Category: How to Human Course

(5.4) Relationship Audits

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Does This Relationship Meet My Needs?

Each of us has many kinds of relationships. You may or may not have a romantic relationship right now, but I imagine you have some kind of relationships: family, neighbors, friends, dogs, etc. or have had some in the past.

Pick 1-3 of your most important relationships, the ones that currently impact your life the most. Technically you can do these audits for relationships with people or dogs who are no longer among the living, but it probably helps to start with beings who are alive. We'll cover grief and transitions in the next section of this course.

For each relationship, print out two copies of the NVC Needs Inventory. Start with your role in the relationship.

Pay attention to how your chest and stomach feel as you read each one, how your breathing changes and any other body sensation.

  • Go through the list once and Circle the needs that you believe the relationship with you meets for the other person. Take the time to savor the experience of helping that person meet their, and imagining how it feels to them to have that need met.
  • Underline the needs that the relationship doesn't meet for the other person. Relationships don't have to meet every need!  Notice if there are any needs that you are capable of or interested in meeting, but are not doing. At some point, ponder why you are not doing so.
  • Put a star (*) next to the needs that you believe you are interfering with for the other person. Is your relationship truly blocking the meeting of that need, or does it just require some creativity and adaptation on their part, to find a strategy to meet their need allows your relationship to thrive? If your behavior is interfering with them meeting their needs, is there a behavior or habit that you could change?

Repeat from the other direction, assessing whether the relationship meets your needs.

Go over the first list again. Then consider whether it would be useful to discuss your findings with the other person in the relationship, possibly using your NVC skills.

In what ways could the relationship change so that it doesn't interfere with either party meeting their needs?

In what ways could the relationship change so that it might help both parties meet more of their needs, or in more satisfying ways?

BONUS: Do this activity for the relationship with your inner child

(5.3) Meditation on the Move

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Walking Meditation

Meditation can be done in any position, but it's ideal to have your airway open and it's easier if your body is not in pain.

At some times in my life (like grad school), sitting still for meditation has just been too hard for me, and walking meditation really bridged the gap. I also think that meditation while walking integrates the process in ways that sitting doesn't do. It's also very grounding. So walking meditation is not just an easier version, it's something I'd include anyway.

For starters, pick an area that has few distractions, where you'll essentially pace back and forth or walk in a loop. I walk barefoot, but that may or may not work for you.

If you want to condition a scent to be calming, put that scent in the air or on your wrist before the meditation.

The basic walking meditation I do goes like this:

  1. Keep your eyes softly open, focusing on your feet or at a point ahead of you. Be aware of the general space around you without zooming in on the details. Take small careful steps, essentially one foot in front of the other. You're not trying to get anywhere, just keep your body busy so you can get out of the grip of your thoughts.
  2. Take some calming breaths. For example, breathe out slowly until your lungs are empty. Inhale slowly and expand your belly until you can't hold any more. Repeat for 3 breath cycles.
  3. Breathe naturally. Keep walking, one step at a time.
  4. Let whatever sounds are in the area reach your awareness, and let them go. There's no need to stretch your hearing, just hear the sounds as they come. Do this for about a minute.
  5. Do a body scan, top to bottom, as with the meditations in Section 4.3.
  6. Turn your awareness to your feet. One step at time, feel the sensation of your feet on the ground, making contact. Without using words, note the pressure on the various parts of your foot. Allow yourself to feel grounded as you contact the earth or at least the floor.When thoughts arise (notice I didn't write IF), let them go and return attention to your feet. If thoughts are particularly intrusive, you can count your steps in sets of 8. When you lose track of the count, just return your attention back to the steps. If it happens a lot, don't beat yourself up. Just like with dog training, just lower your criteria to something that works. Have a smaller count, like 4 or even 2.
  7. After some time (say, 10 minutes), return your attention to your breath for about a minute, noting when you inhale and when you exhale. If you find that you get lost in thoughts a lot, you can give yourself something to focus on. A common thing to do is count sets of breaths, say 8 at a time.
  8. Allow sounds to come to your attention again, and become aware of the sights around you.
  9. Stretching at the end or shaking off like a wet dog is a fun way to end it.

Other Ways to Mix Movement and Meditation

I've done a lot of meditation sessions while doing physical activities. Any kind of meditation that one does while sitting can be done with movement as well, but there's always some amount of focus on the physical sensations of your body so I don't hurt myself.

My favorite meditations to do while moving are metta (lovingkindness), focusing almost all attention on the breath (a type of insight meditation), and focusing all attention on my physical sensations (also insight meditation).

  • Yoga
  • Walking the dog. Keep your focus on the dog, for example, and the physical sensations of the leash in your hand. Useful with the BAT leash skills.
  • Sex with or without a partner
  • Dance
  • Hiking
  • Stay training with your dog
  • Heel training with your dog. I like doing this with "it's your choice" training, where you basically walk around a small area and give your dog a treat whenever they show up at your left side. While you are walking, you can essentially do the walking meditation above.

Here's an example of a guided meditation for walking in nature:

 

(5.2) Unconditional Love, Compassion, Lovingkindness Meditation

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Compassion and Unconditional Love

Compassion is direct awareness of suffering, the "heart that trembles in the face of suffering" (Buddhist definition), and a desire to help end the suffering. Compassion is empathy plus a desire to act.

When we see a dog being pulled off his feet by a choke chain and feel almost as if it's happening to us, that's empathy. That feeling, combined with the desire to do something about it, and stop the leash pops for the sake of the dog, is compassion.

Feeling the frustration or fear of the woman who corrected the dog in the first place is also empathy. Maybe she was feeling ashamed and scared because her dog was barking at other dogs, and she was worried that he would get in a fight. She didn't know what else to do, so she watched a television show that told her to lift the dog up by his slip chain whenever he looked at other dogs. Wanting to help her train the dog without force so that her own needs for safety and predictability are met is compassion.

If we only have compassion for the dog, then our approach to the woman might not be skillful. Without compassion for the woman, we might only take the dog's needs into account, and thus our proposed solutions are much less likely to work. We might be unkind to her or just suggest a strategy that makes no sense to her.

Compassion is powerful because when we try to see things from other people's perspectives, we are working WITH people, not against them.

We can also build up more compassion for ourselves. Without compassion, we might see our own behavior from a conditioned point of view and pass judgement on it as Good or Bad. Seeing behavior the NVC way, as an attempt to meet a need, we can still assess our behavior as being healthy or not:
- Does it serve life? (Allow the meeting of needs)
- Does it interfere with our ability to meet needs?
- Does it interfere with someone else's ability to meet their needs?

We can have empathy for ourselves by really feeling our feelings, and seeing them as information about unmet needs, rather than passing judgement on them. Then we can have compassion by having a desire to end our own suffering, and see that we are just as worthy as anyone else to have our needs met. Note that we are ALL worthy of having our needs met, which is antithetical for meeting our needs in a way that prevents someone else meeting theirs.

When we act with compassion, we take other's needs into account. That doesn't mean we meet everyone's needs. That would be impossible. It also doesn't mean we have no boundaries. In fact, compassion requires us to put healthy boundaries on behavior, as far as I'm concerned.

Acting with compassion means we don't behave in a way that prevents someone else from meeting their needs, and often that we do help them meet their needs in some way.

Technically compassion applies to all people, including ourselves, so we really don't need a separate category of self-compassion, but I think it helps to think about it and do specific practices for increasing self-compassion. With self-compassion, we recognize that were are part of humanity, every bit as worthy of avoiding suffering as anyone else.

A compassionate person doesn't meet their own needs in a way that prevents others from meeting theirs. That also includes self-compassion: person doesn't meet other's needs in a way that prevents meeting their own needs.

Since I am most aware of my own needs, and they matter most to me, I figure I'm the most responsible for meeting my needs. Any needs I can meet on my own, I do, so that I don't require as much from others. But it's not possible or desirable to be completely independent. I have a need to help others and they have a need to help me. We did not evolve to be emotionally self-sufficient.

Lovingkindness Meditation

Also called "metta," lovingkindness is a family of meditations to practice compassion. Love and kindness are sent to others and self in order to practice feeling unconditional love.

What is unconditional love? Well, that's a big question and I'll just share what I've come to believe it is. You may have another definition of it. First, unconditional means without conditions. So no matter what, regardless of behavior, this love is available. What is love? There are so many definitions of love that it boggles my mind.

My most basic level of love is that I wish for the object of my love to be at peace, to be free of suffering. This is love that I can feel unconditionally. No matter who it is, where they live, or even what species they are, I wish for them to be free from suffering. That applies to self-love, too. I, too, deserve to be at peace and free from suffering.

This is the kind of love that I send out during lovingkindness meditation. Here's an exercise I like to do.

Start by getting comfortable, either sitting in a chair with both feet flat on the ground, in cross-legged pose, or while walking slowly in an area with minimal obstacles. I've actually done this meditation (on low focus) while listening to a friend talk something through with most of my focus. I wouldn't recommend doing this if you lose track of what the other person is saying, though.

Stay open to any feelings that come up for you. Tears are fine, it's all fine. No judgement.

PREPARE:

  1. Relax your breathing for 3 breath cycles. For example, breathe in deeply, hold for about the same amount of time, then breathe out slowly.
  2. Close your eyes (if possible / safe)
  3. Scan your body as mentioned last week, from the top of your head to your toes.
  4. Relax into your breathing, letting your thoughts go by. Count your breath in sets of 5 or 10 if it helps you focus.
  5. Without using words, briefly visualize the beings who will benefit from your meditation.
    [You don't have to think of every single one. Pretty much every interaction you have with others is improved by being more grounded and compassionate.]LOVINGKINDNESS:
  6. Think of a being you love and whose company you enjoy. It can be a person, dog, or spiritual entity. Someone you are sure that you love.
  7. Imagine wishing them well. I mentally say, "May you be loved, may you be safe, may you be free from suffering."
  8. Imagine a tube from your heart to the heart of the other person, and back. It pumps pure gold over to them, which is your love and it gradually gets stronger and brighter, sending love over to the other person. The return side of that pump is their love mixed with mud (defenses, misunderstandings, conditioned responses, etc.), flowing out of them and into your heart, to be cleansed and returned back to them as pure, bright love. I picture it as a dull gray color on its way to me. So I 'see' muddy liquid flowing along to me, getting purified by the warm love inside my heart, and flowing out to them as golden love. The 'mud' just disappears, it doesn't stay in me. If you want to you, can repeat the words of wishing them well, over and over.
  9. Repeat this until the tube from them to you is also clean, so you can visualize their, pure, unconditional love coming into your heart and right on back to them.
  10. Next, switch to a person more distant to you, someone you know but don't feel strongly for, one way or another. Repeat until the pump is clear, only golden in and out.
  11. Advanced: Repeat with another person who you have a misunderstanding with right now.  Or even with someone you really, really have a hard time connecting with. Another option is to repeat this with all beings on earth. We all want to be loved and be happy.
  12. Repeat with yourself as the object of your love. You can picture it coming right out of you and back or with your inner child as the person with whom you are exchanging love."May you be loved, may you be safe, may you be free from suffering."
    OR
    "May you be loved, may you be safe, may you be free from suffering."For some people, this is easier than the steps above and for some, it is the hardest. If you have trouble with one of the steps above, you might try this one sooner to see if it helps.CLOSE:
  13. Return your focus to your body and breath. Allow yourself to notice physical sensation and the sounds around you.
  14. Open your eyes.
  15. Take a moment to rest with your sensations before moving

p.s.
For me, to be "in love" with someone is to be fascinated by their inner world, to be mutually responsible for each other's well-being. The latter half of that flies in the face of the pop psychology idea of being independent and completely responsible for our own happiness. But this is actually backed by science: we have no choice but to be biologically interdependent with on our partners. The reliable, mutual support of partners paradoxically allows them to be more free. "If you want to take the road to independence and happiness, first find the right person to depend on, and travel down the road with them" (from 'Attached: the New Science of Adult Attachment and How It Can Help You Find - and Keep - Love.")

If you want a guided lovingkindness meditation, there are a LOT of them on YouTube. Here are a few that I particularly enjoyed.

This one is from the Thich Nhat Hanh foundation, with a basic Lovingkindness meditation.

 

This second one is on the Sounds True YouTube channel (definitely check it out!) about self-compassion. That idea might seem a little 'selfish,' but it isn't. Quite the opposite.

I firmly believe that we eventually treat those close to us in a way that is similar to how we treat ourselves. So one of the best things you can do for the people you love is to learn to be compassionate to yourself.

Another perk of compassion toward myself has been that I feel more safe with myself, and thus more willing to open up and be authentic. By feeling safe, I create an environment in which I can expose my defenses for what they are and see the shining gold of my own heart beneath them.

For example, if I react to something with shame, I can have awareness of my shame and not feel ashamed about feeling ashamed. I just notice it, holding it with compassion, let the feeling happen, without trying to push it away. My shame is sort of a "I hope nobody notices that I am such and such a way."

Then shame fades naturally and I have space to see what was hiding behind the shame. Sometimes I realize that being that certain way is just a story in my head. I was ashamed for no reason, because it was a false idea of myself. Or sometimes it's even better; I realize that being that certain way is actually AWESOME but I didn't realize that when I was 5 years old so I've been hiding it away ever since.

For example, I was told in elementary school choir practice that I could be heard above the others. I internalized that to mean that I shouldn't be heard when singing, and it crippled my singing voice for decades. I'm only now just learning that what I was doing at that point was called "projecting my voice" and that having the audience hear me when singing is not a bad thing, it's a good thing! Maybe my voice wasn't amazing. But singing is a learned skill, not a genetic 'flaw' or something to be ashamed of. Wow.

Here's one for kids (of all ages). I find meditation for kids can be really useful for folks that have trouble with the standard meditations.

 

(5.1) Stillness and Unconditional Love

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  • Power of Compassion
  • Lovingkindness meditation
  • Walking meditation and other integrations
  • Relationship audits

This section covers what I consider to be the most powerful route to happiness: compassion. Practices that cultivate a feeling of "we're all in this together" and a wholehearted wish for the happiness of all beings, including myself, have produced a lot of growth for me and a brought more joy and purpose to my relationships.

According to Dr. James R. Doty, clinical professor in the Department of Neurosurgery at Stanford University, and the Director of the Centre for Compassion and Altruism Research and Education, has the answer, we are neurologically prone to compassion. He says, "fundamentally being compassionate or caring for others is actually our default mode. We are wired to care for others." This doesn't always happen, of course, but that's more because of learning than what behavior would most meet our own needs.

Doty says, "The problem comes with our adrenalin powered lifestyles." He also says that, "in today’s world we have an epidemic of stress, anxiety, and depression. Our overstimulated nervous systems also make us more reactive and quick to jump to judgements about others."

But the cool thing is that we can change that around, with practice. By directly focusing on compassion, we don't just help others, we help ourselves. It's a really fascinating paradox to me.

When someone acts with compassionate intention, it has a huge, huge positive effect on their physiology. It takes them out of the threat mode and puts them into the rest and digest mode. What happens when that occurs is it changes how they respond to events.

Instead of a quick response, oftentimes based on fear or anxiety, it allows for a much more deliberative or discerning response which typically is much more effective, and more creative because it’s allowing your executive control area to function at its best. [click here for the full article]

Compassion isn't always practiced, but it's definitely not new. It's really the foundation of most world religions and definitely Buddhism. Here's something that His Holiness the Dalai Lama writes about compassion:

The more we care for the happiness of others, the greater our own sense of well-being becomes. Cultivating a close, warm-hearted feeling for others automatically puts the mind at ease. This helps remove whatever fears or insecurities we may have and gives us the strength to cope with any obstacles we encounter. It is the ultimate source of success in life.

As long as we live in this world we are bound to encounter problems. If, at such times, we lose hope and become discouraged, we diminish our ability to face difficulties. If, on the other hand, we remember that it is not just ourselves but every one who has to undergo suffering, this more realistic perspective will increase our determination and capacity to overcome troubles. Indeed, with this attitude, each new obstacle can be seen as yet another valuable opportunity to improve our mind!

Thus we can strive gradually to become more compassionate, that is we can develop both genuine sympathy for others' suffering and the will to help remove their pain. As a result, our own serenity and inner strength will increase. [click here for the full article]

In this Section, I will touch on some different aspects of compassion. As with most of the subjects in this course, there is a lot of depth to this subject and I'm only introducing the parts that resonate most with me and that I feel would be most useful to you.

I highly recommend that you dig deeply into compassion practices. It's life's work. For a book intro, check out "The Book of Joy: Lasting Happiness in a Changing World" by the Dalai Lama and Desmond Tutu.

I love that book because it's written by a Buddhist and a Christian, and edited by a Jew, and highlights that compassion is the root of joy for all of us, regardless of whether we're secular, spiritual, or religious.

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Course Overview (Syllabus)

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HOW TO USE THESE LESSONS

Read through the lessons at your own pace. Every 2-4 lessons, we will pause to give you some tasks to practice. Each set of lessons with practice is meant to take about a week or so.

NOTE: This will be a self-paced course, except the first time through, it will be run as a 6 week course with an optional live component. We will have a special Facebook group just for students, with live instruction and Q&A sessions on Wednesdays at 10 am Pacific time [PST].

The agenda is listed with weekly lessons, but you can take whatever time you need.  You'll keep access to the course on this site and can log in any time.

Week 1: Changing Habits Efficiently

  • Habits can be useful! Which habits do you want?
  • Habit check: What's the function of your current habits? Do they match your values & purpose?
  • Training your healthy habits (what does healthy mean?)
  • Thoughts are behavior too

Week 2: Feelings, Needs, Strategies, and Boundaries

  • Essentialism - where to put your time and energy
  • Resolving conflict and building empathy with Nonviolent Communication (NVC)
  • Setting and enforcing healthy boundaries
  • Respecting others' boundaries

Week 3: The Border Collie in Your Head

  • What's 'normal' for a brain?
  • Negativity bias and feedback loops
  • Fundamental attribution error
  • Labels aren't useful for people, either
  • Gratitude
  • Habits revisited

Week 4: Being Present

  • Taking in the Good
  • Mindfulness exercises
  • Feeling emotion in your body
  • Shame - everyone has it, few people talk about it
  • Wholehearted living and badassery

Week 5: Stillness and Unconditional Love

  • Power of Compassion
  • Lovingkindness meditation
  • Walking meditation and other integrations
  • Relationship audits

Week 6: Impermanence, Groundlessness, and Letting Be

  • Transitions and loss
  • Acceptance and joy
  • Emotional approach to retirement planning
  • Resources for further learning

To view the course lessons, please purchase this course or log in if you have already purchased it.