My Inner Mystic

reflections and insight into my healing, transformation, and journey of the heart <3

Category Archives: listening

Yoga & NVC: An Interview

How can we practice yoga off the mat?  One way is by cultivating and practicing compassionate or non-violent communication, toward ourselves and toward others.  Does practicing yoga in our communication sound like a stretch?

As I learned from my teacher, Karl, non-violent communication (NVC) has its roots in ancient yoga philosophy.  Marshall Rosenberg drew inspiration from the The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali when he crafted non-violent communication.  Ahiṁsā, or non-violence, is the first of the five yamas and the yamas are the first of the eight limbs of yoga (see sutra II.30).

I was recently interviewed by one of my yoga teachers and peers, Erin Goldman of Awakened Heart Yoga, about my studies in NVC and the relationship between yoga and NVC.  I invite you to listen to my interview with Erin as I share how practicing NVC is an extension of my yoga practice.  I speak of the idea that learning and practicing NVC is “stretching on the inside” and the importance of cultivating deeper listening to ourselves and others.

I was struck, in listening to myself speak, how much knowledge and wisdom I’ve absorbed and integrated from my teachers of yoga and non-violent communication.  I can hear their voices in my voice!

To read Erin’s introduction and listen, click here: interview

To only listen, click here: interview

“Compassionate action is a practice, one of the most advanced.  There’s nothing more advanced than communication—compassionate communication.”~ Pema Chödrön, When Things Fall Apart

“Since in order to speak,
one must first listen,
learn to speak by listening.”

~ Rumi

Inhabit a Feeling

A little over a month ago I began taking a course in non-violent communication, also known as compassionate communication.  When I share this news with folks who have not heard of or are unfamiliar with non-violent communication (NVC), I see confusion on their faces and/or hear confusion or curiosity in their voices as they try to understand what “violent” communication might look like or sound like.

“Violent” communication in this context does not refer to explosive or abusive language.  Statements such as “you are making me angry” or “stop pressuring me” or “I feel disrespected” are examples of “violent” communication.  In each of these statements the speaker is not articulating a feeling, but instead makes a judgement of another person veiled as a “feeling.”  And by saying “you are making me angry” or “stop pressuring me” the speaker is deferring blame, creating a buffer, and/or not owing what he or she is truly feeling on the inside.  I regard much of the language of “violent” communication to be passive aggressive.

What I’m discovering in this journey and practice of unlearning old communication patterns and learning and integrating a new, healthy, compassionate style of communication is how pervasive “violent” communication is in our society.  I am sure many folks can recognize their patterns of using the language of “you are ____” instead of speaking from the position of “I feel ____” or “I need ____.”  Furthermore, if we bring awareness to our collective patterns, we will hear how commonly people use the words “I feel” paired with a judgment or their perception of reality without even expressing a true feeling.

This journey is revealing to me how disconnected many of us are with our actual feelings and/or how challenged we are to actually speak to our deeper feelings.  Using statements “I feel” paired with a judgment not only masks our feelings but further perpetuates our disconnection with our inner most selves.  We become so accustomed to saying things like “I feel dismissed” or “I feel misunderstood” that we lose our ability to speak with fluency to our actual feelings; we are challenged to speak to or even name our actual feelings.

Feelings.  What are feelings, exactly?  Many of us associate a feeling with an emotion that stirs or resides in our inner landscape.  But how do we know what a feeling actually is?  How do we know what happiness is? gratitude? joy? exhilaration? What do we feel inside that tells us “this is happiness” or “this is gratitude” or “this is exhilaration”?  How do we come to pair a body sensation with the word for that feeling?  What signals or messages does our body give to us to help us identify or connect to that feeling? What stirs in our emotional landscape that informs us?

In NVC we cultivate self connection with our inner landscape, we cultivate a deeper listening.   We listen to our thoughts and we listen to our bodies – both, not just one or the other – to help us identify and inform us of our deepest feelings.  We use this listening to get underneath, to get behind historical statements such as “you are overwhelming me” or “I feel let down” or “I do not feel appreciated” to identify what we’re truly feeling and needing or to hear what others might be feeling or needing.  Over time and with practice, we cultivate the skills to speak directly to our feelings and needs without falling into old, passive aggressive, judgmental patterns which very often alienate us from others.  When we are more able to speak to our inner experience, we are able to own our feelings and needs.

I want to share and draw insight from a distinction that one of the members of my class shared that really resonated with me.  He spoke to the ownership of feelings.  He shared that to him the statement “I feel sadness” lacks depth of emotion.  He articulated that “sadness” expressed in this way is like an object outside of ourselves and not something that is inside of us.  He offered that when one makes the subtle shift and expresses, “I feel sad” or “I am sad,” there is a greater depth of feeling because the speaker is naming an emotional experience he or she is having instead of expressing something that could be perceived as outside of themselves.  By expressing a feeling in this way the speaker not only owns the feeling, but truly inhabits the feeling.

When we “inhabit a feeling” we are fully present with that feeling, we stay with it, we allow it to fill our entire being, to permeate our inner landscape.  Why might we allow ourselves to experience the fullness of a feeling?  I can think of two very important reasons.  One – happy and joyous feelings grow out of life’s gifts which, in my humble opinion, should be treasured and cherished; we choose to bask in happy feelings, to savor joyous feelings as these feelings are part of the gift.  Two – mournful and sorrowful feelings grow out of difficult moments or tragic events that can be, if we choose, life’s greatest teachers; when recognize an opportunity for learning, we choose to stay, we choose to feel fully.  When we stay with ourselves, when we “inhabit a feeling,” we develop greater authenticity. When we stay with others and receive their feelings, we cultivate harmony and connection.

“Learn to stay.”  ~ Pema Chödrön

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I bow to Karl, my teacher and model in NVC.  I greatly admire and respect Karl’s exemplary skills and gifts.

Beware the Angry Beast

The first couple of days in the presence of my older sister, our first time interacting in a decade, I did a lot of listening.  I listened to a lot of surface chatter.  No emotional content.  Nothing about feelings.  She talked often about things from our childhood, memories of my dad’s bizarre behavior.  I continued to hear a lot of talk about my dad.  On one of these occasions I asked her, “how did you feel when dad died?”

That question was all it took.  The heavy and closed gate around my sister’s heart opened up.  She said, “I thought when he finally died I wouldn’t be angry anymore.  I thought the anger would go away, but it didn’t.”  All these years my sister had been feeding the angry beast.  In her anger she had become emotionally detached and closed off, disconnecting from the family.  As I listened to my sister, I heard how much she’d been struggling with her anger, how much suffering she had brought into her life by feeding the angry beast.

When my dad died, my sister had very little to say.  She did not attend my dad’s memorial service.  I wasn’t surprised, but at the same time, it seemed very cold hearted and cast a light on her emotional detachment.  As my sister talked and I listened on this recent visit, she told me that she didn’t want to attend his service and chose not to come.  Why celebrate the life of a man who caused people so much pain and suffering, especially his family?  To her, not attending the service was an act of rebellion, one last chance to stick it to him and say, “you were a horrible rotten father and I hate you.”

The sad thing is that in choosing not to attend my dad’s service, my sister brought even more suffering into her life.  Attending the service might have been an opportunity to start healing wounds, to face the angry beast inside of her, and finally begin to put the beast to rest.  As I described the service to her and told her that in fact we were quite honest about the way my dad was and did not shy away from talking about the pain and suffering he brought into our lives, I could hear sadness and remorse in her voice.  She didn’t say it, but I could feel her regret that she didn’t come and that she missed out.

I get anger.  I have been there.  I have also felt anger and hatred toward my dad.  Anger is how I survived my childhood.  The irony is that my dad was an incredibly angry man. He acted out in anger and did and said so many hurtful and damaging things.  His angry beast corrupted the purity of his heart.  Anger can serve us, it can help us to survive great suffering, but it can also hurt us, especially when it turns into a beast inside of us and we feed it long after it served us.  That kind of anger will eat us from the inside out.  Listening to my sister, I heard how this had been happening within her.  Her angry beast was getting out of control.

Fortunately for me, I put my angry beast to rest a long time ago.  A spark of it lives on inside me and always will, but I don’t feed it and so it doesn’t stir and eat at me.  Instead of disconnecting from my family like my sister did, I stayed connected and involved.  I was there during a lot of very difficult family transitions, especially as my dad’s health and mental state declined.  By staying involved, I learned a lot about what things had been like for my mom as a wife and a mother.  I developed a lot of compassion toward my mom.  We reflected back on my dad’s decline and really began to understand how his mental illness made him a monster.  Seeing my dad’s decline also helped me to forgive him, to understand that even though he seemed rotten to the core, that it was the disease and the rage of the angry beast inside of him.  Somewhere within my dad, under the layers of anger and illness, existed his true self, a self of goodness and love.

Showing up as a member of the family afforded me many opportunities for healing.  My heart hurt to see my dad, who had once been so physically strong become so weak, losing strength in his body, losing control of himself and his mind.  Underneath all my anger, I felt a genuine love for my dad.  Rotten as he was, this was my dad who provided for me and took me camping and fishing and taught me how to ride my bike and made me and my siblings weed the giant family garden and pick and snap green beans.  This was my father who I wanted so desperately to be proud of me, to hear him say something positive about my achievements and successes, to receive some kind of praise.  Though my dad wasn’t able to say it to me, he was proud, bursting at the seams proud.  A young man my dad had worked with came up to me at my dad’s service and said, “so you’re Bobbi Jean.  Your dad couldn’t stop talking about you and all that you were doing in your life.”  What an amazingly healing gift I was given, the gift of my dad’s love and pride.

I am sad that my sister missed out the healing opportunities that had been available to her if she had come to my dad’s service, but her heart wasn’t ready.  Thankfully, she is now on the path of healing and getting the help she needs to put her angry beast to rest.  I am grateful for all that my sister shared.  I am immensely grateful that she *finally* opened up and spoke from her heart.  I learned so much from listening and gained so much insight into her pain and suffering and saw what has been going on within her all these years – an epic battle with the angry beast.  I alluded to her detachment and the many years that had passed between us.  I told her, “I haven’t been angry.”  In the moment I wasn’t angry, in the moment I forgave, but as I reflected back I realized I have been angry.  I haven’t been feeding the anger I once had toward my dad, but I have been feeding anger toward my sister.  Beware! the beast can have more than one head!!

May my story, and especially my sister’s story, serve to inspire each of you to look inward.  If there is an angry beast within you, I encourage you to be courageous, to look the beast in the eye, and finally put your beast to rest.  There will likely be much pain to face and challenges to work through, but if you stick with it, you can prevail, and where anger once stirred and raged in your heart, you will instead begin to feel the seeds of peace and love, gratitude and compassion, grow and blossom in your heart.

From the depths of my heart, I support you in your efforts to find peace and feel love.