These are extraordinary times. So much of what we call our “normal life” has been thrown up in the air like pieces of a puzzle, and the pieces are landing – if at all they do land – in a different pattern, which may not be recognizable. Amidst this uncertainty and turmoil, we find our relationships under greater pressure. There seems to be conflict and misunderstanding at all levels, within ourselves, between family members, at work, within our countries, and between nations.
Many of us are longing to have more harmonious relationships and to communicate more effectively. At a deeper level, we want to interact in a way that is in alignment with our core selves, with the best versions of ourselves. I hear people saying things like, “I want to feel at peace at the end of the day.” No one wants the heaviness that can result from misunderstandings and disagreement. I’m sure that we all prefer to manage interactions with care; we want to listen well, to speak kindly, but we struggle to achieve this consistently. Heartful Communication sets out to meet this need. After a workshop, one woman wrote simply, “I’ve always known how I want to live my life and now I have the tools to do it.”
This is not just a set of techniques or a toolkit, however; it’s an awareness and a way of being. It weaves together a heart-centered approach to living, with practical ways to manifest this in our daily interactions. Techniques and wisdom from the Heartfulness practices and philosophy are interwoven with a process called Nonviolent Communication, which was developed by Dr. Marshall B. Rosenberg. Both approaches focus on the heart, and honor our humanness, recognizing that we are imperfect beings with shared yearnings and shared vulnerabilities.
So how would it be if we used these very yearnings and vulnerabilities as a valuable, alive way to realize the power of unity and what we have in common, rather than as evidence of our weakness or collective failure as a species? This lived experience of togetherness is something that Heartful Communication offers.
We always communicate from our current level of awareness, so the more we can raise our awareness and refine our inner states, the more likely it is that our communication will be refined. The more our hearts are open and nurtured, the more compassion and authenticity will be infusing our connections with others and with ourselves. So meditation, with its power to raise our awareness and to connect us with our deepest center, holds a key to helping us develop a more balanced, loving way of living and relating.
Yet, even with the best intentions, the noblest ideals and values, we mess up. We say things we regret, we trigger hurt in others, and often we don’t know how it happened. We misunderstand and we are misunderstood. We can be our own worst enemy, especially in our closest relationships. Isn’t this where the toughest tests often arise?
Let’s remind ourselves that we are products of our cultural conditioning. Most of us are educated from birth to compete, to compare, to judge, to think in terms of who is right and who is wrong, who is better or worse, what is normal behavior and what is abnormal. This has led us into a fractured culture where blaming and shaming are the norm. It manifests in our day-to-day communications, in how we raise our children, in our education systems, our businesses, and our politics. Instead of wanting to CONNECT we want to CORRECT. As Marshall Rosenberg says, we are habitually playing the game of “Who is right?”
Can you take a moment to reflect: When have you wanted to be right recently? When have you insisted on something, or tried to prove a point, perhaps? And if you won that round of the game and proved yourself to be right, how do you suppose the other person felt? And how did you feel deep down? Was it really satisfying to have won a point – perhaps at the cost of the other person feeling embarrassed, small or resentful? Did you win the argument but damage the relationship? Is winning, being right, actually worth it?
This way of thinking and conditioning starts early in our lives. I’d like to share a story, told by a friend about her daughter in primary school. The teacher organized a running race and told the children that whoever won should grab as many chocolates as possible from the bowl. My friend’s daughter won the race but took only one chocolate. She was then scolded by the teacher for being disobedient – she had been told to grab lots of sweets and didn’t. When the distressed child returned home and was asked by her mother what happened, she cried, “If I had taken lots of chocolates, there wouldn’t have been enough for everyone.” Her natural inclination was to share, to think of others, but here she was being “educated” out of her natural way of being into winning at the expense of others.
What is it that we reward? How do we respond to mistakes? I was very inspired when I first heard about African communities that are rooted in the strength of Interdependence rather than Independence – the philosophy of Ubuntu. One Ubuntu practice that especially moves me is this: When someone makes a serious mistake, what we would probably call a crime in our society, that person sits surrounded by their community, and for two days everyone reminds him or her of all the good, kind things they have done! The idea is that the person has temporarily forgotten their true nature, so the others remind them of who they really are. Having been deeply affirmed and restored through this expression of acceptance, love, and trust, that person is extremely unlikely to repeat the mistake.
This is a philosophy that has redemption at its core. Isn’t the possibility of redemption central to a humane society? How radically different this is from our idea that shame and punishment will reform us, starting with young children, all the way through to our criminal justice system. If I shame someone, whether through speech or action, am I not inevitably shaming myself ?
My individual existence rests in all of humanity. Whatever I may think of the human race, I am inextricably a part of it! Each of us can and does make a difference to the whole, however small, in how we live each moment. For example, we cannot know what the extended effects of kindness might be. I remember one day, driving on a highway and stopping at a toll to pay my fee. To my surprise the toll attendant told me that the person in the car in front of me had paid for me! Apparently it was Random Acts of Kindness Day, which I wasn’t aware of, and this gesture of drivers paying for those behind them in the queue had been going on for an hour or so. In delight, I paid the toll fee for the car behind me, and I heard later that this chain of paying for another continued unbroken for most of the day. I’m sure that this repeated small gesture, this random act of kindness, will have generated smiles and opened hundreds of hearts that day, perhaps changing someone’s dark mood, with the result that they treated people differently. We don’t know, but we do know that we enjoy experiences that connect us. How we communicate can contribute to the warmth of connection and unity, or to the chill of separation. It can contribute to our evolution or to our diminishment.
To be continued.