These days it’s painful to watch TV or even read the news because it seems as if the world is coming to an end, as if our yearning for a collaborative society, rooted in interconnectedness, is just out of the question. Not only are we living in turbulent times, but day-to-day, we need anchoring in practices that help us navigate all kinds of conflicts and misunderstandings in our homes, at work and in other relationships.

These realities were the impetus behind my desire to offer approaches and strategies that move us in the direction of healing, of seeing the bigger, more hopeful, picture of human relationships.

Marshall Rosenberg was a beloved teacher who inspired me to believe in the possibility of radical connection–Marshall Rosenberg, who once gave a talk on Nonviolent Communication at a mosque in a refugee camp in Bethlehem and was shouted down by Palestinian men lobbing epithets: “Murderer!”, “Child Killer!”. In spite of his initial shock, Marshall was able to keep his wits about him. Just hours before, on his way to the camp, he’d noticed empty tear gas canisters marked clearly, “Made in the USA”. Connecting the dots, he ventured to ask the agitators: “Are you angry because you’d like my government to use its resources differently?”  One man answered, “Damn right I’m angry!  You think we need tear gas? We need sewers, not your tear gas. We need housing….”. This began a dialogue on the spot that ended with the man inviting Marshall to his home for Ramadan dinner that night. This is a story of the miracle of empathy.

My first exposure to Marshall was through a video on Nonviolent Communication (NVC). I saw immediately how learning the steps and concepts of NVC could enhance my relationships. As I pursued the training, I also saw the risk of saying the right words but not really meaning them, which can make matters worse. I learned that the energy of my intentions and my presence is what registers with the other person and tells the truth of what I am about.

Robert Gonzales, a close friend and colleague of Marshall’s extended NVC, with a focus on doing the work inside ourselves in order to soften into clarity and healing. This readies us to encounter the other with authenticity and compassion.  It is like finding the doorway to spirit.

I am grateful to my teacher, Thich Nhat Hanh (Thay), who is a Zen Buddhist master, poet, activist and living saint. From Thay, I learned how mindfulness can free us from mistaken perceptions and habits that lead to mental and emotional suffering. His teachings point us toward the awareness of our inter-being. Coming home to our true nature, we can drop the painful illusion of separateness.

The idea of Radical Connection that is the subject of my workshop is informed by the teachings of these great individuals. My goal in this training is to help us all touch into the goodness of who we really are and see how we all fundamentally belong to each other. Ironically, I use as a starting point, those times when we are triggered into reactivity.  After all, it is pain and frustration that motivates us to learn and grow.