Taking that leap

Tara Mohr meets Chuck Sandy
Tara Mohr meets Chuck Sandy

I finally took the leap. I took the leap from playing small and took some steps towards playing big. (click here to tweet) You see, since I began training teachers, I’ve dreamed of facilitating sessions on the concept of compassionate communication, where I’d ask the teachers in our program to delve more deeply into empathy for the self and others. But instead of doing this, I listened to my inner critic. My inner critic’s favourite story has been that I am not qualified enough to do such a thing, and that the teachers probably wouldn’t want to participate. And, who am I to push this concept on them anyway? Then walks in Tara Mohr. I first heard her speak with Tami Simon on the Insights at the Edge podcast about how common it is for women to stay small mostly due to the voice of this inner critic. Playing big, as Tara explains in her book, is about:

“learning how to use your voice to change those systems. It’s not about “opting in” or “opting out” according to our society’s current thinking (…) It’s about turning away from those labels, refocusing your attention and longings and dreams, and playing big in going for them.”

One way she suggests doing this is by taking a leap. What she said got my psyched, so guess what I did? Below are six criteria that Tara suggests for taking a leap. I’ll explain my leap while looking back on what happened in relation to these six.

1. It gets you playing bigger now, according to what playing bigger means to you.

Playing big for me means helping teachers deal with teacher burnout via healing strategies such as of self-compassion, and empathic listening within a community.

2. It can be finished within one to two weeks.

The discussion group ended in less than five months. But to be fair, our meetings were quite spread out. We met a total of 5 times over 5 months.

3. It’s simple: an action that you could describe in a short phrase.

My phrase was – to facilitate a bi-weekly discussion group.

4. It gets your adrenaline flowing because a leap stretches you out of your comfort zone.

Yes! Although I was comfortable with facilitating a group of this nature, I was going out of my comfort zone offering this idea to the teachers in our program. I started out by giving an introduction to everyone in the course (16 in-service teachers) about the concept of compassionate communication — basically helping them develop their literacy of feelings and needs. I also lead a session where we read the article on teacher burnout and self-compassion. With this basic foundation, I felt comfortable about telling them about my ideas of starting a discussion group. 10 teachers volunteered, and about 8 stayed until the end. My adrenaline has definitely been flowing.

5. A leap puts you in contact with the audience you want to reach or influence.

I have learned so much from these teachers: about how my approach has influenced them and could also influence them in the future. I have recorded each session and I am currently waiting for individual feedback. But that being said, I already received the best feedback I could ever ask for during our last session. On the last day our group met (December 23, 2014), I asked the teachers to share what needs were fulfilled by their final discussion. I’ll save the details for another post, but let me just say I felt incredibly touched and connected. At the end session, I gave each teacher one of these magnets below, and encouraged them to use it as a reminder to not to give up on themselves. There wasn’t a dry eye in the room. I feel pretty confident there’s no playing small anymore. don't give up #redthumbforlove *Cynthia Gray is the artist behind the “Don’t Give Up” magnet project. *I also want to thank Chuck Sandy who inspired me to take my first leap at the beginning of this year. Chuck inspired me in creating the #redthumbforlove Self-Compassion for Teachers project. This first leap gave me great strength to try this new leap.  This is what Chuck does. He inspires people into faith (a nod to the picture at the top of this post), and I am ever grateful to him for helping me find faith in myself. My inner critic will forever be annoyed with this little glitch in its storyline. ;)

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Self-Empathy & Self-Compassion – Compassion Training 4

Self-empathy. Self-compassion. What’s the difference between these terms? I’ve been curious about this, and so it’s time to explore.

I first heard of the concept of self-empathy when I went to my first Nonviolent Communication (NVC) workshop in Seoul. At that time, the term empathy was foreign to me, let alone the concept of self-empathy. Sure, I had felt and offered empathy at points in my life, but I don’t think I had a word for it.

That’s the power of words. They can help you see things for the first time. That being said, words are also precarious things. When used as labels, they are limiting. They shade the truth and the essence of who and what things truly are. But as a language teacher and learner, I appreciate the depth of understanding a word provides.

Interestingly, it seems that not too long ago, the English language went on a search for this word. English users had a sense of empathy, but didn’t have a word for it until 1909 when it was coined by the American psychologist, Robert Titchener. I wonder if the fact that English speaking cultures now have a word for empathy that they can start understanding and feeling it a bit more. Something to ponder.

But back to self-empathy. I was intrigued by this concept the moment I heard about it. The idea that I could be there for myself during hard times without needing the support of anyone else was a huge relief. The way I understood self-empathy through NVC was that when I felt conflicted, all I had to do was acknowledge the feelings that were coming up, and connect them to needs that weren’t being met at the moment. This simple awareness was enough to remove a few bricks from my shoulders. Bricks I had been carrying for quite some time.

Giving up bricks #redthumbforlove
Giving up my bricks #redthumbforlove

As Mark Coleman describes self-empathy, it’s as if you are receiving empathy from someone, except you are that other person.

“Put yourself in their shoes offering that to you. Imagine you’re like a third person viewing yourself from that distance.”

These days, however, thanks to the work of Kristin Neff and other emotion researchers, the term self-compassion is being used in psychology literature and media. To understand the difference between self-empathy and self-compassion, it’s helpful to understand the contrast between their roots, and another close friend: sympathy. I’m only bringing him in because when I present the idea of compassionate communication to teachers, they often raise this question: what’s the difference between empathy, sympathy, and compassion? I love this question because the difference is very important to make. For clarity on compassion and empathy, I refer to the excellent reports by The Greater Good Science Center at UC Berkeley:

Compassion – Compassion literally means “to suffer together.” Among emotion researchers, it is defined as the feeling that arises when you are confronted with another’s suffering and feel motivated to relieve that suffering.

Empathy – Emotion researchers generally define empathy as the ability to sense other people’s emotions, coupled with the ability to imagine what someone else might be thinking or feeling.

To help clarify the difference between empathy and sympathy, I highly recommend this short piece by RSA Shorts and Brené Brown.

Considering these definitions, I think the difference is that self-empathy helps me tune in to what I am feeling, and if I extend it to NVC terms, what I am needing. These can be positive or *negative experiences. When in self-empathy, I am simply aware of what’s going on inside me.

Empathy is a component of compassion, but what differentiates compassion is the desire to do something about the suffering. When my empathy is extended into action, I’m now feeling compassion. This then would mean that when I’m in self-compassion, I’m taking active steps to relieve my suffering.

Maybe these terms aren’t different at all. I think the act of acknowledging one’s feelings and needs is in itself an act of compassion. Perhaps this whole exploration is simply a matter of semantics. Another example of why it’s important to look beyond words. Because when we really tune in, it’s the silence and stillness that truly connects. Words are no longer needed.

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  • If you are a teacher curious about self-compassion, or want to learn more about how self-compassion relates to you, please “like” our Self-Compassion for Teachers Facebook page for information and inspiration. You’ll also get an explanation about the red thumb you see holding the brick in the picture.
  • This post is a continuation of my blog Compassion Training blog series. Although this post doesn’t talk about the impact of compassion on teaching, the intention of the series is to make this connection.
  • For self-compassion practices online, please check out Kristin Neff’s exercises and guided meditations, as well as the resources offered at Center for Mindful Self-Compassion.

*  The more intimate we are with our emotions, the more adept we’ll be in both containing and expressing them, so that their presence serves rather than hinders us and those with whom we’re in contact. In this sense, there are no unwholesome or negative emotions—only unwholesome or negative things we do with them. Emotional intimacy allows us to make the best possible use of all our emotions—and it enhances the relationship. – Robert Augustus Masters, Emotional Intimacy (scroll down to “Introduction: Into theHeart of Emotion”)

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Making the Link: Nonviolent Communication & Reflective Teaching

This was one of the latest posts on the Dalai Lama’s Facebook page:
Modern education pays attention to the development of the brain and the intellect, but this is not enough. We need also to be able to develop warm-heartedness in our educational systems. This we need from kindergarten all the way through university.

I couldn’t agree more. Without cultivating warm-heartedness, compassion and empathy for the self and other, we risk cultivating ignorance, indifference, fear and hate. And everywhere you look, there are far too many examples of these human characteristics. The world doesn’t need to develop these anymore. I believe that one of the ways to develop as the Dalai Lama suggests is to learn how to communicate in peaceful, nonviolent ways. This is why it is important to teach this form of communication.

This brings me to a point of clarification. After receiving kind feedback from one of my favorite readers, and after rereading yesterday’s post, I realized that I wasn’t clear about why I chose to write about my experience with nonviolent communication (NVC). I usually post my reflections on what happened in the classroom, but yesterday’s post was much more personal.

Daegu NVC Practice Group

Continue reading “Making the Link: Nonviolent Communication & Reflective Teaching”