Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Power and Grace

When you think about power, what are some of the words or images that come to mind? More often than not, I’ve heard people associate power with domination, coercion, or extreme force. For many, their relationship with power is at best ambivalent. What if you were to think of power as the capacity to mobilize resources to attend to needs? What happens when you imagine increasing your internal resources, bringing more choice, decisiveness, and resilience to your life and work?

Wouldn’t you want a way to work directly on cultivating power?

Despite my clarity and strength, even relatively minor obstacles often interfere with my access to power. Since I hear similar experiences from many people, and since sharing my own experiences sometimes inspires others to live more fully, I decided to share with you in this post how I have been working to access more of my power.

Blocked access to power looks different for different people. My particular version looks like collapsing in the face of obstacles; paralysis and helplessness; giving up and resigning; or becoming abrupt, intense, or unpleasant as a way to scramble out of helplessness. Sometimes powerlessness shows up as waiting, just waiting – for the right person, the right circumstances, the right opportunity, the right project – so life could start, finally.

Practicing Power
Power would look like maintaining connection with what I want, and with a sense of possibility about moving towards it even in the face of obstacles. Power would look like choosing to live life fully now. It means choosing the circumstances in front of me instead of waiting. It means bringing all I have to life, to the world. It means risking disapproval and continuing to live the truth inside. That freedom is the power I want to have.

I have written previously about my gratitude practice at the end of the day. Now I start my day with an equally simple, almost mirror practice to work towards power. I review my day, what I know of what’s coming, not counting the unannounced, unplanned forceful flow of life. The next step is simply asking what I can do to be more powerful in each situation. What would bring more leadership? How can I be more intentional about attending to each moment to everyone’s benefit?

I slip away from the practice. Much of the time I lose my focus and wander. Or I don’t foresee the obstacles. Or I don’t know how to respond to them any differently from how I have in the past. This is the beginning of a practice, not the report on mastery. The whole point of practice is that when we start we are usually not good at what we are practicing. Still, even this early in my practice I can more easily imagine having a life that works for me. I can picture myself strong enough to face opposition on my way to share what I am called to share. I can see the possibility of being more relaxed, less challenging for some people. I am filled with curiosity about how it will be to face what life places on my path.

What about Grace?
This new practice creates an arc that balances power and grace. The morning, the power practice, is about thrusting myself into the world. I prepare myself to meet life. I gather my strength, my inner resources, all I have, to create, to bring my gifts to fruition. The night, my gratitude practice, is about surrender. I let go of any illusion that I by myself can do anything. I entrust myself to life. I focus on receptivity, on the gifts that life brings to me. I sink into other people’s kindness, their power to affect me.

Gratitude, nourishment, relaxation, inspiration, and beauty serve as fuel for life. Challenges, when we can meet them with our inner resources, serve as the fire that strengthens us. We become bigger, stronger, more able to face life, to prevail, to imagine new strategies to address obstacles, and new capacities to accept life. Without fuel, without grace, the challenges become overwhelming. Without the stretching, we run the risk of losing vitality, clarity of path, or our compass. I want both, in ample measure, for me and for everyone.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

What Shall I Write about?

Today marks 3 weeks since I started this blog. I can barely keep up with the new ideas that come to me to write about (9 more in store). So why am I turning to you? Because I want more! I want your involvement. I want to be responsive to your ideas, visions, and wishes. I want to co-create this blog with you. Here’s grist for your thinking mill.

Reaching for Vision, Understanding, and Inspiration
I often hear from people that they are nourished by hearing me weave a vision of how we humans could live on this planet. Others tell me how much relief they feel from being able to hear my perspective about what makes human beings tick, about relationships, about social structures, or about power relations.

So, shall I write more of what I’ve been posting so far? I have enjoyed the mixture of personal reflection and larger ideas a lot. Here’s what’s in store. I could write a piece about how we can learn and grow through feedback even if it’s scary. Or maybe something about how we can embrace more of ourselves by bringing tenderness to our internal conflicts. Or maybe about how I’ve seen conflicts within groups become opportunities for deeper bonding and commitment.

Lessons from My Own Humanity
I also hear from people how inspired they are to witness my transparency about the places where I falter, struggle, or am unable to live my intentions in full. Giving voice to my vulnerability, fallibility, and human frailty seems to give people “permission” to be their own full humanity.

So, shall I write more about my own journey, including my struggles, insights, uncertainties, hopes, lessons? Shall I talk about the many times when my actions generate the opposite effect of my intention, and describe what I have learned and continue to learn from these occasions? Or shall I write about my regular bouts of despair about where the world is going and my helplessness about contributing sufficiently, and share how I transform despair to arrive at vision and determination? Or maybe I could write about how tenderness towards myself and support from others are helping me learn to respond, in moments of difficulty, with a sense of choice instead of reacting based on trauma I carry?

“Dear Miki”
Lastly, I have heard from many people how much relief and strength they receive from me support them with empathy and coaching for their questions, conflict situations, and challenges. Others have expressed how much they enjoyed the Conflict Hotline (available as a CD or DVD, and freely accessible on youtube). Even though what they see or hear are not their questions, they find them meaningful and relevant.

So, would you like me to start a “Dear Miki” feature as part of this blog? That would be fun, too. You could ask about challenging situations in your life. Or you could ask to make sense of people’s actions that you don’t understand. Or you could get support to live more in line with your values.

Turning to You
So, what would you like me to write about? What questions do you have? What visions inspire you that you want more of? Write comments with your ideas, topics, and questions. No worry, I won’t wait until I hear from you. I will keep writing what comes from my heartmind – planned, or unplanned (the last 3 entries), regardless. I just would like to be responsive to what you want. I appreciate your presence in this corner of my world.

Monday, March 15, 2010

Bob Niederman, organizational consultant, Miki, and Yumi Kikuchi, Japanese peace activist, at a recent BayNVC Leadership Program residential training.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

What Is “Nonviolent” about Nonviolent Communication?

One of the most frequent questions I hear when I talk about Nonviolent Communication is “Why Nonviolent?” People feel uneasy. They hear the word nonviolent as a combination of two words, as a negation of violence. They don’t think of themselves as violent, and find it hard to embrace the name.

For some time I felt similarly. I was happier when I heard people talk about Compassionate Communication instead of Nonviolent Communication (NVC), because it felt more positive. After all, isn’t the practice of about focusing on what we want, where we are going, instead of looking at what’s not working? Why would the name be any different?

Like others, I was unaware of the long-standing tradition of nonviolence to which Nonviolent Communication (NVC) traces its origins. Then I learned more about Gandhi. I became more acquainted with the story of the Civil Rights movement. Then I fell in love with the name Marshall Rosenberg gave to this practice, and more so over the years. Here’s why.

Nonviolence as Love
The word nonviolence is the closest literal translation that Gandhi found to the Sanskrit word ahimsa. Although in English this word appears as a negation, in Sanskrit naming a concept or quality through negation instead of directly is sometimes a way of suggesting it is too great to be named. Indeed, avera, the word for love in Sanskrit, literally translates into “non-hatred.”

Hinduism is not the only tradition that honors the unnamable. As a friend pointed out to me when talking about this, Judaism has a similar practice. The name of God is unsayable in Hebrew, being letters without vowels, without instructions for how to read them. Some things are beyond words. And nonviolence is one of them.

Gandhi said: “ahimsa … is more than just the absence of violence; it is intense love.” (Gandhi the Man p. 53)

What is this kind of love? It appears to me that Jesus and Gandhi and those of us following their tradition through the practice of NVC think of love as the full radical acceptance of the humanity of every person, regardless of how unhappy we are with the results of their actions. This love is a commitment to act in ways that uphold that humanity; to care for the wellbeing of the other person even when we are in opposing positions; even when all that we value is at stake.

For the past 15 years I have been dedicating my life to this quest. I want to keep learning and exploring what nonviolence means. I want to live this intense love; model it as best I know how, and more; expose and seek support for the places where I falter; and support others who want the same, who want to grow their capacity to love everyone, including themselves. This blog is, at heart, an attempt to do just that.

Sunday, March 7, 2010

Two Medical Moments

On Tuesday morning I had the unusual opportunity to offer coaching and support to two women, one from Egypt and one from Sudan, who are heading a unique program in cultural competence for medical students in one of the Persian Gulf Emirates. Across cultural differences (I am, after all, from Israel), without any training in NVC, we connected, and they learned how they could change outcomes by imagining from the inside the experience of people with whom they were in conflict.

Why were they here? The students in the program they teach are generally open and receptive. But the doctors in the hospital, themselves from many countries, have been consistently expressing doubt and impatience towards the concept of cultural competence, even towards the idea of medical interpreters being present when there is a language barrier with the patient. What could they do, these women wondered, so that their students could get support when they are doing medical rotations at the hospital?

Can Conflict Be Transformed into Partnership?

I invited the head of the program to enter the shoes of a doctor, to say what they have heard them say so many times, and together to understand what their experience is. They learned, with astonishment, how different it would be for the doctors if they tried to form a partnership with them in addressing concerns rather than trying to convince them that the program is essential. We learned that the doctors are struggling with an immense load of patients who are often migrant workers and can’t see how they could take the time to engage in understanding the patients beyond just figuring out the symptoms and reach a diagnosis.

Then I invited the other woman to offer empathic reflection to the doctor that the head of the program was inhabiting. This took us deeper into discovery. We now, through listening carefully, discovered that the doctors wanted to be trusted in their ability, despite difficulties, to understand and carry out their mission to support the patients’ health; that they care about the patients; that they wanted respect; that they wanted choice about how they and their students would practice medicine. These women found out that the doctors would more likely be open to support them if they expressed directly and clearly what the experience of patients was that would lead them to create the program rather than by using the language of rights.

Increasing Resilience through Connecting with Vision

Then we talked about how they could nourish themselves and have more hope and resilience and less stress by connecting empathically with each other, understanding and being with the vision of what they wanted to create instead of “venting” and maligning people who didn’t support them. They experienced how the vision could be a source of energy, fuel for the work that is less likely to be toxic to them than the anger that sometimes arises in them in response to the obstacles they have been facing. Lastly, we equipped them with some materials and ways of learning NVC from afar, and with tips for how they could support and empower the students in these difficult conversations.


That same evening, I visited a friend’s mother who is dying. No longer able to go home to die because the transportation would be too painful and too stressful for her frail body, she was in a hospital bed, surrounded by loving people. I walked in the room, let her know I was there, and she opened her clear eyes and smiled fully.
I talked to her, but she was no longer able to respond except with her eyes and her smile. She is a woman of immense light, and I felt blessed to be in the room with her. There was dignity and love in the room. This is what I know the women I saw that morning want for all patients. I was glad to experience it.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Why Be Afraid?

On Monday, during a conference call with some colleagues, I found myself, for the millionth time at least, debilitated by fear of judgment. I knew on some intellectual level that there was no reason to be afraid. The other people on the call, only 4 of them, were close colleagues, all former students, all but one NVC trainers, who were there because they trust what I have to offer and who I am. That didn’t help. Although I was able to talk about the fear, and I was even able, to a significant extent, to make choices despite it, I remained emotionally consumed by fear.

But I made a leap in my experience, perhaps precisely because of the presence of trusted colleagues. A new question arose: Why, in those moment, do I generate fear (I, and so many others, I didn’t for a moment think this was unique to me)? For the first time I was able to consider consciously that fear, like every state we have, is a choice that our organism makes based on some internal process of considering what would most meet needs in the moment. This process usually remains out of our awareness. I had such excitement at bringing this process to awareness and investigating what could be the internal mechanisms that generate the fear.

Today, in a conversation with my beloved empathy buddy, Francois Beausoleil, we took on this question, and I immediately wanted to share the results in the hopes it can support others in working with their fears. First, a word about our interdependence. I believe this, and so many such processes, require the active participation, beyond mere support, of others in discerning what is going on, so self-knowledge combines with the outside insight of a loving witness to recognize truth.

The core insight that Francois and I arrived at is that the purpose of fear, the reason the organism mobilizes it, the need that it attempts to meet, is that of awareness and choice. Usually fear gets mobilized around essential needs, which either now or at some point in the past, are completely intertwined with survival. The purpose of the awareness is to ensure that real choice is made around the level of risk-taking involved with such high-stakes needs.

Given that so often the survival issue is in the past, and the present doesn’t actually pose a threat to our survival (as was the case for me on Monday’s call), how can we work with the fear to increase capacity for present-based choice?

I see two options. One is the path I have been on for so many years now, the path of vulnerability, openness to the risk, stretching our wings, recognizing our resilience and our capacity to survive that of which we are afraid. Often, we can use the specific strategy of imagining worst case scenarios and seeing that we can, indeed, survive them. In addition to imagining them, strength on this path also builds on success, on the actual experience of surviving, beyond pure imagination. This path, to me, is a core element of what it means to live nonviolently.

Today I discovered a whole new direction for working with fear. This is the path of tenderness towards myself. Fully consistent with all I have been teaching for years, just that I had never brought it to bear on fear. Fear was always, for me, something to overcome. What does tenderness look like when it comes to fear? This kind of tenderness is different from simply not doing what we are afraid of doing. It’s all too easy to remain within the confines of the fear, to give in to the contraction and intensity of protection. Bringing tenderness is about connecting with the underlying longing that the fear is calling us to make choices about.

Fear of judgment, on my part, is calling attention to how much I want to belong, perhaps. Maybe it’s about wanting the deepest freedom to be myself. Or maybe it’s about wanting peace and ease. Or all of the above. Bringing tenderness means opening my heart; holding those longings with utmost care; allowing myself, in full, to feel the depth of the longing, separate from what will or will not happen. This builds a different kind of strength that is soft and gentle. I want that strength, for me and for others. I plan on adding to my daily practice some form of meditation on some of those needs, to settle into this softness, so I can do what the fear ultimately wants me to do: be mindful and clear about my options when these needs are at stake in any given moment, and have full choice.