Opening as One Door Closes
[Please note: The views and opinions expressed in each post are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of BayNVC as a whole.]
I have been following a trajectory of opening over 23 years with Voice of Hope and then with the next iteration, BayNVC. I have no illusions about nor desire for “staying open.” Rather I experience this movement as increasing ease with oscillating between closing and re-opening. At first, this showed up on emotional and physical/somatic levels. Early on, I took Marshall B. Rosenberg, PhD’s words to heart: “Don’t listen to what other people think about you (i.e., their judgments). You will be happier and live longer.”
I began to notice that whenever I spoke or even thought a judgment about someone else or myself, something in me tensed, tightened, braced, closed. If you haven’t tried it yourself, you might find it interesting to try right now. Say out loud some judgment you have had about someone else that you spoke once or only said in the privacy of your thoughts. Notice what happens in your body after you speak the judgment aloud. I imagine your body does not feel open and relaxed!
One dangerous outcome of judgments is that they often appeared when I thought someone was treating me poorly, so I went into either battle mode or withdrawal to protect myself. So often when I and others feel like victims, we immediately feel justified in lashing out to protect ourselves. ‘Back off! Quit hurting me!’
Further, judgments can equal fighting or arguing with life, telling ourselves that some thing or someone should be different than they actually are, for example, “He shouldn’t talk to me that way. What a jerk!” Observations help de-potentiate judgments, allow us to relax a little into neutral descriptive language. Byron Katie’s ‘The Work’ emphasizes letting go of arguing with life and accepting things as they are, which practice can steeply reduce stress.
If I don’t like how something or someone is, there is one territory where I am completely empowered — inside myself. And once I uncover what values are alight inside me, I can begin assessing what actions I might take to move myself and even the world in the direction I care about. Here is my Pain Paths Map to illustrate the judgment path and the needs exploration path. At the same time, I am aware of and grieve the exhausting pain of institutionalized inequalities, obstructions and judgments which call for more complex responses.
I believe that having more emotional/physical space inside can lead to increased access to choice. Anger and upset instead lead to contraction and narrowed peripheral vision because our attention is laser-locked on danger. The contraction can even lead to physical pressure on blood vessels and elevate blood pressure, possibly eventually leading to heart attack or stroke, two of the leading causes of death in the United States. Conversely, space is created by relaxation and settling, by expansion and energy, or by both simultaneously occurring. Bringing my attention to which needs have come alive in me creates these types of emotional and somatic space inside. When I experience myself without choice, I start to contract. When I experience myself with choice, I start to open.
I want now to expand the sense of opening. Mark Nepo in The Book of Soul writes,
By our very nature, we’re living conduits for energy. Yet we’re so distracted by our attempts to problem-solve what falls apart that we forget our basic relationship to energy. Under all our problems is our inborn agreement to let the energy of life fill us, while working to remove whatever is blocking us from that energy. This wellspring of connection is a great resource when we can open ourselves enough to let it fill us.
So the question is how can I open enough for life’s energies (needs) to flow freely through me? I question, I explore, I trust that under every contraction caused by angry or fearful thoughts of wrongness, there is something beautiful, and I align with that. Sometimes, it is not possible for a particular need to be met at a particular time or by a specific person. In those cases, I think about times this need has been met in the past, or about how other people are helping me meet the need. If all else fails, I use my imagination and let myself contemplate what it would be like if the need were met. I set my heart in the direction where it can open. I increasingly like what happens when I ask myself what I can do to further that energy in the world, regardless of what the other person chooses to do. Thus I become a generator of life energy.
I found writer/producer (of Grey’s Anatomy, among several television series) Shonda Rhimes’ book Year of Yes an inspiring antidote to the many ways we might pinch off or diminish the life energy moving through us. She decided to say Yes to everything that she was afraid of for one year and describes the process she went through and its impact on her life afterward. Though I am not prepared to take on her commitment of saying Yes every time fear arises, I am opening to baby steps on that path and so far I’m very much enjoying the outcomes.
And opening into an even wider context, Adrienne Maree Brown writes in Emergent Strategy:
Together we must move like waves. Have you observed the ocean? The waves are not the same over and over – each one is unique and responsive. The goal is not to repeat each other’s motion, but to respond to whatever way feels right in your body. The waves we create are both continuous and a one-time occurrence. We must notice what it takes to respond well. How it feels to be in a body, in a whole – separate, aligned, cohesive. Critically connected.
I would call our work to change the world “science fictional behavior” – being concerned with the way our actions and beliefs now, today, will shape the future, tomorrow, the next generations.
We are excited by what we can create, we believe it is possible to create the next world.
My opinion is that we may as well ride the tide because that’s what’s going to happen anyway. In essence, I think Ms. Brown offers a path to inclusion, pointing the way to opening at a social level.
Since the pandemic started, I have been practicing tai chi ch’uan 6 days a week in a park with other people. At first we masked and socially distanced and met in groups of 10 or less. We practiced on cold days, on hot days, in an open-sided gazebo in the rain. Lately, we meditate before physical practice, experiencing openness to the grass, trees, sky, the crows, swallows and hawks, dogs and people, the flowers and bees, the sun and wind, the red skies when fires burned near, the impossibly blue skies between unexpected late-season rain clouds.
Tai chi is a practice that expresses the Tao, you might call it the void out of which all material existence emerges, though Lao Tzu’s Tao Te Ching opens by saying, “The Tao which can be named is not the true Tao.” Someone asked me what Taoism is about. I responded there are 2 premises. One is that the mystery takes form and becomes dualities (yin and yang). The Second is that everything changes continuously, one into its opposite. So a question arises: Can I open to the changes, whether pleasant or unpleasant, joyful or heartbreaking?
I met a Tao master from China a month ago who told me that at the center of many things (including us humans) is empty space. When I asked him if that is like the vast empty space between the nucleus of an atom and the closest electron cloud, he smiled and nodded, “Yes. Exactly that.” So each atom consists mostly of empty space, and these atoms gather to form molecules, then cells, then organs and systems, then organisms, then families, then tribes, then communities, nations, species, eco-systems, planets, solar systems, galaxies, then the Universe, and back again to micro-organisms.
It was not easy for me to open to the fires in Sonoma County, yet among the Native American Plains tribes, there is a place on the medicine wheel for the wild storms of winter that break off the weak branches
Though we rightfully feel the rip and pull of everything taken away from us, being stripped of what covers us helps us to grow – by lightening our load and making us more raw and naked, so we can be touched and transformed by the elements of life. This seems to be the promise of the inner world – that if we stay open to life, we’ll be cleansed of dead weight, worn of coverings that have served their purpose, and pruned of the tangle of falseness that grows like vines about everything. –Mark Nepo, The Book of Soul, p. 68
The first time the wildfires tore through my town in ‘17, I stood in my doorway before driving to safety in Berkeley and said thank you to the beautiful art on my walls for all the joy it had brought me over the years and acknowledged it might all be gone in a few hours. Though not all my neighbors and friends were so lucky, my art and I have weathered the firestorms so far. Last year came the relief of a gentle summer and fall with few fires in my town. But the drought has worsened, and we wait, concerned. As Larry Robinson wrote:
In these awe-filled days of fire and flood and plague
We watch and wait and wonder
When the fierce hand
Might reach at last for us.
Those of us not yet touched by calamity
Quake, knowing in our bones
That though we may be spared
This time, time will level us all.
No masks nor magic amulets, no prayers
Good deeds or good looks
Can promise protection
From our terminal condition.
And those who have watched a child
Swept forever from our arms
Or fled the flames that swallowed
Our hopes and our memories
Or hid from the bombs or the virus
Or the predator’s gaze
Know that nothing now will ever be the same –
As if anything ever were.
For all of us are falling
Like ashes, like rain,
Like petals or leaves;
But we are all falling together.
And if we knew, in truth,
There was nowhere to land,
Tell me: could we know the difference
Between falling and flying?
And beyond pain, I, too, work on opening to “evil,” perhaps better named longing for kindness, for inclusion and belonging, for mutuality and care. Can I hold that people who are learning about power through its abuse, what we can call power-over, are learning something important, even if they have not yet figured things out before they die?
Carrying opening to tinier (quantum) and more enormous levels, I ran across an amazing short film (38 minutes), The Art of Life by the folks at Om = mc2, also called Science and Nonduality. The film makers met an amazing man, Michael, on a beach in Maui, a mathematician and Buddhist whose healing journey led him to swim with the dolphins every day for 5 years. Michael said:
Everything that’s a deep conception of reality is in terms of two things that are contradictory opposites, that are mutually contradictory, you know, the wave and particle. Here you’re being an enlightened person, and here you’re entangled, trapped in samsara [illusion]. That’s the Copenhagen convention. And the fact that you want to grab one or the other and say they contradict each other, that’s not being alive because that’s not the way the world really is. That’s what the discovery of quantum mechanics says, is that a deep reality can’t be described [as this contradicts that]. It is all going on at the same time.
It feels as if, once I decided to retire from BayNVC, I have been flooded with messages, meetings, opportunities, experiences which draw me to open further and further. Still, painful moments occur, and I work either alone or with empathic help to return myself to opening to “the beauty of the needs,” as our dear, recently-died teacher Robert Gonzales used to say.
Near the end of Doris Lessing’s The Marriages Between Zones Three Four and Five, the protagonist who has undergone foundation-level changes finds herself drawn to the high mountain passes where she watches the Beings of Light there, and eventually disappears up into their world. More and more, I find myself couching my understanding in the wholeness of existence, out of which I am formed, of which I am made, into which I will disappear – though not just yet, God willing and the Creek don’t rise!
If these thoughts about opening touched you in some way and you are willing to name or discuss your experience, I would welcome hearing from you at 707-775-dash-7178 or email@example.com
Meganwind Eoyang came to the study of Nonviolent Communication from a very different world. She grew up street fighting on the south side of Chicago. She studied and taught martial arts, and took full-force fighting training. She was excited to discover that Nonviolent Communication offers clear steps for practicing the compassion, self-love, and love for others which most spiritual traditions invite us to live. Meganwind has been a trainer with Bay Area Nonviolent Communication since 2001. She also managed BayNVC’s Safer Communities Project for 14 years, with 13 volunteers bringing NVC classes to people incarcerated in San Quentin state prison and Bay Area Sheriff’s Department county jails. She loves sharing NVC skills and principles with individuals, couples, classes and organizations. Click here to read more about her Empowered Communication 1 study series. Meganwind is retiring from BayNVC this Summer, and will continue to offer classes, private NVC coaching and couples support sessions. You can reach her for further information or to arrange classes and sessions at: 707-775-dash-7178 or firstname.lastname@example.org
You may enjoy watching:
- A 10-minute video interview of Meganwind speaking about empathy.
- A 4-minute video interview of Meganwind speaking about examples of empathy with inmates at San Quentin and in her coaching sessions with couples.