Relationships that Work Beautifully

By Paul Shippee

Paul Shippee will lead a NVC weekend retreat at Shambhala Mountain Center September 13-15

megan smiling

The main positive effect of Nonviolent Communication (NVC) practice is to increase your chances of getting a compassionate response from others. I have found that NVC has an amazing result of disarming others as well as one’s own deeply embedded defenses that lead to painful conflicts. Usually, somewhere deep in our conditioned brain, we really think that our defenses are the best way to be safe. But, in NVC practice, we invariably discover that real safety comes from being vulnerable. This unearths a contagious authenticity that fosters relationships, both intimate and casual, that work beautifully.

girl staring at reflectionOnce we can open our heart to ourselves and honestly express what we are actually feeling and needing in the moment, we begin to glimpse new dimensions of life. We take baby steps in trying out vulnerability as a means of trust and smarter safety. This feels uncomfortable as it invites us into a larger world of undefended love and connection to others.

We are conditioned in our culture to speak from the head. The main learning in NVC is to direct your attention to what’s alive in you and become aware of feelings and needs as they arise in ourselves and others. We find that to develop compassion we must bring our attention more and more to the emotional body.

girl screaming at reflection

Even our most functional and fruitful relationships can be marked by judgment, criticism, and other self-limiting junk. When this happens, examine the link between pain and blame inside yourself. It’s simple but it ain’t easy. We are addicted to pleasure; habitually leaning into what feels good. By affecting another person whom we care about, we realize that this dedication to the pleasure-principle is totally irresponsible emotionally. So our escape is blame, and blame feels good because it lets us off the hook as we cleverly and conveniently move our attention to the other person. NVC seeks a softer approach to challenges and helps us to realize that a flow of brilliant communication, joy, and natural peace is always available.girl smiling at reflection

We have a local NVC practice group which has been working with opening this heart space and here’s a sampling of what they have to say about their experience:

Aliyah Alexander: Despite 30 years of working as a psychotherapist and doing my own internal work, I am still challenged every time I utilize Marshall Rosenberg’s guidelines (the founder of NVC) of moving from righteousness (being right) to vulnerability (the heart). Through this practice, communication becomes a stepping-stone into the spiritual realm, which involves moving into a place of empathy with self and others.

Gussie Fauntleroy: One of the most important things I’m learning is how to listen as if everyone matters. A lot of it is learning to recognize and accept, and therefore transform, my own longstanding habitual patterns of communication and interaction and ways of seeing myself and others.

Larry Lechtenberg: I used to go around feeling quite lonely and deeply longing to connect with people, and trying to always discover the “right” thing to make this happen. Now, I think much less; instead I try to observe closely, with the intention of becoming aware of what I’m feeling and needing, and what the other person’s feelings and needs are. This usually produces an amazing feeling of connection.

Kirsten Schreiber: One aspect of NVC that I find myself especially appreciating lately involves being able to go into a space where I can express myself and then step back and listen or imagine what the other person might be experiencing. Having the inner space for that without reacting doesn’t necessarily solve something but it can help me broaden my vision and see a bigger picture.

 

Paul Shippee

Paul Shippee, MA Psychology, studied Nonviolent Communication (NVC) intensively with founder Marshall Rosenberg and other NVC trainers. He has facilitated NVC groups continuously for the past 8 years and teaches NVC workshops around the country. Paul Shippee will lead a NVC weekend retreat at Shambhala Mountain Center September 13-15

Ancient Wisdom for the Modern Couple

by Keith Kachtick
relationshipsIn Letters to a Young Poet, Rainer Maria Rilke makes clear that a loving, romantic relationship is the practice for which all other mindfulness practices are the groundwork. “Love is high inducement for the individual to ripen, to become world for himself for another’s sake.” The ancient Tibetan tantric practice of Yab-Yum recognizes that romantic coupling is as an opportunity for profound spiritual awakening, a practice that invites us—deeply challenges us—to love our way to enlightenment.

Traditionally, in Buddhist thangkas and sculptures depicting Yab-Yum, the confluence of “masculine” compassion and “feminine” wisdom is presented metaphorically in the sexual union of a male deity, seated in Padmasana (lotus pose), with his female consort facing him on his lap. The symbolism is two-fold: Yab-Yum (literally “father-mother” in Tibetan) implies a mystical union within our own individual nature—the two Dharma wings that lift each of us to buddhahood; united, the two awakened beings (regardless of gender) then give birth to a romantic communion embodying the blissful, non-dual state of enlightenment.

Much easier said than done, of course. But for anyone in a committed relationship, the Yab-Yum ideal of unconditional love—borne out of opening our hearts and fine-tuning our communication skills, as well as deepening our understanding of our partner’s needs and desires—is an opportunity and wonderful challenge to recognize and celebrate the highest in ourselves and in each other.

Ultimately, it’s all about soulful harmonizing. “We know little, but that we must hold to what is difficult is a certainty that will not forsake us,” Rilke reminds us. “It is good to be solitary, for solitude is difficult. That something is difficult must be a reason the more for us to do it. To love is good, too: love being difficult. For one human being to love another: that is perhaps the most difficult of all our tasks, the ultimate, the last test and proof, the work for which all other work is but preparation. This more human love resembles that which we have prepared for with struggle and toil all our lives: a love that consists in this, that two solitudes protect and border and salute one another.”

Keith Kachtick and his partner Camilla Figueroa will be teaching the retreat Loving Your Way to Enlightenment: Ancient Wisdom for the Modern Couple September 13-15

Pelicans and Programs, Passing Through

 

As usual springtime in Colorado has been a battle between winter and summer with blithely absurd weather predictions like “Snowy, High of 57″ which should mean “Rainy” but actually means that it will snow and then climb up to 57 degrees, or vise versa. Some first-timers to SMC came in the middle of such a snow storm. These American White Pelicans stopped for a rest from their migration. While they are seen regularly in the lakes around Fort Collins at this time of year, we have been very lucky to have them visit us for a day or two.

Pelicans in lake with duck

Shambhala Mountain Center is a constant, physical reminder that we are at home in the world, regardless of a moment’s inconvenience or a freak snow storm. Our pelican friends are not the only ones practicing patience. At SMC, a cloud will come over the mountain ridge, like a bad mood, spitting sleet, and pass through the valley but this barely dampens our sunny valley. This is the perfect place for Anthony Lawlor’s Dwelling in the Sacred program to examine the qualities of place and placement that wake us up and instruct.

Pelicans with pronounced bill bumps

Pelicans spend most of the year in coastal regions, but the American White Pelican migrates inland to the midwest and western mountains (us!) in order to breed. The bumps on their bills tell us that they are in mating season. The bumps will actually fall off their bills once the mating season is over.

Bumps, lumps, and other awkward parts rise and settle constantly whether you’re a bird, beast, or flower. Chogyam Trunpa Rinpoche compared the cultivation of fearlessness to a reindeer growing horns. At first soft, rubber, awkward–very unlike horns–until the reindeer realizes that it should have horns. So too a person going beyond fear comes to realize that they should feel tender and open. Such change is nothing to fear. If you have seen a friend change over the course of a meditation practice, you know this.

setting up a tent in the snow

In this season of transitions, we are preparing for lots to come and depart. The summer Set-Up crew has arrived to populate our valley with tent villages. We’ve hosted programs on major life transitions and will be hosting more teachers who are familiar with the work of transitioning.

 

 

We will probably even host more migratory birds.


Hummingbird at feeder

What kind of transition has helped you wake up to this miraculous world we share?

Meditation & Creativity

flower bigNew York Times bestselling author Susan Piver will be teaching an Open Heart Retreat April 5-8 at the Shambhala Mountain Center. Susan discovered the dharma in 1995 after reading books by Chogyam Trungpa and Sakyong Mipham Rinpoche, who is now her teacher. According to her website, she practices a formal sitting meditation, acting right, being nice, digging deep, and forgiving herself when she screws up. Susan writes for the Huffington Post and has written five books, including her most recent, “The Wisdom of a Broken Heart.” Susan has generously allowed us to reprint this article. For more information on her retreat, visit our website.

Yesterday I read a tweet from someone looking for advice about taking up meditation for creative reasons. I don’t know this person and I’m not sure what they were looking for, but it started me thinking on what I would say if he asked me directly.

Some of you may know that I lead meditation and writing retreats that are about reconnecting with our own creativity and, beyond that, with the moment of inspiration. And after all, what is creativity exactly, besides a continuous series of moments of inspiration? Which begs the questions: what is inspiration and where does it come from? Can my meditation practice help?

When it comes to the latter question, the answer is “absolutely” and “of course not.”

To get to the reason for this interesting dichotomy, let’s look at the former question: what is inspiration and where does it come from?

Begin by asking yourself: “If I had to come up with one word that was a euphemism for inspiration, what would it be?”

Perhaps you’ll come up with something like “motivated” or “connected” or “awed.”

Fascinatingly, wiktionary offers us this definition: To infuse into the mind; to communicate to the spirit; to convey, as by a divine or supernatural influence; to disclose preternaturally; to produce in, as by inspiration. And this: To draw in by the operation of breathing; to inhale.

At no point is the definition offered: “to be clever” or “to impress.” Rather, the definitions allude to something far more simple, receptive, and intimate.

When I think of inspiration, the word that comes to me is “clarity.” Suddenly I see something that I hadn’t seen before—not because it wasn’t there, but because I simply hadn’t noticed it before. To me, this means that inspiration comes, not from conquering new horizons of thought or acquiring skills I had been lacking, but from relaxing into a more spacious view. This is why our most interesting inspirations almost always happen when we do not expect them, while showering, or dreaming, or driving. When we stop striving—even to be more creative, relaxed, or intelligent—moments of clear seeing are more likely.

Of course our meditation practice teaches this exact skill: that of relaxing our minds by resting attention on breath without agenda. The moment we apply an agenda to our meditation practice, even a great one like practicing in order to be more creative, its energy is drained. When we practice in a way that is both free and disciplined (the discipline of not applying an agenda), our innate brilliance is unleashed and in this way, mental and emotional innovations (aka inspiration) arise spontaneously.

One of the greatest teachers ever of the Enneagram (about which I am passionate), Chilean psychiatrist and brilliant thinker Claudio Naranjo, said about music, “Only repetition invites spontaneous innovation” and of course this is true of all the arts. You can’t sit down at your computer or pick up your guitar or paintbrush and command yourself to innovate. Much sloppiness results from such an approach, unless you just happen to get lucky. But we can do better than hoping to get lucky in art by learning to work with our minds skillfully and openly. Meditation is a very powerful way to do so—but only if it is practiced free from any and all agendas. At this point, one’s vision expands.

So, can meditation help you become more creative: Definitely. And no way.