Embodied Listening: June Tanoue Interviews David Rome

David Rome is coming to Chicago to do an Embodied Listening Workshop on March 4 - 6th at the Shambhala Center.  He’ll co-lead the workshop with Hope Martin, an Alexander Technique trainer.  Zen Life & Meditation Center of Chicago (ZLMC) is co-sponsoring this weekend and we had some questions for David in preparing for the workshop.

June Tanoue:  I have a basic question - your website is called Mindful Focusing - would you tell me what you mean by that?
David Rome: I had been studying Buddhism and practicing meditation for 25 years when I came across Eugene Gendlin's little book Focusing.  In it and in the training programs I did after reading it, I discovered what had been a missing link for me in my practice — a way of getting in touch with my feelings at a non-conceptual, bodily level.
It was a missing link for many of my Sangha friends, and after I gained confidence in my own practice of Focusing  I began offering trainings at many Shambhala centers and elsewhere.
After doing this for many years, I felt ready to write a guidebook to introduce my way of transmitting the Focusing practice. Since it was inevitably influenced by my many years of mindfulness-awareness meditation, I called my approach Mindful Focusing.  Embodied Listening is the name Hope and I use for our co-taught program combining Mindful Focusing, Alexander body awareness, and Buddhist mindfulness-awareness practice.
June:  One of our new Zen Life teachers, Dan Giloth has this question for you: Is there a difference between the felt sense and your physical condition, for example if you are physically ill.  How do you tell the difference?
David:  A "felt sense"-- a concept originally introduced by University of Chicago philosopher and psychologist Eugene Gendlin-- is different from sensations that are purely physical like a sore throat or nausea or fever. Like those, felt senses are experienced in the body, but they are much more subtle and unclear (initially) than physical symptoms — mostly we don't notice them at all.
They also differ from ordinary physical sensations because they always refer to something beyond themselves,  an issue or situation or experience present in your life.  They are the pre-conceptual, holistic way in which our bodies hold our individual life experiences.
For example, if we notice a heaviness in our shoulders even though we are not carrying anything, it very likely reflects something burdensome or pressure-creating in our lives.  By welcoming this sensation into our awareness, without trying to get rid of it, after a while we may get a fresh insight into where this heavy quality is coming from, and often that insight will reveal action steps to deal with the underlying life challenge, steps that we couldn't have found just by thinking about it.
June:  My husband and co-founder of ZLMC, Robert Althouse, has this question for you:  In Nonviolent Communication “needs awareness” is very important to skillful speech. But the need is always autonomous to the individual.  It seems that Eugene Gendlin speaks of needs as well but in a more dynamic way suggesting that the need is in the relational environment. Can you say anything about this and his philosophy of the implicit and the notion of carrying forward?
David:  Ah, Roshi,  a question worthy of a Zen master! There is no simple answer, but yes for Gendlin anything we experience as living organisms is by definition interactive.  Gendlin and Marshall Rosenberg (who created Nonviolent Communication) were both disciples of Carl Rogers and his "person-centered" psychotherapeutic methods.  They knew one another  and corresponded, and I suspect they would tell us that a person's needs  are both autonomous and interactive  at the same time.
So there's a koan for you, one we can explore further when I am with you in March.  "Carrying forward" is another key concept in Gendlin's philosophy, also not simple to define. It refers, among other things, to the fact that when we have a seemingly insoluble problem or blockage, the body already knows implicitly, though not yet conceptually, what insights or actions  or objects would dissolve the problem and allow the life process that has become blocked  to resume its organic purpose, i.e., to carry forward.
A gross example is hunger, which can be understood as a blocked organismic need that orients us toward food which,  once we obtain it, relieves or releases the hunger pangs. The beauty of the Focusing technique is that we can use it to find  forward-moving steps for much less obvious kinds of problems, by inviting and giving friendly attention in our bodies to the subtle felt senses that are, in a way, symptoms of the problem and which, at the same time, implicitly know what steps will unravel it.

Fire will Never Say that it has had Enough

'A'ole e 'olelo mai ana ke ahi ua ana ia. Fire will never say that it has had enough. The fire of anger will burn as long as it has something to feed upon.

'Olelo No'eau - Hawaiian Proverbs & Poetical Sayings #225 Collected, translated and annotated by Mary Kawena Pukui

An incident with my husband a few days ago caused angry feelings to arise in me.  We were preparing breakfast.  He was sitting at the dining room table waiting for water to boil for his poached eggs.

He began complaining bitterly (it seemed to me) about how we make so many announcements after sitting practice but don't announce what's really important.   He's said this before to me but not with as much emotion. I hadn't really heard him before.

But I heard him this time.   I also "heard" something extra - something that wasn't there - something I projected onto the situation.  I heard him attacking me in some way - suggesting that it was my fault that announcements of upcoming events didn't emphasize what was really important.   I reacted defensively and said, "Why are you talking this way?  It sounds just like kvetching to me!"

He immediately toned his manner down when he heard what I said and realized what he was doing.  I continued a bit harshly, "I'm just starting to have my breakfast and I have to listen to this?!"

We teach at our zen center that various situations can stimulate negative emotions in us.  When that happens we have a choice to continue to make more drama for ourselves and others (having the emotion work us) or start the process of working with the emotion.

The first thing to do - then or later - is to name the emotion.  For me it was anger.  Second is to identify the intensity of the emotion on a scale of 1 - 10.  10 being most intense.  Mine was 8.  If the intensity is over 5 or 6, it's best to have a cooling off period before doing or saying anything.  It's hard to think straight when you're angry.

Third is to identify the trigger.  The trigger was my husband complaining about the length of announcements, letting off some steam.

The fourth step is interpretation.  What is the story that I was telling myself?  My story was that it was my fault and that I wasn't good enough.  The story can be very seductive and may be quite habitual so even though the story is making you miserable, you keep staying with it.  Notice that behavior if you can.

The fifth step is to become embodied which means to shift the focus from your mind to your body and really see what's going on there.  You'll have to shift from "knowing" what happened to opening to a more spacious "not knowing."

Set your thoughts of being right aside and fully bear witness to your body.  The body has incredible wisdom.  When I did that, I noticed that my eyes felt a little squinty like there was pressure in my head.  I noticed my chest and neck felt tight, and my body ached a bit but honestly I didn't want to be in my body or feel too much - I just wanted to be done with the feelings.  I felt like I was caving in on myself.

When you feel this way, it's good to stay with the body because returning to the mind and obsessively thinking about the storyline is more fuel for the fire.

I eventually noticed an old thought going through my mind, a thought of not being appreciated or respected.  When I'm in that frame of mind, it's all about ME and the other person always seems wrong. But that's not helpful or true.

I stuck with that story in my mind for most of the day and observed how I felt.  I noticed that the story only fueled my feelings of being dis-respected.  When I got busy and let the story go, I felt better, but it still lurked.

In Non-Violent Communication, Marshall Rosenberg teaches that when people communicate they are just saying "please" (when they're trying to get their needs met) or "thank you"  (when their needs are met).  Many people aren't skillful when they say "please" because they don't even realize they have needs or understand that it's ok to have them.  So they overreact.

In the midst of my suffering, I did have fleeting empathy for my husband.  It's a big job running the zen center.  Since I'm co-founder we talk to each other whenever we're having an issue.  I knew that he was saying "please" unskillfully.  Yet because of my anger, I couldn't empathize with the burdens he carries.

Thank goodness for my practice of meditation.  It was a beautiful day and I felt like going for a walk.  I listened, walked in the warm sunlight, saw gold and red autumn leaves shimmering in the breeze.  It helped to clear my mind.  It wasn't my husband that was wrong.  He was just expressing frustration over a need that wasn't being met. But I didn't have to meet it, not then anyway.  Just listening to him would have been a gift.

I realized he was a catalyst for some strong emotions that arose in me.  And emotions are part of being human.  I moved through it thanks to my meditation practice and my relationship with my husband is stronger.

Meditation is an antidote to strong emotions.  It helps me to pause, breathe and observe without becoming absorbed and losing all perspective.  Slowing down lets us see with more clarity and respond skillfully instead of just reacting.  Reacting only fuels the fire.   These kinds of negative interactions are difficult but ultimately prove to be the best teachers for learning patience and humility.

by Sensei June Ryushin Tanoue Zen Teacher, Co-founder of Zen Life & Meditation Center, Chicago 

Beginning a Conversation on Race and Racism

transcribed talk by Robert Joshin Althouse Roshi given at ZLMC on June 7, 2015.

(Intro) We have Robert Joshin Althouse talking to us today about a very complex subject, that's so ... it's the water we are swimming in, so it's hard to even know how racism is affecting the way we are and think. So I'm really happy that he's talking to us today about this subject.

(Robert) Thank you, June.

So, welcome. The title of this talk is "Beginning a Conversation on Race and Racism." And this is a sensitive issue, and as June said, it's complex as well. There are two issues I can think of that are really sensitive: gender and race.  I've been in council circles around gender that have been really difficult, and I think race is also one of these really sensitive subjects that we don't really know how to talk about.  Ferguson happened, Baltimore happened, but they're no longer in the news. But that doesn't mean that what gave birth to the violence in those cities is still not occurring on a daily basis in all of our inner cities.

So, I think to have a conversation on something as sensitive as this, we need some ground rules so that we can feel safe and we can be ourselves. The first ground rule I would say that operates here is the three tenets of a peacemaker: not knowing, bearing witness, and loving action.

We start with some humility about what we know and how we know it—I would call not knowing "epistemological humility"—that's a big word, epistemology; it's just "how we know things" in philosophy. So, having some humility about how we know things. I'm a white guy, and I read this book, which I'm basing the talk on, "The New Jim Crow."  Ok, one person's point of view. And I read a few other things.  But I think when we have this kind of a subject, we have this kind of conversation, and I hope we can have more of them, there are going to be many points of view. And you're not going to agree with everything that I say. There are going to be many points of view, and I think we need to respect all of them, even if we disagree. So, no knowing becomes a guideline.

And then bearing witness becomes another guideline, in terms of our practice, and we can talk about bearing witness in a lot of different ways. We can talk about bearing witness to those aspects of ourselves that are disowned, but we can also talk about bearing witness to those aspects of our community which are disenfranchised. We all draw some kind of a circle around ourselves in our imagination about who we are, and who we aren't—and who we aren't is outside the circle. We all draw the line in different places but if you're really honest, there are groups of people in the culture and in the world that you really don't think about too much—we all do this—and that you're more or less indifferent towards because you don't have, maybe you don't have any common experience with that group of people, and we draw the line in different places. Maybe you draw the line and homeless people are outside the line because you have a house, or maybe they're not—maybe they're within the circle of who you consider yourself to be. But maybe outside the line are gay people, or trans-gendered people, or maybe people of color, or poor people, or people in prison. Oh, there's a good group—out of sight, out of mind. How often do we see prisoners? I don't see them, so... put them outside the circle of my concerns. You understand what I'm saying? So, when we're bearing witness, I think it's important to sort of be honest about where we draw the line. We are the world, we can say that theoretically in terms of Zen teachings—this is my world, it's your world, it's a sacred world, we're all interconnected, and yet we do tend to draw a line around how far out we extend who we think we are. So bearing witness is the practice of acknowledging those aspects in our community which are disenfranchised.

And then loving action arises out of practicing not knowing and bearing witness. Loving action arises because we are fundamentally compassionate beings, and when we connect in a proper way to whatever situation we're working with, through not knowing, not just imposing our assumptions on something, but really being open-hearted and brave, and opening to the situation and then staying and bearing witness to what comes up, then we're in a better situation to do something. Loving action is action, healing action. What can we do skillfully that will reduce suffering about the situation we're in?

So I'd say those three tenets are a ground rule. Obviously I think a ground rule is to respect all points of view. I think, from my point of view, a ground rule should be allowing ourselves to be politically incorrect. I think there's a fear when we wade into a subject like this that we're going to say the wrong word. And when you enforce political correctness, you drive our stereotypes and prejudices underground, and it's much better when they're out on the table. And this doesn't mean, we all have some prejudice and stereotypes about race. It doesn't mean we're necessarily racist; it depends on how you define that word. But we all have prejudices and biases and stereotypes, and I occasionally say things that are politically incorrect. And what I would like to suggest here is that we would feel a lot safer if we allow ourselves to say something that's not necessarily politically correct, to not have to worry about using exactly the right word, and maybe that will reveal, the way you say that, that you have some bias. And it might be embarrassing, but we're here to be a genuine community and open-hearted and to be loving towards each other, so we could say to someone, "That wasn't very skillful, how you said that" or something. But to enforce political correctness then drives prejudice and stereotypes underground, and then they become a ghost in the room, and then we can't work with it, or it's much harder to work with. It's much easier when people are openly racist and just come out and say so. It's the white liberals we have to worry about, you and me. We're all so correct. Ok? Does that make sense? Alright.

And if someone says something politically incorrect, please, do not walk out of the room. Do not walk out of the room if something upsets you here. That's an act of personal terrorism. You are terrorizing everyone else—"Oh, I don't like the way you're doing it, so I'm going to walk out of the room." Please don't ever do that here at the Zen Center if you are upset. Stay and bear witness. That's our practice. We're talking about something here that's going to bring up all kinds of stuff for each one of us. It's going to be uncomfortable sometimes, and sometimes you're not going to agree with me.

The other thing that I think it's important to understand is rank. Acknowledge rank when it's appropriate. Whenever we're talking about a subject like race, where there's power differentials and class stratification. I know we don't like to think that we have class in America, if you read any of the history books in school systems they never mention class—well, we'll talk a little bit about middle class, but we don't talk about lower class or upper class, or caste systems—we're highly stratified as a society in terms of class but we don't like to talk about it, any more than we'd like to talk about race. So rank—we all have, everyone has rank. You have some kind of privilege in terms of someone else.  And there's nothing the matter with rank, rank is a way that sociologists look at culture. So in any culture there's going to be a mainstream culture that has rank, and then people that are outside of that mainstream culture. So in our culture, the people that have rank are white folks, pretty much. Now there can be variations of this but, for the most part, white people have rank. White men generally have more rank than white women. So, I have rank, I'm a white guy. And I'm a Zen teacher. So I have quite a bit of rank, and I don't have to feel guilty about having rank, but I can acknowledge it. It's when we don't acknowledge rank that things get crazy. It's when the mayor of Ferguson stands up and says, "We don't have a racial problem in this city”, that's crazy-making. That's not exactly denying rank, but very often people that have rank are unconscious about it. And so it's important when we're in this kind of an environment where we're talking about race that rank be acknowledged. And often people that have rank feel very defensive about it. I have privilege, I'm happy that I have privilege. Police don't pull me over and frisk me when I walk down the street. I'm glad they don't. I have a pretty good relationship with police. There's a lot more we can say about rank but it's a dynamic that's going to be operating in any group that we're involved in here today, or any other, especially when we're talking about race.

The other thing I would say is that the victim, perpetrator, and savior dynamic is fundamentally disempowering. And we will slip into that when we have these kinds of conversations, we're bound to do it, but we can bring some mindfulness and awareness that when that does occur, that that's generally not going to be very helpful as a dynamic.

And then the last thing I want to say is the point about the dharma. I'm sure you've heard people talk about emptiness here now, the heart sutra, and maybe you've studied it. People for thousands of years have been studying this teaching and trying to grapple with it and come to terms with it. It is a deep and subtle teaching in our Zen tradition. And what I want to say about emptiness is that nobody is an island unto themselves, we're all interconnected here. In one sense we're all similar or the same—we're all in the same boat, so to speak. But another teaching about emptiness which is extremely important is that we're all unique as well. And in terms of the discussion we're having here today, I feel that the central teaching about emptiness is about diversity, about difference, acknowledging difference. There was a Chinese teacher in the early 7th-8th century China, Fau San, who talked about activating difference as a basis for generating patterns of mutual contribution for everyone to realize freedom from conflict, trouble, and suffering. When we talk about diversity, we're often using it in, I think, an unskillful way. What we often mean by diversity is variety, but diversity is not variety. Variety is something you can measure. I can look around the room and I can immediately see there are so many women in the room, there are so many men in the room, if there were people of color here I could say there are so many people of color. You can see variety at a glance. There are so many people with hair on their heads, and there are some people who don't have much hair on their heads. I don't see too many of them, where are they? So variety is something you can see, that you can measure.  Diversity is not like that. You can't measure diversity. Diversity is an emergent quality that arises when we acknowledge difference, our differences, and we allow that difference to be part of our relationship, so that we can differ well.  Diversity is how we activate and honor difference so we can make a difference together. It's an emergent quality, and we all have diversity, we all have resources and skills that are different from each other, and when we allow those differences to be here and be present, and honored, and heard, then we are ... to me that is one of the most important teachings about emptiness.  Any questions so far?

Audience: Can you say more about the triangle you mentioned earlier? The savior, the... I'm not that familiar with it.

Oh, the victim-perpetrator-savior?  Well, it can happen all the time but it's particularly easy to fall into this kind of dynamic when we're talking about a sensitive issue like race. It's easy to identify people as victims or to feel that we are a victim of some injustice. It's easy to... you might feel like you're the perpetrator of the injustice if you have rank, for instance, you might feel that I have privilege and I've benefited from that, that in some ways I've perpetrated racism because of my rank or privilege. Or, the other part of the dynamic is being a savior, falling into the trap of wanting to save the victim, and then demonizing the perpetrator. That's usually what happens, is that we're standing outside, instead of really bearing witness and being on the same level with all three of those aspects of the situation, we take sides. The policemen are the perpetrators, African-Americans in the inner city are the victims, and then we become the white liberal saviors. We're gonna go in and save them.  I don't think that's skillful. And it's very easy to fall into this trap. Does that make sense?

Audience:  Yeah, yeah. It seems like a lot of the dialog, or that's not even dialog, in our country or culture is kind of very much an Us versus Them. They're wrong; if they only felt like us, then everything would be great whether you're on the Right or the Left. And that's obviously going nowhere. 

Yes, I agree.

Audience: I think it (the victim-perpetrator-savior) also has to do with the concept of not taking responsibility for one's actions and blaming the other person. And that can happen on several levels, not only personal but societal and worldwide. They did this to me, or I'm not to blame, or poor me, that kind of thing. 

So this dynamic will come up a lot. Dan and I were talking to Charles Perry the other day, the wonderful black African-American man, who spent some of his life in prison, and is now actively working with Dan in Austin, and is a wonderful guy. And I started to talk to him about some of the stuff I'm going to talk to you about today, and he started pushing back. He started saying "Well we have choices in the ghetto, I have choices, I made bad choices." And I was telling Dan later, I realized the dynamic that got set up there was he's looking at me as a white liberal who's gonna talk about all the injustices which he actually, I'm sure, he agrees with, but in this context when he's talking to me, he's not a victim. He's overcome all that. He doesn't want me to see him as a victim of the injustice. So he's pushing back and saying "You know I had choices, I made choices, and I've come up, you know, I pulled myself up." And I totally got it. See, there's a dynamic that's going to go on in these conversations and we have to really be aware that everyone's got a different point of view, and everyone's gonna come from a different place. It was very helpful talking to him, because it took my own liberal righteousness and really dampened it down and made me feel much more humble about what I'm talking about today. I'm just telling you my point of view, and I do not have the truth with the capital T. I've read a book. Ok? I've read a few things.

Audience: Who’s the author of the book Joshin?

Michelle Alexander. I highly recommend the book. It's a little hard reading, but well-researched. What I would say, and I'm going to talk about what she said, is that she's painting this with a broad brush.

So I want to start this conversation saying that it seems to me that how we think about race today is that we are color-blind. We sort of value being color-blind. The idea is that we've gotten beyond race. Well, Barack Obama is an African-American and he's our President, and we can certainly point out other people of color that have excelled in extraordinary ways. Colin Powell. Oprah Winfrey. So in our heads we think well, if we've achieved that, if we have a African-American who's President, then we must have overcome race and race is really no longer something we should be talking about or pointing out because it's kind of, it's really not there anymore. We're an egalitarian democracy, you know, and everyone has a fighting chance, and so on. So we tend to be color-blind. I think that's not helpful. People define racism in lots of different ways. For the purposes of our conversation today, I'm going to define racism as a policy which is systemic to an institution, is embedded in the structure of an institution, which allows people within that institution or associated with it to act in ways which are discriminatory and racist. But without that policy, it would be very difficult for individuals to be racist. That's how I'm going to talk about it. Do you understand what I'm saying? So, you can say that in the South, when there were Jim Crow laws and things that created discrimination, that system of laws allowed people in the South to feel free to do things that were discriminatory and prejudiced against African-Americans. But if there hadn't been that system of Jim Crow laws in the governmental institutions, then it would have been harder for individuals to go out and put on white hoods and hang people, and do awful things. So that's how I'm going to define it. And I think it's useful, at least for the purposes of this discussion, to think of racism that is held in place by policies and institutional cultures. So it's not enough just to say we need to tweak something in the police department, like community policing. Let's put cameras on their heads. Well, that would be great, but that's not going to address the fundamental nature of racism in our culture. And I do believe, from my own reading, that racism is probably the most important shadow issue in the history and legacy of our country. It's the underbelly of who we are.

The notion of race began the minute we started colonizing the Americas and we said "The Indians are savages. They're in the way." We started slavery, and couldn't really enslave Indians because they have tribes and they can come and create a lot of trouble, but hey, you could import black people from Africa and divide their families, so they had very little power. They were easy to make slaves. So from the very moment that we founded this country and the notion of manifest destiny was brought up, you know, we have a right as white people, to take—we need more land. First of all, slavery is working, and there's these Indians in the way. We need land, and more slaves, and they're down there in the South and Southeast, down in Florida, and we've got to move them out. After all, they're savages. The moment we had the notion that we were superior over anybody because of race, we began the whole journey that we've taken as a country. So, race has been a part of our history from the very beginning.  So I'm not going to go through all the history, but obviously we had slavery, we fought a civil war to bring the union together and in some respects to end slavery. Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation, and slaves were freed. And there was a Reconstruction period where the federal government occupied the South up to a point, that was until ... roughly from 1865 to 1877. And in 1877 the federal government withdrew from the South. And the South, after the war, was in shambles and ruins and disoriented, and didn't know how to proceed. Slavery had been a huge part of the economy. So, what happened is that from 1868 to 1963, Jim Crow laws started to be put in place, and these were laws on the books that could arrest African Americans, primarily, for vagrancy, or being uppity, or mischievous behavior. If you had a debt, you could be arrested and put in prison, and end up being contract labor. Basically, you would go to prison and you weren't called a slave, but they would send you out to a plantation every day and you would work. So they still had slavery through the Jim Crow laws. And there were all kinds of intimidations that went with the Jim Crow era—there was the Ku Klux Klan, there were councils, there were ways to intimidate. Even though black people could supposedly vote, it was pretty intimidating for an African American to go to the polls. They had poll taxes, they had all kinds of things that made it hard to vote. And they had these people around in scary white sheets that were anonymous and could kill you, and did. So the Jim Crow laws were actively racist, discriminatory, they were out in the open. Everyone knew what was being done. There was no ambiguity about it at all.

And then we had the Civil Rights movement, roughly from 1954-1968, in which we had extraordinary people—Martin Luther King is one very fine example—who really began to question the injustice of the discrimination against people of color, mostly in the South but also in the North. Martin Luther King came to Chicago and people threw rocks at him. Here. So, there was the Civil Rights Act of 1964 which formally dismantled the Jim Crow laws, the Jim Crow system.

And then what's really interesting is that there was a kind of backlash against the Civil Rights movement. In 1982, Reagan declared the War on Drugs. At the time, and as part of that federal policy, he directed local and state law enforcement agencies to begin directing their resources toward arresting and putting in prison drug users—people that were using drugs. The only problem was that at the time he declared this War on Drugs there was not a drug problem in the inner cities. And so the law enforcement agencies would take a double-take and say "what? You want us to stop going after criminals and go after people that smoke marijuana or take heroin or something, but there's not that many of them here. Besides, it's a state's rights issue. You have no right to tell us what to do, you're the federal government. We're the states, and so we can do what we want to do. We don't like the federal government  telling us what to do." So in a very short period of time, the federal government realized that in order to make this War on Drugs work, they were going to have to give financial incentives to local and state law enforcement agencies to have them use their resources to go after drug offenses, which is what they did. They started pouring enormous sums of money into local and state law enforcement agencies and within a very short period of time, those agencies which had resisted the federal policy were now competing for funds and training and equipment. And within a couple more years after Reagan had announced the War on Drugs, lo and behold, crack cocaine starts flowing into the inner cities of America from South America. Guess where it was coming from? It was coming from the Contras, who were fighting a civil war in Nicaragua against the Sandinistas. Remember that? And in 1968 the CIA admitted that they were supporting the Contras. It's never been proved that the CIA was actively funneling drugs, or crack cocaine, into the inner cities, but Gary Webb wrote quite a few articles in the San Jose Mercury News about this as a kind of a conspiracy theory—that the CIA very much knew about drugs going into the inner cities and was actively supporting it. And he wrote a book on it called Dark Alliance. I think he eventually committed suicide. So, whether you buy into the conspiracy theory or not, what's the matter with this picture? We declared War on Drugs, and it's primarily being directed towards the inner cities—poor people, people of color—rounding them up, putting them in prison, not for violent crimes but for nonviolent drug offenses, drug possession of marijuana, and they're being put in prison, and at the same time our federal government, through the CIA, is supporting the Contras in South America, who are actively bringing crack cocaine into America. What's the matter with that picture? Does anyone feel some kind of disconnect here?

So, I don't want to quote a lot of figures because it will get overwhelming, but I need to just give you a picture of what happened with the drug war in terms of the amounts of money we're talking about. From 1980 to 1984, the FBI anti-drug funding increased from $8 million to $95 million. For the same period, the Department of Defense anti-drug budget increased from $33 million in 1981 in to $1,042 million in 1991. The Drug Enforcement Agency increased their budget from $86 million to $1,026 million. The FBI increased their budget from $31 million to $181 million for anti-drug activity. And the National Institute of Drug Abuse, which would be an institution that's trying to actually help people with addictions, their budget was *decreased* from $274 million to $57 million. So at the time that crack—make no doubt about it, crack cocaine is an awful, awful drug, let's be clear, it was a terrible drug—as crack cocaine was coming primarily into inner cities, into poor black neighborhoods, there was a huge, sensational media blitz about all the horrible drug crimes that were happening in the inner city. Do you remember this? Do you remember the Willie Horton ads? That was a very effective ad. So there was all this talk—and Nixon excelled at it, the coded words, "crack mothers," "welfare queens," "welfare mothers"—these are coded words for poor, black mother in the inner city that's lazy, and, you know, it's a coded word. Now they can't come out and say "black person in the inner city" but they can say "welfare mother"... or "predatory criminals." So instead of using out-and-out racist language, the War on Drugs became a new kind of Jim Crow system in which you're using language around crime as a kind of code for "poor black people in the inner cities."  And there was a lot of sensational media stuff about the scariness of crack and, primarily, the crack crime (which was not actually increasing), but the terrible people that were using that and how awful it was.

So if you're really honest, and you just thought for a moment, if you picture in your mind a criminal, what do they look like?

Audience: Big, dark and scary.

Audience: Wearing a hoodie.

 

And probably having a gun, too. And we pretty much all have that image if we're honest. No one says "Rod Blagojevich." So, once the drug war got underway—and what's really surprising and shocking is that at the time, in the beginning of the '80s, sociologists were talking about prison systems, that they were almost disappearing. They really weren't needed. We had some, we didn't have a lot, and though crime rates rose from the '60s and the '70s, after the '70s they sort of leveled out. So, the prison system blossomed and increased enormously once the War on Drugs was announced and got under way. More prisons were built—they had to build more prisons to house all the people they were rounding up in the inner cities and arresting. Once these people, primarily young black men but also other people of color, Latinos, Latinas, women, immigrants, Native American Indians, but mostly black people, African Americans, African-American young men, being rounded up and put into prison for the slightest offense, you know—possession of marijuana, they smoke crack, they weren't really going after or arresting the drug kingpins, they were arresting low-level, non-violent drug offenders, primarily. And they were giving them big sentences and they eventually had mandatory sentences which, for a first-time offense, you could get five, ten years in prison. Now that's not the worst part of this. Regardless of the amount of time someone spent in prison, whether it was 10 years or 20 years or 1 year or 1 month, they come out of that prison system and now they are labeled a felon, a criminal. That meant that they could not vote, they could not serve on a jury, they could not get food stamps, they could not get public housing, and if they went to apply for anything, a job, they had to check a box pretty early on in the application that they're a felon, or criminal. It made it very hard to get jobs. Well the condition of the parole, of getting out of prison, was you have to pay debts and money, fees to parole courts and on top of that you have to go get a job and get housing. Well this is a real double-bind. That's hard for someone coming out of prison, been in prison for 20 years, now they have to find a job, they don't get a lot of training, they have to get housing, they don't get public housing, and money was being diverted from public housing to build prisons. That's true. Yeah, the budget for public housing also decreased because they needed the money to build more prisons. That's where people were being housed. And so the recidivism rate of going back into prison was very high. So, you see, essentially this is a new Jim Crow system, disenfranchising African Americans, because once they come out of prison, they are an under caste in terms of the mainstream culture. They have very few rights.

Audience: And now that we have prisons that are being run by corporations, it's a very lucrative business and they just keep it going.

It is very lucrative; they are on the stock market. A huge part of our economy is this whole system based on the drug war. If we were to end the drug war tomorrow there would be a million people unemployed. So we do have a vested interest, now, this has become part of our economy. It's big money. Military equipment is being sent to police departments. With the help of the Supreme Court, you can't even sue for racial bias in any legal proceedings. Police departments can take property from people that have used drugs, their property, all their assets, cars—and a law was passed that police departments could keep that property, they don't have to hand it over or sell it or give it to the federal government—so here's another incentive, let's arrest someone and we can take their property and their car. And it turns out if you were falsely arrested, it doesn't really matter because they can still take your stuff. What's the matter with this picture?  And then they started having SWAT teams, and those grew enormously. And they were not nice, they were not polite. They come in the middle of the night, break your door down, run into your house with lights flashing and grenades and guns and yelling at kids. Does that remind you of any other time in history? When storm-troopers came to people's houses and...?

So what Michelle Alexander is saying—and as I said it's hard reading, I felt a lot of disconnection as I was reading this, I just couldn't believe what I was reading—is that this is the new Jim Crow. This is a systematic, racist policy that is perpetrated by our federal government and has been funded by every president since Reagan, including Clinton, including Obama. There is no politician that can get elected without being tough on crime. It's a "crime issue"—it's really not, but that's the propaganda. When people look and see "oh the prisons have expanded, it must be because crime is bad," no, the statistics don't say that. There's not a big increase in crime. That's why this is such a difficult issue to get at, because if you go and say let's stop imprisoning these people, then people will say well, but what are you going to do about the crime then if you don't put them in prison? It's really not about crime. It's about non-violent drug offenders. So it's a very, if you look at it from a kind of dispassionate point of view, it's a really good system for rounding up people of color and getting rid of them, essentially getting them out of the culture and disenfranchising them so when they come back in they're an under caste for the rest of their lives. It's not true in every case, there are some exceptions—in Illinois you can actually get your, Charles was telling me, he can vote, I was surprised—so in Illinois you can get your criminal record expunged depending on what you did, which means it's off and you don't have to check that box when you go to get a job. So there are exceptions to this, but I think it's important to appreciate that this is a large part of our economy, with a huge vested interest. The prison systems are often built in rural, white areas. People benefit by building the prisons, people have to run the prisons, there's a legal system from the judges on down to the prosecutors and the parole officers that is supported by this War on Drugs. They military gives equipment to the police departments, and the police departments have a vested interest in keeping this going.  It's a big system.

So, to me, that's a racist policy that our government is actively doing and I think it affects every one of us. I think it the issue of our time, it's the most relevant thing happening in our culture, and it's very hard to come to terms with it. But I think this is part of, we like to think of ourselves as egalitarian and without class, and a democracy, but in terms of this issue, we are as racist as we've always been as a country. We have more people in prison than any other country in the world per capita except for some tiny government, I'd never even heard of them, in Africa that has a population of 700 people or something. They have a higher per capita people in prison than we do. But other than them, for the rest of the world we have a higher per capita prison rate than anyone. As of 2007, we have less than 5% of the world's population and we have 23% of the world's prison and jail population.

I'm not going to give you a lot of quotes and figures but if you go and look into this yourself you'll see that African Americans are disproportionately represented in the prison as opposed to white people. There are different sentences for crack cocaine as compared to cocaine. Cocaine is primarily used in white communities; crack is used in poor black communities. There's the same amount of drug use in white communities as there is in black communities, in fact there may be more drug kingpins in the white community, but you don't see them going into the western suburbs here knocking down doors and SWAT teams in the middle of the night. If you did, there would be a total revolution. Everyone would start crying foul. So they cannot go into white communities and do what they do in the inner city, we would never accept that. That would never be allowed. They're not really arresting a lot of the white drug use, which is just as prevalent as black's. This policy is focused on the inner cities, on poor people of color, clearly discriminatory. I don't see how you could say anything other than that.

I think that's enough for now and we can start the conversation. I've kind of laid the ground, and it may be hard to know what to say, but I think it's important to get that this is more than just a violent outbreak in Ferguson. It's hard to keep track of all the black people that are getting shot. Almost every week, it seems like there's another one shot and killed. The young kid, Tamir, who was a kid playing with a toy gun in a park. And they showed the videos, the cops pulling up, jumping out of their cars, within 3 second he was dead. They shot him. How can that happen? So this is the country we're living in and I say as I have been reading this, I just have the sense of disconnect. There's another really excellent article in the Atlantic monthly called "A Case for Reparations" that was written in June of 2014, a very long article that focuses a lot on Chicago and red-lining practices. Up and through the '60s at least, mortgage companies actively had maps and they would paint areas of the city red that they considered high-risk for real estate, and they would not give them loans. And the FHA which was created in '64 or something to help people to get loans and better rates and buy houses; they did not give loans to black people. They could not get an FHA loan.

Audience: Wasn’t with HUD that also went along, I think it was on NPR?

Yes, HUD was connected with the drug war and crack cocaine. So I could go on and on but that's probably enough to chew on, and it's okay if you don't know what to say or how to proceed, but maybe this is why it's hard for us to have a conversation about this, because it's almost overwhelming to really come to terms with it.

Audience: I feel overwhelmed. 

Audience: I feel depressed and think what can I do? Oh my god, it's so big.

Audience: And where does it stop? You know I'm thinking about all this stuff about the National Security Administration and all the money that they're spending. And even if they no longer are able to listen in on everyone's conversation, or at least record them, is that connected with this whole process? Having information on us in case we don't go along with the program? 

It's hard not to feel a little paranoid about the government when you start looking into this. Maybe we'll all become Tea Party folks.

But what I would say, but we're running out of time and I wish we could have a longer conversation about this, but I am stewarding a new circle, we are calling it a social action circle, here at the Zen Center on race. We don't really know what the name of the circle is; we haven't yet met as a circle. If you would like to continue this conversation in the container of council, in a circle, then I will be the steward of that circle for the time being to get it going, and the vision will come out of the people in the circle but for me, just to give you a sense of how I think we're going to practice with this as a community in the circle is we're going to practice the three tenets. We're going to do council and listen to each other's story, and my hope is that we will get a lot of diversity within that circle.

We made a board decision at our last board meeting, I proposed that we differentiate circles in three ways: We have support circles like the women's circle, men's circle, listening circle, writing circle; we have administrative circles, the board is an example, we're really working on the shared stewardship model, so we do things through the circle process in terms of governance, so there might be a program circle, or a marketing circle; and then I'm proposing that we have a new category of a circle called social action circle, which is designed to do some action eventually, to do something. And I don't know what that would be yet. And I also proposed to the board, and the board voted and approved it, that that circle, social action circle, has to be run by a steward that we trust, and I hope that you trust me, and if we do more of these we might have to do training for steward eventually, but that we allow social action circle members to vote on whether they want to include non-members in their circle. And that's the only kind of circle we'll allow the possibility of non-members to be in there because, look, we're a block from Austin. And my sense is that if we're going to deal with this as an issue, we need to build relationships with people in the community, people in Austin. And they're not going to be members of our Zen Center—Baptists, different religions.

And my vision for the social action circle is that we create as much diversity in the social action circle as we can.  People in different parts of the justice system—judges, lawyers, prosecutors, probation officers, people that have been in prison, leaders in the community, maybe ministers—and that we build as diverse a circle as we can and then we listen to each other. We just listen to the stories. And I think that's very powerful. And I think we have a practice of doing that here, where we can hold that container, where it's safe for people to have a conversation about this and not be afraid that someone's going to blow you out of the water because you said something the wrong way. And I think there's a great deal of power in listening to people's point of view, and listening to stories, and I'm confident that if we really practice not-knowing and bearing witness that way in this circle, we will eventually know what to do. We will have something we can do. But it may take a long time.

I think that’s why we get overwhelmed about this; we think we need to do something right away, and I don't think we can skillfully do something right away. We need to first of all make some kind of commitment, those of us that want to work on this, to educate ourselves and learn as much as we can, to listen to as many points of view as we can, and really bear witness to it. And then, if we build relationships in the community, then we can do something. But until we've done that, realistically, we're not going to walk over there and say "hey we want to help you. We're going to give you a free mindfulness class." That's not gonna work! You walk into Austin and say "I'm a Zen master! I want to teach you about mindfulness to help you”…?  So we have to proceed slowly and thoroughly, and I think we have the tools to do that as a community and I think also what's included in the conversation is, as an organization, what do we do that is biased and discriminatory that we're unconscious about? Because I’m sure there are things that we do like that, things that I do. I think for the most part we are a pretty great, wonderful community, and we have a lot of diversity here and we try our best to honor it. But I think, probably, we have our own shadows, and those things are usually scary to deal with. And I think the best way to deal with shadows is in a circle, where we’re committed to being together in a way that is kind and respectful and loving, but committed to being with each other. And I think out of that commitment will rise some action. I hope.

Audience: During this session, I noticed my interest in windows kind of came up, and maybe gave me an awareness. And I saw two or three blacks go past, and not just walk past, but actually look in the window. And one person looked at one of the sheets that was put up there. I thought that was meaningful. 

So there’s a sign-up sheet here. I don’t want you just to come up to me casually and say I’d like to be in the circle, I want this to be really intentional. I want to know that you want to be in the circle. You can approach me , you can email me, you can call me, you can sign up on that paper, and if you’re on the list, then I’ll send out a Doodle thing when June and I get back from vacation, and we’ll schedule our first circle meeting. But I don’t want it to be casual or just curiosity. If you don’t really want to commit to this, please, don’t join the circle. It’s alright, we have lots of different circles and this circle is, I want people that are committed to grappling with this. So if you want to be in the circle, I’d love to have you in the circle, sign up there today and then you’ll certainly be on the list, or call me or email me. I can’t remember everything when people take me aside and tell me I want to be in the circle, there’s too many people around me. I might remember if you tell me by word, I might not, sorry. But if you call me, or email me, I’ll get it. Or if you sign the sign-up thing there, I’ll get that too. Ok?

Thank you so much for listening to a difficult subject and being willing to learn about it, and be open. Thank you.

Marshall Rosenberg Passed Away, February 7, 2015

One of the great teachers of our time has passed away. I had the good fortune of studying with him for several years beginning in 2002. Marshall's teachings have touched thousands of lives all over our planet. We have incorporated his Nonviolent Communication as a major part of our Core Curriculum at Zen Life & Meditation Center. Robert Althouse

Dear all,

It is with great emotion that I write to tell you that Marshall Rosenberg passed from this life 3 days ago, on Saturday, February 7th.

It was recently discovered that he had late stage prostate cancer. He passed peacefully at home, with his wife Valentina - who shared the news with me a few minutes ago - and all his children by his side.

I know no way to describe the impact this man had on so many people - for his work and for his being, and for the extraordinary power the balance between these two unleashed. He was a beloved teacher to countless people on every continent, people whose hearts were touched and shone with the possibility his work made tangible.

To many of you reading he was also an inspired and inspiring colleague who changed the course of your lives and brought an inestimable sense of meaning and the potential for transformation to every area of your world. And who, at each moment, did this with utmost simplicity, humility and humanness.

In great mourning, and with the most profound reverence and soaring gratitude for the spirit he released in us, and whose light we carry forwards,

Dominic President, CNVC Board

Myth of Redemptive Violence

Within a short span of only a few weeks, we have witnesses two tragic mass shootings in Aurora, Colorada and now in Oak Creek, Wisconsin. It seems that neither movie theaters or even spiritual places of peace such as Sikh temples are safe from this epidemic of violence. Each time a new episode of violence explodes on the national scene, there are the urgent calls for saner and more rational guns laws and the equally lame and predictable responses of denial reflected in statements such as "Now is not the time to be talking about gun laws." While enforcing stricter gun laws would be a good start, the level of violence in America is a symptom of a larger wound in the American pscyhe. It's common knowledge that people that perpetrate these kind of violent killings often come from dysfunctional families where sexual, physical and/or mental abuse are the norm.

In "Engaging the Powers", Christian theologian, Walter Wink says that our culture is devoted to violence. He says, "Violence is so successful as a myth precisely because it does not seem to be mythic in the least." It appears to be inevitable. Wink calls this the Myth of Redemptive Violence. You can identify the pattern of this myth running through many movies, stories, comic books and novels. The protagonist is basically an indestructible good guy who is badly humiliated or abused by the villain. For the first three-quarters of the story, our hero suffers grievously, appearing to be trapped by the despicable bad guy until somehow he breaks free. He vanquishes the villain and restores order. And the more humiliated, the more despicable the acts against the hero, the more vindicative, we as the audience become, until we feel completely justified when the hero kills the bad guy, often in an act of vigilantte terror outside the bounds of all law and due process. The message: violence works.

Could this myth explain the intractable nature of the NRA and it's advocates in resisting any kind of rational gun laws that would prevent automatic and semi-automatic guns from being so readily available in the market place? A Chicago policeman in one of my classes at the Zen Life & Meditation Center tells me he encounters these kind of semi-automatic guns on a daily basis in the streets of Chcago. In 2010 there were 30,550 violent crimes committed in Chicago alone.

So while I would be the first to advocate for stricter gun laws, I also think the problem is much deeper and more systemic. The Myth of Redemptive Violence helps us begin to understand just how deeply committed and attached we are to a culture of violence and vindictive retaliation.

Where does the violence come from? It starts in the American family. Attachment theory, one of the best established findings in psychology today, predicts that children who grow up with insecure attachment, due to dysfunctional relationships with their primary care givers will pass along this same kind insecurity to their own children once they are parents. In the most extreme form of insecure attachment called disorganized/disoriented attachment, the child is raised by parents who are frightening, violent and often abusive and unpredictable. The child adapts to this by internalizing a paradoxical injunction: come here and go away. Children with this kind of insecure attachment are often observed freezing into a trance-like expression. So they grow up with no sense of trust or security in their world. They grow up seriously impaired and unable to easily regulate and connect with others who might help them.

Are we ready to acknowledge the level of anger we have towards our own children? Can we shine some light on the way we treat children in our culture? Years ago, Robert Bly wrote a scathing indictment called "Anger Against Children". When he submitted it to the Atlantic Monthly they rejected it and wrote back to him, "Why are you so angry?" Why indeed. You be the judge. Why aren't we more angry? Why do we accept this kind of treatment of children in our culture?

Anger Against Children by Robert Bly

“Parents take their children into the deepest Oregon forests. And leave them there. When the children Open the lunchbox, there are stones inside, and a note saying, “Do your own thing.” And what would the children do if they found their way home in the moonlight? The planes have already landed on Maui, the parents are on vacation. Our children live with a fear at school and in the house. The mother and father do not protect the younger child from the savagery of the others. Parents don’t want to face the children’s rage, Because the parents are also in rage.

This is the rage that shouts at children. This is the rage that cannot be satisfied. Because each year more ancient Chinese art objects go on display. So the rage goes inward at last. It ends in doubt, in self-doubt, dyeing the hair, and love of celebrities. The rage comes to rest at last in the talk show late at night, When the celebrities without anger or grief tell us that only the famous are good, only they live well.”

Violence is not inevitable and it doesn't work. It's a symptom of impotence and a culture that has surrendered it's spiritual and moral strength to gun runners, mercenaries, men who beat women, and parents who abuse their own children. We can do better.

by Robert Althouse

5 Ways to Improve Your Communication

A common mythology in American culture continues to be the myth of the cowboy–the rugged individual who goes it alone. Cowboys don't need to know what they are feeling or needing, because they spend all their time identifying and exposing bad guys who need to either be killed or punished. Once you've completed the job, then you can ride triumphantly off into the sunset on your horse–alone. So it may come as a shock to discover that this unspoken myth is impairing your ability to communicate in a healthy and proactive way with others. And this diminished communication is reducing the amount of trust you could otherwise have with the people you work and live with every day.

At the Zen Life & Meditation Center of Chicago (ZLMC), we teach many skills that can help you improve the quality of your communication with others. I'd like to give you a few suggestions about ways to begin doing this:

1. Learn how to Listen There is nothing more important than listening. And listening is not something we generally do very well. We are often distracted, or we are busy thinking of what we are going to say next, before the other person has finished speaking themselves. That means we really don't hear what they've said at all. This kind of deep listening is something you can practice and improve. You get a chance to do this many times each day. Notice what a difference it can make in your relationships when you really listen to others sincerely and wholeheartedly.

2. Cultivate a Needs Awareness In our Gateway Series at ZLMC, we  teach a skill called "Nonviolent Communication" (NVC). NVC is a way of communicating more proactively with others. This happens because you develop an awareness of the importance of needs. And this seemingly simple step is revolutionary. Most likely, if you reflect on what you learned about needs growing up as a child, you learned some negative things about needs. You really shouldn't have them because that was considered selfish. And if it was OK to have them, it probably wasn't OK to speak about them openly. This negative bias in our culture regarding needs is a consequence of the unspoken cowboy mythology which still rules our lives.

Needs in NVC are understood as anything which supports your life. So they are basic and fundamental to living. We have many needs such as needs for shelter, clothing, food, understanding, to be heard, fairness and many more. And needs are at the heart of how you can begin communicating more proactively. Being aware of needs can help you shift from hanging on to judgments to a more empathic awareness, both for yourself and for others.

3. Stand Your Ground Healthy relationships arise when you are able to stand in your own experience without surrendering to a impulsive desire to please or be liked by others. When you don't stand your ground, you cave in and fuse with the other, which means that you've gone missing in action. Standing your ground may mean you have to step outside your comfort zone and that knee-jerk reaction to please others. But when you learn how to do this, you'll find that the quality and depth of your relationship with others improves.

4. Learn How to Ask for Help Who ever heard a cowboy ask for help? That would be beneath them. It would be ridiculous–a sign of weakness. So take a good look at this one. If you've taken on a task that you can't complete for whatever reason, learn to ask for help. It requires some humility to do this. It requires being able to trust others. You might be surprised that often people are grateful to be asked, because you've placed your trust in them. You'll giving them an opportunity express their generosity by working together with you on a common task.

5. Let Go of Your Agenda It's hard to listen to another when you're busy preparing and rehearsing what you're going to say next before they've finished speaking. Enter into conversation in the spirit of learning something new from the other person. By letting go of your attachment to the outcome, you free yourself to open to the person. The space between you is sacred. It's a bridge that can carry you across to the other's experience. You may be surprised at what you discover on the other side.

by Robert Althouse

5 Ways to Listen Well

Listening well is an art, but it can also improved with practice. In the business world one of the most important qualities for people in any supervisory or management position is to listen well. Mindfulness meditation can increase your focus and attention and will contribute to deepening your capacity to listen to others. So here are 5 ways you can begin improving your own listening skills.

1. Don't interrupt When someone else is speaking, do not interrupt them. When you interrupt someone, it makes it harder for them to complete their thoughts. It degrades the quality of the conversation and makes it much less likely that the other person will be able to say clearly what they had wanted to say. People will be grateful and appreciative when you allow them to speak without interrupting them.

I once was volunteering at a meditation center and I was working together with a Native American woman. During a conversation with her, she asked me to stop interrupting her. She said she was a slow talker and it took her time to develop her thoughts. When I interrupted her, she said she could not complete her train of thought. This was a big lesson for me. Since then I have always tried to practice not interrupting others.

2. Let Go of Your Agenda Letting go of your own agenda can improve your listening right away, because you don't need to rehearse what you're going to say, as the other person is speaking. When you let go of your attachment to the outcome it improves your presence and listening  immeasurably because it invites you to enter into the process of having a more complete conversation with someone. It is helpful in this regard to approach the conversation with another as an opportunity to learn something new, rather than winning or losing an argument.

3. Listen to the Whole Person Listening well, is much more than simply listening to the literal words the speaker is saying. It also involves eye contact, body language and what isn't said. Practice listening for what the person is feeling and needing as they are talking. This will help you hear more clearly what the person is meaning by the words they are using.

4. Don't Multi-task while another is speaking to you When you are listening to someone, give them your full attention. If you are trying to do something else, as the other person is speaking such as checking your emails or texting to someone, not only are you not listening well, but chances are you are making it very difficult for the other person to speak clearly too.

This happened to me not so long ago. Someone was visiting the Zen Center and asking me about meditation and as I was replying they were texting on their cell phone. I was surprised that I had a hard time finishing a sentence or completing my thoughts.

So the quality of your attention and listening actually helps others speak and communicate what they want to say more clearly.  In the practice of council circle that we do here at the Zen Life & Meditation Center, we speak and listen from the heart in such a way that we promote this kind of deep listening to each other.

5. Let the Person Know Your are Listening The only time you should interrupt another person, is to ask for clarification so that you can better understand what they are trying to say. It might sound like this: "Excuse me,  you just said a lot, and I'm not sure I got it all. Could I repeat what I heard you say to see if I heard you?" This kind of request for clarification is very powerful because it does two things. It keeps you honest because to re-state what you heard them say, you have to really be listening to them. And two, it indicates to the other person, you really are listening to them.

So listening is indeed a kind of art, but it's also a skill we can improve and it's application in your life will enhance and enrich your relationships immeasurably.

Robert Althouse

Generative Listening

"To listen fully means to pay close attention to what is being said beneath the words. You listen not only for what someone knows, but for what he or she is. Ears operate at the speed of sound, which is far slower than the speed of light the eyes take in. Generative listening is the art of developing deeper silences in yourself, so you can slow our mind's hearing to your ears' natural speed, and hear beneath the words to their meaning." Peter Senge

5 Tips for Practicing Nonviolent Communication

Speaking skillfully with others is sometimes challenging for us, especially when we are in the midst of  conflict where tempers flair and emotions rise. When we are primarily concerned with winning the argument or being right, then the possibilities of speaking in a constructive and proactive manner decrease considerably. So I'd like to give you 5 tips for practicing Nonviolent Communication (NVC) in your daily life.

1. Be Mindfulness of Your Inner Critic (Enter the Jackal) Your inner critic can be a harsh voice of condemnation and a source of toxic negative thoughts and judgments. When the inner critic has free reign, it also becomes the source of many judgements directed outward towards others. These judgements make it very difficult to practice NVC.

In NVC the metaphor of the jackal is used to describe this kind of consciousness that is occupied with judging and being right. Jackals are fond of giving everyone advice and keeping score. They are attached to their agenda and they always try to win arguments because they are convinced they are right. Jackals are fond of calling other people names and finding fault with everything people try to do.

2. Honor, Acknowledge and Cultivate Awareness of Needs If you reflect on this one, you will probably find that you learned something negative about having needs when you were growing up. Maybe you learned it was selfish to have needs or if you had them, not to express them to others.

In NVC a need is defined as anything that supports your life. So as long as we are alive everything we do is in the service of a need. We have physical needs such as the need for shelter, food and warmth. We have interpersonal needs such as the need to be heard, the need for understanding and the need for respect, and many more.

When you shift your awareness to needs, you are less likely to be listening to the inner critics' judgements. You are taking the first step towards an empathic awareness that can help you remain connected compassionately with others.

3. Hear only Please and Thank you (Enter the Giraffe) In NVC we use the metaphor of the giraffe to describe this kind of consciousness that is aware of feelings and needs. When you shift from judging to a more empathic awareness that is connected to feelings and needs, you begin to hear what all humans are saying. They are saying either please or thank you. If their needs are not being met, they are saying please. If their needs are being met, they're saying thank you and expressing gratitude.

You can begin to appreciate that jackals don't say please very skillfully. When jackals say please it comes out sounding something like this. "You are such an idiot!" But if you are wearing your giraffe ears it's possible to hear this unhappy human being saying "please" because he or she has a need that is not being met.

If you actually get this one NVC teaching it has the power to transform the way you connect and communicate with everyone in your life.

4. Let Go of Your Agenda You are probably familiar with this one. You enter a conversation with someone, but in the back of your mind you are already attached to an outcome, so as they are speaking, you are busy preparing what you are going to say next. This is of course, a very poor way to listen to another person. Yet you probably find yourself doing it from time to time.

If you are able to shift to a more empathic awareness of your feelings and needs, this will help you remain connected in a conversation in a way that is more likely to enrich your relationship and increase your understanding of what is going on in the other person's experience. It is a first step towards learning to speak and listen in a way that is pro-active, constructive and compassionate.

5. Speak Pro-actively When you communicate what is alive in you in terms of your feelings and and needs, you do not imply that the other person is to blame in any way. You do not put the other person on the defensive. In fact, you may actually touch the other person's heart by your genuineness which will make them more willing to listen to what you are saying.

This is one of the most important principles of NVC and of living a Zen-inspired life. It's easy to be reactive. When you are reactive, you tend to put your focus on the other person in a way that blames or judges them. Once you do this, your jackal is going to have a field day.

So I'm sure you may be thinking now, "Oh, sure. Like, I didn't know this already. What kind of idiot does he think I am? This guy is a real jerk!" Well, I never said NVC would be easy to practice. That's why NVC is one of the pillars of our core curriculum at the Zen Life & Meditation Center. We all need to practice this skill. And when we begin to master this way of speaking and listening, we have a much more empathic way of connecting and communicating with others that heals and nurtures trust in our interpersonal relationships.

Robert Althouse

5 Tips for Practicing NVC

As part of our core curriculum at Zen Life & Meditation Center (ZLMC) for increasing empathic awareness, we teach the skill set of Nonviolent Communication (NVC). NVC is based on sound principles of good communication. You may be surprised at how powerful these principles are, and how little you actually use them in real life. So I'm going to give you 5 tips for things you can do to begin practicing these skills in your daily life right away. 1. Let Go of the Outcome When you enter into communication with someone, if you are attached to your own agenda, it's going to be hard to listen empathically to their experience. You will constantly be wanting to steer or manipulate the discussion in a direction that assures that your outcome is achieved. The discipline of mindfulness meditation can help you continue to remain in the present and open to what is unfolding.

2. Change Your Mindset from Being Right to Learning If you enter a conversation with the desire to win the argument it will color everything you do and say. You'll have very little interest in actually listening to the other person. Instead of entering the conversation with the assumption you are right, begin the conversation with a clear intention to learn what the other person has to say before you jump to any conclusions. This shift in perspective will help you open and be more receptive to the other person's experience. This is the first step in cultivating empathic awareness.

3. Listen First before Seeking to be Understood One thing you may do when we are arguing or disagreeing with someone is rehearse what you are going to say, as the other person is talking. If your own need for being heard is not being met you can become anxious to be understood. If you begin by listening first, rather than seeking to be understood, you shift the conversation towards empathic awareness. This shift will be felt by the other person, and when they feel deeply heard and understood by you, then when you do speak about your own experience, they are more likely to be open and receptive to what you have to say. Listening is powerful and healing. When we practice deeply listening with others, its surprising how this can often be reciprocated.

4. Don't Interrupt Someone when they are Speaking This requires some discipline. You have to learn to hold your tongue. Again, as you deepen your skill in listening empathically to another person, you'll find it's very helpful to not interrupt them when they are speaking.  When you interrupt someone, it can be confusing for them. Sometimes when people are interrupted they have a hard time finishing their train of thought. Some people speak slower than others. If you're listening to someone, keep these things in mind. Hold your tongue. It's a good way to remind yourself to listen first before seeking to be understood.

5. Deep Listening Doesn't Mean You Agree with What You Hear In our culture there is an unexamined assumption that if you listen to another openly and empathically, you are agreeing with them. Deep listening has nothing to do with agreeing or disagreeing. How will you know whether you agree or disagree before you listen? So listening itself is simply a way of receiving and learning information about another person's point of view. Your discernment about whether you agree or not, comes after you have fully heard what they have to say.

These are five principles for good communication. They are all part of the NVC training that we teach as part of our curriculum at ZLMC. If you keep these simple principles in mind they will help you learn to listen more deeply and empathically to those around you. I hope you can appreciate that this kind of deep, empathic listening is not common. We really don't listen very well to others. So when you develop this skill in your daily life it will dramatically improve the quality and depth of your connection with others. If you combine these principles with a Zen-inspired lifestyle rooted in mindfulness meditation you'll find that you are developing some powerful new habits that support your remaining connected to others.

Robert Althouse

A Ritual to Read to Each Other

stafford"If you don't know the kind of person I amand I don't know the kind of person you are a pattern that others made may prevail in the world and following the wrong god home we may miss our star.

For there is many a small betrayal in the mind, a shrug that lets the fragile sequence break sending with shouts the horrible errors of childhood storming out to play through the broken dyke.

And as elephants parade holding each elephant's tail, but if one wanders the circus won't find the park, I call it cruel and maybe the root of all cruelty to know what occurs but not recognize the fact.

And so I appeal to a voice, to something shadowy, a remote important region in all who talk: though we could fool each other, we should consider– lest the parade of our mutual life get lost in the dark.

For it is important that awake people be awake, or  a breaking line may discourage them back to sleep; the signals we give–yes or no, or maybe– should be clear: the darkness around us is deep."

William Stafford

Connecting with Others using Nonviolent Communication

Nonviolent Communication (NVC) is a skill set we teach at Zen Life & Meditation Center (ZLMC) to help improve the quality of our communication with others. It is a natural extension of mindfulness meditation because, like mindfulness, it is rooted in an awareness free of judgments. If you are able to bring mindful awareness to your own experience, you will appreciate how easily judgments arise in your own mind. These judgments can prevent you from being with yourself and others in ways that are more compassionate. As you learn new habits based on the sound communication principles of NVC, you will enrich the quality of connection with your friends and even your enemies. One of the strengths of NVC is the specific and concrete language patterns it teaches. Sometimes when we are in the middle of a difficult conflict and we are not able to think as clearly as we would like, having this formula at your command, is very helpful.

But it's also important to understand that this language arises from a deeper inner awareness based on needs and feelings. If you simply mimic the technique of NVC without the empathic awareness of self and other, people will notice this and may react negatively, feeling they are being manipulated by your words.

So empathy is as much as an art as it is a technique. Its practice in real life is always dynamic and flowing, and  can be learned and practiced to improve its application and effectiveness. Learning and practicing NVC supports communication that is more proactive. It supports ways of speaking with others that do not blame or even imply blame. It does this by helping you focus on what is important to you.  So instead of merely reacting to what someone else has said, you respond from the experience of what you are actually needing and feeling.

When you set about living a Zen-inspired lifestyle of openness, empathy and clarity, you begin the journey of cultivating new, more constructive and proactive habits that will sustain and enrich the quality of your life and your interpersonal relationships. When you learn NVC and  are able to speak more clearly about what is alive in you right now, you speak in a manner that is more genuine and authentic. When your awareness shifts from "being right" to "being connected", you are able to remain open, receptive and empathic towards yourself and others.

With this shift in your awareness and speech, will grow new habits that cultivate increased confidence and trust in your interpersonal relationships. You will be surprised to discover that you can approach conflicts that used to paralyze you with more confidence and fearlessness. You will become more skilled at discerning what is truly important to you. You will be able to listen more deeply and empathically to others. The empathic awareness from which this NVC language arises is the key. It grows out of the practice of mindfulness meditation and the intention to live a Zen-inspired life.

Robert Althouse

A Simple Listening Technique for Conflict Resolution

Most of us dread being in conflict with others. When conflicts arise in our lives, they often do not go well. The prospect of strong disagreement, of raised voices and heated arguments bring frustration and distress for both sides. It's remarkable how this can change when we take the time to listen to each other. The trouble is that, we often find this hard to do in the middle of a conflict, so I'm going to show you a very simple way to structure into your conversation a method that will insure that both sides listen to the other and that both sides end up being heard and understood. First, you need to set some ground rules. Here they are:

  • Each person has as much time as they need to present their point of view without being interrupted by the other person.
  • When they are finished speaking, they will ask the person listening to summarize what they have just said. Nothing can proceed beyond this point, until the person speaking is satisfied that the summary they are hearing is a fair and accurate representation of their point of view.
  • Once they are satisfied, the roles are reversed and the other person speaks without being interrupted by the other.
  • And again, when they are done speaking, they ask the other person to summarize what they have just said.
  • And again, nothing proceeds beyond this point, until the person who has just spoken feels satisfied that the other person is representing their point of view fairly and accurately.

If you want to try this out, you may find the other person is more receptive to the idea if you volunteer to let them go first and speak their point of view. You'll demonstrate to them the sincerity and integrity of your proposal by listening to them without interrupting them and then you'll summarize their point of view in a manner that leaves them satisfied that they have been heard and understood. Notice that this will be easier for you to do, if you are able to let go of your agenda and the outcome of the conflict.

This technique structures into your process, listening on both sides – something that rarely happens in conflicts.

Living a Zen-inspired life will greatly increase your ability to listen to others. It will help you be fully present in the moment without a strong attachment to the outcome. We teach many more useful and practical communication tools in our Core Curriculum classes at the Zen Life & Meditation Center of Chicago. If you are interested, you can sign up for the Primer 1 class. The next one begins on Tuesday, August 3rd from 7:00 to 8:30 pm.  Register by calling 708.445.1651 or online by clicking here.

If you've already done something like this, or you try this technique in a conflict, please comment on this blog and let me know what it was like for you.

Robert Althouse

Active Listening

ury"The need for listening is obvious, yet it is difficult to listen well, especially under the stress of an ongoing negotiation. Listening enables you to understand their perceptions, feel their emotions, and hear what they are trying to say. Active listening improves not only what you hear, but also what they say. If you pay attention and interrupt occasionally to say, 'Did I understand correctly that you are saying that . . . ?' the other side will realize that they are not just killing time, not just going through a routine. They will also feel the satisfaction of being heard and understood. Standard techniques of good listening are to pay close attention to what is said, to ask the other party to spell out carefully and clearly exactly what they mean, and to request that ideas be repeated if there is any ambiguity or uncertainty. Make it your task while listening not to phrase a response, but to understand them as they see themselves. Take in their perceptions, their needs, and their constraints."

from Getting to Yes: Negotiating Agreement Without Giving In by Roger Fisher and William Ury