Compassion Course: weeks 7 & 8

Ahh, sangha! In the last two weeks, I’ve been basking in communities that I’ve come to know: Champaign, IL where I spent a year studying yoga in a teacher training program and bartending at a local craft brewery and Ann Arbor, MI where I grew up. As I spent my last week in Champaign, I reminisced about the places I’ve lived in my adult life: New York City, Indonesia, Mongolia. In each place I’ve lived, I’ve come to know some great people. Each place they welcomed me into their sangha, or community, and made me feel at home. It’s a warm and wonderful feeling, like rich dollops of honey dripping into an aromatic cup of tea.

In this Non-Violent Communication (NVC) course, there is also a community of people with the same goal: to realize and develop compassion in themselves and compassionate interactions all around. In the weekly emails, forum discussions, and monthly conference calls, we’ve created a community of the 21st century: global, virtual, yet connected and authentic in its own way.

Community and connection are two important needs that we humans have. When I feel disconnected or alone, I begin to defend, to judge and put my guard up. This happens naturally when I arrive in a new place because my mind is trying to make sense of it. In what ways is this new place (or situation) similar to things I’ve seen before? How is it different? Judgments are useful (and contrary to popular belief, not a bad thing) because they give me information to work with. If you’re curious about how, I’ve given an example at the end of the post. In my practice of yoga, meditation, and NVC, it gets easier and easier to sense when that shift happens in me. And the beauty is, I get to choose what to do. I don’t have to be stuck in discomfort, or the needs-not-met zone, I can do something about it!

I am so looking forward to experiencing this over and over again in the coming months: arriving at a new place, noticing familiar and strange things about it, and deconstructing the judgments that come up, opening up to the community that surrounds me. Sharing a cup of tea, a beer or glass of wine, a meal, or going to a concert, for a hike, or a buggy ride to who-knows-here with people I meet along the way. So many possibilities!

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Useful Judgments Example: If I’m thinking “the people here are so close-minded! This place is so hot and stuffy, and the food is crap. And it stinks!”, then I have three pieces of information to digest. These three judgments could be telling me that 1) I am feeling disconnected and have a need to be understood and accepted, 2) I’m outside of my physical comfort zone in temperature and taste, and 3) I have a physical need for fresh air. Then I choose how to respond. I can react by freezing up, limiting my interactions with others  and complaining about the smell and the food. I can also press the pause button, take a moment to breathe and acknowledge what’s going on — the judgments and underlying unmet needs. Then I can try to meet those needs by seeking out people with similar interests, introducing myself and being open to things that I do have in common with the people around me, and allowing time to adjust to the temperature and the food. I could even ask those around me what they like to eat, cool places to check out, and how they beat the heat. Or start a conversation about how trash disposal works in that city, and what their experiences are, whether they’re satisfied with the service. Boom! Lots of potential for connection, shared understanding, and discovering a new yummy place to eat!

Compassion course: week 6

Wow, summer is flying by! This is the fifth installment of a weekly svadjaja (self study) series that I’m doing to reflect on the Non-Violent Communication course that I’m taking with NYCNVC. I’m jotting down how the course changes my day-to-day life, and take away from each week’s lesson. Check out last week’s post on anxiety!

As I get deeper into building my compassion “muscles”, I’m beginning to realize that the learning won’t be over after this one-year course is over. Rather, I’m just scratching the surface of exercising this new skill, and it will take practice (just like everything else, huh) to incorporate it into the natural rhythms of my life.

The past week really zipped by with moving out of our apartment, M getting a contract job, and moving our few possessions into storage. Lots of travel and beginning to say “see ya later” to friends. We’re officially nomads now!

Over the next two weeks, I am staying with good friends of mine, the owners of Living Yoga Center, the studio where I teach yoga. In addition to their warmth and generosity (they’ve even let me use a car for getting to work), I’ve felt a natural connection to their openness and their stories from their own life experiences. Jai!

This week’s practice was about noticing hidden judgements that we make towards ourselves or others. That means noticing those judgements that are disguised as feelings.

I noticed that as I become more aware of judging vs feeling, I am noticing judging in others more clearly. In fact, I’ve been judging others for judging! Is that progress?

That’s where I think of the yogic concept of non-attachment. Through the eyes of non-attachment, judgement is a comparison of my expectation with reality. When those don’t match up, AND when I’m attached to my expectations, that’s when I judge. So if I let go of my expectations, I’m much less likely to judge.

Aha! So while I’m not going to transcend judging anytime soon, I can recognize the expectation I had that caused the judgement and let it go. Then the judgement dissolves too.

That’s my samadhi (enlightened) moment this week. Till next time!

 

Compassion course: week 5

Hey there! This is the fourth installment in a weekly svadjaja (self study) series I’m doing based on NYCNVC’s online Compassion Course. As I go through the weekly lessons offered in the course, I share my thoughts here. Check out last week’s post on needs and strategies!

Oh man, did I need some compassion this week! Though the lesson for this week was to notice subtler, “non eventful” interactions, I’ve been preoccupied with moving out of our apartment and becoming nomads for the next 5 months. I haven’t been very good about keeping a journal and jotting down interactions throughout the week. However, my weekly NVC group has kept me coming back to the NVC mindset and given me an opportunity to practice this skill with others. It’s such an open and warm atmosphere that we’re creating, and a grounding experience of Being Present for each other and for ourselves for 90 minutes each week. I’ll be sad to leave the group — but also looking forward to connecting with NVCers outside of the US.

I had two big take-aways from this week’s lesson:

1. Noticing and listening are a big deal.

Simply being present for yourself or another goes a long way. It sounds easy, yet I often either assume it’s happening or dismiss it as unnecessary. But I’ve noticed that really being paying attention — not thinking of a response, going through my to-do list for later, or reading something on my phone — is a big deal. Truly listening to someone and receiving what’s alive within them at the moment does a lot to connect me to them. I end up having a much more meaningful conversation and I feel we both walk away fulfilled with the interaction.

2. Anxiety is not a bad thing.

Check it out. According to Merriam-Webster, anxiety is simply defined as

: fear or nervousness of what might happen

: a feeling of wanting to do something very much

After realizing the excitement and happiness I felt this morning about our trip was also anxiety, I was a bit confused. M encouraged me to look up the definition, and so I found what’s above. Huh. Though I’ve been told almost all my life that anxiety and fear are bad things (to be avoided or gotten rid of as quickly as possible), I’d never actually looked up what they meant. And it’s not bad at all. “A feeling of wanting to do something very much”? Hell, that’s how I felt about becoming a yoga teacher, and it brought me to a little town in Central Illinois for a year of intensive study and discovery! And fear? Though unpleasant, I’ve learned over the last few years that when I give fear space and look it in the eye, it’s a valuable tool for me to learn from. As I learn to choose what my relationships with fear and anxiety are, I can more skillfully use them to become who I want to be.

Lastly, here’s a picture from a walk I took through Washington Square Park, NYC in 2012 (damn, time flies!):

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The man in the cowboy hat was working on a mandala, and I’d stopped to admire his work. I appreciated the detail and care he put into his work, one grain at a time, knowing it would be swept away after it was complete. I’m beginning to see life this way. I work to create something of my own, one grain at a time with my actions and words, which show who I choose to be. And one day this beautiful work will be complete, and I will be gone. So today I’ll put on my cowboy hat and let fall a few grains of sand. Can’t wait to see what I make 🙂

Compassion Course: week 3

Hey guys! This is post number 2 in a weekly svadjaja (self study) series I’m doing to share my thoughts during a one year online Non-Violent Communication (NVC) course with NYCNVC. I’ll be publishing every Friday my thoughts on the previous week.  Click here for weeks 1&2!

Feelings. What are they good for? Absolutely nothing?

This week was about feelings and what they do, exactly. From the NVC perspective, feelings tell us what our needs are. They could be “good” feelings, meaning needs are being met, or “bad” feelings, meaning those needs are not met. In short, feelings connect us with our needs.

Whoa.

I wish I had known that growing up. I was raised in the US by Taiwanese parents, and traditionally, Taiwanese people don’t talk about feelings. Opening up or sharing the vulnerability and tenderness of feelings was unheard of, and greatly discouraged when I tested the waters as a kid. Though feelings of anger, disappointment, accomplishment or satisfaction were ok, things like being scared (and why) or feeling affectionate were not. I spent a lot of my childhood trying to understand why that was, and why the “American” kids were more able to express their feelings.

A few years ago, about two years into my practice of yoga, I really began to look at what was going on inside. I recognized points where I would feel extremely frustrated with myself or others, yet unable to find the words to express it, much less move forward from it. These uncomfortable feelings were trying to tell me about my unmet needs for things like autonomy, connection, acceptance, and understanding. But no one had taught me that.

So, I started with guided meditation to let myself feel my feelings. I’d spent over two decades pushing them away! This was an intense experience, but so worth it. I began to open up to myself, and as a result I felt more connected to my internal weather and climate (and more grounded too). I saw my relationships with family and friends improve because I was more aware of who I was and more accepting of where I was in my journey to understand myself.

Most importantly, I was honoring who I was. I continued to meditate and joined a meditation group when I moved to Champaign, IL last year. I also met with a counselor for a few months to get clarity on things I felt stuck on. And my yoga practice gives me a chance to check in regularly to see where I am and how I’m feeling that day.

Thats not to say there aren’t days where I do not feel accepting of where I am or how I’m feeling. But being aware of that goes a long way, and my interactions with myself and those around me are that vastly more authentic and fulfilling because of the work I’ve done. But good days or bad, each one is an opportunity to change old, stale patterns (samskaras) of thinking and create something new. It’s all part of the yoga practice 🙂

Compassion Course: Weeks 1 & 2

I plan to do a weekly series on my thoughts and a-ha moments from my Non-Violent Communication course, published every Friday to kick off the weekend with some love for yourself and those around you. Jai!

I’m currently two weeks into a one-year online Non-Violent Communication (NVC) course with New York City-based Thom Bond, founder of NYCNVC. I chose to take this course to deepen my understanding of myself and how I interact with the world around me. I think it will be especially enlightening as I am traveling around the world, beginning in two months!

In this last month that I’m in Champaign, IL, I also meet once a week with other NVCers at Green Yoga Spa, a lovely house and spa run by longtime yogi Mary Wolters. In the last two weeks, we focused on needs and judgements. The main idea is: everything we do, we do to fulfill a need. This is an eye opening concept to me, something I’m pondering as we delve deeper into the course. It’s a simple statement, but woooosh! It’s powerful. Pretty regularly, I meet people who do or say things that baffle me. People that have had vastly different life experiences than I, with different (and sometimes conflicting) perspectives and attitudes. Sometimes it’s hard for me to see where they’re coming from. That’s when the judging happens.

In our meetings, we identify feelings that we feel as a reaction to a conversation or action with another. Then, we connect those with needs that we had associated with those feelings. That is pretty eye-opening in and of itself. Kind of like “oh, so that’s what my feelings are for. I didn’t know they could be so useful!” The second part is an even bigger whammy: doing the same process for the other person. What were they feeling, and what possible needs were they trying to meet?

When I think about the violence happening this week in the US between police and Black Americans, my first reaction is frustration and helplessness. Frustrated that the problem is so deeply embedded in our law enforcement system, and at the lack of awareness and acknowledgement by so many in this country. Helpless because I feel like I’m on the outside looking in. What can I do to change things? I can voice my support to my black friends, to the black community, that I stand with them. But real change comes when we unite and see each other. Real change comes when we see our very real and very different experiences growing up Black, White, Asian, Hispanic, rich, poor, gay, straight. How can we make this happen? How do we unite the law enforcement community with all of those they vowed to serve and protect?

Compassion is a word I come across all the time, but what does it really mean? I love this take on it: compassion is love in action. It applies to actions toward yourself and towards those around you. I think if we practice this by being compassionate towards our own feelings and needs and by recognizing and honoring the feelings and needs of someone that seems so different from ourselves, then we have a chance of truly uniting and enacting real and meaningful change.