Wednesday, February 2, 2011

the paradox...

I am blessed with so much in life not least of which is the opportunity to study with teachers who have wisdom and depth in what they teach. When I got pregnant I took Yoga classes. I did not realize that my teacher would have such profound knowledge and experience. After giving birth in October I signed up for post natal Yoga and todays post is about an incident that happened in my last class. One of the most wonderful aspects of NVC and especially the way my teachers teach it is to use the present moment and what is happening live as a source of learning.

I have been having some back pain recently and my teacher (whose name is Cecile) encouraged us to move into a position where we could feel tension and some pain and breathe into it, relax the muscles and let the tension go. The relief I felt after this exercise was palpable. So what does this have to do with NVC? A lot actually.

I am currently dealing with a conflict situation in an organization I volunteer with. I am fascinated by how conflicts play out and how much human beings try to avoid facing a conflict head on. It's as though conflict is always a negative thing when in fact it can bring great transformation when dealt with and not swept under the rug.

The wisdom Cecile proposed at the level of the physical is that transmuting pain requires allowing the pain to be and attending to it.

I thought I understood before but I had never realized that even at the physical level this applies. Conflict is painful for most of us. We are a species that cannot survive without the support of a wide variety of relationships. We also have a pretty strong desire for autonomy and freedom. When there is conflict it can seem that the relationship with the other is in peril and or that our personal freedom and autonomy is at stake and this creates all kinds of unpleasant tensions and a whole host of different types of behavior. From one person who is as blunt as a dull knife because they guard their autonomy with a vengeance to another who will accept anything to preserve the relationship but then vent to others or use passive aggression like purposefully being late for example. But guess what!?! Almost everyone has this dilemma going on inside them too and has come up with some strategy to try and find a balance that works for them. Mine was simple: I did not care about the relationship and was often so blunt it hurt. But there was always a little part of me that wished for a better balance. Imagine my surprise when one day I finally understood that I did not have to choose between different parts of myself. That I could preserve the relationship and maintain my autonomy and freedom.

We come back to the above phrase:  Transmuting pain requires allowing the pain to be and attending to it.   In the NVC tradition one of the trainers (Dominic Barter) proposes a method called restorative circles as a way to support people in dealing with important conflicts in their lives. I won't get into it now but the basic premise of the NVC way of approaching conflict is that it is neither good nor bad but rather an opportunity to discover the underlying needs that need to be attended to. Allowing myself to go into and stay with the tension at a physical level gave me valuable information about what is going on in my body and what I need to pay attention to. Approaching a conflict as an opportunity to discover what is going on within myself (if the conflict is internal) and if with someone else then it allows me to see what the tensions are in the community that I share with the other person. (family, work ect...)

Some people won't allow conflict to be at all for fear of a break in the relationship. They ignore it. If I decided to I could ignore the tension in my back but then what would happen? Soon enough I won't be able to ignore it anymore. Conflict is like muscle pain in that what it is trying to tell us has to be heard and will come back again and again and again until it is. Has anyone ever noticed that people (maybe you) tend to have the same conflict over and over again, different story, different actors but same underlying theme. Using physical pain as an indicator of the underlying strain I have in my back and then putting my full consciousness attention (through the breath) on it allowed me to understand the extent of the tension. Just that by itself already reduced it and I can now take pre-cautions to reduce and minimize it. The same thing applies for any conflict situation you face. Use it as a point of entry for discovering the extent of your needs and if the conflict is with someone else the needs of that community.

I realized that I could take care of both my desire for autonomy and my desperate need (at the time) for relationships. I did this by paying attention to both these needs, taking the time to face the pain I felt that made me guard my autonomy so jealously and the consequent pain of not having the type of connections with people that I wanted. I was then able to evaluate if the strategies I was using were really working for me. This allowed me to adjust and to create more space for healthier relationships without any negative impact on my autonomy.

When in conflict with another if we slow down enough and bring an attentive presence both to personal experience and what the other is experiencing the same thing can happen. Giving the pain attention and recognizing the underlying needs, naming them, allowing the pain to be until we can name the needs, allowing this to inform us of the extent of the injury on both sides is the first step that creates a base to then find effective strategies that will make our lives more wonderful. NVC allows me to make space for all the aspects of myself as well as myself and the other because I know that once we have found the underlying needs there will be consensus that those needs are important. Ironing out the strategies to be used then becomes easy and fluid. Conflict can be a source of great learning if we let it.      

Have to put the baby to sleep. I am tired but grateful for the chance to share these thoughts with you.