Welcome to HEN - promoting compassion
for self (Health), nature (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.
Blue Moon: August 31, 2012 - Year 10, Issue 9
Table of Contents:
1. HEALTH - Calming Our Amygdala
Because of a course I'm working on with my colleague, Judy Zehr, I've been immersed in conversations and readings about the relationship between neuroscience and conflict.
Judy recently introduced me to a book written by Marsha Lucas, called Rewire Your Brain for Love. Lucas talks about the importance of calming our amygdalas. The amygdala is made up of two almond-shaped parts of our brain, deep in our primitive limbic system, responsible for deciding if something is dangerous or not.
The problem is, our amygdala is highly responsive. It'll create more panic and reactivity in us than is healthy for us - and others.
By calming our amygdala, we can be more responsive. Instead of seeing many people or events as intensely threatening and devastating, we can step back and see things in a more peaceful and relaxed way.
How do we calm our amygdala?
According to Lucas, it's through training our brain to be more of an observer than a reactor - through mindfulness meditation. Meditation is usually viewed as a technique for stress reduction, personal growth, and insight. But according to Lucas, daily meditation can actually improve relationships, enabling us to respond to others with more flexibility and develop our capacity for empathy, among other benefits. In fact, Lucas said when we meditate, we actually "squirt feel-good juice" onto the amygdala.
The kind of meditation Lucas is talking about is “mindfulness meditation” – a 3 step process:
Start by watching your breath for as long as you can notice it.
Soon enough, your thoughts will wander. At some point, you will catch yourself wandering. At that moment, bring your attention back to noticing your breath again.
Repeat: your mind will wander again, then pull yourself back again.
That action of paying attention, and again, and again - trains our brain to be able to be more detached from the daily triggers in our lives.
“Feelings come and go like clouds in a windy sky. Conscious beathing is my anchor.” … Thich Nhat Hanh
Even starting with 2 minutes of this practice each day can help. You can work your way up to 20 minutes, if you might find that helpful.
2. ENVIRONMENT - Forest Bathing
This summer has been filled with delightful opportunities to hike in some of the most beautiful forests around here – on our gulf islands and up mountains that would reveal majestic, breath-taking, and inspiring views.
The Japanese have a term they use to capture the feeling that comes over us as we immerse ourselves in nature – they call it “Shinrin-yoku” - which translates as “forest bathing.”
The concept of forest bathing was first introduced in Japan in 1982 by the “Forest Agency of Japan”. It’s grown to become an important component of a healthy lifestyle there. Research on forest bathing has been occurring for several decades in Japan, but not as extensively elsewhere. The research validates what we all know through experience: nature is good for us!
The Japanese have done extensive research showing that spending time in nature helps us create healthier minds as well as optimize brain function.
We in the West are just starting to catch up. According to work done by Stephen and Rachel Kaplan, when directed attention is fatigued, the ability to control or regulate responses is inhibited and spending time in nature heals this.
Mark Ellison’s research reveals spending time in nature improves the ability to focus and problem solve; enhances creativity and the ability to develop novel ideas; and reduces stress. The escape nature provides from stress and fatigue creates an oasis for reflecting on decisions and actions, as well as the refinement of concepts. The “cognitive quiet” that is so elusive in the modern world is easily obtainable in nature, facilitating a meditative state of mind.
We’re still very much creatures of nature, and the closer we are to our roots, the better off we are. The research starting to come together about the value of forests to our own health has implications for how our city councilors and planners choose to look at preserving green spaces in our communities.
For more details on the kind of research the Japanese have been doing on forest bathing, check out this 12-minute video by Dr. Alan Logan, a naturopathic doctor and the co-author of Your Brain on Nature.
“In my deepest troubles, I frequently would wrench myself from the persons around me and retire to some secluded part of our noble forests.”
... John James Audubon
3. NEGOTIATION - Reptiles Are Us!
Whenever I am involved with conflict, whether as a mediator, coach, or participant, one theme I've noticed is how easy it is to lose connection with our "usual" resourced self. It's like this other being comes out - someone reactive, self-centered, and angry - whether in ourselves and/or in the other!
I've been exploring this topic in-depth over the summer with colleague, Judy Zehr. Judy's both a therapist and a Master Trainer for the Emotional Brain Training approach. She has a passion for neuroscience and for many other modalities, and together we've been musing about, researching on, and sharing strategies regarding what happens to us when we get into conflict, and what we need to do to reconnect with ourselves.
From a neuroscience perspective, it’s becoming clear to me how natural it is for any of us to go to those "ugly" places. I say ugly as most of us are pretty judgmental about our own behaviours when we are in conflict and the reactions of others. Yet, as I hear Judy emphasizing, it's "only a wire." Or as my good friend Isabelle says, "It's only a pattern!"
These ways of behaving ARE a part of who we are... but not all of us! Yes, sometimes I can be forgetful and imperfect. I am not always thinking, feeling, or doing exactly the “right” thing at all times. To believe I am perfect or someone else is perfect, is to hold an exacting, and unreasonable, expectation.
Judy's emphasis on neuroscience is helping me see how those unresourced behaviours come from times when we are no longer functioning in our "adult" brain. That part of our brain is called the pre-frontal cortex and it operates well when it's well-oxygenated and feeling safe. It's the part of our brain that has the capacity to make good decisions, think clearly and act rationally.
The pre-frontal cortex is also the part of the brain that does NOT function well when we are emotionally upset.
It's normal to act "not like ourselves" when our brain thinks we are being threatened - which is what conflict is often about - the perception of threat or harm. When we are in those states, we are not using our pre-frontal cortex fully – we are engaging more of our reptile brains.
In my work (and in my everyday life) I so often see the tremendous judgments and denials about this "other" part of who we are. Everyone has a pre-frontal cortex and every one of us also has a reptile brain!
Think of reptiles - they are cold-blooded, "unfeeling" and focused on fight, flight, or freeze. Not particularly nice. We ALL have a part of us, then, that can become cold-blooded, unfeeling and micro-focused on fighting, flighting, or freezing.
I believe it helps to know this as it can help us be more compassionate with ourselves, for a start. Yes, I don't always act like the "adult" I want to be. But I'm human ... And being human has a rational aspect, an emotional aspect (our loving, mammalian brain) and a reptilian aspect.
Remembering that we have 3 parts in our brains also helps me feel more compassionate for others. Another can be acting in a way that's "not like them" - because they are not feeling safe. It's not all of them. It's only a wire!
If this topic interests you, why don't you join Judy and I next month as we co-host our new workshop, Stay Cool - Through Conflict. We'll be sending details in a special invite very soon!
“One does not become enlightened by imagining figures of light, but by making the darkness conscious.”
… C.G. Jung
Local WORKSHOPS in Victoria on Tough Conversations:
Available for organizations in Victoria, BC
Most people loathe conflict. I know - I used to be one of them!
Does conflict make you break out in a sweat?
When it doesn’t go well, can you feel a tension so thick you can cut it with a knife?
But, through years of practice, and study, and working in the field as a professional mediator, trainer and conflict coach – I’ve seen the power in conflict – both to damage and enhance relationship.
It’s all in how you approach it!
I pride myself on creating a learning experience that is relaxed, safe, and relevant. Whether it's sharing self-management tips, discussing hot button issues or describing how to bring up a tough topic, there's no shortage of conversation topics.
Most importantly, this workshop offers a practical model for how to start and sustain a collaborative conversation. It incorporates interpersonal communication concepts from Interest-based Negotiation, Non-Violent Communication, and Clear Leadership.
Getting Out of Your Own Way
Separating Fact from Fiction
Linking Feelings to Needs
INDIVIDUALIZED TRAINING (TELE-COACHING) - TOUGH CONVERSATIONS
Some of my favourite clients are managers and other people-oriented leaders who value relationships highly and have figured out if they put attention into their
relationships, they will get big dividends out!
In fact, managers spend 25 percent to 40 percent of their time attempting to resolve conflict (Washington Business Journal) - yet most leaders receive minimal - or no - training on how to resolve conflicts collaboratively.
If you'd like to enrich some of your relationships at work - whether with peers, clients, or your own boss, consider coaching. I would love to support you in strengthening your key relationships at work.
If you would like to set up a time to talk about your needs in this area, just email me with "Coaching" in the subject line.
“If someone comes along and shoots an arrow into your heart, it is fruitless to stand there and yell at the person. It would be much better to turn your attention to the fact that there’s an arrow in your heart.”
… Pema Chodron