The Spiral Blend


The Spiral Blend

click here for a video of the practice

The Spiral Blend appeared in its early form one day while I was IMG_0371 copyout jogging with my wife Judith. In the middle of the run our conversation headed south as she began to express her frustrations about our shared household cleaning responsibilities. What she said and especially how she said it was hard for me to not take personally. My anger rose as I felt my chest tighten. It was then I remembered “irimi tenkan”, a central Aikido move where you take a step, turn to move out of the way of an attack and then blend with the direction of the attack to create connection. I decided to try something. Instead of positioning myself right in front of her and her pointed words, I stepped slightly to her side and just off her “line of attack” as if to side step a physically thrown a punch. To my surprise, with just that small shift in my position her words seemed to sail by me. I was able to relax, breath easier and clear my mind 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 in a position slightly behind her right shoulder where my heart was physically just behind hers and from this vantage point I could see over her shoulder towards what she was seeing. No longer physically in the line of her frustration, I relaxed, paid attention to my feelings and felt more curious about what was going on for her. I spoke to her from a quieter place in me. To my delight, we both lightened up and things resolved very quickly. This was the dawn of the Spiral Blend. If it can work with your spouse, it can help anywhere.

After several years of practicing Nonviolent Communication, my family participated in an extraordinary forum with Marshal Rosenberg, the founder of NVC, outside the city of Nagpur in Central India. . Nagpur is where I began to develop the Spiral Blend as a means to teach Nonviolent Communication somatically across language barriers, with very few words that brought the body more into the learning. Encoded within the Spiral Blend are all the main principles Nonviolent Communication to practice, explore and enjoy.


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 everyone 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 and taught families, clans, children, business partners and individuals the basics of NVC. Intimate contact with such a different culture was a wonderful confirmation of the common ground that we all share.


Somatic processes shine a light on how repetitive responses to life’s situations become lodged in our nervous systems and how independent our habituated responses can be from what is happening in the present moment. Simply put, your body will do what it has repetitively learned to do. When you train your attention to shift from the dramas you perceive to what is happening in your body, your body will become a place to come home to when you lose your bearings.


In real life, this practice takes only seconds and minutes. We’ll explore it slowly at first. I have divided this practice into several parts to be learned sequentially. Like training wheels, once embodied, the suggested sequence can be dropped in favor of using your body’s felt sense to divine which position in the process will benefit you the most at any given moment.

  1. Stimulus and Cause
  2. Core Strategies
  3. Self-Regulate
  4. Self-Empathy
  5. Empathy
  6. Entering
  7. Finding Common Ground
  8. The Dance of Empathy and Honesty
  9. Mutual Strategies
  10. Internalizing the Practice


The Set Up and Role-Play

There are 2 people in this role-play, the Receiver and the Challenger. In the initial set up, the Receiver tells the Challenger who he or she is and what to say. Set it up so that the Challenger’s role is only mildly triggering. Although it us only a role-play, working with the body can bring up old traumas very quickly, so move slow and with care. On a scale of 1-10, 10 being the most triggering, set up the confrontation to be a 2 or 3. It is interesting and important to note that the body does not differentiate between what is real and what is imagined. Your body will react in the ways it has practiced the most when you are triggered.

In the role-play, instead of just playing the part, as the Challenger actually imagine “being” the person you are asked to be. For example, if you are playing your partner’s brother, ask yourself what it might be like to be his brother and just try to allow the sense of him to come through you. You may be surprised at how this feels and what comes out of your mouth!

One of the more challenging but necessary things to do in setting up this practice whether in real life or in role plays, is to agree on who goes first. Generally in a conflict, both participants are triggered. As you practice, remember that it is the Receiver who will need to center and self-empathize and give empathy to the Challenger. In the set up, take a moment to get clear on who is the Receiver and who is the Challenger. Remember, one at a time. Trying to process triggering moments simultaneously can get very messy. It may take a few starts and do-overs to land on who is the most triggered and who is the most capable of giving empathy. Relationships are never a straight line from here to there. Do not be afraid to start over. There is no wrong in this practice, only learning and getting better.

Stimulus and Cause

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  • Challenger: Stand directly in front of the Receiver, point your finger and speak the triggering statement you have been coached to say.   For example: “Why don’t you ever clean the tub when you are done!” or “I get so angry when you interrupt me all the time”.

Remember: You are not responsible for others’ feelings; you are responsible for your own. It is essential to identify and separate the stimulus (what the Challenger says) from the cause of your pain(your own feelings).


Core Contractions and Strategies


  1. Receiver: As the Challenger’s triggering words land on you, drop your attention to locate the center of any tightness, sensation or emotional pain that is stimulated in your body. This is your core contraction.

Ask yourself:

  1. Where is there tightness in my body?
  2. What are the sensations and where are they the strongest?
  3. How has my breathing changed?
  4. Is there a deadening or an intensifying of emotion anywhere? Where?
  5. Scan you body as you practice. Is there anything happening in your chest, shoulders, back, arms, legs….. Bring curiosity and attention to any contractions and sensations you feel. Notice internal stories, judgments or reactions that might surface. At this time try not to analyze things, just notice what comes up and let go of your evaluations. Describe in detail to your partner what you are experiencing.

*Note: If you are struggling to locate specifically where the contractions and sensations are in your body because the triggering seems like everywhere or nowhere, you have probably picked a situation that is more than a 2 or 3 on the scale of 1-10. Chose something less intense. The Spiral Blend can help you through these moments as you explore it in depth. I would recommend that when first learning, its good to get familiar with all the facets of the Spiral Blend before you move into more intense role plays or applications. Everyone has their own ways of responding to stress and conflict. Our systems can only handle so much intensity before fight/flight startle responses kick in and we automatically default into historical conditioned patterns of behaviors. (See Core Strategies, Chap. 5) You can learn to regulate your own system.

When things feel intense and it becomes confusing where you stand, most likely have been knocked off center by what is coming at you. When you are over stimulated and don’t know what to do, move to the next practice to help relieve your system enough so you can think more clearly and center your attention inward. This will also help you to feel and locate your core contractions and core strategies.



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It is almost impossible to empathize when you are overwhelmed by emotional pain. The more relaxed you are, the more aware you can be and the more you can feel. The more that you can feel, the more your emotions can point you towards what you

most needed in the present moment. When you are relaxed the people around you relax.

  1. Receiver: Moving to the wind position (above) step “off the line of attack” and as the Challenger continues to point and speak towards your original position look to see where the words are coming from and then turn your head to follow the Challenger’s words and the energy behind them as they pass you by. Don’t get fixated on the Challenger, remember to turn your head. Only after you have watched this train of words go by turn your head once again to notice where these words originate. This move is much like the toreador who steps effectively and efficiently to the side to let the bull rush by.


*Note: Moving to Wind helps you get a different perspective on the matter. Step off the line and keep the same amount of distance between you and the Challenger, making sure to not move either farther away or closer to the Challenger. Wind is not about leaving or pushing the interaction; it is about attending to your feelings and getting a fresh perspective while staying connected.


  1. Receiver: In the Wind posture quietly notice:
  2. What sensations do I now feel in my body?
  3. How is it different from when you were standing directly on the line of the attack?
  4. How do the words land on you now?
  5. Does your triggering subside a bit in this new position?
  6. Notice if your feelings or judgments toward the other person change at all?
  7. Self-Empathy
  • “Don’t just do something, be here”

Self-empathy is inner listening where you place the light of your attention on your internal world of feelings, emotions, moods, sensations and stories that show up in response to life’s ups and downs. You must regain a centered sense of who you are and what you care about in order to put aside your agendas, judgments or attachment to outcomes and just listen. This is difficult. Learning to get out of your own way to fully listen is something you can cultivate to do in longer and longer moments. In those moments your somatic intelligence can point you towards what you need.        

  • From the wind position, bring your hands to chest level and with elbows having only a slight bend in them and fingers pointed forward, vigorously rub your hands together.
  • Hold your hands apart and extend your arms and fingers as if you’re reaching out to catch a big ball. Notice any tingling of energy in your hands from the friction of rubbing them together.
  • Document4Touch your heart. Bring your palms and their warmth to your heart. Remember and appreciate the heart that you have.
  • Wake up your belly. Now connect your heart to your belly by stroking your torso from your heart down to the belly. Wake the belly up by patting it in the front, the sides and the back and bring your attention into the center of all that sensation.


  • Ground: Move to 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, palms open towards the ground and fingers spread wide. Keep your body vertical with your head above your heart and your heart above your belly.



Take a moment to appreciate the ground that is supporting you, that is under each of us— where under-standing is found and what brings more meaning to life.

  • Here are some grounding questions to ask your self.
    1. What do I deeply care about?
    2. What is the ground I stand on?
    3. What qualities of being bring meaning and joy to my life?

All of these questions lead to remembering who you are! Finding your ground helps you differentiate between what another is saying or doing and who you are. Take the time you need to appreciate the ground you stand on, what you deeply value and as you gain a sense of your ground and recover the sense of self you can move to the next step of empathizing with your partner.


This is a moment in the Spiral Blend where the lightest of touch is the most powerful one. Where true power arises from meaning understood through the heart and a potent entry point is revealed that touches one another’s deepest needs and passions. To find that point of entry it is essential to recognize where that spot originates within you. Finding what you stand on, your ground is a necessary step to connecting to another’s ground. Finding common ground, what we deeply value and care about is where you find under-standing.

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  • Receiver: Once you have resourced your own ground, step to just behind the shoulder of the Challenger as he continues pointing at your original position and speaking the triggering statements. In Aikido, this angle of entry is calledshikaku” and means “optimum entering angle”. Shikaku is both a very safe position for someone to move into when attacked and the most effective angle of entry for effectively harmonizing the situation.


  • Receiver: Enter with care and bring the palm of your hand directly behind the Challenger’s heart…. but don’t touch yet. Just listen with an intention to connect with the Challenger’s ground. Listen without agenda or pressure to “fix things”. Look over the Challenger’s shoulder and be open and curious to what it might be like to be in his/her shoes. In this position the Challenger can barely see you. In this moment with heart behind heart, with your judgments and triggering out of the way, connection is nascent. Now is when you listen with your whole being to the life you have in common, to your common ground. (See 7 C’s of Empathy pgs…)

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  • Receiver: With all your senses and imagination engaged, listen and wonder:
    • What is it that this person is feeling?
    • What would this person love more of?
    • What is the deeper needs under the words?”
    • What is the ground this person is standing on?


*At any time, if you become too triggered or caught up in the drama of the words of the Challenger, go back to wind and ground position to re-center.    

When the Receiver steps into Shi-ka-ku, centered, resourced and ready, then the dance begins between the yin and the yang, the knowing and the mystery. Looking over the Challenger’s shoulder to see what he is seeing, the Receiver’s guess does not come from trying to come up with an answer; the guess comes in a moment and feels like an “aha!” This is listening creatively. (See 7 C’s pg.…) This is listening with all of our senses open, the faculty of our imagination engaged.

By leaving the space open and uncluttered within your self to just listen, the answers to your queries will come.

The main purpose of empathic guesses in Nonviolent Communication is to create connection. That moment of connection happens before touch—before the utterance of any word. The name for this poignant moment in Aikido is dai-ai, Translated from Japanese, it means “big love”. It is the all-encompassing love that reminds us that we are one, and that our needs are one.

Dai-ai is when you hold the other in an empathic listening field and sense the deeper intentions that are below the conflict. In Aikido, the moment of dai-ai happens just before any physical interaction takes place, when your own intentions are clear and you are readied so that by the time your attacker takes action it is already over! You can literally stop the conflict before it turns physical or violent. .(see SURF practice pg… and Empathic Listening pg….to explore this more).

  • Receiver: Listen patiently with humility. Pay attention to the rhythm of this unfolding. Give it lots of space. Wait to be moved by a sense or some glimpse of understanding of the ground that the Challenger is standing on. Only then do you make an empathic guess.

To help understand the quality of presence and listening required here imagine that you have traveled a great distance, climbed the mountain to be in the presence of a very wise elder and now you have the opportunity to ask just one question of this divine individual. Take your time to think, feel, check intuitively and then ask your one question with humility, respect and gratitude.

Good timing is process and patience awaiting an advantage. There is a rhythm in all communications. There is a time to initiate and begin, a time to listen, a time for action and a time to end. If you don’t pay attention to the space in a song and rush the beat you hurt the song. It’s the same with relationships. Pay attention, let the space within the interaction inform the timing and quality of your empathic guesses. Like a crescendo approaching in a song, let the urge build inside you until you feel moved. Then guess.

This is where the lightest of guesses can be the most connective. The quality of feeling behind your guess is care that shows that you want to really understand who the other is for the sake of loving connection. 

  • Receiver: Make sure when you speak that it is a clearly a question and not a In time, find your own genuine way of guessing what the ground level of the others feelings and needs are. For now, here are a   couple examples of ways to guess:
    • I am guessing you’re feeling frustrated and would love some appreciation or maybe just to be heard? Is that right?
    • Are you feeling angry that I came in to your room without asking because you really value privacy and want yours to be respected?
  • Receiver: As you guess, you will know by the reaction it invokes how near or far you are from connecting with the Challenger’s ground level needs. If the guess is close, you will notice a visceral “shift”, that in some way that shows a release or an easing of tension as the Challenger begins to feel heard and resistance lessens.


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This shift is a moment when you have moved into your heart and touched another, when the conflict becomes no longer a conflict but a place to explore collaboratively.

Savor this precious moment and don’t rush to fill the space with words. Just appreciate this quality of connection. Slow down and deeply feel it. Remember what this feels like. Build a somatic impression that you can reference and keep finding your way back to. This creative moment in the process that everything is in service of and when the deeper needs that we all share become revealed is all too often rushed or missed.

  • 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 can 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 relief and intensifies the sense of connection.
  1. The Dance of 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.

The next beat in the rhythm of the Spiral Blend is the response from your partner. Make sure not to rush the space between the guess and the response or you might ruin the beauty of the song’s unfolding. The heart has no need to rush. Most often it is our heads that think we should.

Often your partner’s response will let you know if you are on the mark or not, and in some way if you listen closely, your partner will give you breadcrumbs. Always take the time to feel how your words land on your partner.

As you proceed from the last move to this one, 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 to continue to build the fire, too much or too little and it might go out. So with your presence and attention to that small flame you have kindled, continue from when the Receiver has just put a hand on the Challenger’s back.

  • Receiver: Give lots of space between your words and the Challenger’s responses. With care and patience, continue to guess the ground that is under the Challengers words. Listen and. 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 the Challenger’s back, gradually suggest with your touch the intention to walk for a while in the direction in which the Challenger is pointing. This movement is a suggestion, not a push.
  • Receiver: As you feel a connection and understanding between the two of you growing, gradually move from behind the Challenger to his/her side. Continue to hold the Challenger’s needs with care as you slowly and respectfully, bring to the conversation what you would love and value in this moment as well. Be careful not to introduce strategies, judgments or agendas with attachments to outcomes into the conversation. Get both of your mutual needs on the table first.


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: Gently with your hand resting on the Challenger’s back, continue to walk forward together. Keep your focus on the present moment and stay open to possibilities. Continue the conversation with empathy and honesty. Once you can articulate your mutual needs, mutual strategies come easily. Slowly walk in a new direction, one that honors mutual needs and strategies.

Internalizing the Practice 

Of course it would look pretty silly to spread your arms and move to wind or step behind the back of the person you are speaking to in the middle of a conflict. Going through this practice with a training partner will help to illuminate places where you get stuck and triggered as well as places to foster deep connection. Set up sessions to practice the Spiral Blend role-plays in groups and with partners and friends. In time you will be able to move through the positions of the Spiral Blend in your mind and imagination with out moving your body or making subtle micro movements that remind you of the full body practice.

Here are some examples:

  • When I want to ground, I wiggle my toes to feel the earth and imagine sending roots down.
  • I turn my palms behind me to find support at my back. Make up your own micro movements.
  • To imagine wind I pivot my body slightly and imagine someone’s words sliding off me instead of landing fully on me. When Judith catches any of my micro-movements in the middle of our fights, she smiles because she knows that the reason I am doing them is to be more present with her.

Just as I did while jogging with my wife, find your own creative ways to blend the Spiral Blend into your daily interactions. The more you practice the more you will glean and incorporate harmonizing conflict into your way of being.


Finding Common Ground

Recently I lead a workshop in Duncan, BC between 12 fathers and 12 sons between the age of 11 and 13.  At this age, it is not uncommon for fathers to  feel a sense of lose for the kind of connection that they had with their son when he was younger. It seems to me that this is because children as they are entering their adulthood are growing and changing at such a rapid pace that is very difficult for the parents make the changes within themselves that they need to keep up. A centerpiece in this training was a practice that I call the Spiral Blend.  This is a practice distilled from a movement in Aikido called “irimi tenkan” which means enter and turn.    In the center of the circle of men and boys John was speaking to his son in a role play that recreated a conflict that they were having at home. He said, “Will you keep the noise down! I have to we are earplugs all day to keep the noise down in my carpentry shop  and I need some quiet here!”

Normally at home, his son, Andrew would nod his head and in no time make just as much noise as he’d been making before. John would invariably get angrier and the conflict would spiral down. I coached Andrew through this role-play as he stepped out of the way of his father’s words and took a moment to ground himself by remembering what was important to him. He said, “I care about honesty. I care about people listening to each other well. I care about people helping one other.” That’s what he said he was willing to take a stand for in his own life. That was his ground.

He then moved to a place behind his father, looking over his shoulder to imagine what his father was seeing and feeling. His heart lined up behind his dads’. Without judgments or agenda he just listened to his father’s raised voice complaining about the noise. Centered and grounded, Andrew could now give his father’s words some space to feel into what was underneath them. Connecting in that moment to his father’s ground, lightly he asked, “Are you upset because you worked really hard toady and need quiet to rest? His father just stood there as Andrew added, “ and maybe you’d really like me to really get how hard you work to support me too because you care. Is that right? I just want to make sure I’m getting it right dad.”

The room was silent.  John stood there looking stunned. His shoulders and back seemed to settle. His breath quieted. Color came to his face. His eyes became a little liquid. He just turned around, speechless and with the gentlest, appreciation said, “My son”. They hugged each other. The beauty and realization of that connection rippled around the room.  Empathy for one, touches all.   As we debriefed John described the moment.  “I felt a connection to my son that I love with my son and have so missed”.



In another workshop, William was struggling with his wife.   She was a very intelligent and high-energy woman. She was a manager in company with 40 thousand employees. In a role-play, he stood behind her just after stepping from Shi Ka Koo to a moment of. He was listening to her upset and venting about how hard it is for to live with the chaos in their home. She said, “ You throw your clothes over the chair instead of hanging them up, the tub is left with a film an about how busy she was and that…… If he had not centered prior to stepping into Shi Ka Koo would have felt criticized and blamed. He still got a little uncomfortable and his question came out a bit rushed and “heady” when he asked her,” Are you feeling angry and wanting some ease at home. She responded, Yes I am angry, because you never put things away…I asked him to go back to wind and let her words go by and not land on him and then to ground to remember where he stood. He came back to Shi Ka Ko and to her go on again about what was upsetting her. This time you could see that he was noticeably calmer, not taking what she was saying personally, and, with his heart behind her heart, he just listened.

In almost a whisper he gently said, “Are you just needing some rest time when you are home after working all day and want me to know that if the house was more cared for how that would really help?”

She just stood there, almost stunned. IT is like she was leaning on the door to get in, and all of a sudden it just opened unexpectedly.

She teared up, her demeanor softened and she choked out a grateful’, “yes”. Around the room as if a shockwave went though everyone. Everyone’s attention was riveted to the moment, water rose to several people’s eyes.


At this moment he paused.   Connection was made and it is a powerful moment. .

At each moment of connection, appreciate and savor it.   Don’t worry about getting to the next moment. If you get triggered you can go back to the wind and ground positions to re-center.




Wild Geese

You do not have to be good.
You do not have to walk on your knees
for a hundred miles through the desert, repenting.
You only have to let the soft animal of your body
love what it loves.
Tell me about despair, yours, and I will tell you mine.
Meanwhile the world goes on.
Meanwhile the sun and the clear pebbles of the rain
are moving across the landscapes,
over the prairies and the deep trees,
the mountains and the rivers.
Meanwhile the wild geese, high in the clean blue air,
are heading home again.
Whoever you are, no matter how lonely,
the world offers itself to your imagination,
calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting —
over and over announcing your place
in the family of things.

~ Mary Oliver ~

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Core Strategies

“The wound is the place where light enters you”                                 Rumi


A Place of Grace

Self-discovery and the work that it requires can be unsettling. There is a place to come home to within each of us. Each of us is born with an unencumbered place in ourselves, free from expectations, harsh judgments, regrets, humiliation, shame, ambition, distress and fear….a place of original grace and kindness. Theologians call this place the soul, psychologists call it the psyche, Hindus call it Atman, Buddhists call it the Dharma, Native Americans call it Spirit, Jesus calls it Love and Marshal Rosenberg calls this our “Needs”. To know this inward place is to know our selves not by the surface masks of identity we have taken on, not by our occupation or clothing styles but by feeling our relation to this inward place, inhabiting it and Sum.

The practice of becoming is a constant layering over of our beginnings, and then the chipping away of non-essentials. A path towards mastery on any path requires a life long commitment to do what it takes to peel back these layers and self-limiting beliefs while seeking-out peace and guidance from that un-corruptible inward place of grace at your core. Communion with our deepest knowing is essential. In our depths, we are all beautiful and as we discover this, healing, connection, empowerment and community takes place.

Core Strategies


“Up to 93% of communication is non-verbal, including gestures, posture, and tone of voice”.                                                                     Albert Mehrabian at UCLA


“The body is the shape of our experience and any change in the self changes the worldview.

                                                                                             Dr. Richard Strozzi-Heckler


The stories we grow up with permeate our perceptions, become set through repetition and practice into our muscles, cells, intentions and all of our communication. What will bring us love, safety and belonging is what motivates us powerfully and sets the habits in our bones that are hard to change. What you communicate through tone, gesture, body shape and movement exceeds the impact of your choice of words. Who you are in how you show up communicates what you have lived through, what you hide away, the ways you have mustered your courage, taken a stand for what you care about, your judgments of self and others, the hits you’ve endured and where you hold your pain. Consciously lived, each story is a potential source of wisdom. Unconsciously lived, the same narratives can limit things considerably. Stories reveal our uniqueness and our commonality and sharing them is connective and healing.

Core Strategies are the main strategies that you’ve used to bring you to this moment. They are the primary patterns of behavior you have historically developed and put in place to meet your core needs for safety and belonging. Some of these strategies practiced regularly and unconsciously, may serve you well while others may not. Core Strategies form at any time in your life, but most profoundly during preverbal development when your brain and body are in rapid change.


You can’t lose your history! Although our early life is to imbedded to get rid of, old reactions can become the compost to grow new resources. This process begins by noticing and appreciating when, how, why and where these historical, unconscious strategies show up.

Through out our lives, as we begin to know who we are, we find out how those parts of our selves that we suppress or ignore eventually come back to bite us and taint how we express ourselves. The interior work here is to nurture the relationship with your unconscious self, to endeavor to understand its purpose and processes enough to have it become your own best friend. Establishing a friendship helps bring unconscious habits under conscious control and as a way of life widens horizons.

Your unconscious self establishes strategies to serve your most essential needs. Our unconscious, at the request of the conscious, if asked, not demanded will alter its habits. The important thing to remember here is that the unconscious self won’t do so in any manner that undermines the primary needs that those habits were set in place to serve.

An Indian Fakir can slow his heart to nearly undetectable levels but he cannot force his heart to stop permanently. The only reason his unconscious self will agree to alter autonomic functions at all is because the fakir honors the intelligence and tasks of the unconscious.

Safety and Belonging

As an organism we’re always moving towards contact, to be safe, nurtured and loved.

In the moment of meeting, boundaries touch boundaries, reactions trigger reactions and below the words we use and the stories we

tell, there is a play of very real non-verbal forces, habits and responses.

In our early years, we live in the question, “What will keep me safe and bring me love?” and then create strategies for securing it. All too often the answer to that question sounds something like, “ If I do what they want me to do, I will be loved” or “If I keep my opinions to my self, I will be safe”. My mother in-law once said that a child’s world is like being in a room where the doorknob is on the outside. Invariably, we all create strategies growing up that organize around a unique set of circumstances. The meaning and interpretations we connect with our core strategies fortify them. We are biologically wired for “yes” as well as “no”. When we experience beauty, a gorgeous sunset, a plate of yummy food for example, a core strategy that we may develop around these experiences is relaxation, appreciation and a feeling of expansion.   We may have learned to open our hearts in certain ways when someone says “I love you”, where as some one raised under different circumstances might have learned to feel fear, mistrust and emotional pain, contractive states of being when they hear the same words. We become expansive when we live in the feeling of what we love and care about. We become contracted when we are in pain or fearful. Over time expansive and contractive core strategies become unconscious, embodied, deeply embedded in our nervous systems and integral parts of our unique personalities.


Core Contractions

What’s your main social response, the one that you employ when surprised in challenging social situations?

Do you move towards conflict, away, give up, acquiesce try to make?

Imagine that someone is walking towards you on the street, an unknown presence, someone who may or may not pose a threat. Muster your imagination as best as you can to evoke an emotional reaction as this person steps closer and closer. As the stranger approaches the edge of your personal space, try to notice any tenseness that you may feel in your body in response to this potential threat. When this unknown presence gets too close for comfort, where do you notice yourself tensing the most? Point to it. See if you can find the epicenter of the tightness and sensations you feel in this triggering moment. This is a core contraction. If you are not noticing anything, try again and if need be, increase the intensity of the imagined scene you are creating to be slightly more menacing.

Do you want to fight or flee?

Do you want to connect?

Do you want to sever connections and create boundaries?

Do you freeze or go limp?

These primary emotional responses to triggering situations are the learned strategies we develop to protect core aspects of our being.

Core Contractions form in response to defining moments, trauma or recurring theme`s that have impacted our lives such as: the loss of a parent, a divorce, being left alone for extended periods, the surprising addition of a new sibling, an abusive relationship, even the backfiring of a car at the wrong time to an unsuspecting child. If the experience is not fully processed at the time it begins to congeal in the body and over time becomes a primary contractive reaction.

A rush of energy happens in response to any challenge, large or small, from being held a gunpoint to the ringing of the telephone. When we become startled our system is flooded with a stream of energy in an effort to restore familiar ground. Our own resistances to the increase of energy we experience can knock our system out of alignment. This rush of energy can represent the force of change that we feel as conflict, both internal and external.

During these intense upsets, we “check out” of the situation as it is, ignoring the energy that is streaming through us and adopt a familiar, conditioned way of behaving.

When these historical “fight/flight” strategies kick in our muscles stay in a particular way, we assume a specific posture, use familiar speech and gestural patterns, breathe a certain way and take a stance, literally, that manifests the tendency. In this state, giving empathy is very difficult.

Core contractions forms as a way to self regulate the amount of energy we can take in or not. Just as the iris of the eye opens and closes to regulate how much light is needed, depending on our nature and nurturing, our bodies expand and contract to regulate the intensity of energy from emotional experiences that we can handle. We expand to let in the beauty of a puppy’s cuddle and we tighten and contract against an insult spoken to us by a loved one.

When we fall back on our core contractive responses we utilize more of our implicit (preverbal) memory responses. We also lose some of our higher reasoning power as we shift to our sympathetic nervous system and our reptilian brain kicks in. This natural rush of energy and fight flight response makes sense if you imagine how our early ancestors lived in the wild. When predators showed they needed to gather themselves to meet the threat quickly and powerfully… tensing their legs to go into a crouch, quieting their breath to listen, focusing their eyes. After an intense encounter, they might walk for miles back to their tribe, trembling and crying to process the trauma’s residual energies and allow their systems to recalibrate.

In our modern culture, all too often, this gathering of energies and processing of residual tension gets detoured, tamped down and blocked as we conform to acceptable cultural norms. We struggle for survival to pay the bills; there are wars and daily violence on the news. We are told to sit quiet, be a good girl, boys don’t cry and to do what we are told, even when it goes against our own heart’s advice or our gut instinct. In this kind of way the energy that gathers to meet a threat, that once naturally got processed, is instead stopped up and left unreleased. Some of us are taught that it is not ok to cry or grieve. Un-released energy shows in our bodies as chronic low-grade tightness in our shoulders, headaches, back problems, shallow breathing and narrow focus.   Most of us live with some form of low-grade unprocessed trauma all the time.

These embodied and core contractive strategies show up internally as emotions, sensation and stories. Lived unconsciously they become self-fulfilling prophecies. Outwardly they are visible in the ways that we comport ourselves, in gestures, tone, the tensing and relaxing of muscles and of course our words. Because of this, these embodied automatic habits can compel our actions, beyond what we might truly intend or want. For example some people will habitually demure or acquiesce, while others quickly are moved to anger, some are compelled to help while others tune out.

Contraction is a way to dull physical and emotional pain.  When someone hits you in your arm, your muscles contract in pain around where you were hit as you hold and rub the sore spot to soften the pain. In the same way when we take an emotional hit, we contract around the pain to protect ourselves from further attacks and to dampen the pain. We might hunch our shoulders and tighten the muscles around our hearts to protect it from further “attacks”, or tighten our bellies to hide and protect our “gut” intuitions that are belittled, we contract around our throat region if we learn that when we express ourselves our loved disapprove. When we contract around emotional pain it softens the sensations of pain that we feel. It also keeps us from fully engaging those resources we are protecting. We hide away our most precious assets, distancing our selves from our bodies’ messages. These messages when chronically ignored become a source of dis-ease. When listened to, those messages can lead us toward greater self-acceptance, awareness, our power and unique gifts.

Recent discoveries in neuro-science support somatic incites of how relational and behavioral learning is a whole body biological experience Working somatically offers us the opportunity to physically and energetically experience our habitual strategies and shift them to more inclusive and collaborative ways to respond to conflict and resistance.

By becoming familiar and learning to listen and appreciate our body’s signals rather than to react to them, an “inner guidance system” becomes available that tells us of dangers and brings direction and clarity to the choices at hand.

By noticing where your muscles tighten, how your breathing changes, where your contractions are, you can slowly touch in on the precious resources protected by those contractions in the first place and with care, attention and practice transform old reactions into new resources for connection.

Reaction to Resource

Recent studies of the brains’ neuroplasticity show that contrary to accepted beliefs; old dogs can learn new tricks. Our adult brain is much more changeable than once thought. Core strategies are changeable. It helps to recognize that within our biological evolution we are hard-wire to maintain a status quo. Within the breakdown and breakthroughs that are a part of transitioning to new habits are two reactions: one is a kind of panic in letting go of control because of our identification with old accustomed strategies, the other is a sense of aliveness and possibility as we begin to re-organize, frame things differently and find meaning in what we are becoming. This is where centering practices come in.

When centered we feel our emotions. When un-centered, we tend to mechanically, hide our feelings and emotions behind practiced patterns of comporting and expressing ourselves. Centering establishes awareness around your emotions which allows them to be felt so you can notice where you feel it, where you hold your hurt and what it is trying to say to you. Over time, through centering and re-centering in various situations it’s possible to lengthen the time between the stimulus and automatic response by a fraction of a second. This crucial moment provides enough space (with practice) to consciously shift your strategies to more effective and inclusive ways to respond to pressure and conflict.

Attending to what you’re feeling immediately brings you present, because sensations only occur in the present moment. Like uncramping a water hose allows more water to flow, when centered, your body relaxes so more energy can flow through. The more energy that flows the more able you are to feel excitement and joy. Opening to, rather than squeezing off some part of your lived experience results in a stronger presence that is felt by others. Learning through the body is to return again and again to the energy that presently wants to be lived: listening and hearing the subtle urge for a new profession, to release a long held resentment or perhaps an unacknowledged desire to bring more gratitude and friendship into your life.

By paying attention to the narratives you’ve embodied, it is possible to side step the stories we spin around and around in our heads. The repetitive reactions make visible what is embedded in our nervous systems and by tracing your habitual patterns back to their source it becomes possible to assess their efficacy and shift the strategies. Emotions are messengers that inform our choices. Whether a threat is real or imagined, the emotional pain that we feel as our bodies tense and contract tells us we have something to attend to.

As valuable as it is to reconcile our inner splits there are times when we compartmentalize the pain of deep trauma as a protection mechanism because the awareness of it would be too much for our systems to handle. These are the splits that are so incompatible with our lives that we can only store them away deep in our unconscious.

For most of us though becoming reacquainted with and listening empathically to those hurt places within us is like being reunited with someone you have loved and missed for a long time. With it is a sweet melancholy, a feeling of both grieving what you have missed and the joy of reuniting with what you love.

In training after training, what is wonderfully and startlingly confirmed for is that the most precious source of our own power is what these core strategies were originally and intuitively put in place to safeguard.  Reintegrating and fully inhabiting your body, in every respect brings more tolerance and understanding with your emotions and the emotional difficulties of others.

The somatic practices in this chapter and the last section of this book shed light on our habitual patterns. When faced, they can become a trail of breadcrumbs to healing something experienced in the past that may be in the way now of being fully present.


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Two Sides of Gratitude

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Two Sides of Gratitude: Mourning and Celebration

In one of my evening classes on Embodying NVC we explored self-empathy within the Spiral Blend practice. (page …..) I spoke about the healing that comes through mourning and celebration. I explained that we celebrate when there is someone or something present in our lives that we love. It is a sweet feeling. Mourning is when we express the sadness and pain that we feel when we love something or someone that we miss. As we resumed the practice, I noticed that the woman sitting next to me was quietly weeping. I asked her what was going on for her. She replied that she was feeling sad about a dear friend of hers that had died. She explained how reframing grief as gratitude had freed her from notion that she should be suppressing her emotions. She said that until now she did not know what to do with her pain. Realizing that her tears were just a deep gratitude for the beautiful friendship that she was now missing, she said, “my tears are no longer something I need to hide away, instead they are here to fully honor and appreciate my friend who is no longer with me.”

I asked her how she was feeling now. She wept for a moment more and then with a gentle smile said, “I feel good. This feels right.” She also said that she felt a little embarrassed to be crying in front of the others in the room. So with care, I asked if she would be ok with looking around the circle of participants for a moment. She noticed 16 sets of caring eyes. I asked the group this question,” If you feel more connected with Diane. and experience her tears as a gift in this moment then please raise your hands?” Everyone raised their hands. And then I asked, “Who feels themselves move away as Diane expresses her emotion?” No hands were raised.” This gave Diane a chance to check her internal stories about crying against the visible feed back of the people around her.


When I ask these types of questions in a circle I leave room for participants to express their discomfort as well. When I do encounter people who feel they want to move away from someone who is crying it’s always been because of the stories and the “shoulds” that they tell themselves in regards to crying such as, “she shouldn’t cry because it will make every one uncomfortable”. Following those threads leads to insights and healing as well. I asked D. how that reflection was for her. Thoughtfully, she replied that it was a bit “altering” in a good way.


I know that feeling too. Once an instructor of mine, Mark Mooney at the Strozzi Institute brought to my attention that I seemed to contract and then hide my face when my tears came up during a moment when some emotional pain of my childhood was re-stimulated.


I was born in 1956 and was a child of the ‘60s.   When I turned 13, to my father’s consternation, I chose to grow my hair long. This clearly did not fit his view of the world or what he thought was best for me. Dad worked long hours and many nights. He stayed in the city and did not come home. The nights he did come home, after hard days at work and several drinks, more often than not, he would corner me about my long hair. This was the first place I took a stand as a young adult. Our fights escalated about my hair and over time branched out into everything else he thought I should be doing, about what is right and who’s wrong. This kind of “interrogation” went on for years until I left home for college.

I remember the shift inside me when I first learned to stifle my tears, seeking respect and falling into the story that men shouldn’t cry. Before those fights, I cried freely when I felt hurt or sad. For decades after those painful arguments I have stifled my tears.


When I cry I also hunched my shoulders to protect my heart, looked away to avert my my shame, tightened my throat to stay quiet and unseen. These core contractive strategies were accompanied by stores I told myself such as; “I should not cry” and “I am burdening others with my tears” and that “I should just be able to take it like a man”. Many years later I began to appreciate and reconnect with what was under the pain. As I began to reunite with a younger part of myself, it was like meeting with an old friend that I had not seen for a long time. There was the sweetness, the celebration of the meeting and the sadness, the mourning of all the time I had missed this beautiful part of myself. Mark shared that I looked more present to him now. He asked how I was feeling at this moment and although I still had some tears coming, I said that I felt good, a sweet sadness. He observed that my body was still a bit collapsed and that my face looked sad. He suggested that since I now felt good, that I see how it felt to smile and maybe sit up a bit. I noticed that the smile felt right and that when I sat up, it also made some sense.



Being a father motivated me to work triple time to face my early conditioning and model what might be better. My personal goal for raising children has always been to give my children a smaller pile of shit than I received. I’m happy to say that I met that do-able goal. We get caught in stories and it takes effort to change them. Stifling tears and emotions did not something I cared to model for my children. Crying is healthy release, as natural as burping and farting. Crying feels good. Crying opens us to our interior. In my trainings I’ve noticed that when one of the participants tear up, it loosens the tears and emotions all around the room. In fact, in many cultures around the world, there are places where those who can cry readily are hired for weddings, funerals and special occasions as tear looseners because they are seen as being close to spirit and their tears bring everyone closer to spirit.


What I practice now is this: when the tears come, I appreciate them and cry with dignity. Instead of hiding my face in my hands, I often sit up, explore how I feel and look at who I am openly and with dignity. I notice that there are many moments when I cry that I actually feel like smiling through the experience and so at times, I do. What I tell myself now is that “Crying feels good. Crying is as natural a release as burping or farting.” That when I do cry it means I am close to spirit and that it is actually a gift to those around me”.


The Tiger’s Eyelash

Their lived a young woman who was at her wit’s end. Her husband had always been a tender and loving soul mate before he had left for the wars, but ever since he returned home he was cross, angry, and unpredictable. She was almost afraid to live with her own husband. Only in glancing moments did she catch a shadow of the husband she used to know and love.
This went on week after week, and he was so bad-tempered she was really frightened of him and she went to the healer in the village and she said, “My husband is just, he’s just impossible. Can you give him a potion, can you give me something that will make him gentle and loving once more?” And the healer said, ” Well yes I can but you know I, I need an ingredient I am all out of,… one tiger’s eyelash. So I would need you to go climb the mountain and to go find the tiger and bring me back an eyelash, and then I can make the potion for you and everything will be alright.” And the young woman went, “Thank goodness for that, that there is something to be done.” So she went out to the mountain and she had told her family that she was going to do this.

She went out to the mountain and she went out under the trees that had leaves that looked like stars. And she went into the foothills where there were boulders that looked like great big loaves of bread. And she started climbing the mountain, and the mountain had flowers that had thorns that tore at her clothes. And the mountain had rocks that scraped her beautiful pink hands. And the mountain had strange birds that flew out at her in dusk and that scared her and made her heart beat very, very fast. And still she climbed higher and higher, and a snowstorm began. And it began snowing sideways, so that the snow was coming straight into her eyes and her mouth and her ears. But still she climbed higher, and she found a little cave. And she put herself in there, and in coldness and in hunger and exhaustion she fell asleep. And when she awoke in the morning, the snowstorm had stopped. And things were peaceable, and even little green plants were coming out of the ground, out of the snow. Well, she thought, I’m here at last, and I am going to go and have to find this tiger.

Well she didn’t have far to look because as she looked out of her cave there went this majestic, beautiful, black tiger; striding across the mountain leaving great big footprints in the snow. Well, she reached into her bundle because she had brought food and she set it out on a little plate, and she watched where the tiger went into his lair. And then she set the plate right outside the lair and then she ran back to her cave and she hid there. The tiger smelled the food and he came out of his lair, and he looked around, and he ate it right up. Well the next day she did the same thing, she put some food on a plate and she set it right outside of his lair, but this time, instead of going back to her cave, she stayed just about half as far away. And the tiger came out, he smelled the food, gobbled it up. And he went back into his lair. And this went on for many days, until she decided she was brave enough to come even closer, so she put the food on the plate, put the plate outside the lair and she stood practically right beside the plate so when the tiger came out he not only looked at the food, he saw her feet as well. “Please dear tiger, I’ve come all this way because I need a cure for my husband. I have been feeding you all these past days, could I please have one of your eyelashes?” And the tiger looked up at her snarled and looked at her for a while and then slowly walked towards her and said, “Make it quick” And so she reached out, and she took hold of one of those long, glossy hairs, and quick as a wink- pulled it, “ooh!” she said. And tiger said nothing because he was brave. She said, “Oh thank you tiger, so much.” And the tiger just turned around, went back into his lair, paid her no mind.

She rushed down the mountain. She rushed down the mountain so far and so fast that by the time she got to the bottom, she was all bruised and she was all bloody, but she could hardly wait. She stumbled over the boulders that looked like great big loaves of bread and she ran under the trees that had leaves shaped like stars on them, and then she ran all the way into the center of the village and down into the hut where the healer was, and she said, ” Look! Look! Look! I have it! I found it! I got it! The tiger’s eyelash!” And the healer took it from her, and held it up to the light, and twisted it between his two fingers, and said “hmm…” and threw it into the fire where it was consumed. “Why did you do that!” she said, ” Well,.. you…. I went through all that to …” and the healer said “Calm down, it’ll be alright… what you have

done with the tiger all these past days, go home and do with your husband.

The End



This story is about how to approach our Core Strategies. Spend time near your core strategy, that younger part of yourself and for a while as if it were the tiger, just listen. Like the husband coming back from war, he or she might not want to be near you. Be patient, invite and only listen for a while. If you had a sitting practice you might invite that three-year-old to come be near you. If you like to walk regularly invite that 10-year-old out for a walk. Take that pimply faced 12-year-old out for an ice cream and if he or she does not want to go that’s okay. Just make your intention clear that you would love to listen whenever he or she is ready. You might add that you are a little sad that for all these years you have spent time not listening when the younger one in you was trying to help. In time when those triggering moments do come up you can touch that younger part of yourself and say, “I am listening”. “Tell me what you want me to hear” and then just listen. In time, enough trust will be built-up so that you can come up with a mutual strategy that will effectively address those triggering moments when they come up.


I once had a student who really took this practice far. Mark was a very intelligent, sensitive man who found it very uncomfortable to express himself and feel confident in himself. In our workshop he came in contact with a core contractive strategy he developed at a younger age that was very much hindering him now. In earnest he began to journal each day. The journal was a thick blank book when he started. With his left hand he began writing from the beginning of the book in the voice of what he called big Mark. From the back of the book with his right hand he started writing from the voice of what he called little Mark. Being left-handed Little Marks writing was practically illegible at first. For a full year he kept this journal and by the time big Mark and little Mark met in the middle of the journal, not only had little Mark’s handwriting become beautiful, both Mark’s were now fully integrated and that younger part of himself had now became a powerful resource.



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Attention Training

Where do I end and you begin?”

In the moment of meeting, boundaries touch boundaries, reactions trigger reactions and self-talk intensifies. Training your attention and becoming more familiar with your personal space helps you relax and know where you end and another begins. The more relaxed you are, the more aware you can be and the more you can touch another empathically.


Attention Training

Physically when someone enters your personal space, you map them out within your brain and they become a part of you in your brain. Centering puts you in contact with your perimeter to notice what is yours, what is not, how things land on you and what you send out.

Beneath the words we use and the stories we tell, every encounter is a play of very real non-verbal forces. Listening to another empathically can trigger your own pain, so you have to be able to tolerate emotional pain within your self first

The following centering practices offer a way to build your tolerance for the emotional pain you feel and to take full responsibility for its arising. It’s possible to change your relationship to your experiences by where you place your attention. Studies of neuroplasticity have shown that the neural network pathways of our nervous system change depending on what we pay attention to, and how often we pay attention to it. We can change our reactions by placing our attention on what we need.

The greater the reaction the greater the need underneath it.

Energy follows attention and what you focus on.

Energy will flow towards the needs we articulate because what we articulate directs our needs.

The following attention practices will help you visualize ways to stay connected and come back to being expansive and inclusive when you get knocked off center.Core Attention


  • Core Attention

Core attention brings our attention into our bodies and back to our self. This is the basic building block and foundation for all relationships. These two circles and the dots at their center represent two individuals at the perimeter of their personal spaces, at arms length.

Aikido has taught me the value of staying connected even through adversity. In any interaction, if at all possible, follow connection with the other because the more skillful we become, the better we can utilize whatever connection we have, even if it is very little.

Bumping up against another can knock us off our center. The practice of Core Attention, brings your focus into the center of your body while keeping contact with your partner. With practice you can learn to access their center from where your peripheries touch.

Monitoring the space around you helps discern whether you are physically safe or not. Knowing that you are safe, you can relax, center yourself, breath and be more aware present.


  • Empathic Attention

“If your heart is large enough to envelop your adversaries, you can see right through them and avoid their attacks. And once you envelop them, you will be able to guide them along the path indicated to you by heaven and earth.” 

Morhei Ueshiba founder of Aikido

Expanding your field, gives you more ground. Being centered and grounded, makes room for others.

This diagram is a visual representation of empathic listening.

Empathic attention is a skill that is inclusive, vulnerable and powerful. Once you have checked in with your core and then you can let your perimeter slowly begin to expand from your core until you include the other. One person centers and expands enough to fully include and allow the other person to just be.

By maintaining a centered presence you can stabilize the

listening field around you, expand it and make it large enough to touch or hold others graciously. Balancing your own field of attention without attachment or resistance allows unimpeded creative movement to any part of the interaction. Empathy and the basis for compassion is not about trying to change others. If we can hold the space above below and around as intensely as the feelings flowing from our hearts, then we can love in a compassionate way. You can ask yourself how high, deep and wide must I be with another and then adjust as need be.

When you center and open your attention to hold others with care, they are drawn into that calmness and stability. In doing so, you can get a clearer read on intentions of others, as well as gauge distances that feel safe or not. In this way, skillful vulnerability fosters connection and greater safety!

  • Merged attention

Merged attention comes in those moments when you loose your center and believe that your feelings and needs are the responsibility of another. Merged attention is when you loose your center and cannot clearly delineate between who is who. In this state, we blame others for our problems, morally judge them, and take what others say personally believing that others control what we need and feel. Merged attention is where we have lost our sense of center and lose our clarity about where I end and you begin. There is an unclear sense of “us”.


If you find your intention is to change others, you have lost your center. In this diagram, merged attention is represented as an oval with no true center. In this state, with 2 centers it is hard to discern who is who in the interactions. We are responsible for our own feelings. Where we forget this, blaming and shaming is common. It is easy to be seduced by merged attention. It is easy to be drawn to those outside us in favor of ourselves. Merged attention is when we lose ourselves to the other and when we base ourselves on the other. This can cause a lot of pain and confusion.


A Merged Attention Practice

To play with this attention state, take a partner and engage in a round of:

blame and shame,

power over oppressor/victim scenario

Give some heavy judgment to one another.

On a scale of 1 to 10 make the interaction a 2 or 3 please. Let the argument go

on for a minute or so and than notice how it feels. Do you have a clear sense or your needs. Are you taking full responsibility of your emotions? Do you feel centered?


  • Harmonizing Attention

Merging and harmonizing both have a moment of empathy. The difference is that with harmonizing attention your sense of autonomy remains intact.

It is when the other and I happen together in a moment in sync with our collective needs.

When we recognize that our deepest needs are the same, what’s to resist? In this moment, there is no longer attacker and defender.

When there are two of us and you see me as different, it is easy to want to attack. In this diagram of harmonized attention there is no center as a reference point.

It is a powerful state that once we become attached to it, we loose it. Athletes know it as “being in the zone”. A moment of peak performance where self and other, thinking and feeling become one. It is where our training kicks in and it is no longer about trying, it is about letting go, allowing and trusting.









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Children’s Class in Chimacum

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Internalizing a practice

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S.U.R.F.I.N.G: An Imaginative Centering Practice

IMG_0095Grow vertical first and then horizontal like plants.

Be in the form to let it remind you to re-center.

Then soften, open and make room for inquiry…then discover

Gratitude connects us. The more you cultivate gratitude, the less you are a victim of resentment, depression and despair. Gratitude will act as an elixir that will gradually dissolve the hard shell of your ego and need to possess and control as it transforms you into a generous being.

Imagination is a question to the body. Imagination is the language of the soul. (Webster’s) Imagination, different from fantasy helps provide meaning to experience and understanding to knowledge; it is a fundamental facility through which people make sense of their lives.

To begin:

  1. This is a sitting practice. Have your head above your heart above your belly. Soften your gaze or close your eyes. Let your tongue rest on the back of your throat. Lengthen the back of the neck, imagine the weight that you carry falling off your shoulders for now. Unclench your sphincter muscles and feel your connection to the earth. Set the form then soften into it. Feel your tail bone connect to the earth


Breathe- Take a deep and relaxing breath in and let out an audible “ahhhhh” sound as you breathe out. Again.

Begin a gentle, even rhythm of breathing up you back and down your front and continue this through the practice.

S-Shape your foundation

Put your attention to the area around the base of your tailbone.

Imagine roots spiraling down into the earth and then spreading out, connecting you with the ground, the dirt, the rocks, other roots and organisms, the plants, animals, all living creatures, water, the air, birds, sun, the sky, the stars, all creation.

Take the moment to be grateful in your own way for the earth and nature that supports you.


U- Unify your Relations

Breath up your back and down your front.

Put your attention in your belly. Just a couple inches below your navel is the hara, the center of spiritual confidence.

  1. Place your attention to the space that is behind your belly, at your back. Feel into what supports you from behind and all that came before you. You can be selective. Invite the ancestors and older relative who were healthy and whole. (Leave the crazy ones out), the teachers in your life, the great teachers on this planet past and present. All the wisdom contained in your genetic cellular history back to the beginning of life. All this is behind you. Feel the support at your back. Remember you are not alone and that there is always much to support you no matter what you may think. You can imagine many hands holding and supporting you from behind.

     Let a sense of gratitude wash over you for all that supports you from behind.

  1. Now place your attention to your sides and imagine all those who walk beside you in your life. Your friends, brothers and sisters, partners and associates. Again be as selective as you like.

         Take the moment to be grateful for them.

  1. Now place your attention in front of you and imagine all the young ones who remind us to play, who will take us into the future and go beyond us, who make it all worth while.

          Take the moment and in your own way be grateful for the young ones.

     *At your own time and speed in your daily practice you can place your attention to those people on any side of you who were less easy for you to be with. Take time to look under their words and strategies to our common humanity. Appreciate how these difficult people are your best training partners. Your relationship to them brings your attention inside to places that you would never find without them. Reframe these people as your Lucifers, your light bringers. These people shine a light in places inside you that you would never find without them. In time, with practice you can build your capacity for loving those who challenge you in your life. *(See All Our Relations Practice for more on this).

R- Re-source Your Self

  1. Put your attention to the center of your solar plexus, that is around the hollow of your chest below the heart region and above the belly.

Take a moment to appreciate and give gratitude for all you are and all that you bring to the world.  If this feels lovely, stay with it and sit with that. If you notice that somewhere inside yourself sensations of uneasiness, sadness, pain, contraction, emptiness or the like, bring your attention to where it is in your body. Ask yourself this question and listen closely to the first intuitive answer that comes below and before your thinking.

  1. How old was I here when I learned this? If you do not get an answer try again until you do. Any answer is useful. Answers could be at birth, 2, 4, 6, 10,32, and 50, before birth… What ever it is take note.
  • It is an infant or newborn, imagine, holding yourself, looking into each other’s eyes. Take the moment to be grateful for the beautiful child within you.
  • As a young child. Let him/her nudge his/her way into your lap. Invite this child with love and gratitude. Take some time with the ages that stand out. Imagine holding, listening, walking with, or tending to these different ages of yourself in ways that you would have loved. Be patient with these younger ones. They may feel hurt and unseen. Take courage, a gentle curiosity, some caring and creativity. Consider the best way of being to care for another person at those various ages.

            Take the moment to be grateful for each of those ages of yourself.

            Take the moment to be grateful for your present self.

If this is a regular practice, it might be most useful to spend time with only one or two of these ages of yourself a day. (For more on this go to Core Strategies practice)


F- Field of the Heart

Breath up your back and down your front. Connecting and breathing from the earth you sit on, all your relations, yourself and now your heart.

  1. Bring your attention to your heart region. This heart pulsating, radiating in all directions, offering and receiving. Connecting to all other hearts, to all life, giving meaning through all you feel.

In this moment, in your own way, have gratitude for all the love you are and that   you are connected with.


I- Initiate- Self Expression

Breath up your back and down your front.

Breath up through the earth you sit on, all your relations, yourself, the heart and now your throat area.

Move up to your throat region.

  1. When you are rooted in the nature that supports you, all your relations, yourself and your heart you can know what is true for you. Rest in this knowing and express your self with confidence.

            Take the moment to be grateful for your ability to speak your truth.


N- Navigate-Blend and Lead

Breath up your back and down your front.

Breath up through the earth you sit on, all your relations, yourself, the heart, and your voice and now up to your forehead, just between and above your eyes.

  1. When you are connected with all these resources and relations that are always available- trust that you know what is true for you.

Take the moment to be grateful that you can know your truth


G- Generate – Creating your Future

Breath up your back and down your front.

Breath up through the earth you sit on, all your relations, yourself, the heart, and your voice and now up to your forehead, your forehead and now the crown of your head.

As you breath, imagine extending your vertical line down to the center of the earth and then back up through the centers of your body, through the crown of your head to the sky.

Take this moment to be grateful for the present moment.

Now is a good time to begin a sitting practice and /or move into your day with a sense of gratitude.

*In this practice, as we move to each center in our bodies, with gentle curiosity and caring notice any places of discomfort, emotionally and physically. Let your feelings be. It takes courage of heart to just be with your self. By learning to tolerate your own feelings with love and patience, you increase your capacity for graciousness and dignity with others.






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All Our Relations: A Five Elements Practice

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“We are a part of everything that is beneath us, above us and around us. Our past is our present, our present is our future, and our future is seven generations past and present.”                                                              Haudenosaunee teaching


“Imagination … is more important than knowledge. Knowledge is limited. Imagination encircles the world.”                                                                                                                                           Albert Einstein

IMG_0371 copyIn Nonviolent Communication there is an emphasis on developing a vocabulary to express needs.  Needs in this persuasion are universal.  They are words that express the Life that moves through us all.  You know you are speaking about a need if it is something that we all need.  Sometimes we’ll call it joy or play, sometimes we’ll call it understanding, autonomy, mutuality, empathy, peace, connection, and so on.

Our words alone are a clumsy way of expressing something so divine and requires some imaginative cognitive acrobatics to make it work sometimes.  In this practice, as we connect to what supports us from behind, we can utilize all of our senses to practice being the qualities of a need we would love to have a little more of in our lives.

Our body shapes our experiences and is the shape of our experience.  We can bring to awareness what our body is saying and let it connect us to the resources that are available to us.

Gratitude for those we appreciate, past or present, as a practice helps us to become more familiar with the virtues that that we most admire.  When we appreciate and are grateful for certain qualities of others we engage our feelings, imagination and emotional intelligence. The more we do this, the more we can become familiar with and incorporate those qualities within ourselves. Over the years, working in many cultures around the world, I have asked people to bring their attention to what is at their back. For some, it is unfamiliar, often startling and very difficult to do. Why? Because they have practiced something else for so long. It is not unusual for someone to tear up or cry as they reunite with a part of themselves that they have generally practiced ignoring.  This sadness that comes up has a sweetness to it, like seeing an old friend that you have missed for so long. The sweet sorrow is grief.  Grief is gratitudefor something you love that you have missed.  It is still  gratitude.  It is this gratitude and appreciation that deepens our connection to what supports us from behind.

2014-05-13 16.02.53This is a centering practice. Any of those we bring through us can become a different facet of center that we can learn to access more quickly.

With time and practice, you will be able to call  up the qualities and virtues you would love more of, at any given moment.  The more you practice doing that, the more readily you will be able to.

The story that “you’ve got to do it all on your own” permeates our culture and in turn has shaped our lives. We live in a society where the individual is often glorified at the expense of the collective.  Consequently many of us exhaust ourselves by thinking we are alone and not getting the help we need because it does not occur to us to ask for it.  We lose sight of people and resources that are readily available.  Our backs ache as we hold this weight alone forgetting that we are a part of a collective, with more resources then we can imagine.

Our imagination helps provide meaning to experience and understanding to knowledge; it is a fundamental faculty through which we encounter everything. The ability to imagine one’s self in another’s place is a cherished ideal around the world.  Imagination is also a question to the body that connects us to our innate resources.

Everywhere in our language you can see the imagery and qualities that our backs represents in phrases such as: He’s got no backbone,  Talking behind your back, I’ve got your back, “Back down”, Don’t get your back up, He’s got no one to back him”.

This practice brings new life to what was commonplace in the older wisdom traditions around the world, to remember our ancestors and bringing their support and wisdom through us. Mitakuye Oyasin is a phrase from the Lakota that reflects the their world view of interconnectedness. The phrase translates as “all my relatives,” “we are all related,” or “all my relations.” It is a prayer of oneness and harmony with all forms of life: ancestors, other people, animals, birds, insects, trees and plants, and even rocks, rivers, mountains and valleys.

When I sit in a sweat lodge with my Native American friends, we call in all our relations.

During a Passover Seder from my Jewish heritage’s tribal roots, I eat the foods of my ancestors to viscerally remember their passage from slavery to freedom, their struggles and virtues.  Indigenous cultures listen to the wisdom of their ancestors at their backs. Presently in western culture, our focus—realistically and metaphorically– is generally on what we are doing, where we are going and what needs to get done. In other words, what is in front of us. Rarely do we consciously bring our attention to what is at our back, to our histories and to what can supports us from behind.

Here is a simple practice for resourcing  the wisdom and support of those who came before us and who are at our backs.   At its core, this is a practice of gratitude and re-membering.

The Practice

Exercise 1: Our Helper

IMG_0085 copya.  Choose one person in your life that has come before you, that embodied a quality or virtue that you would love to have a little more of in your own life.  This could be one person that has supported you in some way; a relative, an ancestor, a teacher, a great teacher in the world (past or present) or simply someone who has positively effected you in a way that you love.  Just pick one.

b.   Remember one of the qualities they have (had) that moved you.  Remember how it feels to be in the presence of their beautiful virtue.   (Ex: The expressiveness of Martin Luther King, the humility of Nelson Mandela, the devotion of Mother Teresa, the tenderness of your next door neighbor, the dignity of your father……)

Exercise -2  A Writing Practice

Write a colorful creative description about the person you chose. Vividly describe this person so you can literally feel what you truly loved about them.  Explore what they exemplified and how their presence touched you. Write as much or little as you want. Most important, let your writing move you, so that at any point you can remember what you wrote in order to draw up that feeling, that whole-body sensation of the qualitie(s) you love about the person. Embue your writing with the gratitude and regard you feel.

A personal example

Sometimes when I get too busy or agitated I get upset and struggle with being as kind as I would like to be. I often bring to mind a dear old friend who has since passed, John Hazlett, to somatically remember the quality is kindness

As a young man, I left college to apprentice as a goldsmith in a very fine 4-generation jewelry making business in Detroit. I supplemented my apprentice wages with evening jobs, lived in a poorer section of Detroit. Outside of working day and evening, I had very little social life.   I was 22 and John was 63 when I met him..  He had a way about him that was gentle and humorous. He seemed to live to make me smile and I felt loved and welcomed in his world.  John and I worked together, literally back-to-back, for hours on end for 3 years.  He was a kind soul, during a period when I was struggling and felt very alone. There were two elderly goldsmiths at the shop. The other goldsmith, Ted, truly was one of the best goldsmiths in the country, but to learn from him was difficult, as he guarded his trade secrets.  John on the other hand, called me over when ever he was working on something interesting.  To this day I can feel the grandfatherly love as I rested my chin on his shoulder watching his masterful hands create beauty. He generously taught me about anything I wanted to learn. No secrets.  I cannot recall an angry word ever coming out of his mouth. And whenever I was frustrated or feeling hurt, he would listen. When I was upset, he could always make me laugh. I miss him dearly and am ever grateful for his presence in my life.


Exercise-3 Qualities of Center

Stand in your vertical line with your head, above heart, above belly.

  1. With open eyes, soften your gaze.
  2. Let the back of your tongue soften and relax.
  3. Allow the weight you might feel that you are carrying on your shoulders to just fall off. (If you are worried about it, know you can put it back later.)
  4. Unclench your sphincter muscles and feel the bottom of your feet open to the earth you are standing on.
  5. Take a deep, unifying and relaxing breath, with an audible Ahhhhhh sound on the outbreath.
  6. As much attention as you have in front of you, place that much attention behind you. You can also imagine yourself in the center of a large bubble.  Sometimes it is difficult or unfamiliar to bring your attention behind you.  If so, you can ask a friend to put their hands on your back and let your attention surround them.
  7. With your hands by your sides, and about 12 inches from your torso, turn your palms to the space behind you. Like radar dishes that pick up the signals of what is behind you, imagine feeling into the space behind you.  You can also try to imagine a large soft cushion that is supporting your whole backside.  Imagine that it is holding you.
  8. In that “field” behind you, place the person you have written about and recall the quality that you admire. You can imagine their hand gently supporting you from behind. With a sense of gratitude feel the support at your back. Keep an impression of how this experience feels so that with practice, you can draw it up quicker and quicker as time goes by. Another image to play with is of being a sail and letting the wind fill you. Take a moment to be grateful for this support.

Part 4: Re-sourcing Yourself

2014-05-13 15.58.25At first it can help to explore this as a partner practice. Once understood this can become a practice to be used anytime and anywhere with anyone. It is also a practice for working with your own internal conflicts

1)    Imagine a triggering moment that you have had with someone in your life. Coach the other to say a triggering statement to re-create the scenario.

2)    For starters, let the triggering moment be no more than a 2 on a scale of 1 to 10.  Don’t make it too overloading, otherwise it becomes a little difficult to assimilate.

3)    As the person in front of you speaks allow yourself to get triggered and verbally respond without censoring yourself. Take notice of what you say and how you say it.

4)    Begin again, but before you respond, feel into the resource you have written about, who is now at your back.  Allow yourself to feel that whole somatic impression of the quality you would love a bit more of in your life.

5)    Imagine the person at your back and remember the quality of theirs that you hold so dear and then slowly let that quality come through you

6)    As the currents of the quality moves through you, continue to keep it flowing by remembering to keep the connection at your back. Let the urge to speak originate from your back and be the source of your words. Become it. *  Now within that same mildly triggering moment, say what comes naturally to you and notice how you feel and what is different.

*Remember:You are mostly space. You are porous. Those resources behind you can come through you.  Maybe you don’t know what to say, you don’t have the heart to – there is someone behind you that does! Maybe it is your Aunt Judith; maybe it is Gandhi.  Maybe you don’t have the intelligence to deal with a certain person. What you need is at your back.  There are many resources at your back that can come through you.  You are not alone if you choose to connect to your support.

IMG_9452These days I have a somatic impression of what that kindness feels like, thanks to my relationship with John.  John died many years ago now. I recall his image, his words, his mannerisms, his way of making me laugh and his virtues.  When I have a need for kindness or belonging, as a practice, I can recall a whole body somatic impression of the qualities that he embodied.  As I do this, a smile comes to my face, my breathing becomes more rhythmic, and my chest and shoulders relax. Moving from this “shape” and intention of kindness draws more of it into my life.  Like attracts like. This is a part of becoming what you need.

Instead of trying to think of what kindness feels like, I can pull from what is at my back, to call up exactly what I need.

Always accessible, always there.








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Declaring a Dojo

IMG_4950 copyThe term, “dojo” literally means a “place to wake up” or a “place of the way”. Dojos are traditional Japanese training halls where mastery of a chosen path is pursued. A “do” is a way or a path. There are dojos in Japan for learning many disciplines from flower arranging to Zen meditation, calligraphy to the martial arts. Dojos are a place to not only practice and master an art they are a place to broaden moral, ethical and spiritual horizons. Traditionally the martial arts dojo was a place where the Samurai of ancient Japan developed their “budo”, the warrior’s way. Here they would ground their practice in meaning by codes of ethics, the protection of their community and connection with Nature. They honed their spirit through the arts of conflict.

Wherever there are relationships there are conflicts. Conflicts show up in the process of change as our resistance to change. Facing and eventually embracing our resistance directly puts us fact to fact with what we need. Reacting to or ignoring conflict distract us from what life is trying to show us. The dojo is a traditional place to train in self-mastery. It is were we learn to face our own resistances with dignity, integrity, honesty and empathy.

My first dojo was a judo school in NJ. My parents enrolled me when I was in junior high school right after they caught wind that I had been in an afterschool fight. Mr. Shimimoto was a well-regarded judo instructor. He welcomed me into his dojo with a warm smile. He emanated a dignity and integrity that invited respect and my attention without any affect or forcefulness. In the 4 years I trained with him, I never saw him raise his voice or reprimand someone in a demeaning way, and yet his presence was commanding. His dojo was well lit, clean and unadorned. Fresh flowers were always at the front of the dojo and trophies lined the shelves in the outer greeting room. The respectful etiquette and attitude required were clearly visible in the dojo. Each night we’d all train vigorously throwing, flipping, tripping, pinning one another and then bowing to appreciate and honor our partners each time. After every session I would come home drenched in sweat and happily collapse into a hot tub. The more I trained, the less interesting the after school fights became. The intentions of honor and respect that Mr. Shimimoto brought to his dojo were qualities that became imbued in my own practice.

The first dojo I opened was at a rec center with some old wrestling matts, florescent lights in a bare room. Add some flowers and a candle in the front of the dojo, with a declared intention of Aikido training and we were good to go. Dojos come in all shapes and sizes. When I met my Aikido sensei, Reverend Lawrence Koichi Barrish his dojo was a modified garage at his home. Thirty years later his dojo out mountains by the rushing river is the main Shinto shrine in the US. As a senior Shinto Priest, the Tsubaki Grand Shrine of America which he built, is the dojo of all dojos. Enshrined within is the spirit of Morihei Ueshiba No Mikoto (the Kami), the founder of Aikido. Whether it is a garage or a magnificent shrine with live deities, training takes on the intention that the dojo is imbued with.

IMGP0874Drawing from that tradition, wherever I teach my trainings, I declare our training place a dojo. Speaking is an action. Declaring something is a creative act and a first step towards creating possibilities that you are choosing to participate in. Declaring and creating an intentional space to train in provides the environment for doing it well. In the ritual of my marriage there was a moment within the ceremonious setting when Judith and I declared ourselves husband and wife. Everything changed from that moment on. A declaration articulates a vision that when grounded in passion, understanding and commitment invites possibilities, collaboration and others to a cause. Declarations create new and unchartered narratives to live in. Along with these new waters come new practices and attitudes. Change can be difficult, especially inner change. Creating an intentional space for this to unfold safely and with care helps to stay the course. A dojo is where ever you declare it to be.


The intention of the dojos I declare is learn how to “conflict well” and from that well to drink deeply. Practicing to conflict well means to practice staying centered and present in moments of conflict in order to feel its messages and give what is needed: not too much not to little. Creating a safe and respectful container for the practices to unfold with a mutual intention and commitment facilitates deep learning.

We do best when we reach out and teach ourselves. When this happens with other people, learning is accelerated.

A dojo is where ever you declare it to be

My wife Judith is a woman of many talents. One of her most exceptional gifts is through what she calls, Connective Food Practices. IMG_0547A big name for something quite simple and profound. Every detail of the food that Judith prepares for others (lucky me) is created within her kitchen. Food is her’ “do” and her kitchen dojo is shaped and ordered to manifest the most powerful budo, Love. She will make sure the vegetables are organic, most often picked for freshness out of our gardens. Meat, eggs and dairy are local and raised with care. She will make sure to cut the cucumbers at the right angle for beauty and flavor. She’ll chiffonade the kale making sure it is just thin enough to have the best texture and shape. She might walk outside to pinch off a bay leaf or two to bring out the flavor in the sauce. She will make sure the colors of the food and table are aesthetically enjoyable. Every aspect of the meal is imbued with and transmits the love care, time and energy put into its preparation. When it is our turn to cook in the rotation of dinners in our community, nobody misses a meal from our home. Some things are unexplainable, but over time when they happen enough, we just accept them as true. What I accept is that when something like a meal prepared by Judith is served and eaten, magic follows. Conversations are enlivened, the atmosphere takes on a welcoming texture, and ideas begin to fly and the next thing you know we are all planning to build a sauna together, planning a group retreat, envisioning future possibilities. Magic. Houdini said “Magic is Practice.

Practices imbued with intention, manifest what that intention is and in time bring us to places we might never have known.

We learn through deliberate, recurring practice that over time enable us to take new actions. A dojo is a place to learn about our selves. We can approach the dojo as a metaphor for our bodies. How we are with others tells us a great deal about how we are with our selves. How we treat others show us a lot about how we treat ourselves. There’s an old Jewish saying,” you get honor by giving it”. Honorable ways begins with ourselves. Our bodies are a temple. Our body is a dojo. When we train with others it’s important to keep this in mind. In all my classes and training one of the first things I do is to declare a dojo.

A dojo is wherever you declare it to be. In your own trainings whether you are alone or with others, intentionally create the space most conducive with what you want to learn. Orient the space. Where is the front? Bring flowers or objects that lend meaning. Enter and leave it with gratitude and reverence.

Anyone can declare a dojo. In my dojos I have articulated guidelines for training. The guidelines apply to individual or group practice. I have distilled guidelines for intentions to train with from conversations with others and where I have some mastery; aikido, as a Goldsmith, in Somatic Consensus. Here are the basics that I find that apply to all of them:

  • Enter the dojo as a metaphor for our inner world
  • Cultivate qualities of the heart: Courage, Care and Gratitude
  • Muster your curiosity
  •  We are always free to begin again
  • Leave self-condemnation at the door
  • There is always room for improvement and do your best
  • Practice staying present to what is alive in you
  • Train with the values you wish to embody
  • Cultivate a spirit that honors all
  • Forgiveness is always available
  • Give your judgments only the light of your attention
  • You cannot do anything wrong in the dojo, you can always do it better.
  • Just do your best.
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Beginner Mind

Beginner’s Mind unfolds to become a new kind of Expert Mind which relaxes to be a beginner once more – and on and on – beginner / expert / beginner…

                                                                                                     Dr. Stuart Heller

“Curiosity makes you want to learn about it. Clara 8yrs. old”

“In the beginner’s mind there are many possibilities, in the expert’s mind there are few.”

                   Shunryu Suzuki, Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind

 Aspects of Somatic Consensus work comes out of my life long love for wandering and practices that engage the people I meet with what I call divine curiosity. This is a hunger to want to know in each of us where we all meet. This attitude is what in the Aikido tradition is called “shoshin” or beginners mind.

When I was just 12 or 13, to my mother’s consternation, for fun I’d walk out to the road, pick a direction and hitchhike somewhere unknown. I’d leave to chance who I met and what would unfold next. The randomness of these encounters brought me together with a wide variety of characters, some brilliant and generous and others unsavory and suspicious. I met people that I most likely would never meet again and learned to enter these encounters with as few prejudices and assumptions as I could muster. This attitude, in almost no time at all, led to honest, frank, candid and revealing conversations. For the most part, I felt at home with strangers and the scary encounters were very rare.

My father who worked in the clothes business moved us to different suburbs seeking better job opportunities several times throughout my childhood. I found it difficult to make new friends each time we moved and I think I was pretty lonely as a child. Traveling fed so many of my needs, in particular my deep curiosity of wanting to know what made myself and others tick. After high school, I left home to go to college and apprenticed for 3 years as a goldsmith in Detroit. Through out my college years and apprentiship, I was never quite out of the field of my family and its cultural imperatives with its messages of who I should be. My urge to step away was undeniable and at 24, as a journeyman goldsmith, I left a promising job, a lovely girlfriend, some family and friends to go on an extended sojourn.

I metaphorically and literally left the village on my walkabout, my vision quest, and my hanbelycha. When I reflect on what moved me to leave it all behind what it was that I was seeking was a deeper understanding of what my life was really all about?

I loved the adventures and meeting people and there was one unshakable set of questions that were always with me:


How are we different?


What is it that we all have in common?

At that time I did not fully trust my intuition, I needed to experience things and to find my own points of reference.  As my 8-year-old neighbor once told me, curiosity makes you want to learn about it. The beginner mind is an actively curious state of being. Curiosity is a question that invites, not demands an answer. It is a question without attachment to what comes in response.   Whether the question is to yourself, to someone else or the mystery of life itself, how the question is asked invites the answers that you receive.

Next time you are struggling with some one, imagine that you are in the presence of a wise elder and that you have the privilege of asking a question or two. In this situation you’d be sure to choose your questions with reverence and great care. Imagine what it would be like to speak to our children with that kind of reverence. What it would be like if our teachers asked the children in their classes regularly, “What do you care about?” and “What would you love to learn today?” with great respect and anticipation, awaiting their answer.

School would be a whole other awakening experience for our children and they would grow with a self-knowing and cultivation of their inner compass.

A questioning curiosity, coming from a place of truly not knowing and listening with your whole being is a creative act that invites profound responses in surprising ways not just with words, but also through feelings, image, sense, and vision.

To my surprise, on the night I packed my bags to go off on what turned out to be a 3 ½ year sojourn, my housemate in Detroit pulled out a deck of tarot cards and in regards to my 2 questions, his reading was this:

“You’ll find what you are looking for, and yet it will not be what you thought it would be”

The answers to my two questions are still unfolding. I did come away with some basic understanding and more importantly found confirmation for trusting my intuition.

To say it in a sentence or two it might sound something like this:

  • Deep down in each of us there is a part of us that we all share.
  • It’s our personal, familial and cultural strategies that are so different.
  • Move from love and learn to trust intuitive messages.
  • And if we always choose from that place, that is enough.

With out knowing at the time, as I traveled I learned the basics of Shoshin, beginners mind. In any art, even the art of the traveler, these basics apply.

A child walks in wonder as everything is new, and the elder walks with deep gratitude for the preciousness of life, together you have beginner mind.

Through out this book there are readings and practices. My hope is that you cultivate an attitude of emptying your cup and allowing it to be filled.

Shoshin, is an attitude of “beginner mind” and cultivated within the practice of Aikido. It is practicing with the openness and humility that there is much to see and learn everywhere, within ourselves and with each person we meet. There is a cliché that “we are all a universe onto ourselves”. Seeing each other as a universe unto ourselves is Shoshin. When I look at my wife, if she is a universe onto herself” that would mean that surely there are parts of her that I know. I know the foods she enjoys, I know she likes the tub scrubbed and enjoys singing and such. Alongside that there is an infinite side of her that I do not know. That perspective, I believe is one of the secrets to longevity in relationships. Being able to see one another as new is a practice of beginner mind.

Here is a story I heard about 30 years ago when Sensei Robert Fraeger visited my teacher’s dojo. He was one of those rare people who had trained years earlier in the Hombu Dojo, the main Aikido dojo in Japan with the founder of Aikido, Morhei Ueshiba. Morhei Ueshiba, affectionately known as O’Sensei or great teacher died in his seventies in 1967. So when our guest, told us stories we listened with great interest.

He shared that, as a younger man, he had gone to train every day and loved the exhilarating pace and fluidity of training with the many skilled practitioners in his class. Each night he would come home tired, drenched in sweat, and satisfied.

In each class, O’sensei or in his absence, a sempei(head student) would teach some aspect of Aikido and then the students would break up into partners to practice the dynamic throws, strikes, pins, and exercises demonstrated.

This particular day a sempei was teaching and our storyteller had been assigned to work with a first day beginning student. He let go of his hope of a fast paced exciting training, he began teaching his partner the basics of Aikido, slowly and patiently. He assessed the beginner’s abilities and paid attention to what was too much or to little for him to assimilate, breaking down the moves, correcting, and and taking note of his partner’s capacity and unique-ness.

O’Sensei came into the dojo and watched the student teacher, and all the students moving and practicing their techniques. Now at this time he was an old man and very much desired to pass on Aikido to his students. His health was failing too and he was known to have a potent temper sometimes.

Although he looked like a frail old man, when O’Sensei gave out a ki-ai (a powerful sound) the walls shook. After taking in what was going on in the room, suddenly he raised his arms and shouted, “Nobody gets it”, “Nobody understands!!!” The room was silent. And then he turned and pointed to Bob Fraeger and said………..Except you.

What I imagine O’Sensei saw was lot of people enjoying themselves and working hard to practice the techniques but doing it in a way that was missing the essential ingredient-loving connection, the consciousness that all the techniques are in service of.

As Robert Fraeger worked with the beginner he had to pay close attention to his partner. He noticed who it was that was in front of him in order to contribute reflections and corrections in ways that were safe and effective. What happened here was very much like how a group of musicians slowing at the end of a song, while playing together, must really listen to one another to end beautifully and with each other. This attitude of care, openness and presence is beginner mind, and it is what deepens any practice in order to eventually become embodied.

In any training discipline, it takes vigilance to not fall into just going through the motions when things are repetitive. Remember you are always practicing something. Intention gives practice meaning and builds that meaning into how your comport yourself. Practicing without intention is disempowering. Combining physical practice and intention, brings that intention into your muscles, cells and bones.

When a master swords man practices a sword cut a thousand times a day, each cut must be embodied. To imbue meaning into his training, he may practice for the sake of cutting away illusion in his life and making room for what would be enriching. His work and focus is on making each cut new. He must muster his curiosity and the intention to correct and improve each cut. Never wrong, always better. Slowing it down, to make it understandable, practicing, correcting, and practicing again, each time with the curiosity of a child and the wisdom of an elder who knows with confidence the value of intentional deliberate, committed joyful practice over time.


Beginner’s Mind Practice

Here is a practice that builds on the SURF practice to give a felt sense of Shoshin, beginner mind.



Part 1

Ask yourself: How would that feel to feel a little bit more like a child? To have a child-like perspective on the world? What would it feel like in my body to feel that child-like sense of wonder and awe?

Let your body answer and notice the way it shifts.

Then walk, and let your body shape itself and shift, as your breath changes and your posture changes and youchannel the child. Be the child. Walk across the room with that sense of childlike-ness, then walk back.

Part 2

Now, Ask yourself: How would it feel if you felt a little bit wiser, like an elder? What would that be like? Let your imagination run. Think about what need or quality you would like to have a little more of.  Think of this as a quality you can access from within yourself, something that would make your life a little more wonderful. Perhaps dignity, clarity, happiness, l understanding, etc..

Become that wise elder and walk. Notice how it shapes you, notice how it changes your body. Walk across the room and thenwalk back.

Part 3

Notice the difference between those two ways of being.

Ask yourself: How would it feel if I felt like a child AND a wise elder? Practice both at the same time.

Take a walk and notice how this feels and what it is that like? What did you notice in your body? In your thoughts? Emotionally? What you tell yourself?

What do you appreciate about these two qualities separate and together?

Go through this practice throughout the day as much as possible.

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