Friday, December 24, 2010

From a Jew on Christmas Eve

by Miki Kashtan

At the last Tikkun gathering that I attended back in February one of the speakers talked about how Jews and Christians are united in their discomfort about the fact that Jesus was Jewish. So I laughed with everyone else, and have shared this insight with many others since, and still see that I personally love it that he was Jewish, because I feel a sense of connection with him that is rendered more meaningful this way. Which almost begs the question: how would a Jewish woman born and raised in Israel develop a sense of connection with Jesus?

Loving No Matter What
The year was 1991. I was having a fight with a friend during and after a back-packing trip. We were lying on my bed, facing each other, talking, and trying to get to the bottom of what was going on. We weren’t getting very far, though we were getting friendlier than before. Then my friend expressed an entirely new piece I hadn’t heard before: she was upset with me for not protecting myself at all. It drove her crazy, she said, that all through the trip I continued to reach out to her, extended my love and friendship, and tried to connect. I was distraught, to the core. I started crying, I just couldn’t contain my helplessness. I couldn’t fathom how someone could be upset with me for loving, for reaching out. In my agony I cried out that I didn’t want to learn to protect myself. I knew even then, before discovering Nonviolent Communication, that I didn’t want to learn to protect myself. And right there, in the midst of crying, I suddenly sat up, agitated and excited. I understood, intuitively, from the inside out, from within the despair, what Jesus was trying to do: he was trying to love no matter what. I felt an enormous sense of kinship with him. Not because I was anywhere near where I sensed he got to. That didn’t matter. I was on the same path, and I was not the only one. In that moment, without knowing hardly anything about him, I found peace and inspiration in this way of understanding his life.

The Revolutionary Defiance of Turning the Left Cheek
My second interface with Jesus came years later, when I read Walter Wink’s The Powers That Be. Page by page Jesus was being transformed back into what I believe he was: a revolutionary Jew claiming the power of love to transform the world he lived in, and willing to risk everything for truth. I understood the courageous wisdom provided in the Sermon on the Mount, where turning the other cheek thrusts one’s full dignity on an anonymous oppressor who would aim to demean by a common practice in Roman times: delivering a back-handed slap on the right cheek. If you want to hit me, says the man who turns the left cheek, hit me as an equal. There is no way I can do justice to the depth of analytic wisdom and historical scholarship that Wink calls upon to bring to light the message of full empowerment that had been masked as passivity for centuries.

On the Path of Nonviolence
In 1996, some years before reading The Powers That Be, I embraced the path of vulnerability which I have been on ever since. I didn’t know when I started that unprotecting myself would become a path of nonviolence. I only knew I wanted to reclaim every last bit of my vulnerability, just exactly the way I had it as a child. I started doing it for myself only: I wanted to feel more at home on this planet, more alive, without opposition to what I was experiencing, and with more trust of others and of life.

Little did I know that I was stumbling on a path that would call into question every small way that I responded to my surroundings. I would have been surprised. Now I am not. I am deeply aware how protection was completely woven into the fabric of my being. I have unprotected myself sufficiently to see the pull of protection and with it the contraction that limits the truly nonviolent options. My practice is strong. By day I find heart and inner sustenance enough to soften the contractions, to expose my heart, to find presence, to reach for connection. At night, however, when I fall asleep and my conscious practice is no longer present, the deep structure of protection takes center stage again, and my sleep is disrupted, vigilant, light. I have yet to make full contact with the deepest vulnerability hidden within the protection. I have yet to experience tenderness toward the act of protecting. I have yet to find understanding and peace about choosing to protect in the first place.

If I am to love no matter what, this means loving this fierce unbending protection in me, too. If I am to sink into the fullest of vulnerability, I will find the deepest place of love in me. When I can touch or imagine that love, I feel, again, kinship with Jesus.

In the name of his love untold numbers of people were killed, many of them my people. Not only in the 20th century. The Jews of Europe were outcast, castigated, attacked, and killed in large numbers repeatedly over the two millennia of Christianity. Speaking of love alone is not enough to prevent violence. We need courage in addition, the courage to face consequences, whether physical or emotional, so we can love fearlessly and remain soft and open enough to respond nonviolently to what we don’t like. This is how we can transform the legacy of separation, scarcity, and war we have been given into a future of love, generosity, connectedness, and the possibility of human co-existence with each other and the planet that so lovingly provides for our needs.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Receiving Feedback as Spiritual Practice

by Miki Kashtan

This week I finished teaching a 5-session phone class called Feedback without Criticism. The first 4 sessions were about giving feedback, and last night’s session was about receiving feedback. After last night’s session I have so much compassion for the untold millions who are regularly on the receiving end of both formal and unsolicited feedback which is so hard for them to receive. As a continuation to earlier posts on the topic of feedback, today I want to take a closer look at the role of self-acceptance in receiving feedback, as well as offer a few more tips to those who routinely provide feedback.

Conditional Self-Acceptance
In preparation for the class, I asked participants to read Overcoming Defensiveness, my earlier blog piece about the challenges of receiving feedback, which highlights the role of self-acceptance in being able to receive feedback effectively. With self-acceptance we are stronger, because our own view of ourselves is less dependent on what other people think or perceive about us. So it came as no surprise that people named the experience of someone catching them unprepared to give them critical feedback as being particularly painful. The deeper issue, as we learned together, is that very often our self-acceptance is conditional on being a very certain way. It’s as if we are telling ourselves: “I will accept myself for as long as I am always impeccable in how I do my work, or for as long as I always care about other people and the effect of my actions on the rest of the team members,” or whatever else you can insert there for yourself.

What would it mean to accept ourselves unconditionally, exactly the way we are? Imagine the freedom that can come from complete self-acceptance, without conditions, without having to be any particular way, without the pressure to be perfect. Imagine how much stronger we would become in facing whatever people say when we are not scrambling to hide the truth about ourselves. Working on accepting that which we don’t like in ourselves can reduce and ultimately eliminate the exhausting endless inner war in which so many of us live. With honest self-acceptance we come more fully into our place in the human fabric, alongside everyone else who’s also human, also glorious, also imperfect, also capable of making mistakes. We become less separate, and by extension more able to accept others, too.

How do we get there? By applying the core principle that whatever we do is an attempt to meet common human needs shared by all. Even malicious intent, however painful to acknowledge, results from some basic human need. Malicious intent arises when anyone is so caught in a desperate struggle to meet needs that they simply don’t see or experience any other way to proceed. Maybe it’s an expression of wanting to assert one’s existence in a situation of extreme powerlessness; maybe it’s an attempt to create justice (as violence expert James Gilligan demonstrates in his book on the topic); or maybe it’s an attempt to have one’s own pain understood in full. However unconscious these motivations may be, we can all understand them in others and in ourselves. The practice of self-acceptance is about identifying and connecting with the underlying needs that lead to any of our actions we are unhappy about, both at work and anywhere else. Doing this practice increases our self-acceptance and by extension our ability to make free and conscious choices about how to act.

Tips on Feedback Giving
Although harsh or critical feedback could potentially provide the gift of spiritual practice to the other person, providing feedback can be much more effective if we can provide it in a way that doesn’t require so much inner strength from the other person. I plan on writing a fuller piece about feedback giving in the future. For now, I wanted to share two specific and relevant tips. One is to ask, and mean it, whether our chosen time works for the other person instead of assuming that because we have something to say the other person is ready to hear it. The other is to do enough inner work before sharing feedback with another that we can truly imagine how much effort it would take of the other person to hear us. Then we can choose to express the feedback with complete honesty and yet with full care for the other person.

If you want to learn more about the art of providing feedback, you can still register retroactively to the 5-session Feedback without Criticism course I finished last week. If you want to learn more generally about using Nonviolent Communication in the workplace, you can get an MP3 of a class I taught on the topic a couple of years ago. Looking ahead, you may want to explore the MCR full yearlong program starting this coming May, and the MCR conference in March. If you are curious, you can get answers to all your questions in one of the informational calls coming up starting in January 2011.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Business Not as Usual

by Miki Kashtan

A week ago I wrote about facilitating a simulated City Council Meeting. That same day I participated in a real meeting that was very enjoyable and productive for those of us who were part of it. Sometimes I think that some people don’t even have an idea of how simple and easy it could be to function differently, and I want to offer, perhaps, some way of envisioning. I have a deep faith in the value of vision, especially practical vision.

This meeting took place as part of the Consciousness Transformation Community that I created last February. From the start, this community has been an experiment in doing things differently. I created a list of 17 commitments that together comprise my understanding of what living the consciousness of deep nonviolence means, such as “Assumption of Innocence,” “Openness to the Full Emotional Range,” “Risking My Significance,” “Generosity,” and 13 others. I invited people to join me in living these commitments and forming a community of learning and mutual. We have people in the group from North and South America, Europe, and Israel. I set up structures of support and decided for myself what I was happy to offer within the community. I created a gift economy structure, so that people who join are invited to contribute and are not in any way “required” or even subtly “expected” to contribute, either financially or otherwise. I had a very large vision for what we could create over time, and I was ecstatic to see the initial response.

Although vision comes easy to me, sometimes staying patient during implementation doesn’t. I confess to getting discouraged rather easily at times, which I am sad about because of the toll it takes on others around me. And here, too, as the first few months unfolded and I didn’t see the self-organizing happening, I became overwhelmed and worried that unless I did everything (which I was clear I wouldn’t do), the community just wouldn’t happen. As part of my own path of living these commitments I chose to share, in full, with the community what my experience was. I was deeply moved and amazed by how I was received. This initial reception turned into a structure that is now more aligned with my original vision than the one I initially created. Not only do I love the outcome, I also have been amazed at the process by which it came to be. In addition to my own coming forth, other people stepped forward and empowered themselves to make requests, offer themselves to the community, and express their longings, dreams, and concerns about the initial design. The new structure emerged from our collective engagement with all that was put on the table.

One of the elements of the structure we came up with was the establishment of monthly, open meetings for attending to community business. Anyone who is holding any responsibility for anything in the community (whether offering groups, or doing administrative support, or welcoming new members, or any other function, all of which are voluntary) is welcome to participate. In fact, anyone, even if not holding responsibility, is welcome to participate or submit agenda items. Our intention has been to have these meetings, themselves, be conducted in accordance with the commitments we have all embraced.

Last Sunday’s meeting had a number of agenda items. The one that engaged us for most of our time was the process for accepting new members to the community. I want to describe the unfolding of this discussion without getting into the details of the conversation, which would take many more words than I imagine people would want to read. At one point all but one of us were comfortable with the process as it has been so far. For a moment there seemed to be an impasse, because this person wanted something I was very much non-negotiable about. One of the commitments was primary in guiding our conversation: “Openness to Dialogue”. We engaged fully with attempting to understand the needs behind what this one person wanted. I was in awe at the care, the openness, and the presence. One by one the needs and their related strategies became known, until everything was heard. The result was a deeper understanding on all of our parts which led to a process of accepting new members that all of us liked better than what we have had. Along the way we discovered that one member was challenged at an earlier moment in the conversation and had lost trust, and we turned our attention to her. From this bit of conversation emerged more clarity about our process for deliberation and decision-making.

I am sitting here, writing this, and suddenly feeling almost inept at finding a way to describe how radical and hopeful this one meeting appears to me. I have been advocating that connection and effectiveness can go hand in hand and that full collaboration and inclusion do not necessarily mean loss of efficiency. Here, in this meeting, I experienced it in full.

Granted, we are not producing anything on which anyone’s life depends. And yet experiments like this can pave the way and show what’s possible. I am very hopeful and passionate about offering the building blocks of collaboration to organizations of all sizes that do have products and services on which others rely in a timely manner. Last May I co-led the first Making Collaboration Real (MCR) program, and wrote about it on this blog. The effects of that retreat were so powerful that we decided to make more offerings. We are launching an MCR full yearlong program starting this coming May, and an MCR conference in March. If you are curious, you can get answers to all your questions in one of our informational calls coming up starting in January 2011.