sustaining your nonviolent communication practice with an empathy buddy

My empathy buddy’s name is Joy. Joy lives in a rainforest, runs her own socially and environmentally responsible small business, teaches yoga and is a vibrant member of her local home-schooling and anti-vax movements. I am a urban librarian and am very attached to my regular hours, wages, and holidays. My kids went to school and got vaccinated as scheduled. It would appear that Joy and I have little in common, or to contribute to each other but we are excellent empathy buddies

What is an empathy buddy?

An empathy buddy is a fellow student of nonviolent communication who is committed to a mutual and regular shared practice of giving and receiving empathy.

How does the empathy buddy relationship work?

The relationship could take many forms, depending on the needs and constraints of the buddies. Joy and I live 100 kilometres apart and have different patterns of busyness and rest. It suits us to video call each other most Tuesday evenings. We spend an hour together, starting with a few minutes of silent meditation and then sharing some stories of the week and sharing empathy for any pain and any happiness. Sometimes it looks like that. Sometimes we wander off-course and let the jackals run with a bit of gossip, and bitching, or divert to giving advice. Sometimes a week comes and goes and we forget or have another commitment. But one or other of us eventually interrupts the distraction and gets us back on course.

We also like to explore new resources together. At the moment, we are working our way through the buddy practices described in the ONGO Book. Exploring new resources and attending courses together is a great way to keep nonviolent communication alive for us and to stay on track with sharing empathy.

Why have an empathy buddy?

It’s great to do a course in nonviolent communication and be all excited about it because you got it, you really got it and then go home all excited, walk through the door and pick a fight with your partner. Well, no, it isn’t great, but it demonstrates that it can be hard work to translate what you learned in a class and use it in your real life. An empathy buddy relationship helps by:

  1. affirming your commitment to nonviolent communication — even when it is hard work and you keep ‘stuffing it up’ turning up week after week is somehow a reminder that this is important and worthwhile.
  2. providing support to keep going: It is hard to give up when you have some other soul out there giving you empathy and also being appreciative of the empathy you give to them.
  3. encouraging and reminding you to give yourself empathy. Self awareness of your feelings and needs around a challenging situation create ease around a conflict or misunderstanding. It can provide the calmness and patience to try again — or the wisdom to know it’s best to leave it be for a while.
  4. providing practice in giving empathy to others, so that it becomes more automatic and natural to share empathy rather than erupt in anger or withdraw in the heat of the moment.

Where do you get an empathy buddy?

Most nonviolent communication courses offer to set up empathy buddies, so a course could be a good place to start an empathy buddy relationship. Joy and I met through the online course: the compassion course. This course runs every year, starting in June. Another avenue may be empathy-buddy.com. I have not had any experience with this site, but at a glance it seems OK. 🙂

How do you set students up with an empathy buddy?

The empathy buddy relationship is a sustainable way for students to take what they have learned in class and develop the skills and aptitudes needed to apply these in their lives. I have not had any practice with connecting empathy buddies, but I can share what I have experienced as a participant.

From what I have observed, the most important consideration is that the empathy buddies do not have an established relationship or connection. It is way too easy to fall into old habits of communication with someone you know, and this will limit the empathy buddy relationship.

Secondly, there is no need to set people up with those who have similar interests, beliefs, or expressed values. This practice may reinforce the idea that there are ‘us’ and ‘them’ – an idea antithetical to nonviolent communication.

I imagine in a class where everyone knows each other, or folk are working in the same industry it would be best to carefully consider how to manage discussions around shared experiences. The nature of the buddy relationship means there may be sharing about issues at work or with colleagues and confidentiality clauses aside, it will be tempting to gossip. It may be necessary to set up buddies away from the group.

You may also like to set the students who chose to take on an empathy buddy with some resources to help the relationship flourish. This may be a simple structure to follow (like the one Joy and I commonly use). You could also suggest one of the many workbooks available which provide exercises to complete and share each week.

Some examples

In the online course where I met Joy we were able to pick another participant from the entire class list. Joy was someone in the same timezone so I chose her. In a face-to-face class Joy and I attended together, those interested in a buddy gave their names to the facilitator and she did the work over lunch matching them with someone they did not know before class. Like the empathy buddy relationship itself, connecting empathy buddies will need to match the circumstances of the course.

Image attribution

I loved this image for representing a relationship that has been deliberately cultivated yet full of love. Heart by Leslie. CC BY-NC 2.0

writing compassionately to my Representatives in Government about climate change

In December last year, I wrote to my Prime Minister, Premier, Leaders of the Opposition and my Federal and State Members of Parliament about my hope that they may work with each other to make a positive difference to climate change. I had put this off for a while because the topic overwhelms me, and I find it hard to focus on one thing and not just ramble disjointedly about all the individual and combined issues that come to mind. Also, I have seen little evidence that politicians on either ‘side’ are willing to take action.

But this is an important issue, so I finally put my doubts aside and attempted to communicate succinctly and with clarity and compassion.  I wanted my concerns to be heard and to make a difference. I also wanted to hear what they had to say about the matter. To achieve this, I used a communication pattern presented in ‘the Ongo book: Everyday nonviolence.’

The pattern looks something like:

When I think about …

I feel … because

I need … therefore

my request is …

I was wondering why I only received one response – but re-reading the email I think I see why! If you can pick the problem let me know what you think it might be in the comments. I am hoping you will offer a few suggestions so that I might learn some more. ❤

My email regarding climate change

Heading: Request for swift and decisive action on climate change

Dear (title and name of politician),

I am Rowena McGregor, resident of Ipswich, Queensland within the State electorate of Ipswich, and Federal electorate of Blair.

I am writing to you because when I hear that scientists say we have a very limited time to act or face catastrophic climate chaos and in the next moment I hear that yet another mine has been approved by my governments and yet another catastrophic climate event is forming, I feel a sense of deep sadness, and sometimes, despair.

I would like to trust that the people representing me in government will act together in the best long-term interests of people everywhere by creating and enacting policy and legislation to ensure a healthy environment for all. I would also like to acknowledge that communities reliant upon the industries causing climate change need to be supported to create new opportunities for employment so that everyone can enjoy the dignity and benefits of rewarding work.

To this end, I would love to see all MPs working together to take swift and decisive action on climate change and helping our communities transition to a post-fossil fuel future.

That’s what I will be voting for.

Kind Regards,

Rowena McGregor.

— Leave me a comment if you have any feedback!

Rowena.

Reference and photo attribution

Brett Coulstock. Cracked earth [photo]. CC BY 2.0

Catherine Cadden & Jesse Wiens (2017) The ONGO book: Everyday nonviolence.

Review: Caring Science Mindful Practice — free online course

For those interested in transpersonal human caring, or in relating to self and others with compassion, the Caring Science, Mindful Practice course will begin on January 9, 2019. This is a free, online course and those who fully participate in the course activities will be emailed a Certificate of Completion. You can register for the course here.

This review is based on my memory of the January 2018 iteration of the course. I wrote the review in appreciation of the course and of caring science.

About the course

The course was developed to help people integrate Jean Watson’s Caritas into daily life. Jean Watson is a nurse educator and founder of the Watson’s Caring Science Institute. The Caritas are principles for relating to self and others with compassion.

The course provides one or two short video tutorials each week. These tutorials address the Caritas and other elements of human caring. There is a weekly opportunity to reflect on the tutorials in writing or by creating an image that illustrates your response. Narrative reflections often took the form of a little story told – something that happened – with a comment on how a particular Caritas was in play, or how that Caritas would have made a difference to the outcome. If you wish to receive the certificate, you are also invited to provide affirmative responses to the reflections of other students. I found this took me about two to three pleasant hours per week.

Although the course was originally developed for nurses, I was welcomed as an academic librarian. I believe anyone who cares for others in any capacity and is willing to share their experiences will be welcomed into the course.

Positive aspects of the course

There are many positives to talk about, here are a few that have stuck in my mind.

  • The course is moderated by experienced volunteer tutors. Tutors play an active part in discussions and answer any questions.
  • The course practised what it taught: The tutors and participants created an inclusive, caring environment. The occasional raw story (nurses deal with a lot) was met with compassion and consideration.
  • The course provided a welcome opportunity to slow down and consider the Caritas and other teachings in the context of my life as an teacher, librarian, mum, sister, and partner.
  • The course seemed to accommodate people who speak English as an additional language. No one was precious about the technicalities of the English language, students were all free to express themselves in the various Forums. The videos were clear and could be re-watched if needed. (I am being circumspect here: I don’t want to speak for these students.)
  • It is a free course that provided genuine interaction and opportunities to communicate with other students and a Certificate of Completion. You do not need to pay for the Certificate (many online course charge extra for this).
  • The course is run annually: if you missed this year’s registration you can pop a note in your diary for next year.

Negative aspects of the course

There is only one negative I can think of. There was little opportunity for students to meet outside the course and continue their practice, online or face-to-face. I believe nurse participants are able to join another program for a reduced fee, and this may provide that continuity of practice.

Should you do the course?

If you are interested in compassion or nonviolence and would like an opportunity to explore these concepts with others – yes I would recommend it.

If you are a nurse, counsellor, teacher, or anyone who works with people and would like to try some additional tools to keep compassion alive in your work — you should definitely register 🙂

About the photo

This photo: Lighthouse represents the light of compassion, shining calm and steady over the people all night long.

Lighthouse was kindly shared by photographer John Curley on Flickr with the Creative Commons License: CC BY-NC-SA 2.0 Thank you John!

compassionately keeping a New Year’s resolution

Happy New Year everyone! Given the New Year was approaching, I wrote about creating a compassionate New Year’s Resolution a few days ago. I said that “your resolution is a communication to yourself about yourself and what you value. A compassionate New Year’s Resolution articulates and strengthens your personal values and interests. It is likely to be open-ended and capable of accommodating your humanity.” I then offered a few ways to create a compassionate New Year’s Resolution.

In that post I also said I would write again about how you might compassionately keep a New Year’s Resolution. When I said that I had no idea how to go about that. I just thought there was no use creating a compassionate resolution and then being forceful with yourself and stressing out over keeping it. Nor would it be in the spirit of compassion to abuse yourself when things don’t go as you planned.

So, I don’t have all the answers, but here are a few thoughts.

Compassionately keeping a New Year’s Resolution means…

At the core of your compassionate resolution are your personal values including care for yourself. So, compassionately keeping your resolution should entail:

  1. Keeping your needs and your values at the centre of any actions — or ‘inactions’ if your resolution is written that way.
  2. Making sure you don’t sacrifice your other needs and values to achieve your resolution. For example, you can’t add hours of gym to an already over-scheduled day. You still need to sleep.

1. Keep your needs and values at the centre of your actions (or ‘inactions’)

This would involve checking in on your resolution as it is written. You’ll need to be creative about this. Here are a few ideas I came up with:

The first idea is to write your resolution out and stick it somewhere it will surprise you from time to time. The inside door of the linen cupboard; in your glove-box; behind your credit card: those places would work. Read your resolution and be reminded of what you want to create — and why. Read your resolution slowly until you start to smile.

Another option is to schedule a regular ‘resolution date.’ Would daily, weekly, or monthly work well for you and your resolution? Make some time to read and connect with your resolution, to celebrate your accomplishments, to mourn any setbacks and to consider: What next?

To keep your needs and values central, you may also like to leave some space for growth: as you work on your resolution, new goals and values may emerge. You wanted to lose weight and now you want to focus on getting strong. I say go for it. Your initial resolution is merely part one of your year!

2. Manage your resolution to allow you to take care of your other needs

I do not do well at this part. I tend to take on a million things and end up overwhelmed, worn out, grumpy, resentful. And of course getting mad at myself for making another mess. So, I brainstormed some ideas to keep me out of trouble this year… I welcome you to chose one or two if you wish…

Some Strategies

Here are a few strategies you could try to keep your resolutions. The first few involve some planning but I would recommend being flexible and adjusting your approach to changing circumstances.

Start with research – maybe January could be about investigating ways you might like to go about meeting your resolution and planning how this may look in your life. Will you have to make any changes to accommodate your resolution? Are you willing to make those changes? Who could help you? Who might resist? I am going to start with research this year.

Snowballing – take one action in January and add a new thing each month. By the end of the year you will have 11 actions you are taking. Yes, 11 — because — December!

Small steps – take one step a day, week or month toward your goal.

‘Being’ resolutions – if your resolution is more about being than doing or having maybe you don’t need a strategy. Or you could think of places and circumstances where your being is easier than others and consider how to extend that experience to other places and circumstances. Thanks Bernd for reminding me of ‘being’ goals in your comment.

Resolutions about contributing to others – To achieve something for a group of people, you may be able to work alone. But it could be powerful to recruit your group. If you are working on building harmonious relationships, you may like to explore what others think about the situation: what do they feel and think about it? Is there space in your resolution for them? Thank you OrchidWhisperer for reminding me about contributing to others.

Letting your resolution work its own magic – just write your resolution, own it and go with whatever happens. My second example below illustrates how this can work (even before the year began!)

What might this look like?

I am going to give two examples. The first is my ‘real resolution’ the second is one that I seem to have accidentally taken on as a result of creating an example in the last post.

1. My ‘real serious’ resolution

Ok, here is my official resolution:

“I apply presence and mutuality to reduce greenhouse gasses in our atmosphere.”

In 2018 I gave my car away and started walking or taking public transport. I had my house insulated and installed solar panels and solar hot water. I’m still working on my personal carbon footprint but this year I want to go bigger.

In 2019, I want to work with government bodies, community groups, and/or businesses to assist with larger-scale carbon-reduction processes. I have no idea what that might look like, so I am going to spend a month or so doing some research. I’m hoping to find local groups that I could work with and uncover priority issues in my area (Ipswich is traditionally a coal mining town, so I should not have to look too far.) I will also explore what my workplace is doing (I think we are pretty good, but there may be some project to join.) I suspect this will turn out to be a small steps type of year, with each step leading to another week-by-week and month-by-month. I may have a little plan in place by the end of January. It may all remain open-ended all year long…

2. The ‘accidental’ resolution

This is an example of a let it work its own magic resolution. So, in my previous post, I created this resolution as an example:

“I love and appreciate myself and I live life to the fullest.”

I wasn’t meaning to take it on, but I read it and it really moved me in the moment.

A few hours later, I found myself dragging all my size 12 jeans from my wardrobe. Now, I was size 12 for about 15 minutes in 2013. I have hung on to these lovely, still new jeans ever since. I made a small clothes mountain on the floor. I added all the shirts that I must wear with shoulders hunched to prevent the buttons popping at the front, plus the stuff I don’t wear because it is old, ugly, scratchy, gives me a wedgie, or is just ‘not me.’ Then I loaded it into my partner’s car, drove it all to a Lifeline donation bin and deposited it. When the little door to the donation bin closed I just started laughing. I felt so good!  I felt wonderful, free, liberated. I am smiling now.

The next morning, I spontaneously unsubscribed to a heap of email lists: craft supplies I will never use; online courses on philosophy, history, creative writing I ‘should’ do, store advertising… I cleared my inbox of the negative clutter that was reminding me I need to do this or that to be acceptable. I unsubscribed to it all and felt so light and free. I don’t have all this stuff hanging over me, I can just get on with things! I am curious as to what might happen next…

Your resolutions and how you might work — or play — with them

That’s me done — I am all out of ideas. I would love to hear from anyone who would like to share their resolutions and/or how you might fulfil them. Please add to the comments. 🙂

Cheers! Rowena.

create a compassionate New Year’s Resolution

Today, I provide some reasons to create a compassionate New Year’s Resolution. I provide two ways to create a resolution that will inspire you throughout the year. I ask you to share any alternative ways to create a compassionate resolution and share your resolutions if you would like. ❤

In a few days I will write about compassionately keeping your compassionate resolution…

take some time to create a compassionate New Year’s Resolution

Your New Year’s Resolution is not only a promise and a commitment to take — or not take — certain actions. Your resolution is a communication to yourself about yourself and what you value. A compassionate New Year’s Resolution articulates and strengthens your personal values and interests. It is likely to be open-ended and capable of accommodating your humanity.

If you take the time to create a compassionate resolution, you will create a powerful resolution, one that will uplift you and inspire you to act throughout the year.

Although it may take a little longer to write a compassionate resolution, the process is enjoyable. The two methods of creating compassionate resolutions provided below will also avoid resolutions that come from a place of self-loathing, from comparisons, and a feeling that you should be different to what you are.

“I resolve to eat only 1500 calories per day”

“I will run 100 km per week.”

Such generic New Year’s Resolutions can become empty acts of violence against yourself. These resolutions lock you into one or two strategies to meet the goal underneath the resolution. They imply that you are only worthy if you succeed in those strategies. They do not take into account the wonderful beauty and messiness of our humanity. This may lead to failure, frustration and defeat. Don’t go there.

I value myself, therefore, I take the time to reflect on my values and create a resolution that is personally meaningful and exciting to me. Here are two options to create a compassionate New Year’s Resolution that work for me.

Option 1: A values-based New Year’s Resolution

This is my preferred way of creating a compassionate New Year’s Resolution. It is suitable if you have not already created your resolution.

  1. Pick an issue that you would like to focus on. The issue could be anything important to you: your well-being, relationships, adventure, education, whatever is important to you in this moment.
  2. Consider what values might help you make progress in that area. Underpinning your work on the issue with your values will help you stay connected to your resolution and motivated to continue with any strategies you create. A great resource for this step is the CNVC Needs Inventory (needs and values are the same for this exercise). You may find that one, two, or three jump out at you and resonate in the moment. Choose those values. I take a little longer — I usually download the list and highlight a dozen or so that appeal to me and then whittle it down to a maximum of three.
  3. Write your resolution with the emphasis on the values you are bringing to your issue.

What might that look like?

I will give my process as an example.

I chose the environment, specifically greenhouse gas reduction as my issue. When I considered this, the values that most resonated were: presence and mutuality. From this work I developed my compassionate resolution. It naturally fell into two parts: reduction and capture of greenhouse gasses. The two parts are:

“In 2019 I will apply presence and mutuality to reduce greenhouse gasses in our atmosphere.”

AND

“In 2019 I will apply presence and mutuality to carbon sinking.” 

I have some new and existing projects in mind that will bring this resolution to life. More about that in the next post on keeping a compassionate New Year’s Resolution.

Option 2: Communicating to yourself that you are worthy of love and compassion.

This is an option for people who are already set on a specific resolution. It frames your resolution with self-compassion. This technique is heavily influenced by Louise Hay.

  1. Write your resolution.
  2. Reframe your resolution by reading “I love and appreciate myself, therefore I…” and then write down what comes to mind. You might like to do this a few times.

What might this look like?

Lets return to one of our example resolutions:

“I will eat only 1500 calories per day”

When I read the statement above a few times, the resolution transformed through a few iterations…

“I love and appreciate my beautiful body and provide myself with delicious, nourishing food to keep me healthy and strong.”

“I love and appreciate myself and I live life to the fullest.”

“I love and appreciate myself and I take loving care of myself and of my home, the Earth.”

Even though I had no intention of creating a diet-focused resolution, these really speak to me.

Your resolutions

I would love to hear your resolutions, of alternate ways to create a compassionate resolution, or of your experiences using my techniques. You are very welcome to share in the comments. ❤

What to do about Christmas presents?

So Christmas has rolled around again and I am starting to feel uneasy about a little unresolved conflict that has been slowly developing over the last decade or so… what do we do about gift giving?

I know I am not the only one facing this dilemma, but for those of you without this problem, this is what it looks like in my family:

  • I would prefer to spare the earth’s resources and not give and receive gifts at all but this has not caught on.
  • One of my sisters gives practical, sustainable presents – but I’m not sure everyone receives them in the spirit they were given.
  • Some of my brothers and sisters travel from interstate or overseas. They may be concerned about their budget (and how much they must pack and take on the way home).
  • Some want presents given just to kids. Those without kids don’t see this as fair.
  • Some want their kids to have less presents as receiving a whole load of presents can be over-stimulating and can remove the focus from family time to competition.
  • Some enjoy the tradition of the tree surrounded by an absolute sea of presents and than watching everyone unwrap their gifts.

That is just the tip of the iceberg. With eight in my generation plus spouses, and eleven in the next generation, a consensus seems unlikely. But it is a really important issue to me and one I don’t want to give up on.

So now I’m preparing to start the conversation again for next Christmas and looking to use nonviolent communication to do this. Because there is an emotional charge around the conversation, the first thing I need to do is create space for empathy by considering what needs and values might underlie the various feelings and strategies around gift-giving.

Human needs of those who want to give and receive gifts

What values are people wanting to establish and maintain by giving and receiving gifts? What needs are they wishing to express? I came up with the following possibilities:

Connection, belonging, fun, love, joy, & self-expression

Human needs of those who are seeking an alternative to our current gift-giving practices

What values are people wanting to establish and maintain by not giving and receiving so many gifts? What needs are they wishing to express?

I came up with the following possibilities:

Sustainability, love, ease, peace, & self-expression

When I look at these lists I feel a bit more connected to those in my family who have different opinions to me. I can see that this is not an either-or situation – it is possible to belong to both groups. It is even interesting to see that the lists have love and self-expression in common.

a conversation guided by nonviolent communication principles

There are many nonviolent communication resources that can help resolve a conflict. I’m working my way through the ONGO Book at the moment, so I will try out the pattern they suggest. This looks something like

When I see|hear|experience ….

I feel ….

Because I would love to be have|experience ….

Would you consider….

So I might start a conversation like this:

When I see all the Christmas presents piled under the tree and imagine all the paper and plastic wrappings that must be thrown away, I feel uneasy and sad because I’d like to do Christmas in a way that is warm and fun and does not create a lot of waste – and I have not figured out a way to do that.

Do you think we might do Christmas a little differently next year so that we can have fun and  be kind to the environment?

Note

I was going to add a list of strategies we might consider BUT it would totally undermine the conversation if I was to come prepared with all the answers. I need to slow down and let any answers (if there are any) arise in the conversation.

More on the ONGO Book

This really seems to be an excellent resource. There is a whole rich, deep element of being connected to your body as you go through this process that I have not written about. If you are interested in nonviolent communication I recommend you get a copy. Maybe for Christmas 🙂

Catherine Cadden & Jesse Wiens (2017) The ONGO book: Everyday nonviolence.

Photo attribution

Frank Tellez. Christmas Presents. CC BY-NC-SA 2.0.

taking the dogs out

the best part of the day was taking the dogs out.

Gemma is small and brown. She is part Corgi (her legs) and part Joy. She loves to run around and around in great circles over the grassy hill and back again.

Dooley is my Mum’s fool of a poodle. He is tall and thin and black and he chases after Gemma, barking. She runs around him, leaping at his throat when he gets too close.

After the chasey game, they lie in the cool grass and I sit with them as the stars start to come out. There is slobber on my leg and my foot, but Gemma is lying on her back in the grass with her tongue lolling out, smiling up at me.

And all is well in my world.

yin yoga

Here

in seal pose on my kitchen floor I’m waiting for my own birth and I’m gently reflecting on how all my little worries were resolved and I’m in all moments in-between

our sun unborn and the final marvelous aria of the opera of the planets and the tins to be unpacked from yesterday’s shopping – all  happenings all time in this moment

Now

inspiration

I experienced this during one of Melissa West’s new yin yoga series (free on YouTube): Melissa WestIntermediate Yin Yoga for sleep

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