How it Works
What does it take to communicate in your relationship in a way that connects, and is in integrity with your deepest values?
Meditation, prayer, and other spiritual practices can connect you to your values. Yet, when you step back into your daily life you can get lost in a swirl of criticism, doubt, and confusion. You don't always see how to really put your values into action in the situations you encounter, especially when it gets heated between you and someone close to you. You need new tools to find and express compassion, love, and honesty.
Mindful Compassionate Dialogue (MCD) can help. MCD is a blend of Mindfulness, Hakomi (body centered therapy), and Compassionate Communication (NVC). It is a framework and system founded by Wise Heart. The goal of MCD is to empower you to create the change you want in relationship and to bring benefit to yourself and others. Mindful Compassionate Dialogue naturally supports you in creating a secure bond, while at the same time promotes healthy differentiation in your relationship. MCD can help you cultivate self-compassion and a confident relationship to needs. You can learn to stay grounded through reactivity and set clear boundaries. As you follow the structure of MCD, you will see unsupportive relationship dynamics through a practical framework and learn a set of skills that enables you to make immediate changes.
MCD identifies 12 Relationship Competencies, each with six specific skills. These competencies are the manifestation of compassionate relating and wise action and arise from the foundation of the nine foundational practices: Attunement, Warmth, Security, Equanimity, Clarity, Concentration, Awareness, Health, & Regulation. At the center of all skills and practices is the intention to benefit all life.
These nine foundational practices are the key to working with obstacles in learning and transformation as well as integrating skills. Working with the nine foundations allows you to access skills when you need them most and even count on them as your natural response. Both mastery of a relationship competency and difficulty with a competency can be traced back to one or more of the nine foundational practices. As we work together, we will lean into these foundational practices to support your learning and help you create thriving relationships.
Let's look at the three disciplines contained in MCD.
Mindfulness is a quality of consciousness and kind attention. With mindfulness you are able to become aware of what goes on in you from the moment you perceive something to the moment you respond. In a single moment, you cycle through a river of thoughts, impulses, images, feelings, and needs. Shedding light on this river of experience helps you to connect to your heart and respond with wisdom and compassion.
Mindfulness was first described and taught in ancient India before the time of the Buddha. Mindfulness is characterized by a wholesome state of mind, that is, one free from greed, hate, and delusion. It is a kind and compassionate attention gently directed toward experience in the moment. It is characterized by non-forgetfulness and the absence of confusion. It arises from clear perception. In sum, it is an enhanced presence of mind, a heightened non-wavering attentiveness, and a special non-ordinary quality of attention.
Relative to Hakomi, mindfulness of present experience, especially experiences of the body, is the primary doorway to bring unconscious core material into consciousness so that healing can happen. It frees you from the trap of making decisions based on habits, assumptions, or what you think you “should” do.
Relative to NVC, mindfulness allows you to notice when you are connected or disconnected and helps you discern the five basic distinctions named in the introduction to NVC.
Hakomi - Understanding your experience
Hakomi Therapy is a system of body-centered psychotherapy which is based on the principles of mindfulness, nonviolence, and the unity of mind and body. It was developed by Ron Kurtz and others at the Hakomi Institute in Boulder, Colorado.
Hakomi asks you to become ever more subtly aware of your experience and turn toward your experience with compassion and acceptance. It offers insight into universal patterns of reactivity and healing.
From the framework of Hakomi, you will recognize a set of core experiences or so called “core material” that may exert unconscious influence on your perceptions, thoughts, beliefs, feelings, and decisions.
Core material is composed of conditioned relationships between various aspects of experience such as memories, posture, images, beliefs, neural patterns, thoughts, impulses, needs, feelings, etc. Some core material supports you in responding to life in a satisfying way, while some of it, learned in response to acute and/or chronic stress, continues to limit you (e.g., reactivity).
Hakomi offers very specific ways to use mindfulness to access core material.
As core material unfolds into conscious awareness it is met with empathy and specific healing responses, and transforms in the direction of integration and wholeness. This then changes the way you respond to life or, in other words, changes your habits, behaviors, perceptions, beliefs, and attitudes.
Compassionate Communication, also called Nonviolent Communication (NVC), was founded by Marshall Rosenberg in the 1960’s. For more history and resources on NVC see the Center for Nonviolent Communication: https://www.cnvc.org/
The purpose of NVC is to create a quality of connection that inspires a natural giving from the heart. The premise of this work is that our natural state is one of compassion and connection, even though our experience of life isn’t always compassionate or connected. For many reasons we find ourselves disconnected again and again. In NVC, Marshall names particular forms of communication that reliably move us away from compassion and connection. These include expressions of judgments, diagnoses, analyses, should’s, and the three “D’s”(demands, deserve, and denial of responsibility).
Any of these expressions can get confused for honesty. For example, you might say something like this, "I just have to be honest with myself. I am a hot-tempered person." While there may be moments when you are hot-tempered, this judgment doesn’t open up a way forward toward compassion and connection. It also doesn’t reflect the truth that hot-temperedness is something that comes and goes; it is not who you are.
A judgment labels others. A diagnosis attempts to point to what’s wrong. Analysis is a more complex form of trying to figure out what’s wrong with someone. When faced with someone else’s emotional pain, you might be tempted to think that if you can determine what’s wrong with them, that will alleviate their pain or inspire them to change. Unfortunately, telling others what’s wrong with them usually triggers defensiveness, rather than providing relief.
“Should’s” are a form of pushing against what’s happening in any given moment. “Should’s” trigger guilt and shame, but don’t usually provide inspiration or clarity about how to do something differently. You can divide “should’s” into at three categories: you should be more, you should do more, and you should have more. Thoughts like these take you away from the present moment and trigger suffering as you compare your present life to the life you "should" have.
The three D’s make up other forms of life-alienating communication—demands, deserve, and denial of responsibility. Demands are anything that communicates that you are willing to meet your needs at the expense of others’ needs. This often means that when someone doesn't comply with your demand you punish them. Punishment can be as subtle as withdrawing eye contact or as obvious as physical violence.
Deserve is most explicitly found in the practice of reward and punishment. Deserve thinking says that you only deserve to have your needs met if you behave according to some standard or rule or fit in a particular category (e.g., male, female, white, educated, etc.). Marshall called deserve the most violent concept on the planet. Genocide has been committed based on the concept of deserve. NVC is based on the premise that all life is equally precious.
Denial of responsibility is found in ideas of obligation and duty and is characterized by phrases like: "I have to." "Those are my orders." "I am just following the rules." "It’s my duty to take care of my father." Denying your own choice not only gives rise to feelings of resentment and burden, it also provides an excuse for engaging in unethical or violent behavior.
Overall, life-alienating language is characterized by attempts to push reality into static boxes of what should and shouldn’t be, what is right or wrong, what people are or are not. Life-alienating language also tends to point away from the life of the present moment toward the world of ideas and analyses, of past causalities, or ideas of what should be in the future.
NVC helps to create life-connecting consciousness and communication. In NVC consciousness, the intention is to continually connect to what is alive in the present moment. Then from a place of compassion and acceptance of what’s true, take wise and compassionate action.
NVC proposes three basic modes of relating to experience: receiving with empathy, engaging in self-empathy, and expressing with honesty. When you are listening with empathy, you are listening for the speaker’s experience, especially feelings and needs, regardless of the words they are using. You remember that everything anyone ever says or does is an attempt to meet or be in harmony with universal needs. People are only saying two things: Please or thank you. Learning to listen with empathy makes life a lot easier. You find that where you once heard criticisms or attacks you now hear someone expressing their feelings and needs. Even as you listen and help guess someone's feelings and needs that doesn't make you responsible for them. Empathy requires clear boundaries.
When you turn empathy toward yourself you learn to hear your own inner voices of doubt, judgment, and criticism as expressions of feelings and needs. With self-empathy, you can find relief from the pain of self-criticism. Connecting compassionately with your experience is the practice of self-empathy and supports agency and empowerment.
NVC honest expression means you are choosing words that reveal the contents of your experience in a self-responsible way. You are able to make five basic distinctions in experience and your communication reflects this understanding.
1. Neutral Observations vs. Interpretations (or other types of thought)
You distinguish what actually happened from your interpretations of an event. That is, you are able to articulate a neutral observation. A neutral observation includes only what a camera could record.
2. Feelings arise from Universal Needs
In NVC feelings are important messengers letting you know about universal needs met or unmet. Naming and expressing feelings in a responsible way also contributes to shared vulnerability and connection. NVC syntax reflects this understanding and responsibility around feelings by connecting the feeling to the need (rather than the behavior of another) and placing both within the context of a neutral observation and a specific do-able request.
3. Feelings vs. Interpretations
Building a feelings vocabulary helps you know the difference between feelings and interpretations. For example, you learn that there are many words that get used as feelings, but are actually interpretations of what you think someone is doing to you. For example, when you say I feel "rejected" you are interpreting that someone is pushing you away out of dislike. While this may or may not be true, it’s not the end of the story. When you interpret someone’s behavior in this way, feelings and needs immediately come up for you; perhaps feelings of hurt and disappointment and needs for acceptance and companionship. You can find a list of common words that are used as feelings but are actually interpretations here.
4. Universal Needs vs. the Strategies to Meet Them
Learning the list of universal needs creates space for creativity, flexibility, and compassion. When you confuse universal needs with the strategies to meet them, you can easily become stuck. Problems and arguments become unsolvable. Connecting with the universal need opens the door for many strategies to meet that need. Phrases like, "He needs to control everything," reveal a common confusion between a strategy and a need. Control is not a universal need. Control is a strategy, a pretty popular one, to meet needs, perhaps for safety, predictability, or acceptance. All humans have the same needs and it is these universal needs that motivate behavior and help us find our shared humanity.
5. Requests vs. Demands or Vague Wishes
Lastly, in NVC you learn to express requests that are specific, do-able, and connected to needs rather than vague invitations or demands. For example, "I need predictability in our work together. Would you be willing to let me know a day in advance if you won't attend the meetings on Fridays?" states a need and a specific request. "Be more considerate" implies a need and doesn’t make a specific request. “Be there, or else!” is a demand.
As a teaching device, Marshall Rosenberg, chose two metaphors. He chose giraffe to represent life connecting consciousness and language and jackal to represent life alienating consciousness and language. You may see and hear these metaphors if you attend NVC trainings.
The most important thing to remember about NVC consciousness is that it is about creating connection by listening and speaking from the heart.
You can let go of tragic strategies of compromise, giving in, and making demands. By naming and expressing universal needs in this self-responsible framework, you open the door to creative negotiation in which everyone's needs can be met. This might seem unlikely now. You might be saying, "Yeah but, needs are sometimes in conflict and one person just has to be flexible." From the framework of NVC, needs are never in conflict. Conflict happens around the strategies to meet needs. When you imagine your need can only be met at a certain time, with a certain person, and in a certain way, you will likely find yourself in conflict. However, if you can separate your need from the strategy, you open space for new and creative ways to meet your needs.
To get a taste of this work sign up for my Connection Gem of the Week or check out upcoming classes.