Friday, March 20, 2009

The Practice of Being Human

"The journey of a thousand miles begins beneath one's feet," according to Chinese philosopher Lao Tzu. Likewise, the journey toward full experience of living as a human being begins within one's heart. I would also say this journey is all about the heart - specifically about learning to open one's heart to life, regardless of the situation. I can think of no better definition of what it means to be fully human than to learn to relate to oneself and others gently and with compassion.

Nonviolent Communication, the body of work pioneered by Dr. Marshall Rosenberg, offers a skillful means to navigate this journey of the heart. Many people are familiar with the forms of NVC, and are aware of the “Observation – Feeling – Need – Request” construct for communicating. Going a bit beyond this form, we can relate to NVC consciousness as a way to support our self-awareness and development of compassion for ourselves and others.

The first step on this journey toward living from an open heart is to make friends with ourselves. We can become aware of how our habitual patterns of behavior are grounded in long conditioning, and notice when we are triggered by situations that do not align with our deep-seated beliefs. We can begin to recognize strong emotions, suffering, and despair as pointers to our longing for wholeness, and treat ourselves with a light touch. We can build this awareness into an aspiration to learn a new way of relating with the world, one that is life-affirming and fundamentally cheerful.

Once we begin to treat ourselves more gently, we naturally begin to extend this same compassion to others. We can be very intentional about our personal interactions, beginning with the simple yet profound act of listening with presence. We can discover for ourselves the beauty and power of really being there for another person, letting go of our own storyline and agenda and becoming fully present to what’s alive for another. Even in moments of conflict, anger, and sorrow, we can maintain compasssion for ourselves and others.

Having made friends with ourselves and begun to treat others with gentle compassion, we can embark on a dance of life that accommodates all of the ups and downs of our daily existence with spaciousness and grace. We can invite others to join us, supporting each other as we take many first steps on this journey of life as a human being, a journey whose distance could never be measured in miles.

I'm sharing some practices for this journey of life during a four-session class called Connecting Compassionately with Ourselves and Others in Manassas, VA starting on April 23. Follow the link if you'd like to know more.