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!


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!