April 5, 2015 ~ Is Shame Necessary?

Image result for martin luther king jr. the nonviolent resister shame

Sunday, April 5, 2015 ~ Is Shame Necessary?

Sunday’s topic will focus on shame.  Often shame seems verboten within the context of NVC (and its ‘consciousness’), as in this definition below (italics, mine own):

What is Nonviolent Communication? – ZENVC

Nonviolent Communication (NVC), also known as Compassionate Communication, is a way of relating to ourselves and others, moment to moment, free of past reactions. By learning to identify your needs and express them powerfully, as well as understanding and being present to the needs of others, you can stay connected to your authentic truth and create a life that it is more fulfilling.

The skills of Nonviolent Communication:

  • help us to stay connected to the heart of any dialogue
  • assist us in dealing with major blocks to communication such as demands, diagnoses and blaming
  • minimize the likelihood of facing defensive reactions in others
  • empower us to receive critical and hostile messages without taking them personally, giving in, or losing self-esteem
  • open the gateway to resolving differences with clarity and compassion
  • bring consciousness to the interdependence of our well being
  • uses power with others to work together to meet the needs of all concerned

This approach to communication emphasizes compassion as the motivation for action rather than fear, guilt, shame, blame, coercion, threat or justification for punishment. In other words, it is about getting what you want for reasons you will not regret later. NVC is NOT about getting people to do what we want. It is about creating a quality of connection that gets everyone’s needs met through compassionate giving… (continues:  ZENVC)

Rather than focusing on our judgments (or ‘jackal’ thoughts), NVC counsels to cultivate a mindfulness of feelings/needs (‘giraffe ears/eyes’):

Oren Jay Sofer:

Integrating the tools and insights of Buddhist meditation, Somatics and Nonviolent Communication, Oren brings a unique and pragmatic perspective to living and speaking mindfully.  (see also:  Testimonials)

So, those form the foundation for attention in the NVC model: observations, feelings, needs, requests. Which is about our attention (with an “a”). It’s about how we pay attention to things. What we’re noticing. Are we noticing our judgments, our stories, all of the other components of experience or are we paying attention to what’s being felt, to what’s needed and to what’s actually happening on the level of observation.

(FYI ~see bottom of this blog post for fuller context of my Q&A with Oren)

Image result for shame

See also:  “Shame, guilt and anger are life-serving signals. We have misinterpreted these signals. We need to reinterpret them if we want to be able to manage them in ways that work for us.”  (continues: [PDF] Chapter 1 Shame, Guilt and Anger – NVC)

While feelings of shame may arise organically, NVC models ways in which these feelings can be transformed (I’d been studying NVC for years before the eureka epiphany when someone suggested that adopting a nonviolent attitude towards others — in dialogue — began first and foremost with my capacity to be nonviolent towards my own self):

Forgiving Past Mistakes – A Self-Guided NVC Exercise

Forgiving Past Mistakes

A Self-Guided Exercise Into the Spirituality of NVC

By Lucy Leu, Raj Gill and Judi Morin, adapted from the NVC Toolkit for Facilitators

While most spiritual teachings guide us in how to forgive others, many people struggle forgiving our own past mistakes. When we do or say things we wish we hadn’t, we often judge ourselves and feel shame, guilt or anger. NVC offers a compassionate and productive process to relate to our mistakes, foster learning, and to experience regret without blame or self-hate.

Getting to a space of self-forgiveness involves mourning our mistakes without judgment. The following exercise aims to free up the energy we use to protect ourselves from painful past events so it becomes available to meet our present needs.

Take five minutes right now to recall a painful past event that continues to trigger anxiety, shame or an urge to protect or defend yourself. The incident may consist of something you did or something that happened to you. You may find it helpful to write the event down.

As you recall the past event, if you experience an overwhelm of memories and emotions, try one of the following strategies to recenter:

  • You can return and connect with your breath, noticing breathing in and breathing out, receiving and letting go of each breath.
  • You can focus on some details of your memory that carry no emotional significance.
  • As we move through the exercise, you will be summoning the presence of a being who, for you, is non-judgmental and capable of keeping you safe today. If you become overwhelmed, you can simply pause, notice what you are experiencing, and in your mind’s eye, speak to this being, telling them what you are feeling in this moment – either emotionally or physically in your body.

Follow the Exercise Below Now:

  1. Sit comfortably. Straighten your spine. Make any necessary adjustments.
  2. Focus your attention inward by closing your eyes or gently dropping your gaze to the floor in front of you… (continues here:  Forgiving Past Mistakes – A Self-Guided NVC Exercise &/or Click here to download a PDF of the exercise to follow later >>)

However we may be oversimplifying the purpose of shame in relegating it to merely that which shall be transmuted… (allow me to employ a religious anecdote):

“Maybe shame is the reason that we need a God.” ~ Jennifer Jacquet

Pray with Your Imagination

By David L. Fleming, SJ
From What Is Ignatian Spirituality?


Ignatius would never have thought of himself as a highly educated intellectual. He had an advanced degree from the University of Paris, the finest university in Europe at the time. He was well-acquainted with the ideas of leading philosophers and theologians. He was an excellent analytical thinker.

But the mental quality of thought that drove his spiritual life was his remarkable imagination. His imagination played a central role in his conversion. Through his many years of directing others he discovered how useful the imagination could be in fostering a deeper relationship with God. Imaginative prayer is recognized as one of the hallmarks of Ignatian spirituality


…This breakthrough in understanding the source of his feelings is the foundation of the process of Ignatian discernment. It was an insight he reached by using his imagination.

He continued to make liberal use of the imagination and integrated imaginative prayer into the approach to the spiritual life that he outlined in the Spiritual Exercises. In his hands, the imagination becomes a tool to help us know and love God.

Ignatius presents two ways of imagining in the Spiritual Exercises. The first way is demonstrated in a meditation on the mystery of the Incarnation in the second week of the exercises. He asks us to “enter into the vision of God.” God is looking down on our turbulent world. We imagine God’s concern for the world. We see God intervening by sending Jesus into the maelstrom of life. This type of imagining helps us see things from God’s perspective and take on God’s qualities of love, compassion, and understanding.

The second method of imagining is to place ourselves fully within a story from the Gospels. We become onlooker-participants and give full rein to our imagination. Jesus is speaking to a blind man at the side of the road. We feel the hot Mediterranean sun beating down. We smell the dust kicked up by the passersby. We feel the itchy clothing we’re wearing, the sweat rolling down our brow, a rumble of hunger. We see the desperation in the blind man’s face and hear the wail of hope in his words. We note the irritation of the disciples. Above all we watch Jesus—the way he walks, his gestures, the look in his eyes, the expression on his face. We hear him speak the words that are recorded in the Gospel. We go on to imagine other words he might have spoken and other deeds he might have done… (continues:  Pray with Your Imagination – Ignatian Spirituality)

John 7:45-11 recounts the story of an adulterous woman.  The Bible references how Jesus bent down, drawing a (proverbial?) line in the sand, while saying, “Let him who is without sin among you be the first to throw a stone at her.”

Mary Magdalene

In the clip beneath, note the gaze Jesus bestows upon the Pharisees and then contrast this with how he looks upon the sexually sinful.

“Christ, who twice bends down to write on the ground, teaches us to bend low in humility to examine ourselves both before and after addressing the faults of our neighbor.  If his example becomes our practice, we will avoid as he did the extremes of being unjust and unmerciful towards others.” ~ Scott Hahn via The Ignatius Catholic Study Bible New Testament

Image result for love thy neighbor as thyself

Pope Francis: Rigidity is a sign of a weak heart Vatican Radio:

“‘But Lord, throw a banana peel in front of them, so that they will take a good fall…'”

 “And there can be no humility without humiliation.”  ~ Pope Francis

 Pope Francis: Palm Sunday homily

At the heart of this celebration, which seems so festive, are the words we heard in the hymn of the Letter to the Philippians: “He humbled himself” (2:8).  Jesus’ humiliation.

Image result for shame


Being There: Heidegger on Why Our Presence Matters

We need to look beyond cognitive science to cultivate a truly profound relationship to the world we live in.

Credit:  Getty Images

A cognitive scientist and a German philosopher walk into the woods and come upon a tree in bloom: What does each one see? And why does it matter?  (continues)


When we feel that someone is really listening to us, we feel more alive, we feel our true selves coming to the surface — this is the sense in which worldly presence matters.

Dian Killian on Empathy Guessing

And just as we can often convert jackal into giraffe by noting the flip side of the coin (from criticism to yearning, for example, in empathy guessing)…

Empathy Guessing Demystified

Let’s look at a more examples…

If you tell yourself that someone or something is > You probably need:

Inconsiderate > Consideration

Incompetent > Competency

Difficult > Ease

Inflexible > Flexibility

Impossible > Hope/confidence or ease

As (the feeling of) humiliation may be the flip side of the coin to (the value/universal-need of) humility,  then too (feelings of) shame could be catalytic towards the restoration of (the value/universal-need for) integrity:

The Gifts of Shame: Restoring Integrity

Book cover of The Language of Emotions

The Gifts of Shame – Karla McLaren

Excerpt (from blog post/link above):

…For today, let’s welcome our authentic shame with open arms and learn about the gifts it brings us!

The Gifts of Shame: Restoring Integrity
Integrity ~ Atonement ~ Self-respect ~ The capacity to amend your behavior

Shame is a form of anger that arises when your boundaries have been broken from the inside – by something you’ve done wrong, or have been convinced is wrong. While anger is the honorable sentry that faces outward and protects your boundaries from external damage, shame is the sentry that faces inward and protects your internal boundaries (and the boundaries of others) from your own incorrect or ill-conceived behaviors.

Shame is a vital and irreplaceable emotion that helps you mature into a conscious and well-regulated person. With shame’s assistance, you’ll be able to honorably monitor your emotions, your thoughts, your desires, and your behavior. However, if you don’t have conscious access to your own authentic shame, you won’t understand yourself, you’ll be haunted by improper behaviors and compulsions, you may explode with the toxic shame that torments you, and you’ll be unable to stand upright at the center of your psyche.

The questions for shame are: Who (or what) has been hurt? and What must be made right? These questions help you stand upright and use shame honorably; you won’t be painfully shame-filled or guilt-ridden; instead, you’ll have a compassionate sense of ethics, the courage to judge and supervise your own conduct, and the strength to amend your behaviors without inflating or deflating your ego unnecessarily. When you successfully navigate through your authentic shame, you’ll feel proud of yourself, and you’ll move naturally into happiness and contentment.

When shame arises in response to your own authentic and addressable flaws or missteps, it flows appropriately (and often a step or two in front of your behavior). If you welcome your appropriate shame, you’ll stop yourself before you do something foolish, before you say the wrong thing, or before you enter into unhealthy behaviors or relationships.

Authentic and appropriate shame will help you turn away from your own maliciousness, charlatanism, and thievery – even when no one’s looking. It will keep you punctual, polite, and upstanding, and it will lead you gently but firmly away from the path of temptation. Authentic shame will stand at your inner boundary and monitor everything going out of your soul and everything occurring within it. With its honorable assistance, you’ll become a conscientious and well-moderated asset to yourself and our world. As a result, you’ll experience authentic self-respect – which will lead you time and time again to true contentment and happiness. Hah! I’ll bet you’ve never heard that before. Shame is good?

Most of us were not taught to welcome or work with our authentic shame and remorse (which all of us feel naturally, especially when we’ve hurt someone); instead, most of us were taught about shame by being shamed. Authority figures such as parents, teachers, peers, and the media often attempt to teach and control us by applying shame from the outside, instead of trusting our natural ability to moderate our own behavior.

As a result, many of us can’t identify our own shame, which is actually sensible, momentary, and empowering: Your hand goes out for a cookie, you realize you don’t need it, and you walk away. That’s authentic, free-flowing shame working properly. Afterward, you feel strong and aware, and you simply live by a moral code. You floss because you like clean teeth, you avoid drugs, adultery, and crime because they’re uninteresting, and you treat people well because it feels right. That’s what your free-flowing shame feels like.

The first task in working with shame is to welcome it with open arms. When your shame arises in the presence of others (it usually appears first as an internal pull in the gut, a flush of heat, a momentary speechlessness, or a sense of internal caution), it’s important to listen to your shame. If your shame stops you before you say or do something shameful, you can thank it and make your necessary preemptive corrections.

If you don’t know why your shame has come forward, you can ask yourself or the people around you if you’ve done something incorrect (Who – or what – has been hurt?), and apologize or make amends if necessary (What must be made right?). If you can openly welcome your shame, it will recede naturally (and swiftly) once it has helped you make your correcting actions. Then, your contentment and happiness will arise naturally, and you’ll move forward as a smarter, stronger, and more honorable person. Go you!

Yes, shame can be a toxic and incapacitating emotion. It’s a rapids-level emotion for many of us, but when an emotion is powerful, it doesn’t necessarily have to be dangerous. As natural empaths, we humans were built to be able to deal with emotions and the social world. We just kind of forgot.

When you’re dealing with shame or any other supposedly “toxic” or “negative” emotion, remember that emotions and empathy are your first language. Yes, your emotions can sound like gibberish, but they each have a very specific function and a very important message to give you.

As our friend Rumi says:

Meet them at the door laughing and invite them in. 

Be grateful for whoever comes, because each has been sent as a guide from beyond.


Image result for martin luther king jr shame

It’s worth noting that MLK employed shame rather tactically and intentionally towards bending the moral arc of the universe…

The nonviolent resister must often express his protest through noncooperation or boycotts, but noncooperation and boycotts are not ends themselves; they are merely means to awaken a sense of moral shame in the opponent. The end is redemption and reconciliation. The aftermath of nonviolence is the creation of the beloved community, while the aftermath of violence is tragic bitterness. – Martin Luther King, Jr., 1957

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Indiana religious freedom bill sparks controversy

 Indiana’s ‘Religious Freedom’ Bill Sparks Firestorm Of Controversy

Indiana governor Mike Pence (seated) at a private ceremony to sign a religious freedom bill into law, Thursday, March 26, 2015

Garrett Epps / The Atlantic Online:

The new statute’s defenders claim it simply mirrors existing federal rules, but it contains two provisions that put new obstacles in the path of equality.

Thousands rally against ‘religious freedom’ law


Eroding Freedom in the Name of Religious Freedom

The Religious Freedom Restoration Act was adopted to protect vulnerable religious minorities, but it has been transformed, critics say, into a law that allows some groups to discriminate against others.


MSNBC Guest on Indiana Law: Let’s ‘Thump the Bible Thumpers with the Bible”

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Matthew 25:31-46

The Sheep and the Goats

31 “When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit on his glorious throne. 32 All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate the people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. 33 He will put the sheep on his right and the goats on his left.

34 “Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. 35 For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, 36 I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’

37 “Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? 38 When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? 39 When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’

40 “The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’

41 “Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. 42 For I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, 43 I was a stranger and you did not invite me in, I needed clothes and you did not clothe me, I was sick and in prison and you did not look after me.’

44 “They also will answer, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or needing clothes or sick or in prison, and did not help you?’

45 “He will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.’

46 “Then they will go away to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life.”

Image result for love thy neighbor as thyself

Tim Cook: Pro-discrimination ‘religious freedom’ laws are dangerous

 March 29 at 8:21 PM

Tim Cook is chief executive of Apple.

There’s something very dangerous happening in states across the country.

A wave of legislation, introduced in more than two dozen states, would allow people to discriminate against their neighbors… (continues)

Q:  How can I stay connected to NVC consciousness?

A [Oren]: When I teach communication, I  teach NVC, I say that the process is one of three different components. The first of those is presence. Which means simply embodiment and connection to the heart. Presence is about feeling what’s in your body and in your heart. It’s a felt experience. It’s not a mental experience. It’s a kind of experience we have when we’re in a bath, or hot tub and we’re really relaxed. Not necessarily that it feels good, but we’re really in our body and we’re present and we’re able to relax. So if you take a run, after you take a run, you’re really in your body. You’re here fully. So that’s kind of a prerequisite for a communication practice, because that’s where we source all of our information, from what’s happening within the body in the present. And if that’s absent, when we don’t have that connection with our body, it’s very difficult to have a productive conversation.

The next component is intention. It’s about where we’re coming from. So having a clear intention, as we know, for those who have training in nonviolent communication, the primary intention is to connect, to try to connect. For those who come from a mindfulness background, the beauty that I find is that the intention is actually the same. With a mindfulness practice we’re looking to understand experience, to really connect with it directly, rather than all of the other motives that we habitually have to fix it or change it or make it better, and so forth. It’s just to understand.

So, those form the foundation for attention in the NVC model: observations, feelings, needs, requests. Which is about our attention (with an “a”). It’s about how we pay attention to things. What we’re noticing. Are we noticing our judgments, our stories, all of the other components of experience or are we paying attention to what’s being felt, to what’s needed and to what’s actually happening on the level of observation. So all that is to say in terms of how do we stay connected to our attention. Which is really what I feel is in your question about how can I connect to NVC consciousness? For those who don’t have an NVC practice, that means the awareness of our own humanity and other people’s humanity and the understanding that all of us are moving based on a desire to meet our needs. When we see things in that way, there is more compassion to just understand where people are coming from. We understand that the best way to negotiate and work together is to actually create a connection based on our needs, rather than our ideas, our views, our beliefs, our opinions, our judgments and so forth.

So for me, that consciousness is really about an intention where we’re coming from and it’s about a view of how we see things. And for me the most reliable way I have found to stay connected to that, or reconnect to that, is through the body, through presence. Because when I’m not connected with that, it feels very different in my body. So having a practice where you can really begin to recognize how does it feel to be in my body in the present and what’s it like when I’m not there. And that starts to give us more information about what the difference is, and how to find a way back when we’re disconnected.

So the main tools for that are having a mindfulness practice, having a sitting practice, standing practice, walking practice, where you’re just constantly cultivating embodied presence and how that feels.

And then the other component in the secular mindfulness movement we call heartfullness practice. In a religious context or Buddhist or other contexts, it’s the practice of the heart around love and kindness that are strengthening certain intentions for how we orient to the world. By calling forth a certain intention and repeating it, just connecting to it again and again with a certain phrase or an image. And the more we strengthen those intentions in the mind, the more we strengthen that orientation to life. And again we have that foundation that we can come back to.

So that’s my summary. And I’m wondering how much of that is connecting for you and is it bringing up other questions or if anyone else on the call has questions or comments about the call.

Q:  Yes, that was just music to my ears. What was the second component again?

A [Oren]: The second component is attention, how we pay attention to things. In NVC, are we paying attention with jackal ears or with giraffe ears? And for those who don’t know NVC, jackal ears, that means are we paying attention based on our judgments, based on our views, our preferences our thoughts, the mental world of filtering experience, or are we paying attention with our heart, with a sense of human connection. Awareness of feelings and needs is how we talk about it in Nonviolent Communication. Are we aware of the actual emotions that are present in ourselves and in the other person. Are we aware of the fact that this person has needs. I have needs. And not just like “I need to go to the store”. That’s not a need. That’s a strategy. “I need nourishment.” “I need relaxation.” Things that we can actually connect with and actually agree with valuing.

I think the question you ask “how do we stay connected”, whether it’s NVC consciousness or mindfulness or presence or everyone has different language for talking about the experience, of the different kind of experience we have of being alive when we’re awake and connected with our sense of what’s meaningful in life. With why we’re here, what we’re doing. And what we’re about when we’re on automatic pilot and not present. And as I said of getting a feel in the body on the difference between those two.

How they actually feel is really important because when we can appreciate how it feels to really be here, it sets up a feedback loop. We want to be here more because it actually feels good. Not in a superficial way, because sometimes being here doesn’t feel good in the sense that there are unpleasant experiences. But when we really study it enough, those who have a dedicated mindfulness practice or meditation practice know this directly: if there is sadness or anger or some unpleasant experience happening, to actually feel it with balance is less painful than to be avoiding it, reacting to it, and feeding it, running from it.

When I say it feels good or feels better. I don’t necessarily mean it feels pleasant, but that there is a deeper sense of relaxation, relief, meaning, connection that is sustaining in being present with an experience over being absent from it.

So that’s one component, learning to sense the actual difference. The other component is when we’re gone, when we’re lost and we’re not connected to our intention, and NVC consciousness isn’t present, when we wake up from that trance, what happens next is really important. If what happens next we wake up from that trance, and this is important in all the topics we’re going to talk about today. This is relevant whether it’s having balance in our life or working for change in the world.

If when we wake up from being disconnected what happens is blame and judgment, “there I go again”, “I’ll never get anywhere”, “I’m a failure”. “I’ve been doing it for so long” or whatever that story is, then we’re not going to want to come back. If what we come back to is blame and judgment, then who wants to show up. Every time you come home the first thing you hear is “what’s wrong with you” then nobody wants to come home. But if what we hear when you come home is “you’re back”, “it’s so good to see you”. Then we want to come home. So when you come back to presence, to awareness and to NVC consciousness, mindfulness, or however that is showing up for you when you come back there, it’s really important to notice that moment and notice what you do in that moment. And if there is blame, if there is judgment, to start to bring in tenderness. You start to bring in care. “Oh, it’s okay.” “You were gone for so long. How wonderful that you’re back.” Now we could do it differently again and have forgiveness for ourselves in those moments.

About Oren

  Oren J. Sofer, also known by his Dharma name Nyāniko, is a teacher and practitioner of Buddhist mediation, Nonviolent Communication (NVC) and Somatics. (continues)

This entry was posted in Activism, Enemy Imagery and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.

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