Restorative activism

April 17, 2010

Today I attended a workshop on Restorative Activism, offered by Scott Brown and John Ehrhart of Open Path Trainings. It was a beautiful, inspiring, and renewing experience.

Below is a short summary of what restorative activism is, but I recommend Scott Brown’s blog post on it if you want to learn more.

The fundamental premise of restorative activism is that we must prioritize relationship, recognizing that we are all connected. A quote from Neem Karoli Baba captures the essence of this philosophy:

Do what you must with people,
but never let anyone out of your heart,
not even for a moment.

Engaging in restorative activism requires engaging with oneself, by cultivating mindfulness and self-awareness. Through connecting with our inner self and paying attention to what is deepest in our heart, we can then reach the place from which we can be out in the world. Being authentic with ourselves is the only way in which we can be authentic in the world. True activism stems not from anger and hatred, but from love, compassion, and recognition of our interconnectedness. This form of activism is not divisive and does not lead to shaming or blaming. Instead, it leads to healing and repair of relationships.

The atmosphere at the workshop was calm, safe, and accepting. Everyone spoke authentically and we all went deep in our self-exploration. Much of the content resonated deeply with me, and I came away feeling connected and less alone in my beliefs in peace and compassion. I also feel that I gained some small bit of clarity about how I need to engage with the world, in part through the many mindfulness exercises we did. I found these exercises both challenging and renewing, and I am contemplating finding a mindfulness practice to incorporate into my routine life.

The workshop was a beautiful experience and I will hold it in my heart as a source of inspiration.


Nonviolent Communication

November 20, 2008

I recently read Nonviolent Communication: A Language of Compassion, by Marshall B. Rosenberg, Ph. D. Nonviolent Communication, or NVC for short, is an important approach to and process of communication that allows us to stay connected to our own human-ness and that of others. As Rosenberg describes:

NVC guides us in reframing how we express ourselves and hear others. Instead of being habitual, automatic reactions, our works become conscious responses based firmly on an awareness of what we are preceiving, feeling, and wanting. We are led to express ourselves with honesty and clarity, while simultaneously paying others a respectful and empathic attention. In any exchange, we come to hear our own deeper needs and those of others. NVC trains us to observe carefully, and to be able to specify behaviors and conditions that are affecting us. We learn to identify and clearly articulate what we are concretely wanting in a given situation. The form is simple, yet powerfully transformative.

In a conflict situation, NVC is crucial in keeping things from escalating. If even one of the parties in the conflict uses NVC, they will be able to keep the focus on their own feelings and needs and those of the other party. It is only through acknowledging each individual’s feelings and addressing each of their needs that a conflict can be resolved in a way that makes everyone happy.

I am in some ways a natural at NVC, in large part because my parents were familiar with NVC when they raised me and they raised me very compassionately. I am good at both being aware of my own feelings and needs and at being compassionate and empathic with others and hearing the feelings and needs behind their words. However, there were still things I learned from reading this book, making me realize how complex and, at times, challenging the NVC process is. For example, I became more aware of how prevalent judgments are in our culture and language. Judgments show up in subtle ways, in phrases I would not have immediately labeled as being judgmental. Rosenberg effectively points out how many seemingly innocuous phrases are in fact judgments (or, as he also calls them, evaluations).

Another important aspect of NVC that I understood with new clarity is the importance of owning our feelings. This is particularly important when it comes to anger. Although we may feel a certain way in reaction to a particular behavior, another person’s behavior does not make us feel that way. We feel that way because we have a need that was or was not met by the behavior in question. Rosenberg describes this as distinguishing stimulus from cause. For example, imagine that you are meeting a friend and she is late. You may feel angry that she was late. However, her behavior is the stimulus but not the direct cause of your anger. The real cause of your anger is that your need to see her for the full hour you were planning to be together was not met, or your need to not walk in to a show late was not met. It can become easier to distinguish stimulus from cause when you imagine a situation where the same thing happens but you feel differently. For example, another time your friend is late you may not feel angry but instead relieved, because you had scheduled things too close together and you needed some downtime in between. It now becomes clear that your friend being late is not the cause of your anger in the first situation.

As you can see, NVC is about more than language itself. It is an entire approach to life. I believe that compassion and empathy are key components to peace, and the best way to prevent violence and instead have peace is to make sure people stay in touch with their human-ness. NVC is an important tool for doing that.

I also reviewed this book on my other blog, Books and Other Miscellany. I highly recommend it.

Getting lost in the details

October 25, 2008

I have a strong need to do some sort of active work related to peace, something more than write this blog, but I have not yet figured out the exact form I want such work to take. The question I would like to answer is “what sort of work would make me feel like I am directly doing something for peace?” However, when I contemplate a particular activity I could do, I immediately fear that I will not feel completely satisfied by it, that once I start doing it I will find that the everyday details overshadow any sense of helping the greater good or that it won’t feel like enough because it is only affecting a small set of people. I know these fears stem in part from my strongly held ideals; I addressed this same issue in my post on “How to live as an idealist.” The question of what work to do is difficult to answer because any concrete work is not going to completely fulfill my ideals. I am only able to imagine being fully satisfied by peace work when I think about such work in the abstract.

However, I do think it is possible to participate in peace-related activities that I find meaning in, and I do not expect to answer the question of what those activities are by sitting around at home browsing non-profit websites and writing blog posts. It is important that I do take action, even though the actions feel like they fall short of my ideals, because this is the only way I can come closer to an answer. By trying a variety of activities, I will hopefully discover what sort of work feels most meaningful to me and best utilizes my skills and abilities. This is why I started volunteering in July at a food bank, and am now pursuing volunteer work in a restorative justice program. Although neither of these programs perfectly meet my ideals, my participation in them gives me new experiences and perspectives and sheds different lights on the question of what work I want to do related to peace.

As I spend time studying specific types of work I may do, I do not want to forget the larger reasons of why I am pursuing such ideas to begin with. Although thinking about my ideals can cause me to feel dissatisfied with any concrete work, I feel that remembering them is also central in helping me discover the most satisfying work possible. I need to re-center myself occasionally on my vision of a world at peace and the skills and characteristics I bring to this vision: my strong compassion, the fact that I am not desensitized to violence, my ability to listen and communicate well, and my ability to be in touch with my feelings. As I contemplate doing particular peace-related work, I do not want to lose sight of my vision for the world or of the combination of skills and experiences that is uniquely mine to contribute.


July 27, 2008

Sometimes I look upon the world and sense an infinity of possibilities. In these moments, I feel capable, confident, hopeful, inspired, creative. I feel ready to take on the world. Alas, these moments, though recurring, are fleeting.

The most powerful moment of possibilities for me is mornings. Every morning, but particularly early, sunny, blue mornings, when I awaken, I know that there is an entire fresh day ahead of me and I feel that it is full of possibilities. There are so many things I can do, so many ways I can be, so many thoughts I can have in this day that I face. No matter whether I slept well or not, I wake up ready to act. I am my most productive in the mornings, at whatever I wish to be productive at – work, organizing, cleaning, making shopping lists, writing blog posts. As the day continues, though, I lose the sense of its fullness. I languish in the afternoons, feeling that the day is escaping me, that there is never enough time to do everything I want to do. At least I know that the morning will come again and I will once again face possibilities.

Another powerful trigger of possibilities for me is libraries. I love to wander through the stacks and bask in the knowledge that I am surrounded by a multitude of thoughts, ideas, facts and entire worlds. In a library, I feel that the possibilities of things I could learn about, of ideas in the world, are endless. A library has the power to feed my hunger for learning about new things, and thus it is full of possibilities.

The infinity of space is another source of possibilities for me. The moments when I am gazing up in to a wide open sky, standing on a mountaintop, or watching the ocean disappear over the horizon make me feel that everything is wide open and infinite. I sense my smallness against these great land-, sky-, or sea-scapes, but at the same time I feel inspired and hopeful. I feel empowered to set aside the every day trivialities and instead focus on the important possibilities of my life.

What about you? What makes you feel inspired or that the world is full of possibilities?

Thoughts on time

June 5, 2008

One aspect of being at peace with myself that I struggle with is being at peace with time. I rarely feel like I have enough time to do all the things I need and want to do. My job takes up 40+ hours a week, I need to sleep 9+ hours a night, and the number of things I want to do in my free time is infinite. On the other hand, sometimes all I want is to be able to sit dreamily by the window or lose myself in a book all afternoon and not worry one bit about how much time is passing.

The two weeks I just spent on a bicycle trip were perhaps the longest two weeks I have ever had, and I mean that in a completely positive way. One thing that I think contributed to that is being in a different place almost every night – every day we saw new and different towns and scenary and met different people. Already by the evening of the first day, we were hardly able to believe we had just left that morning. Another aspect is that we had so few different activities to do each day. A day consisted of packing up camp in the morning, biking on and off most of the day, eating several times a day (stopping at various grocery and convenience stores along the way), setting up camp in the evening, and sleeping. I did not have a computer with internet to lure me down a hundred different paths of interest, I did not have any books or music, I did not have my other usual activities (horseback riding, dance class, choir rehearsal, among other things), and of course I did not have work. Because I was not trying to cram so many things in to each hour, the day felt longer. Furthermore, it did not matter how much time we spent eating lunch or taking a picture in a beautiful location – our time was ours, and we were spending it how we wanted to. I looked at a watch mostly out of curiosity as to how long we had been biking, not because I was worried the day was passing too fast before I could get everything done that I wanted to. The final thing that I think contributed to the days feeling longer was being on an early sleep schedule – going to bed and getting up with the sun, more or less. There is something about being up early in the morning that makes me feel like I have so much more time that day than I do if I wake up late and go to bed late. Perhaps it is because I am always feeling like I *should* be going to bed earlier than I do when I am on a late schedule, so the evening time is not as meaningful as the morning time. In any case, I enjoyed being on an early schedule and I have so far managed to somewhat maintain that since being home.

Unfortunately, I fell right in to my old patterns in relation to time when I went back to work on Monday. I immediately started feeling trapped again by the feeling that there is not enough time for me to get all my work done and do all the other things I want to do. I know that I have working patterns that just make this worse, that in fact live up to my expectation that I don’t have enough time. Primarily, this consists of procrastinating – doing things that are not anywhere close to my highest priority activity, either work-wise or otherwise – during the time I’m trying to get work done such that my work stretches out into more hours than it would need to. I would like to work on my relationship to time so that I can experience life more as I did on the bike trip and less as I currently do on an average workday. Of course, work is never going to be like a bike trip, but I think it is possible to have a healthier relationship to time than I currently have, and to spend my time on the most meaningful activities to me. Luckily, I recently discovered a book that I think will help me: The Renaissance Soul: Life Design for People with Too Many Passions to Pick Just One, by Margaret Lobenstine. I have read the entire book and I am now working through the many exercises in it. It really resonated with me and I think there are strategies in the book that can help me.

As I started writing this post, I re-realized that thinking about time and my (and people’s) relationship to it is not a new thing for me. I have always been fascinated by time, and torn by the feeling that there is not enough time. I wrote a poem about time when I was 13, and I took a seminar called Time and Meaning as a freshman in college. I have a particular interest in time travel and the paradoxes it creates. Now if only I could relate to time positively in my everyday life.

I would love to hear in the comments about how you relate to time.