Drum Your Prayers – Creativity & Spirituality

By Christine Stevens
(Edited by Jeff Newman)

Shambhala Mountain Center hosts Healing Sound Retreat with Christine Stevens, May 28-31 — click here to learn more

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“Life can become boring when the spark of creative fire is not lit in the soul of our spirit.”- Music Medicine, the science and spirit of healing yourself with sound

We all listen to music. Many of us dream of playing an instrument, yet most of us don’t. How do we move from being only consumers of music to becoming music creators?

Creativity is our birthright, an organic medicine of healing. No matter where these limiting beliefs originated, you are the one who can remove them and take action! Otherwise, you may never express the song of your soul that wants to be sung. As the old saying goes, don’t die with the music inside you.

The Science of Creativity – Mind & Body

In a study using functional magnetic resonance imagining (fMRI) to look at brain activity, surgeon and jazz pianist CJ Limb compared improvised piano playing to a rendition of a rehearsed piece of music. The results showed that when musicians used their own creativity, a very specific small area of the brain’s frontal cortex — the medial prefrontal cortex — became activated. This part of the brain functions in self-reflection, introspection, personal sharing, and self-expression; it is often thought to be the seat of consciousness. The medial prefrontal cortex area is also activated when we talk about ourselves, telling our personal story. Simultaneously, a deactivation occurred. The two larger areas of the frontal cortex — the lateral prefrontal cortex and the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex — were deactivated. These areas deal with self-monitoring, judgment, and self-criticism. It’s a paradox; the larger parts of the brain inhibit our self-expression, while the smaller part reveals the greater self. No wonder it’s a challenge to express ourselves creatively in music.

Are you ready to begin to be a creator; not just a consumer? Try these guided practices and awaken your Creative Spirit through rhythm.

This video demonstrates creativity. Done in collaboration with a friend, this shows a nice balance of masculine and feminine. This is improvisational and multi-cultural. Our prayer is for the beauty of dialogue of cultures, in this case of middle east and Native American. Music is the dancing ground in the center that unites people.

Shambhala Mountain Center hosts Healing Sound Retreat with Christine Stevens, May 28-31 — click here to learn more!

Jon Crowder will join me at the Retreat this year offering tai chi, African chants, and wonderful rhythms. He is the founder of Peak Rhythms based in Boulder, Colorado.
Here are a few more ideas to enhance your creativity;

1. Dance to the Beat of your own drum

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Drumming is an immediate portal into musical expression. Everyone can be successful immediately. Whether you are more comfortable drumming or dancing; both are great tools for awakening your musical creativity.

Click here to listen to the free play along track!

Select Rhythm (Chapter 3). Scroll to the bottom and play the last two tracks: Reviving Rhythms and Beauty Groove play-along tracks. Get out a drum, rattle, or homemade percussion sound and play-a-long, improvising the beat that only you can play. Each track is more than seven minutes, giving you time to get out of your head and into your drum. Remember, there is no right or wrong here; simply the joyful feeling of self-expression.

2. Tone your note

Toning comes from “tone,” a single note that is an inner sounding. Give yourself permission to sing your note, whatever it may be, and let it resonate your whole being. Trust yourself. Don’t think about it. Just take a deep belly breath and exhale a note. Now, sing the same note only louder! Repeat. When you complete the toning of your note, allow yourself time to sit with the vibration. Feel the resonance of creativity, of musical freedom reverberating through your body, mind, and spirit.

Shambhala Mountain Center hosts Healing Sound Retreat with Christine Stevens, May 28-31 — click here to learn more!

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Christine Stevens, MSW, MT-BC is an author, music therapy consultant to REMO drums, and founder of UpBeat Drum Circles. Her new book, Music Medicine (Sounds True, August, 2012) includes more than 40 guided practices and 50 audio tracks of healing music. www.youtube.com/watch?v=wUGTmeDh8E8

 

5 Things I Learned on a Meditation Retreat

By Ryan Stagg

Shambhala Meditation O'Hern - For Web5

At the end of a recent week-long meditation retreat at Shambhala Mountain Center another participant remarked about how difficult it would be to explain her experience back home. “We sat a lot, walked in circles, and didn’t talk much,” she said with a laugh.

And yet somehow after a week of performing this simple routine, often in complete silence, we all had smiles on our faces and a clear appreciation for the journey we had just completed. It was hard to pinpoint exactly what, but some transformation had undoubtedly occurred. The atmosphere in the room was simply lighter and more spacious.

There is something very radical about choosing to go on a meditation retreat. In many ways it stands in contrast to the speediness and excitement of our everyday lives. It also creates a fundamental shift in our perspective—rather than seeking fulfillment externally, we resolve to sit and look inside, at our own bodies, hearts, and minds.

The effects of embracing this contemplative perspective have long been promoted by practitioners and more recently by scientists. What’s fascinating is that the benefits don’t come from outside as we are so often socialized to believe. They come from within our own being. Somewhere in the midst of sitting and walking circles people continue to discover something magical. In Shambhala we call this our “basic goodness.”

To discover basic goodness is to glimpse one’s own inherent worthiness and completeness. It’s a feeling of contentment with things as they are. Of course there are many benefits of going on retreat and everyone will have their own unique experience, but I’d like to share five things that I’ve learned about the journey:

1. I had to take a leap. Breaking out of the cycles of everyday life to come on a meditation retreat is not easy. I worried about getting behind at work. The long winter was finally breaking and warm spring days made me wonder if leisurely weekends might be a better way to spend my time. I knew from retreats before that my back would hurt…a lot. The list goes on. A definite leap had to occur out of my daily routine and all the momentum it carries. It’s really the first step of the practice—to break the attachments to habitual tendencies and comforts. It’s a challenge to put aside a week or a month, but that decision becomes the essence of the practice; it lays the foundation for letting go.

2. There is no replacing the full immersion of extended retreat. I’ve sat a number of weekend retreats recently, which are certainly a good way to spend a weekend. However, I find something happens around day 3, a kind of immersion where the practice becomes a little more embodied, a little more effortless. Sometimes it’s difficult for me to sit even 25 minutes in a day but the transition to sitting hours and days at a time is surprisingly simple. The container created by the retreat staff and the other participants becomes a powerful support and I seem to find a hidden patience and resolve.

3. Relentless kindness to one’s self is key. The Shambhala teachings have really done a number on my idealistic expectations of meditation. When you try to be a Buddha you end up being very hard on yourself, when you try to be a human you end up being kind to yourself. The Acharya of this retreat led us in a three part exercise each day where we’d feel what we were feeling—maybe pain in the body or a particular emotion—extend kindness to that feeling, and then relax into the feeling of being kind to oneself. It’s a simple and powerful practice that helped me reintegrate the more difficult parts of myself I’d rather not sit with—the parts that don’t seem “enlightened.” This technique helped alleviate a lot of the conflict and struggle of sitting meditation and replaced it with a holistic appreciation of what it means to be human.

4. I felt a lot. Sometimes more than I’d like to. I find it amazing how the world opens up from sitting. Maybe distant memories in which I could smell my childhood home and feel the warmth of a glowing fire in the hearth. Maybe a rush of emotion of the deep love I have for a close friend.

We also had a much-needed “aerobic walk” each afternoon. I live here at Shambhala Mountain Center but each time felt like the first time I’d ever seen this incredible land, my perceptions were heightened, I could vividly feel the point of the pine needle and the pleasant ruffle on the water of Lake Shunyata.

5. I found a lasting place of calm. Many of us go seeking externally for peace and quiet, awaiting our next vacation or moment to escape. But real peace and quiet comes from working with the mind. The depth of meditation I cultivated on retreat is something I can come back to over and over; it isn’t based on external conditions. It’s subtle, but that sense of my own basic goodness grows each time I make the leap to sit a retreat. I couldn’t think of a more valuable way to spend my time.

Click here to learn about Dathun / Weekthun Retreat 2015 — Your opportunity to meditate for a week or full month!

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10524698_676605145764845_4615874047729965354_nRyan Stagg received an MA in Contemplative Religious Studies from Naropa University, and currently lives and works at Shambhala Mountain Center, where he explores the dharma as a personal, social, and professional path.

FLOW: I Move Because I am Curious

By Katharine Kaufman

Katharaine Kaufman will be leading FLOW: A Meditation and Yoga Retreat, April 25-27

I start in stillness. Then I recognize I am breathing. The breath appears to be more clear—prominent. I recognize a sense of body—what is touching the ground, what is a little snug, what feels tired. Hello body. I relax my jaw and shoulders and along with this, discursive movement relaxes too. Breathe out. I am landed. Where does movement start? Mind? A reflex? Breath? I move not because I am uncomfortable and want to change my posture. I move because I am curious. I am looking for what my mentor, Barbara Dilley, calls, “kinesthetic delight.”

I open my peripheral view to the others in the room. Pretty soon we are moving through space, slowly, and somewhat together. I don’t have to hold this body up—by myself. I think of my yoga teacher, Richard Freeman who always said we can “ride the breath.” And there’s a sense of support from the group. When we slow our movement we can take care of ourselves as we enter and leave the poses. When we slow even more we don’t need to push at anything. The breath seems to carry us. Gravity seems friendly.

DSC_2289Photo by Barbara Colombo

The creative yoga sequences are funny— and there is some laughter, and a few groan as someone is challenged with how to unwind from a pose. When we enter a twisted posture it seems that the breath is all that moves. Our entire body works as a unit in strong poses. When we balance there is a tremor. Someone who usually toughs it out chooses to rest for a while and then joins a little later. So it goes—starting simply, we move into more complex poses and then return to the simplicity of sitting or standing, or lying. We have been around the block -–looked into our alleys and windows… With each sun-salutation, plank pose, and savasana we feel both the limits of our movement and the expansiveness—We know ourselves as moving beings. After all this moving it feels natural to sit, so we do.

This is what we do with our short time together. This is practice. The land supports us in our practice. The staff understands. They are friendly and gentle. Other programs support us in our practice and the practice itself supports our practice. Zen Master, Kobun Chino said, “practice is a fancy word.” It’s not special. It’s ordinary and visceral. We have the opportunity to go to the depths as well as shallows, and to let our recognition of each current exploding moment expand us.

Then there are meals –beautiful vegetarian meals —waiting for us. We walk in the springtime mountains. Are there flowers yet? I forgot. It has been a long time. Maybe there is a puffy spring snow that melts as it touches the ground.

After lunch I walk up to the stupa and around the perimeter a few times. I only hear the sound of my steps on the gravel so I try to walk more softly to match the silence. This allows me to really feel each step and swing of arms, legs. The wind shoots through the land. I realize I don’t know much about wind, this land, myself…I find this hysterical and burst out in a big laugh. When I enter the stupa I am surprised by a rush of energy and clarity as I sit, facing the mystery of who I am, what phase I am in. I feel the vulnerability of this human life. Here, I don’t need much to be satisfied.

Being removed from my habitual routes and places gives me the opportunity to look at my thoughts, body, relationships, and days from a bigger perspective. Questions arise as we move through our practice—in relationship with our own mind and body. They are questions that can be translated to our lives. I may ask, Where is space in this back bend? What flows? What is necessary? With what kind of energy and awareness am I stepping on the ground? How gracefully do I perform these stops and starts? Can I let go here—and here? Is my movement too swift for how my body really feels? The questions are enough. They don’t require answers.

Katharaine Kaufman will be leading FLOW: A Meditation and Yoga Retreat, April 25-27 — click here to learn more

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Katharine_Kaufman2Katharine Kaufman, MFA, is ordained as a priest in the Soto Zen lineage. She studied Yoga in India and practiced and taught for many years at Richard Freeman’s Yoga Workshop and Wendy Bramlett’s Studio Be. Katharine is an adjunct professor at Naropa University where she teaches Contemplative Movement Arts and is a student of poetry.

Simplifying Meditation: Why Practice? To Wake Up!

By Thomas Roberts

Thomas Roberts leads The Path of Simply Being: A Meditation Retreat, November April 10-12 2015

These days you hear a great deal about meditation. This kind of meditation, that kind of meditation; all sorts of books describing what it is and what it can do for you. Often meditation is associated with a particular religion or spiritual practice. Let’s clear something up right at the start.

Meditation is not a religion. Meditative/contemplative practices have been part of numerous spiritual practices throughout history. No one owns it.

Meditation is not Prozac. It does not cure or solve anything.

Meditation does not make you a better parent, a better doctor, a better student, help you be less depressed or anxious.

In fact meditation does no-thing at all!

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 Like everything else that gets exploited, meditation is now neatly packaged for your consumptive desires.

Everybody is touting and selling meditation. Step right up and get yours.

Okay let’s restore some sanity here.

A meditation practice doesn’t help you overcome anything. It just helps you face your life with greater patience, openness and compassion.

If you do meditation for some outcome you’re not doing mindfulness. I’m not sure what you’re doing and it may be beneficial but it is not meditation.

You see, the real practice of meditation has no outcome. You don’t do meditation to get anywhere or achieve anything. If you do, you run the risk of becoming attached to that particular outcome and that interferes with your meditation practice.

So why practice mindfulness?

All the great teachers (Christian, Buddhist, Hindu, Toltec, Muslim, Native Peoples) have taught one thing:

The only reason to practice mindfulness is this:

to wake up!!!!

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That’s all.

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To wake up!

A regular meditation practice simply peels back the layers of self-deception to see things clearly as they truly are. The more you wake up, the more you are able to live your life from an open compassionate heart, and a balanced calm mind; from a deep place of innate wisdom. The benefits of awakening move in all directions throughout all your experiences.

Meditation is the awakening of our entire experience, not just our minds; the awakening of our entire body-mind and its sensory experience. This awakening reduces our fear-based reactions and cultivates our natural ability respond to others and ourselves with great patience, openness and compassion. Our senses become alive with wonder and curiosity for past conditionings and limiting attachments.

So let’s stop all this nonsense of trying to practice meditation for any particular outcome.

It comes down to this: Practice this enduring skill for its own sake, and everything else will take care of itself.

The simple yet profound practice of mindful meditation, whether on a cushion or in a chair, or in a grocery line, or talking with another, just keeps you in an open, balanced, and compassionate place that just makes this a better world.

The Path of Simply Being retreat will be a wonderful experience in developing a meaningful and beneficial meditation practice.

You need not have any prior meditation experience. Or you may wish to attend to deepen or re-kindle your practice.

Hope to see you here at Shambhala!

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Gassho.

Tom

www.thomasrobertsllc.com

www.innerchng.com

P. S. Here is a video I made of the practice of meditation:

Thomas Roberts leads The Path of Simply Being: A Meditation Retreat, November April 10-12 2015

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Tom-RobertsThomas Roberts, a Zen Buddhist and psychotherapist, has led dynamic, refreshing, and practical retreats on mind-body healing and meditation practices for over 30 years. This retreat will draw from his book The Mindfulness Book: A Beginner’s Guide to Overcoming Fear and Embracing Compassion.

In the Company of Women: Precious Knowing

By Katherine Kaufman

Shambhala Mountain Center hosts Precious Knowing: A Meditation and Yoga Retreat for Women, February 11-15, 2015

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I have the good fortune to be at the Shambhala Mountain Center at this moment so I can tell you what it is like in the winter here — at least right now. Still & quiet. Today I walked up to the ridge — maybe to get nearer to the sun. There was some trudging through snow and also big patches with no snow. I rested on an outcropping of rocks. A group of deer were close to the Stupa. They looked up at me and leapt away as if gravity were no problem. Inside the Stupa I was struck by what feels like the thickness of many years of people practicing. The good humored gentleness and authentic way of the staff feels so warming. I am called back to this place. This is one of my homes.

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My idea for the women’s retreats began from my sense that it would be great to gather, and do practices on the coldest day of the winter and the hottest day of the summer and that the retreats would reflect the seasons they are in somehow. Women particularly need gaps in routine to pause, leave their responsibilities, and have a time to reconsider where they are in their lives, and be with other women. That this is a retreat for women with emphasis on formal practices, is a big part of the title, “precious knowing.”

The Experience

Even though I have had many years to refine these retreats it still amazes me that something happens — it feels magical. We are very simply practicing together: gentle yoga, meditation, and a little improvisational movement in the afternoons. We take our naps, bundle up and walk in the forest and up to the Stupa alone and together. The group is small enough so that we can sit around a table for meals. We discuss things that are important to us, and begin to know each other in a way that is different perhaps, from our usual knowing another. In certain ways I feel like this must be how women in small villages live. It feels so natural, for women to join and support each other this way.

This particular retreat is one where I facilitate rather than impart knowledge and I also don’t see it as a training program. Although there is instruction and we are practicing ancient forms this retreat is really about participating in practices all together, as well as sharing our combined wisdom. On some level we each know what we need already. The practices of sitting, yoga, movement, and sharing help facilitate our inner knowing. Sometimes our practice requires silence, sometimes questions, sharing, laughter or an evening by the fire. Most evenings we listen as each woman has her time to share. We acknowledge our differences and find a sense of acceptance and kindness. So we do this for a few days — simple and basic. Time slows — or we — by our practice — slow time.

And from this work, and play combined with being on the land we begin to feel more of our inner experiences — something shifts in us — a crack in the view. Something that has been propped up melts, and underneath a sense of relaxation occurs. Our desire for some rest, connection, realization is simply exchanged for actual practice. We experience something tender. When we return to our homes, our ways and days, the practice and the precious knowing continues.

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Katharine_Kaufman2Katharine Kaufman, MFA, is ordained as a priest in the Soto Zen lineage. She studied Yoga in India and practiced and taught for many years at Richard Freeman’s Yoga Workshop and Wendy Bramlett’s Studio Be. Katharine is an adjunct professor at Naropa University where she teaches Contemplative Movement Arts and is a student of poetry.

Qigong for the Seasons: Spring Relates to the Wood Phase

By Ron Davis

SAMSUNG DIGITAL CAMERAPhoto by Greg Smith

The following has been adapted from “Qigong Through The Seasons – How to Stay Healthy all Year Long with Qigong, Meditation, Diet and Herbs” by Dr. Ronald Davis, published by Singing Dragon, 2015.

Spring is the Wood Phase

This is a heady, invigorating, sometimes disturbing season with wild fluctuations of energy surging throughout nature as birth, arousal, and movement. The momentum created by spring Qi gives structure and impetus to the world: young trees thrusting skyward, icy rivers flooding valleys, babies everywhere screeching with the joy of life. In humans, Qi rises like a slow tide coming up from its winter storage in the lower abdomen and moving into the chest where it stimulates the Liver with fresh vitality. As an infusion of energy, the rising Qi carries benefits as well as the potential for problems. The practice of Spring Qigong centers on using qigong exercises, foods, herbs, and meditation to nourish the Liver. In this class, you will learn how the Liver Network influences anger, kindness, communication, muscle function, detoxification, blood circulation, and much more.

During spring, the Rising Yang Qi emerges from the Lower Dan Tian (lower abdomen) and begins a season-long ascent to the upper and outer regions of the body. As it passes into the Middle Dan Tian (chest), it encounters the Liver. If this blood-rich organ retains stagnant blood and metabolic waste, which typically happens after winter’s inactivity, it will obstruct the Qi flow and result in Stagnant Liver Qi and Blood. According to Chinese medicine, the Liver controls the smooth and harmonious flow of Qi and blood. Any obstruction to this flow will cause a serious functional disruption in Qi and blood circulation. Stagnant Liver Qi and Blood, an all too common disorder, has physical symptoms of muscle pain, menstrual cramps, trembling movements, poor balance, headaches, neck pain, numbness in hands and feet, vision problems, digestive ailments, and more. The mental and emotional symptoms can run the spectrum from frustration and irritability to anger and rage.

Anger, stagnation, and kindness

When the normal emotion of anger becomes prolonged, repressed, or inappropriate, it often results in Stagnant Liver Qi. This disorder affects women and men, but because each gender exists as fundamentally either yin or yang, Qi stagnation usually results in different problems for each sex.

Men have innate yang energy; women have innate yin. Yang energy tends to expand outward; it’s active and dispersive. Yin energy embraces receptivity, containment, and concentration. The gender predisposition to problems of Stagnant Liver Qi hinges on men being more yang/fire, and women more yin/ blood. Stagnant Liver Qi, if not corrected, becomes virulent and flares up as Liver Fire in men and as Stagnant Liver Blood in women:

  • Anger > Stagnant Liver Qi + Men > “Liver Fire Rising” = muscle spasm, ulcers, hypertension, heart disease.
  • Anger > Stagnant Liver Qi + Women > “Stagnant Liver Blood” = menstrual disorders, varicose veins, insomnia, anxiety.

While disturbing and potentially dangerous, Stagnant Liver Qi can be effectively treated. Acupuncture and herbal remedies can release obstructions to the flow of Qi and prevent stagnation. Qigong can remedy the condition by gathering fresh Qi and properly circulating it through the body’s energy pathways and storage centers. Meditation will definitely enhance Qi flow, clear the mind of distractions, and nurture the virtue of kindness. Having a self-care practice of qigong and meditation is one of the best ways for you to nurture the great Yang Qi of Spring and benefit from this infusion of vital energy.

Most styles of qigong have three aspects to every exercise: body movement, mental intention, and rhythmic breathing. These three factors have shifting proportions depending on the season. Spring Qigong highlights expansive and robust external body movements. While doing these exercises, be attentive to how your muscles work, take notice of any soreness or restrictions and how that changes with practice, and combine breathing and moving to expel turbid energy from the muscles and boost blood circulation. Put some effort (gong) into Spring Qigong and reap the rewards of smoothly flowing Qi and blood.

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Ron-DavisRonald Davis, DC. LAc. Dipl Acu (NCCAOM) has dedicated thirty years to helping people discover their optimal state of well being based on physical integrity, mental clarity and nutritional support. As a chiropractor, he understands the critical interrelationship of physical form, physiological function and visceral health. As an acupuncturist, he knows that optimal well being depends on the essential flow of vital energy and blood throughout the body/mind. The integration of this knowledge with his extensive practice in medical qigong, meditation, and Chinese medicine has led to the development of a series of classes called “Qigong Through The Seasons” which is a comprehensive program of qigong, meditation and dietary guidelines that allows one to be healthy all year long.  Dr. Davis is the creator of the popular CD, Guided Meditations For Summer, and is the author of the forthcoming book, Qigong Through the Seasons. thehealthmovement.com

Freak Out! Or Not: An Interview with MBSR Teacher Janet Solyntjes

 

Janet Solyntjes will be leading Introduction to Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction, March 6-8, 2015

What does it feel like to FREAK OUT?! Becoming familiar with the early signs is the first step toward avoiding catastrophic fits of stress. Sound good? Learn more by checking out our recent interview with MBSR teacher Janet Solyntjes.

Watch the video or scroll down to stream/download the audio.

If you’d like to download the audio file, CLICK HERE and find the “Download” button. Otherwise, you can stream the audio below.

Also, please see these posts from Janet on our blog:

Janet will also be leading Living the Full Catastrophe: A Day of Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction in Denver, April 4

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JanetSolyntjesJanet Solyntjes, MA, is a senior teacher in the Shambhala Buddhist tradition and Adjunct Professor at Naropa University. A practitioner of mind-body disciplines since 1977, she completed a professional training in MBSR with Jon Kabat-Zinn and Saki Santorelli and an MBSR Teacher Development Intensive at the Center for Mindfulness at the University of Massachusetts Medical School. Janet leads mindfulness retreats in the U.S. and internationally and is co-founder of the Boulder-based Center for Courageous Living.

Core Skills for Nondefensive Communication

Shambhala Mountain Center hosts Emotional Enlightenment: Direct Path To Compassionate Communication with Paul Shippee, December 5-7, 2014

by Paul Shippee

“Anger and blame come from the

belief that other people cause our pain

and therefore deserve punishment.”

~Marshall Rosenberg

PART I

The practice of Nonviolent Communication (NVC), also known as non-defensive communication and compassionate communication, requires a “change of consciousness.” As such it involves learning some new core skills. These interpersonal, emotional, and relational skills are new in the sense of being an alternative to familiar and habitual emotional reactivity that is often unconscious. Mindless reactivity gives rise to behavior patterns that isolate us and give rise to life-alienating experiences.

The most important core skill, besides emotional awareness, is to overcome blame.

What I mean by “change of consciousness” is really simple but not necessarily easy. It is, first, to see how our old habitual emotional reactions result in behaviors that disconnect us from others and ourselves. Then, when we re-connect with ourselves in a new way it might seem a bit strange and maybe difficult, as though we are taking on a new identity.

We can change our ingrained patterns of emotional reactivity when we become aware of what they are, and how or why they operate in us. This awareness allows us to create a change of consciousness when there is sufficient motivation and interest to do so. A change of consciousness, then, is an awakening in our being that opens us to greater vision of how to live one’s life according to one’s values. What’s the motivation for this? It is the sense of isolation, alienation and suffering.

As Anais Nin said, “And the day came when the risk to remain tight in the bud was more painful that the risk it took to blossom.”

When we gradually learn to see that our habitual emotional reactivity is clearly defensive in nature, we can examine what it is we are trying to protect. We look into the question of whether the continual habit of both our gross and subtle defenses is worth it by considering its cost to openness, warmth, connection to self and other -natural human qualities that we might like to enjoy. The task here is to gradually transform toxic reactivity into responses that connect.

After seeing, in this way, our defensive reactions for what they are, the main skill in NVC practice is learning how to honestly identify and express feelings and needs. This often translates into vulnerability, a scary place for most people and often viewed as a weakness. So a core skill here that invites a change of consciousness is inquiry, to see and acknowledge when we are being defensive, why we are being defensive and how we are being defensive. This is a key first step because you can’t change what you can’t see.

In other words, obstacles and resistance to change will continuously arise along our path toward warmth and sanity. Long-term defenses that protect against feeling the pain of unhealed emotional wounds are entrenched. They have worn deep grooves in our present consciousness called habits. In the face of such obstacles we ask ourselves: what is blocking my capacity to see and express my feelings and needs as well as to practice empathy in seeing the feelings and needs of others?

We can identify four popular ways to escape and avoid feelings. What these four have in common is that they call upon external references and thus avoid connecting with what is going on within oneself. These four obstacles are:

-complaining,

-inventing a story,

-blaming & judging,

-shifting into analytical interpretation.

Most often we discover the primary defensive strategy in this NVC inquiry is blame. When we blame others or ourselves we’re not taking responsibility for our feelings or our emotional depths. Instead we are escaping, exiting the places inside that scare us. Sooner or later we might realize that to blame is to disconnect from others and oneself. When deploying blame (as a defense) it is like an attack; we are shifting and transferring emotional pain that belongs to us onto others. This defense mechanism is sometimes referred to projection in psychology.

Part of our inquiry is to ask: what is really going on when we react to a difficult message from others, one that triggers long-buried emotional pain and discomfort that we do not want to feel? The answer is that our reactivity is designed to block and defend against feeling those unwanted feelings because they hurt. I have learned that anger and blame are most often used to cover over and hide the hurt lying underneath. I have also learned that feeling these difficult unwanted emotions is healing. It opens the door to human connection, compassionate connection. This is the whole purpose of NVC practice.

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PART II

The urge to escape emotional pain is somewhat natural, a very strong habitual pattern engraved in our DNA and consciousness, in our being. But this learned behavior pattern, when no longer productive or needed, can be changed with education, motivation and practice. We can actually stop blaming others and making people wrong (so we can be right) and find that applying NVC skills can make life wonderful.

However, as long as we find more so-called safety and comfort in escaping and projecting the pain of our emotional wounds onto others than in taking responsibility by staying with the pain, then we probably won’t be motivated to change. We still prefer escape, whereas change involves the risk of communicating and sharing “what’s alive in us” …feelings and needs.

So blame, as a primary escape strategy, blocks the warmth and connection possibilities with self and others. Alternatively, the human connection of replacing reactivity with response feels satisfying and more fully human than our defensive strategies. However strange and uncomfortable it may seem at first, a slogan I created to capture the essence of how to change our consciousness, and take responsibility for our difficult emotions, goes like this: “cut the blame, stay with the pain.” Mastering this core skill is a healing activity that uncovers the natural inherent wisdom and compassion, spiritual awakenings that can open the door to authentic self-love and peace. On the other hand, bypassing this emotional awareness and healing opportunity can present obstacles to a genuine spiritual path.

Of course, there are many other subtle and not-so-subtle defensive behaviors besides blame that can block feeling and foster disconnection and distance, such as one-up-man-ship, interrupting, making others wrong, etc. Ideally, the wholesome process of NVC practice, preferably done in a group, will offer an opportunity to see through all defensive strategies and gradually move beyond them.

“The dynamic communication techniques of Nonviolent Communication transform potential conflicts into peaceful dialogues. You’ll learn simple tools to defuse arguments and create compassionate connections with your family, friends, and other acquaintances.”
John Gray, Ph.D., author, Men Are From Mars, Women Are From Venus

To learn more about NVC interpersonal relationship skills read, Nonviolent Communication –A Language of Life and visit http://cnvc.org

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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.

Ten Tips for Non-Violent Communication

By Paul Shippee

Shambhala Mountain Center hosts Emotional Enlightenment: Direct Path To Compassionate Communication with Paul Shippee, December 5-7, 2014

Non-defensive/Nonviolent Communication, also know as Compassionate Communication, is a way of relating to others so that everyone’s needs matter. NVC fosters connections between people rather than competition, one-upmanship or judgment. Shifting your attention to inner space rather than finding fault with what’s out there is the secret sauce for life-enhancing connections. Here are Ten Tips for NVC to get you started in the right direction:

1. Recognize and acknowledge that everyone’s basic nature is compassion and basic goodness, no matter what they are doing or saying on the surface.

2. Recognize and identify obstacles to compassion and empathy, such as unexamined beliefs, judgmental thoughts and old habitual patterns of reactive emotional behavior.

3. Cultivate emotional awareness in the present moment so that your reactivity is not projected outward onto others.

4. Become precisely aware of feelings, if you can, as they arise in the moment and move through you. You may have difficult reactive emotions that you are not conscious of.

5. When triggered into painful reactive emotions, realize that no one can “cause” you to feel anything. See your anger as a blessed signal – use it to connect with your primal, hidden feelings of hurt and fear that may lie hidden underneath.

6. Practice making neutral and factual observations instead of evaluations, projections and judgments.

7. Work continuously with your impulses that want to make others and/or yourself wrong, also known as blame.

8. Learn how to clearly identify and express your basic, universal needs without shame or expectations.

9. Practice what you would like from others without making a demand.

10. Look inside at your motivation for blaming, complaining or shaming others. What are you feeling now?

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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.

Bringing Your Practice Home

By Katharine Kaufman

Shambhala Mountain Center hosts Bringing your Practice Home with Katharine Kaufman, November 21-23, 2014

Many poets, thinkers, and dreamers have talked about the inner voice, and a time of changing slightly what we are doing. The nudge leaves us trembling or is just a whisper, barely audible. At certain times in our lives there is a call to listen inwardly and be with ourselves. Maybe we are exhausted from busy days, or we feel stagnant in our yoga practice, or we can’t find time in our schedule to practice. Some of us travel and need a short daily boost. Maybe we want to devote an entire day each month to resting, sitting and yoga. Perhaps a close friend has died, or we find ourselves at a new intersection in our lives and our perspectives are changing. We might feel dull and would like to re-awaken our creative voice.

Regardless of our circumstances, the call is there—nagging perhaps, or a faint insistence that occurs in the guise of, “I need to do something differently.” It could be that our feedback comes from our circle of friends or co-workers! Small cracks in our thought habits occur, and the thought of other possibilities enter. If we are listening to this inner voice than our practice has already begun. How to continue? How can we possibly attend to practice as well as keep everything else in our lives afloat?

As we go into fall and winter we have the opportunity to be supported by the seasons toward this internal direction. This retreat is designed to inspire one’s own path.

Shambhala Yoga O'Hern - For Web60

We will learn various ways to create yoga and meditation practices. We’ll start with this sense of what ritual is for us as individuals and then practice resting postures, and improvise from that place. We can create a practice conceptually, that has the elements we want, and repeats. We will practice the art of deep listening and let the space guide us. We may think we want one thing when we begin, and because we are listening and feeling closely, it turns into something else. We will brainstorm about where we find comfort, and delight, and think about places we can practice—conventional and not! We will sit, stand, and lie down. There will be led sequencing as well as spontaneous variations based on ancient wisdom lineages. We will consider incorporating contemplative artistic practices into our days as well such as dance, drawing, and writing.

My sense about this retreat is that the exploration and practices discovered are really ways to learn how to continue on the way of befriending, oneself. Can we take refuge; can we actually rest happily, in this rich sense of aloneness? What do we already know?

I practice by myself as well as with others. Both ways seem to me important aspects of learning of who I am and what it is to be with myself. This kind of closeness that develops creates the desire, ability, and confidence to want to be with others and our circumstances in a similar intimate way.

Here’s to listening to the small voice—our Way-seeking mind.

All Best,
~ Katharine

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Katharine_Kaufman2Katharine Kaufman, MFA, is ordained as a priest in the Soto Zen lineage. She studied Yoga in India and practiced and taught for many years at Richard Freeman’s Yoga Workshop and Wendy Bramlett’s Studio Be. Katharine is an adjunct professor at Naropa University where she teaches Contemplative Movement Arts and is a student of poetry.