This is a story about following the heart and the courage of authentic self-expression. It is a returning to the truth of something elemental and essential inside. I hope this post supports and inspires you to take courageous, authentic steps in your life.
Beginning in 1998, I worked closely with Marshall Rosenberg, creator of the international work of Nonviolent Communication (NVC), for over a decade until his retirement. Learning from him was one of the most profound and life changing experiences of my life. I learned how language and communication skills can be doorway to universal connection, compassion, and social change.
Mahatma Gandhi & Carl Rogers: Pioneers in a new force for personal and social change.
Mahatma Gandhi and humanistic psychologist Carl Rogers were the two guiding lights of inspiration who led me to finding Marshall Rosenberg. Both Gandhi and Rogers were pioneers, in different realms of application, of a new force for creating liberation and change in relation to repressive systems and structures, internal and external. That new force was the ability to create empathic connection with another who is acting in ways that we disagree with, sometimes very strongly disagree, behavior that violates our deepest values. This kind of empathy is not just feeling another's feelings. It is the ability to create mutual understanding for one another's perspective and experience, and to connect with the underlying universal and shared commonality and relatedness that leads to care and wanting to contribute to each other's well being. It is the power of compassion to reconcile and heal when there is conflict, violence, hurt, and suffering. .
With other luminary social leaders too since the last century, there has been this application of empathy to social change: People such as Martin Luther King, Jr., Mother Teresa, Nelson Mandela, the Dalai Lama, and Thich Nhat Hanh. This force for social-political-cultural change seems inextricably intertwined with spirituality, spirituality that is about a quality of connection between us and with all of life and the source of life.
Exercises, practices, and skills matter. But so does social change and spiritual connection.
Over the past number of years the focus of my training work had become more about exercises, practices, and skill development, and losing the larger perspective on social change and this spiritual connection. As much as the focus on tangible skills has contributed to participants, I realized I had lost something essential and precious to me. I had lost my way from what so strongly called to me when I found Marshall.
I think it happened gradually over time, from a combination of dealing with the daily stresses and responsibilities of having a family and co-founding and running a training company. It was probably also the piling up of life experiences, the at times overwhelming fear and heartbreak of witnessing the intensity of people’s suffering and the problems of the world, including my own. And then there were the thoughts and doubts of people around me who questioned spirituality as "magical thinking," and "saving the world" as naive idealism or a savior complex. Gradually, the feeling of magic and the sacredness of life receded from me.
A return to trusting my passion and "following my bliss."
As I reflect on this, I see what looks like the stereotype of growing into middle age and losing the idealism and passions of youth. I just never thought it would happen to me (I guess that’s what we all say). Another thing is how much stronger the fears get once you have a family or other “adult” responsibilities. Wow, it’s amazing the gravitational force field of these concerns, particularly the fears of what people might think and worries of not having enough money. It’s such a cliché, but it really happens!
So, I now choose to follow my heart and find the courage and determination to express my authentic passions for social change and universal connection and consciousness, but now in a new way, with the wisdom of more life experience and the ability to work effectively with structure, form, and skill development.
I see humanity racing toward a crisis point, and what gives me great hope for how we meet the challenges ahead personally and globally is the power of empathy, and for each of us, as mythologist Joseph Campbell famously emboldened, to courageously “follow our bliss.”
Follow your bliss.
If you do follow your bliss,
you put yourself on a kind of track
that has been there all the while waiting for you,
and the life you ought to be living
is the one you are living.
When you can see that,
you begin to meet people
who are in the field of your bliss,
and they open the doors to you.
I say, follow your bliss and don't be afraid,
and doors will open
where you didn't know they were going to be.
If you follow your bliss,
doors will open for you that wouldn't have opened for anyone else.