Friday, July 27, 2012

Expanding the Circle of Care

by Miki Kashtan

Q: What is the ultimate in codependence? A: You’re drowning, and somebody else’s life is flashing in front of you. So runs a joke that captures something fundamental about so many people’s difficulties in putting their own life, needs, and well-being at the center of their attention.

At some point in my life in the early nineties, someone suggested to me that I might want to consider the possibility that I was codependent myself. Because some people very close to me were getting tremendous benefit from other 12-step programs, I decided to check it out. Knowing that I was likely to be skeptical and not see benefit, I decided, before even attending the first meeting, that, regardless of how I felt about it, I would attend one weekly meeting for two months straight before evaluating. At the end of the two months, I left the group. The choice to dedicate these weeks to that group was nonetheless hugely beneficial to my learning. What I learned on the very personal level was that I didn’t see myself sharing many behavioral patterns with the members of the group. I could see their shared experiences, and they were different enough from mine that I didn’t see that I would benefit from staying. “Codependence” was simply not my issue. I appreciated the freedom I got through that.

I also came to understand, through being in that group, something about the power of 12-step programs to bring about miraculous change in people’s lives. From my own small experience then, as well as what I’ve heard from others over the years, I now see at least three factors that combine in that: a community that people can truly feel at home in; a degree of acceptance of human fallibility that makes room for everyone, regardless of where they are on their path; and a commitment to honesty and deep sharing that supports truth and learning. I was and am in awe of what these groups can offer people who are isolated and in deep need of transformation.

Friday, July 20, 2012

Eliminating Feedback Loops at Our Peril

by Miki Kashtan

Long as my recent entry about interdependence was, at one point it was even longer, because it included an entire additional section I had written about the role of feedback loops in supporting the interdependent web of life that we are part of, and about how modern life has been eliminating and masking feedback loops. The irony of cutting out a piece that was about eliminating feedback loops is only now becoming apparent to me.

The word feedback, which originated in 1920 in the field of electronics, has expanded its meaning widely to refer to almost any mechanism by which information about the effect of an activity or process is returned and thereby can affect the activity or process. Such feedback loops are built into the way that natural systems work, and they affect all life forms at all levels. Natural selection, as one example, is based on continual feedback in the form of which individual organisms make it long enough to reproduce. Whole populations of species grow and diminish based on such feedback loops. As food sources dwindle, a population dies out and as predators are removed from an ecosystem, a population of animals can increase. In places where predators don’t exist, a species can literally take over, as has happened with several introductions of non-local species that are destroying previously existing balances.

Our own human species, in relation to nature, has systematically endeavored to control nature with the desired effect of exactly those two outcomes: eliminating all of our predators, from large mammals to microbes, and expanding our food supply through the practice of agriculture and factory farming of animals. The result has, indeed, been a massive explosion of the human population to the point of threatening the continued existence of our civilization as we know it.

Friday, July 13, 2012

Tenderness and the Tragic Lens

by Miki Kashtan

It is in the nature of my work that people bring to me those situations that challenge them beyond what they are able to handle with their own skills. More often than not, I have the joy of supporting them in finding a way to go back to the situation and respond in a new way, with more love or understanding for another, with more willingness to express some previously hidden truth, or with more capacity to attend to everyone’s needs. From time to time, a situation that someone presents to me is such that I, too, don’t see a way that it can be handled externally. Sometimes, the only place where we can effect any transformation is internally, in how we frame a situation to ourselves. Since we are, as I often see it, meaning-making creatures, what we tell ourselves about a situation can radically alter our experience. 

One frame I find to have extraordinary potential for such inner transformation is the tragic lens. It’s a soft and loving approach which dissolves the stiff walls we hold up in protection from life, that softly embraces everyone and extends tenderness to insurmountable obstacles we encounter along the way to living a conscious and human life.

Understanding the Tragic Lens

Recently, during a call that’s part of my teleclass series based on this blog, I had one such opportunity to engage with a man, let’s call him Ben, who was facing a situation with so much challenge for so many people, that the tragic lens was my best offer to him. I suggested that embracing a situation as tragic rather than wrong allows us to mourn it, and in that way liberates us. It took some effort. Initially, Ben, like so many of us, couldn’t separate “tragic” from “wrong,” and remained outraged and helpless. He couldn’t see his way to having empathy for the person in his situation whose actions most affected the whole group. Gradually, he discovered that he didn’t have to first receive empathy for himself so he could let go of his reactivity. Instead, he saw the possibility that the tragic lens, which holds compassion for our human fallibility, all of us at once, could support him in finding tenderness for everyone in the group. The man in question would surely be horrified at the effect he was having on others if he had the capacity to open himself up to the feedback others were attempting to give him before they lost their cool and reacted to him, one after the other. He couldn’t, because the amount of mourning he would need to encounter would knock him out. The people who had been trying to give this man feedback and disappeared into rage and threats instead would surely vastly prefer to find a way to stay connected with him so they could be effective in transforming his behavior which had been so destructive for the group. And Ben himself, as someone committed to Nonviolent Communication with all its attendant intention to make things work for everyone, would surely prefer to have found an empathic way to respond to all, including himself.

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Choosing Interdependence

by Miki Kashtan

Sisters Inbal and Miki Kashtan spoke together, Monday, on
interdepedence to launch the BayNVC Telesummit.
See below for a free recording.
Many spiritual traditions converge with certain aspects of modern science in a basic understanding of life as one interdependent whole. In the natural world, for example, if predators are removed from an ecosystem, the herbivores multiply beyond the available grass and the entire ecosystem is endangered. Our global economy is now recognized to be interdependent as well: if one country falls into an economic crisis, a cascading effect can destabilize the entire global economy. On the human plane, recent developments in neuroscience lead many to conclude that our apparently separate brains are interwoven: others’ responses and expressions affect us in a direct way through mechanisms such as the firing of mirror neurons. These phenomena and so many others are examples of interdependence as a fact of life.

At the same time as our awareness of this level of interdependence is growing, our capacity as individuals to engage in behaviors that recognize and engage with our interdependence is diminishing. Interdependence as a practice invites us to consciously engage with ourselves and others in ways that honor and nurture our connection with all of life.

From Self-Sufficiency to Self-Responsibility and Self-Reliance

“Each of us lives in and through an immense movement of the hands of other people. The hands of other people lift us from the womb. The hands of other people grow the food we eat, weave the clothes we wear, and build the shelters we inhabit. The hands of other people give pleasure to our bodies in moments of passion, and aid and comfort in times of affliction and distress. It is in and through the hands of other people that the commonwealth of nature is appropriated and accommodated to the needs and pleasures of our separate, individual lives. And, at the end, it is the hands of other people that lower us into the earth.” -- Jim Stockinger