February 23, 2014 ~ Conversational ‘Spatial Disorientation’, ‘Graveyard Spirals’ & Being ‘Instrument’ Savvy (Part I)

Sunday, February 23, 2014 ~  Graveyard Spirals & Being ‘Instrument’ Attuned

Viewing the Olympics, including our first ever pairs (ice dancing) gold, inspires…


Meryl Davis and Charlie White of the United States react in the results area after competing in the ice dance free dance figure skating finals at the Iceberg Skating Palace during the 2014 Winter Olympics, 2/17/14, in Sochi, Russia. (AP Photo/Vadim Ghirda)

See also:

Meryl Davis & Charlie White Full Free Dance Performance Wins Gold | Sochi 

Davis and White vs. Virtue and Moir: Anatomy of a figure skating rivalry

The smoothness seems deceptively easy despite the recognition that it is the culmination of hours, years, even decades of practice behind the scenes (a potential parallel to any skill-building practice, like those who seem ‘fluent’ with how harmonious and effortlessly they conduct (NVC’s) interpersonal dynamics?).  The fluidity of the interactive ‘dance’, so to speak…

For the rest of us, non-Olympians, it cannot be avoided, those humbling comparisons, imagining ourselves at the brink of those same ice skating rinks or downhill slopes and  instead noticing the nauseous vertigo sense (stage fright, bodily injury?) as the prospect evokes a bit of spatial disorientation, akin to that sudden falling sensation that can occur when one drifts off to sleep.  So the contrast of the Olympians can point at the other end of the spectrum, facing a ‘slippery slope’ with abject resignation, devoid of the distinctions these athletes have now made muscle memory through their own elbow grease and the expert coaching of those in supporting roles.

To explore the polar opposite on this mastery/skillfulness continuum, the ‘lack thereof’ end of the spectrum, one point to consider is the term coined by Seligman and Maier as to the phenomena of learned helplessness.

Description of Learned Helplessness

When I think of how many, myself too often included, are daunted by the prospect of entering into dialogue, perhaps especially when conflict is on the horizon, it can seem similar to the learned helplessness of the above experiment.  As it’s gone so awry, and so often in the past, there can be a sense of defeat and ‘throwing in the towel’ prior to even to the prospect of ‘throwing our hat in the rink’!

 One way of understanding the apparently widespread sense of dialogic ‘learned helplessness’ (do you know anyone who isn’t at least a bit conflict averse?), our common scar tissue from collective war wounds and awareness of an all too fallible road track to societal communication breakdown (think how war occurs when diplomacy breaks down) is to view it as a quite understandable — perhaps, even wise to be savvy at conflict avoidance  —  given the lack  of widespread conflict resolution skills.  Consider also, our tendency towards, or to avoid, dialogue with the lizard brain that gets triggered in ourselves and others, through the vehicle of interpersonal neurobiology (the Reptilian Brain noted in previous posts, such as last week’s February 16, 2014 ~ Shame, Empathy & Limbic Resonance):

Mindfulness – Brain Hand Model – Dan Siegel

Siegel: “Flipping Your Lid” – A Scientific Explanation

To Approach or Avoid – That is the Question…

When the lizard brain takes over, dialogic mayhem or catatonic ‘playing dead’ may ensue:

Note the ‘learned helplessness’ of the relatively inactive lizard verses the active mammal, in the beginning of the video clip beneath (i.e. correlated to our reptilian brain’s freeze tendency verses the more active/communicative/communal one of our mammalian brain).

The Polyvagal Theory with Stephen Porges, PhD

“How your nervous system sabotages your ability to relate”
An interview with Stephen Porges about his polyvagal theory

By Ravi Dykema

What if many of your troubles could be explained by an automatic reaction in your body to what’s happing around you? What if the cure for mental and emotional disorders ranging from autism to panic attacks lay in a new understanding and approach to the way the nervous system operates? Stephen Porges, Ph.D., thinks it could be so. Porges, professor of psychiatry at the University of Illinois, Chicago, and director for that institution’s Brain-Body Center, has spent much of his life searching for clues to the way the brain operates, and has developed what he has termed polyvagal theory. It is a study of the evolution of the human nervous system and the origins of brain structures, and it assumes that more of our social behaviors and emotional disorders are biological—that is, they are “hard wired” into us—than we usually think. Based on the theory, Porges and his colleagues have developed treatment techniques that can help people communicate better and relate better to others.

The term “polyvagal” combines “poly,” meaning “many,” and “vagal,” which refers to the important nerve called the “vagus.” To understand the theory, let’s look at the vagus nerve, a primary component of the autonomic nervous system. This is the nervous system that you don’t control, that causes you to do things automatically, like digest your food. The vagus nerve exits the brain stem and has branches that regulate structures in the head and in several organs, including the heart. The theory proposes that the vagus nerve’s two different branches are related to the unique ways we react to situations we perceive as safe or unsafe. It also outlines three evolutionary stages that took place over millions of years in the development of our autonomic nervous system.

The bulk of Porges’ work is now conducted in the Brain-Body Center, a 24,000-square-foot, interdisciplinary research center at the University of Illinois. At the Center, professionals in the fields of endocrinology, neuroanatomy, neurobiology, psychiatry and psychology work together. They study models of social behavior and develop treatments for disorders such as autism and anxiety. Porges’ polyvagal theory is becoming part of the training of bodyworkers, therapists and educators. An example is last summer’s national Hakomi conference held at Naropa University, where Dr. Porges was the keynote speaker. (Hakomi is both a system of bodywork and a system of body-centered psychotherapy.) Here, Porges speaks about the polyvagal theory and its significance with Nexus publisher Ravi Dykema… (Q&A w/ Porges continues)

A (conversational) metaphor…

Have you ever heard of a Graveyard spiral?

A metaphoric parallel is that of being disoriented, in the fog/soup of a ‘graveyard spiral’ (as when a conversation goes south):

Urban Dictionary: graveyard spiral

Aviation slang for a situation in which a pilot unwittingly enters a gentle banking turn, ultimately ending up as a spiral dive to the floor. This typically happens to incompetent or inexperienced pilots unable to visually assess the aircraft’s position relative to the horizon. The strong impression of descent leads some pilots to disregard the flight instruments (which will show exactly what’s going on) and try to correct the situation by pulling up, which instead tightens the turn and often leads to certain death. This is extrapolated to situations where a person will stubbornly press on with something extremely stupid despite solid, objective reasons not to.

Graveyard spiral – Salon.com

Graveyard spiral

Did bad judgment or bad luck doom JFK Jr.?


Excerpt:  After studying Friday night’s radar reports, investigators at the National Transportation Safety Board now believe that Kennedy’s plane went into what is known as a graveyard spiral, the most lethal of airplane spins. In a graveyard spiral, a plane locks into a tight turn, accelerating rapidly, with the nose of the plane pointed straight down. Though it is possible to recover from the spin, without the perspective of a horizon, a pilot may not even know he or she is in a graveyard spiral until it is too late. The spin can exert such pressure on the plane it can break up in midair. In a recent study commissioned by the University of Illinois, 20 students flew into simulated “instrument weather” — weather so bad that pilots are forced to rely on dials and meter readings to navigate. All 20 ended up in fatal spins. The average amount of time it took before their simulated crash was 178 seconds, or just under three minutes.

178 Seconds to live – Spatial Disorientation

Developing our ‘Mindsight‘ is akin to becoming ‘instrument trained’, wherein rather than having (devilish) instinct override our more (angelic) constructive intentions, we become more focused on and capable of embodying presence, however heated it may get, with others (‘grace under pressure’).

Connected Communication – An introduction

Newt Bailey — paraphrasing from video clip above — on communicating based on the work of Marshall Rosenberg’s (NVC) model and when this tool, in our toolbox, may come into (relevance)/play:

“…To a large extent what I’m suggesting to people is that when they are in a stressful conversation or a fight, an argument, anything where they are finding that their communication is not going in a way that they would want, a lot of the time what I’m basically saying to people is, ‘look you can talk however you like, most of the time, you know if it works for you to say whatever you’re saying, but if you’re really clear that if it’s not working for you, or not working for the other person, then shrink down your available options down to just three options.’  That’s essentially what I’m saying to people.  And the practice is in actually, it’s maybe more difficult to shrink down and turn away from all the normal things you ordinarily do,  blaming, persuading, criticizing people, making demands, telling stories, telling jokes, all of these other options, many options.   To shrink it down to just three options, and the three options are:  How am I doing right now (self-connection)?  How is the other person doing right now (call this empathy)?  And the third choice, just expressing honestly what you got in touch with when you checked in with ‘how am I doing’…  That creates a simplicity basically which  also, strangely enough, creates much more potential for connection between you and the other person which will then lead, more frequently, to some kind of a useful outcome that you both enjoy…”

So the tool of NVC, along with other modalities, can be a kind of training ground, akin to becoming licensed as a pilot in reading instruments.

Never Again: I lived through a graveyard spiral – AOPA

Instrument Training – Approaches in Real IMC

Responding to Anger

Brain on Empathy – Embodying NVC Consciousness (slides)

What’s your conversational gyroscope – to maintain equanimity despite ‘graveyard spirals’?

Gyroscope – YouTube

Plausible Interpersonal ‘Gyroscopes’:  Skills such as Breath, Body, NeedExpressing Integrated Honesty, Enemy Imagery (Processes)Improvisational Empathy w/ Enemy Imagery and the Three Layers of Empathy can come in handy when navigating our way through a ‘graveyard spiral’ – interpersonally speaking…

Rewire the Brain – One Way to Improve Willpower

Meditating on Needs – BayNVC’s Facets of Self-Connection

John Kinyon on ‘Breath/Body/Need’ – NVC-Mediation

To continue with a theme, from previous weeks, here’s one example:

Radical Compassion:  Three Layers of Empathy

(beneath is courtesy of the work of Jim and Jori Manske)


Empathy is being with another with compassion, connecting to the humanness of their experience. Empathy is the silent presence with another, not the words we use. We can express our empathy and some possible ways to express empathy are included here.

ACKNOWLEDGING another’s experience Reflecting: Observation, Feeling, Request, and/or Wish NOT: blame, criticism, or evaluation “(Something) happened. ” “You are upset.” “You wish (something different) had happened.” “You would like (something).”

Connecting to the CAUSE of the feeling (the need) Connecting to the universal need/value that the feeling is reflecting, making no reference to any specific person (including myself) doing any specific action. Notice there is no reference to “I” or “me” at the causal level. “Are you feeling _____ because (need) is important to you?” “Are you valuing (need)?‘ “So for you, (need) is important.” Some examples of “need” words: security, cooperation, fun, creativity, love, respect, freedom, healing, understanding, belonging, awareness, etc.

SAVORING the need Being with the value of the need. Connecting to the internal resource and universality of the need. “Ah, (need)” Space / Silence

Based on the work of Marshall B. Rosenberg, author of Nonviolent Communication © 2009 peaceworks, Jim and Jori Manske Certified Trainers with The Center for Nonviolent Communicationtm 505.344.1305 radicalcompassion@gmail.com http://radicalcompassion.com www.cnvc.org

Additional notes –> Three Layers of Empathy

NVC Academy – Jim & Jori Manske

[PDF] Empathy, 3 Layers – Radical Compassion

How the Brain Works – Is the Brain Wired for Empathy?


More on 1ST Layer ~ “Instrument Training”: Competency w/ Observation

Conscious Competency with Observation

An example of how observational competency might come in handy?  Rather than ‘colluding with another’s jackals’ (“yeah, he’s horrible!”) one might begin with the first layer of empathy (“Ah!  So when he said/did ____, it was disappointing, as you were expecting ____”)…

When we find that we don’t know something important, we’re often motivated to learn more. However if we’re blissfully unaware of our ignorance, there’s little we can do about it. One of the first steps on the journey to acquiring new skills is therefore to be aware of what you don’t know. This discovery can be uncomfortable, as can be the experience of not being very good at what you’re trying to do (as you won’t be, when you first start to learn.) The Conscious Competence Ladder is a popular and intuitive approach (attributed to many different possible originators) that helps us manage our own emotions during a sometimes dispiriting learning process.

Explaining the Model:

According to this approach, consciousness is the first step towards gaining knowledge. To learn new skills and to gain knowledge you need to be conscious of what you do and do not know… (for more, see: Competence Ladder)

Courtesy of Radical Compassion – Pathways to Liberation MATRIX

Pathways to Liberation Self-Assessment Matrix

No knowledge of the skill.

Unconsciously Incompetent

Awakening Becoming aware of the skill.

Consciously Incompetent

Capable Able to use the skill, with effort.

Consciously Competent

Integrated  Naturally uses the skill with ease and flow.

Unconsciously Competent

Noticing (and possibly describing) our sensory and mental experiences, and distinguishing these experiences from the interpretations we ascribe to them.
Habitually confuses interpretation with observation; assumes that evaluations and interpretations are facts. Becoming aware of interpretations as distinct from observations when reviewing past events; little skill or clarity of this distinction when interacting in real time. Increasingly remembering and making the distinction between observation and interpretation. Effortlessly able to distinguish observations from interpretations.

Again, merely considering this one distinction in NVC, that of observation verses evaluation/interpretation, one motivating factor is not just the how but also the why.  Just as an untrained pilot may rely on his visceral sense, and this can rapidly get him into trouble, disoriented and in a downward spiral that cannot be recovered from, similarly it can be with our interpretive verses observational framework.  When both parties are lodging their evaluations of the other, without taking responsibility by distinguishing the observable ‘what happened’ from the more interpretive ‘what I’m telling myself about this’, the communication can rapidly decline, into a metaphoric ‘graveyard spiral’ for the relationship.  So, why not ‘collude with jackals’?  Why instead might one opt to cultivate mindfulness of the observational/interpretive distinctions?

Interpersonal Neurobiology offers some insight here, due to mirror neurons and emotional contagion, and how this hardwiring can influence us conversationally-speaking:

Dr. Dan Siegel – On Understanding the Brain

By mastering distinctions, just as with the Olympians, then the field before us becomes one for play and mastery, no longer in terror of ‘death spirals’!

See also:  Self-Responsibility

Laurel & Hardy dance Santana

See also:  June 9, 2013 ~ Finding One’s Communicative Center-of-Gravity

This entry was posted in Dialogue, Empathy, Enemy Imagery, Self-Responsibility, What's Up Next? and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

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