This is part two of a five part series on the fundamentals of compassionate consciousness. In the first entry, I wrote about how to listen to our feelings and needs. And now once we hear our own feelings and needs, it becomes much easier to see and embrace the other person’s feelings and needs.
It all begins with self-empathy. When we are able to accept and embrace our own experience, we get much calmer. We get out of our “head” and into our “body”. Recall in th first entry that my story was that I had been dishonest and that my date was going to be mad at me. And through noticing this empty sensation in my stomach I got in touch with my feelings of sadness and need for fun and connection. Our bodies are these wonderful instruments that get us out of our stories and into an “in the moment” experience.
And once we’ve become grounded in our own feelings and needs, it becomes much easier to hear the feelings and needs of someone else. Let me tell a story from my own life to illustrate this. I used to work for a political polling firm in Washington D.C. One my jobs was to build powerpoint slides for presentations. One day my boss came into my cubicle and said in this panicked, and what sounded to me like angry, tone “you need to get 15 slides done in the next 2 hours for a presentation at 3 pm.”
Well I had a lot of thoughts about that. Let me show you some of them: “Oh my god! 2 hours! That’s not enough time!”…”What an asshole! He came in here and just ruined my day. Why can’t he make the slides, its probably a mistake he made.”…”I hate this job”…”Why is he blaming me for this problem. I can tell by his voice he thinks this is my fault”, etc.
This was all very usual, but then something unusual happened. I noticed my racing heart, my short breathing, and tension in my thighs. Ah, I was feeling scared because I needed more ease, peace, and harmony. And then something really unusual happened. I no longer saw my boss standing over me with anger, waging an imaginary finger in my face. And I no longer saw the tape in my head of what would happen if I didn’t get the slides done in time. Instead I saw a person who was scared and panicked because he was needing efficiency, help, and accomplishment.
Most of us can’t really see someone else when we’re in distress. When I’m fighting with my boss, I can’t really see him. I see a caricature I’ve developed in my head. I see a selfish, uncaring, angry asshole.
To really see the other person means to see their feelings and needs. But there’s something blocking me from making that switch huh? Yes, and its my own unacknowledged feelings and needs. The story “he’s a selfish, uncaring, angry asshole” is a defense mechanism. I’m trying to protect myself by getting angry back at him. And that caricature I’ve developed of him sure is easy to get mad at. We use these stories to protect ourselves, but at the cost of the other person and the relationship.
But once I noticed that I was feeling scared because I needed more peace, I dropped the story because I no longer need it to protect myself. I knew that I could simply ask for what I needed, and I’d either get it or I wouldn’t. And in fact its much easier, there are no more games, once I can acknowledge the other person’s pain and express my own feelings and needs.
But let me quickly clarify that embracing is not the same thing as endorsing. I can cherish and hold with tenderness my boss’s fear but I don’t have to accept responsibility for his fear or do whatever it is he demands. I can reply “I can see you’re really in a panic about this presentation getting done on time, and I’m really scared too cause I don’t know that I can get it done in time. Is there anyway we can split these slides?” Just because I’m holding my boss’ feelings and needs with tenderness doesn’t mean I have to succumb to them. The solution isn’t self-sacrifice. Don’t just give up on yourself to appease the other. That only breeds resentment in you. The way to freedom is by really embracing your own feelings and needs, so that you’re more available to hear the feelings and needs of the other.
KindCommunication.org is a project by a close friend of Wiki World Order, Alex Leach. WWO fully supports the study, practice, and teaching of non-violent communication as one of the core solutions which already exists.