Welcome to HEN - promoting compassion
for self (Health), our Environment, and each other (Negotiation).
HEN is published each month by Julia Menard:
Helping Leaders Engage - One Tough Conversation at a Time!
HEN arrives at the full moon - because in the light.....there's no darkness.
Full Moon: June 4, 2012 - Year 10, Issue 6
Table of Contents:
1. HEALTH: The Simplicity of Breathing
"Breath is the bridge which connects life to consciousness, which unites your body to your thoughts." … Thich Nhat Hanh
There are times when I am in a conflict conversation where I hear a little voice inside say: “Breathe!” I feel so grateful for this automatic safety valve as it has helped me pull back and self-regulate many times when I’ve felt upset in a conversation.
This ability did not come naturally. In fact, over the years, there have been two words that have helped me tremendously to stay the course in tough conversations. They go together.
The first one is actually two words: Get Curious! I first heard this at the Centre for Conflict Resolution at the Justice Institute when I started taking courses there in 1994. It’s quite the mantra at the Centre so it’s fairly ingrained. However, when I’m upset, my own capacity to stay curious diminishes.
That’s why this second word works so beautifully with it: Breathe!
Breathing can seem so simple – I mean, we are all born doing it. We’re all doing it right now!
However, it is very rare to meet someone who “practices” deep diaphragmatic breathing intentionally every day. Practicing deep breathing daily is the way to make this skill come more naturally when we need it the most.
In case some don’t know what diaphragmatic breathing is – it is consciously directing your breathing to come from your diaphragm. The easiest way to feel how to do it - is to lie down and put a small book on your belly. When you inhale, make the book go up. When you exhale, make the book go down. Simple.
Deep breathing is a fundamental practice for me in conflict situations. I use it for myself and I coach mediation clients to use it for themselves. Once I can be calmer, then my curiosity can kick in!
When you find yourself stressed in a conversation, try this: Take a deep breath (as deep as you can) - hold it for four seconds - then slowly blow it out for eight seconds. Do it again. And again if you can.
Better yet, try some intentional deep breathing a few times tomorrow too. And the next day. And the next.
Then that little automatic voice reminding you to breathe will be there for you when you need it too!
"Listen, are you breathing just a little and calling it a life?” … Mary Oliver
2. ENVIRONMENT: Breathtaking
"Climbing is the lazy man's way to enlightenment. It forces you to pay attention, because if you don't, you won't succeed, which is minor — or you may get hurt, which is major. Instead of years of meditation, you have this activity that forces you to relax and monitor your breathing and tread that line between living and dying. When you climb, you always are confronted with the edge." … Duncan Ferguson
Last full moon, I was in the Yukon for work. When there, I had the tremendous opportunity of going to Kluane National Park and climbing one of its mountains. Kluane is a World Heritage site, a top wilderness adventure destination, and most of its landscape is mountains and glaciers.
The quote above describes perfectly what happened for me there. For that one glorious day, I needed to pay exquisitely close attention in a way that is very rarely demanded of us in ordinary daily life. If I didn’t pay attention, I could have fallen down the side of a mountain (okay – my more experienced hiking friend didn’t experience it as that dangerous – but I’m talking my reality here!).
It was one of the edges I confronted that day.
When we finally got to our destination – it was not the top of a mountain but a plateau high up. By that time, I had made it through my wall - several, in fact. And, it didn’t matter that it wasn’t “the mountain top.” It was exactly where I was supposed to be.
I found heaven waiting beyond.
It might have been the hours of hiking, the altitude, or the high of the many challenges overcome, but as I stood there surveying the vast, glaciered landscape, I was utterly humbled.
It was one of the most beautiful things I had ever seen or experienced.
As I stood there, I wanted to remember that moment forever as I became one with that place, that experience, that moment. It was breathtaking.
I owe a debt of gratitude to my hiking partner, who encouraged me; the mountain, who knows what is below; and you dear reader, who gives me a reason to write.
Have you had times and places in nature like that? If it hasn’t been lately, it’s time… Nature calls!
“Thousands of tired, nerve-shaken, over-civilized people are beginning to find out going to the mountains is going home; that wilderness is a necessity.” … John Muir
3. NEGOTIATION: A Breath of Fresh Air on Needs
“Find a need and fill it.” … Ruth Stafford Peale
In the conflict field, there is much talk about “needs.” We talk about “getting our needs met” and helping others “get their needs met.”
Needs are often seen as the reason people are in conflict. It’s not our needs per se which cause the problems; needs are universal - like values (eg: connection, belonging, pride). Conflicts arise over HOW to get needs met as we fight over whose solution will be the “right” one.
Although many in the field have incorporated other ways of working with conflict (narrative or transformative for example) – seeing differing needs as the basis for conflict is an ingrained way of thinking for all of us in a consumer society. We all want more!
So it was with great interest that I listened to Stephen Jenkinson’s take on needs this full moon weekend. Stephen is a palliative care social worker and theologian who is probably the most “ruthlessly compassionate” person I have ever met. Stephen’s seen a lot of death (800+) in his work in the “death trade” and the dyings have taught him a lot about living.
The piece that was such a breathe of fresh air for me went something like this:
“Enough with proceeding as if you’re needy. That’s just rubbing up against someone to get your needs met. We all have needs we can’t possibly satisfy. We are not built to get our needs met. So what do we do with this neediness? Just be. We are not obliged to stop being needy.”
I have seen how thinking about our own needs is a fairly hollow pursuit. Committing to both people’s needs is more interesting. However, simply accepting the idea that we are needy and that’s just the human condition (and that there’s nothing “to do” about it) is new for me. And what tied it all together to make this really sing for me, is what he said just after:
“Proceed as if you are needed. The world needs you to proceed like this.”
What a revolution! Feel our neediness then proceed as if we are needed. That is an incredibly powerful combination.
A vital piece, however, is to “get good at hurting.” This isn’t the classic British advice of putting up our stiff upper lips or just “sucking it in.” Broken-heartedness, Stephen tells us, is a skill to be cultivated.
The challenge is, as Brene Brown has also articulated, our culture doesn’t like vulnerability too much. We are taught in our North American culture to be tough, competent, and especially: emotion-less (especially at work).
So it takes great courage to actually feel pain and show our full selves. To allow ourselves to feel, however, is the beginning of the cultivation of broken-heartedness.
“Lean into it” my friend, mentor, and colleague Brian Frank often tells me. That’s good advice!
If you are interested in Stephen Jenkinson’s work, check out his website.
There is also a 70 minute NFB documentary on his grief work.
“A village can’t be made from not wanting to be alone, but from service.
A village person is a servant first, one who can after great learning say,
'These are my people. Here I am at home.' " … Stephen Jenkinson