jogging with Judith. Running along, our conversation began to head south as she conveyed her frustrations and concerns regarding our shared household cleaning chores. It was hard for me to not take what she said personally. My chest tightened and I could feel my anger rise. It was then I remembered “irimi tenkan”, a core move in Aikido for entering conflict in a way that creates connection. I decided to give it a try.
Instead of positioning myself right in front of her pointed words, I stepped slightly to her side and just off her “line of attack”. To my surprise, instead of landing on my chest, her words seemed to sail by me. With that small shift in position, my chest relaxed, breathing became easier and my thinking cleared enough to separate who I was from what she was saying.
I let her jog a half step more ahead of me so that I could run slightly behind her right shoulder. Now, physically my heart was just behind hers and from this vantage point I could see over her shoulder towards what she was seeing. No longer physically fielding her emotions, I relaxed and instead of being triggered, I was now curious! I genuinely wanted to understand her and gently spoke to her from that intention. To my delight, we both lightened up and things resolved quickly and beautifully. This was the dawn of the Spiral Blend. If it can work with your spouse, it can help anywhere.
Soon after this “aha moment”, my family participated in a Nonviolent Communication forum with Marshal Rosenberg, the founder of NVC, outside the city of Nagpur in Central India. Thirty-five hundred Dalit, the untouchables and lowest in the caste system of India, built a temporary makeshift town in order to gather and learn more about Nonviolent Communication. Each day people would listen to Marshal through an interpreter as he taught. In the afternoon and evenings, along with 20 other trainers from around the world, we worked with families, clans, children, business partners and others sharing the basics of NVC. This intimate contact with such a different culture was a wonderful confirmation of the common ground that we all share. In Nagpur, I continued to develop the Spiral Blend practice and found it to be an excellent way to teach Nonviolent Communication using very few words while engaging the body.
The Spiral Blend is a series of practices that revolve around three points of connection: self connection; connection to the other person and the connection of mutual needs to a strategy. I have divided the practice into many parts, first to be learned sequentially and in time more organically. Like training wheels, the sequence can be dropped in favor of using your body as a pendulum divining which step in the process will nourish you the most at any given moment.
A basic premise of Somatic work is that we are always practicing something. Somatic processes shine a light on how our repetitive responses to life’s situations become lodged in our nervous system and how independent our habituated responses can be from what is happening in the present moment. Simply put, our body will do what it has repetitively learned to do through practice regardless of what we think or say. When we train our attention to shift from the dramas we perceive to what is happening in our bodies, our bodies become a place to come home to when we are lost.
The practice of listening and appreciating our body’s signals rather then reacting to them develops our “inner guidance system” that can warn us of dangers and lend direction and clarity to the choices we make. To empower our voice, it is essential to be aware of the physical nonverbal messages and reactions we send. We cannot lose them, as we cannot lose our histories. We can learn through them. If these reactions are not in sync with our words, then the listener gets mixed messages. If we do not face these reactions, out of our emotional pain, it is easy to fall into disconnected strategies and project enemy images onto others. When our verbal and non-verbal communication is aligned, our lives touch others.
There are 2 people in this role-play, the Receiver and the Challenger. First, the Receiver coaches the Challenger as to who he/she is and what to say. For starters, while becoming familiar with this practice set it up so the Challenger is saying something that is only mildly triggering, on a scale of 1-10, make it a 2 or 3.
Regarding role-plays, it is interesting and important to note that the body does not know what is real and what is imagined. It will respond in the same ways that it has practiced the most in real situations.
Instead of just playing the part, the Challenger can imagine “being” the person. For example, if you are playing your partner’s brother, ask yourself what it might be like to be his brother and let the impressions come through you. You might be surprised at how that feels and what comes out of your mouth!
Stimulus and Cause
- Challenger: Stand directly in front of and at the end of your partner’s reach. Point your finger at the Receiver and speak the triggering statement you have been coached to say.
2) Receiver: As the Challenger’s triggering words land on you, drop your attention into your body to notice the center of any tightness, sensation or emotional pain that is being stimulated. This is your core strategy. Describe in detail to your partner where and what the physical shifts you are feeling inside your body are as you become triggered. You can ask yourself:
- a) Where is there tightness or contraction?
- b) Where are the sensations the strongest?
- c) How has my breathing changed?
- d) Is there a deadening or an intensifying of emotion anywhere? Where?
Remember: You are not responsible for others’ feelings; you are responsible for your own feelings. It is essential to identify and separate the stimulus from the cause.
- Core Strategies
Because of our different histories and make-ups we each have our own ways of responding to stress and conflict. Our systems can only handle so much intensity before our fight/flight startle responses kick in. Our emotions flood and overload our internal systems and we default into old patterns of behavior, the ones most prominent being our core strategies. (See Core Strategies for more in depth understanding and processes.)
- Receiver: Bring a gentle curiosity and attention to the contractions and sensations you feel. Notice any internal stories, judgments or immediate, fight/flight reactions. At this time try not to analyze things, just notice what comes up and let go of your evaluations.
- If you are struggling to locate where you are triggered because it feels like everywhere or nowhere, you have probably picked a situation that is more than a 2 or 3 on the scale of 1-10. For now, pick something less triggering to work with or go to the next step and move to the “Wind Practice” to relieve your system enough to locate your core strategies.
Remember: It is up to us to identify and learn to regulate when we feel over stimulated. It is very difficult to empathize when you are in pain. This next section is a way to center and relax enough to listen more deeply and fully to what is needed in the present moment.
3) Receiver: Move to the wind position:
- a) Moving from the position of being face to face with the Challenger, step slightly to the left or the right. This would be like stepping “off the line of attack” if some one tried to punch you in the nose by moving to the left or the right. Step off the line but don’t back up or move farther away from the Challenger. Imagine that there is an un- stretchable chain attached between your two bellies. Wind is not about leaving the interaction; it is about self-regulating in order to release your tension, attend to your feelings, gain perspective and stay connected. Imagine the bull coming towards the toreador and how the toreador steps effectively and efficiently with the slightest of movement off the direct line of the bull’s attack. By doing this you allow the energy behind the strong words and pointing finger to pass you by.
- b) While the Challenger continues to point and speak towards your original position, turn your body sideways and spread your arms wide, like a bird soaring. From this new position, imagine the Challengers words are like a train going by and make sure your whole body is off the tracks. From this safe vantage, turn your head as you see it coming, watch it all go by and then notice again where it came from. This will help you to center and calm yourself.
4) Receiver: In the Wind posture notice quietly to yourself:
- What sensations do you now feel in your body?
- How does it feel different from when you were on the line of the attack?
- Does your triggering subside a bit in this new position?
- Notice if your feelings about the other person change at all?
“Don’t just do something, be here”
Self-empathy is listening with just the light of your attention to the internal world of feelings, emotions, moods, sensations and the stories that show up in response to life’s ups and downs. Learning to listen without agenda or attachment allows your emotions to move you towards what you need.
1) Bring your hands up to your chest level with your elbows having only a slight bend in them. With fingers pointed forward, vigorously rub your hands together.
2) Hold your hands apart and extend your arms, hands and fingers as if you’re reaching out to catch a big ball. Notice the tingling of energy from the friction of rubbing your hands together.
3) Touch your heart: Bring your palms and their warmth to touch and appreciate your heart.
4) Wake the belly: Now connect your heart to your belly by rubbing from your heart down to the belly. Wake the belly up by patting it in the front, the sides and the back and then bring your attention into the center of all that sensation.
5) Ground: With your left foot forward, bend your legs slightly so that you feel grounded and centered. Have your hands down by your side and about a foot in front of you. Have your palms open and facing the ground and your fingers spread wide. Keep your body vertical with your head above your heart and your heart above your belly. Move into this position consciously and in your own way, bring a sense of gratitude for the ground that is supporting you, that is under each of us and that brings under-standing and meaning to our lives.
- Here are some grounding questions to ask your self:
- a) What do I deeply care about?
- b) What is the ground I stand on?
- c) What brings meaning to my life?
- d) What can’t I truly ever get enough of?
All of these questions lead to remembering who you are! Take the time you need to appreciate the ground you stand on, what you deeply value and who you are.
An Additional Centering Practice: The Water Practice
Receiver: By this time you may feel a strong sense of self and be ready to move on. At this point, If you need an additional step to resource and stabilize yourself you can move into the Water Practice. The element Water helps to connect with Belonging~All your Relations. Take your left foot and move it back so that it is behind your right foot „Water Position“):
- Use your imagination to remember, appreciate and find gratitude for those all around you, both past and present- all your relations.
- Bring your hands slightly behind you and open your palms to face all that is at your back. Take a moment to appreciate the teachers in your life, the great teachers of our world (past and present), older relatives and ancestors that were healthy and whole (be mindful about who you invite) and the nature around you and the wisdom contained in your genetic history since the beginning of time.
- Reach out to your sides and take a moment to appreciate all who walk beside you. Friends, brothers, sisters, partners and associates.
- Turn your palms towards the front to appreciate the younger ones in your life who remind us to play and who we hold with such care and love.
- Gather All your Relations with gratitude. Remember you do not have to do it all alone.
Water is about belonging and relationship. As we shift to water, your body moves back and down. As we back down, we can take some rest and solace in the knowing that we are always connected to all the relationships around us. Resourcing all our Relations is a practice of elder wisdom cultures around the world. In our culture, we often forget these powerful resources and imagine that we are alone in this world. Take time to feel what is at your back and around you and choose wisely what you choose to invite.
“True empathy requires listening with the whole being; the hearing that is only in the ears is one thing. The hearing of understanding is another. But the hearing of the spirit is not limited to any one faculty, to the ear or to the mind. Hence it demands the emptiness of all the faculties. And when the faculties are empty, then the whole being listens. There is then a direct grasp of what is right there before you that can never be heard with the ear or understood with the mind.” Chinese philosopher Chuang-Tzu
Power vs. Force – Requests vs. demands
Our true power arises from meaning and meaning is understood through the heart. When we connect meaning to our motivations then our words and actions become powerful and moving. Power is always associated with the needs that support the significance of life itself and appeals to what is ennobling. Empathic listening is empowering. It’s not forced and does not feel forceful.
We can recognize true power because it is associated with compassion and leaves us feeling good about ourselves. Force is connected with judgment and leaves us feeling poorly about ourselves. Force always creates an opposite force; it can cause polarization and lead to win/lose situations. Defensiveness arises from force and in home, work and in global affairs takes a toll.
This section of the Spiral Blend brings us to a moment where the most powerful touch gently moves all who it contacts. It is a centered moment when we truly know where we stand so that we can fully listen without agenda or taking things personally that another is saying or doing.
Continuing from where the Receiver is centered and grounded and after having moved just off to the side of the Challenger who continues to point a finger and speak towards the Receivers original position.
- 1) Receiver: Step to just behind the shoulder of the Challenger as he continues pointing in the original direction and speaking the triggering statements. Open your attention and bring the palm of your hand directly behind the Challenger’s heart…. but don’t touch yet. In Aikido, this position is called Shikaku, which means “optimum entering angle”. It is a safe position for someone to move into when attacked. This is the most effective angle of entry to give just the amount of effort needed to evoke the least amount of The intention is connection.
2) Receiver: Look over the Challenger’s shoulder to more easily imagine experiencing what the challenger is seeing and feeling, what it might be like to be in his/her shoes. In this position the Challenger can barely see you. In this moment, it is not about you. With heart behind heart, it is the twilight of connection. Listen with your whole being.
If you are feeling triggered again and caught up in the drama of the words of the Challenger, go back to wind and ground positions and re-center.
3) Receiver: Follow the line from tip of the Challenger’s pointed finger back to his/her heart to the source of his/her motivation and the ground below the words. With all your senses and imagination engaged, holding your partner with care and curiosity. As you listen in this way, silently ask yourself the following questions:
(a) “In this moment, what would this person love more?”
(b) “What is the deepest need behind these words?”
(c) “What is the ground this person is standing on?
Remember: Asking ourselves to imagine is a question to the body. Imagination helps provide meaning to experience and understanding to knowledge. Here are two images to help muster the quality of presence for this moment of the practice.
(a) Imagine that you have traveled a great while to be in the presence of a very wise elder and that you have the opportunity to ask just one question of this divine individual. Imagine how you might take our time to think, feel, check intuitively and then ask your question with humility, respect and gratitude.
(b) Imagine you are in the presence of a fine musician who has invited you to play together. As you stand there with your own instrument, the musician begins to play an elegant piece of music, one you have never heard before. As you listen to the music, you presence yourself and wait until it feels just right and only then begin your accompaniment.
- 4) Receiver: Listen patiently without agenda just to be moved, to understand. Wait for inspiration. When you feel a resonance, an “aha” within yourself, this is a time to make an empathic guess. In time, you will find your own genuine way of guessing feelings and needs. For now, here are a couple examples:
- I am guessing you’re feeling frustrated and would love some appreciation or maybe just to be heard?
- Are you feeling angry because you want your privacy to be more honored?
5) Receiver: As you make the guess, you will know by the reaction it invokes how near or far you are from connection. If the guess is in the right direction, you will notice a visceral “shift”, an easing of tension as it touches the Challenger and he/she begins to feel heard. When you feel the shift, savor this precious moment. Don’t rush to fill the space with words. Just appreciate this quality of connection.
The shift is a moment when we have moved into our heart and touched another, when the conflict becomes no longer a conflict but a place to explore collaboratively.
The beauty of this moment in the practice is a savoring of empathic connection. Slow down, deeply feel it and remember again and again how it feels. Reference this feeling when you get lost in relationship and need to find your bearings. This is the creative moment in the Nonviolent Communication process that all is in service of and is often rushed or missed. It is a moment when the deeper needs that we all share become revealed. It is a startlingly powerful and healing experience that in our day-to-day lives we can ignore while yearning for it at the same time.
Remember: We are here to understand how we touch one another. No matter if it is a physical or an empathic touch, because of the danger of communicating one thing with words and another with touch we must be impeccable with how and when we touch one another. We must use our empathic listening skills to know when our touch is appropriate or not.
- Receiver: Once you feel the shift and a sense of connection, gently, with the lightest of touch, place your palm on your partner’s back. If the other person feels hesitancy, manipulation, or agenda in your touch or words, then a sense of mistrust will grow. This initial touch is of the utmost importance. As soon as you touch someone they organize themselves around that touch. A compassionate touch transmits compassion and leaves nothing to resist. In the midst of a fight, to be touched in this way brings a powerful relief and sense of connection.
- Empathy and Honesty
Another Aikido principle is called Zanshin. It refers to a state of awareness – of relaxed alertness. The literal translation of zanshin is “remaining mind”. It literally means being absolutely attentive to the next move right after the previous move.
Remember: To move from the last move to this one, it is essential to remember all the care and effort it took to ignite the connection. Just like building a fire from scratch, once that initial, tiny flame bursts forth the job is not done. Just the right amount of breath and kindling is needed. Too much or too little and it goes out. So with your presence and attention to that small flame you have kindled.
1) Receiver: Give lots of space between your words and the Challenger’s responses. Continuing from where Receiver has just put a hand on the Challenger’s back, carefully continue to find the ground that is under the Challengers words. Guess, as needed. Listen and reflect to help the Challenger articulate the source of the pain and what it is that he/she would love. When you begin to feel resonance, like you are getting on the same page, without changing the direction, gently and slowly move the conversation forward. With your hand on their back, gradually begin walking in the direction in which the other person is pointing. This movement is a suggestion, not a push.
- 2) Receiver: As you feel a connection growing, while holding the Challenger’s needs with care, check in on what you would love and value in this moment. As you move forward and come more and more mutual appreciation and understanding, gradually step from behind to the side of the Challenger.
- Receiver: Walking side by side, you can begin to also share your own needs and what it is that you would love more of as well. Be careful to not place a lot of attachments to outcomes.
- Mutual Strategies
There is a moment in Aikido practice that is called Aiki. It is when conflict becomes a harmonious movement towards greater connection and understanding.
- Receiver: Continue to walk forward, keep the focus on the present moment and staying open to possibilities. As you find common ground, strategies will come easily. Continue the conversation with empathy and honesty. As new possibilities emerge be careful to not place to much attachment on outcomes. Slowly point yourselves in a new direction, one that honors a mutual solution. Suggest and invite the Challenger to move together with you.
VII. Internalizing the Practice
Of course it would look pretty silly to do all these movements in the middle of a conflict. Just as NVC is practiced in groups to embody the skills and consciousness you can set up places to practice the Spiral Blend to do the same. Just as I did while jogging with my wife, find creative and ways to blend it into daily interactions. The more practice the better.
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