In this beautifully animated RSA Short, Dr Brené Brown reminds us that we can only create a genuine empathic connection if we are brave enough to really get in touch with our own frailties.


In this video, Dr Brown explains the difference between empathy and sympathy and how empathy drives connection whereas sympathy drives disconnection. She shares that empathy is actually a vulnerable choice, and forces you to connect with something within yourself in order to connect with another person. She shares that typically, as humans, we want to try to make things better which in itself can drive disconnection from another person. As you go deeper into spiritual accompaniment this year, you’ll explore more about not falling into the trap of wanting to fix others.


In Rosenberg’s Nonviolent Communication book, he explores the ways in which individuals have used NVC to strengthen their ability to connect empathically with others. He shares, ‘The more we empathise with the other party, the safer we feel.’ In empathising with another person, we become more in touch with their humanness and realise the connections we have with one another.


In the video below, Maria Engels talks about the ways in which empathy and vulnerability are connected to Rosenberg’s framework of Nonviolent Communication:

The Heart of Nonviolent Communication

If you have access to a copy, please read chapter 1 of Marshall Rosenberg’s Nonviolent Communication. 


In this chapter, Rosenberg begins by sharing the questions he had asked himself throughout his life;

  • What happens to disconnect us from our compassionate nature, leading us to behave violent and exploitatively?
  • What allows some people to stay connected to their compassionate nature under even the most trying circumstances?

Rosenberg was interested in exploring what affects our ability to remain compassionate. He goes on to explain he sought to develop an approach to communication (both speaking and listening) ‘that leads us to give from the heart’ which in turn allows us to connect with ourselves and others in a compassionate way. This approach is Nonviolent Communication (NVC). 


He explains that the way we talk could indeed be described as violent as the words we use may cause harm or pain, both for others and ourselves. When speaking of nonviolence, Rosenberg is referring to it the way Gandhi used it; humans have a natural state of compassion. The framework of NVC helps us to remain in our natural state of compassion.


‘When we focus on clarifying what is being observed, felt, and needed rather than on diagnosing and judging, we discover the depth of our own compassion.’ 


The NVC Process

  1. Observations: We observe what is happening in a situation and articulate this without judgment or evaluation
  2. Feelings: We state how we are feeling when we observe what is happening in a situation
  3. Needs: We express what needs we have connected to the feelings we have shared
  4. Requests: We state we we want from the other person that would enrich our lives



‘When we give from the heart, we do so out of the joy that springs forth whenever we willingly enrich another person’s life. This kind of giving benefits both the giver and the receiver.’ 


In your journals, please spend some time reflecting on the following questions:

  1. What does the word compassion bring up for you?
  2. Write about a time you were treated with compassion, what affect did this have on you?
  3. What does it mean to you to give from the heart?
  4. Write about a time where you have given from the heart, what did you learn from this experience?
  5. Write about a time where maybe you didn’t give from the heart, what did you learn from this experience?

Carl Jung and the Shadow: The Ultimate Guide to the Human Dark Side


To Carl Jung, the shadow refers to everything a person is not aware of or conscious of, about themselves, and the traits we do not want to own in ourselves. In this article, Jack E Othon explores these ideas about shadow in more depth…

Not biting the hook – an excerpt from Practicing Peace

Getting Hooked

In Tibetan there is a word that points to the root cause of aggression, the root cause also of craving. It points to a familiar experience that is at the root of all conflict, all cruelty, oppression, and greed. This word is shenpa. The usual translation is “attachment,” but this doesn’t adequately express the full meaning. I think of shenpa as “getting hooked.” Another definition, used by Dzigar Kongtrul Rinpoche, is the “charge”—the charge behind our thoughts and words and actions, the charge behind “like” and “don’t like.”

Here’s an everyday example: Someone criticises you. She criticises your work or your appearance or your child. In moments like that, what is it you feel? It has a familiar taste, a familiar smell. Once you begin to notice it, you feel like this experience has been happening forever. That sticky feeling is shenpa. And it comes along with a very seductive urge to do something. Somebody says a harsh word and immediately you can feel a shift. There’s a tightening that rapidly spirals into mentally blaming this person, or wanting revenge or blaming yourself. Then you speak or act. The charge behind the tightening, behind the urge, behind the story line or action is shenpa.

You can actually feel shenpa happening. It’s a sensation that you can easily recognise. Even a spot on your new sweater can take you there. Someone looks at us in a certain way or we hear a certain song, or walk into a certain room and boom. We’re hooked. It’s a quality of experience that’s not easy to describe but that everyone knows well.

Now, if you catch shenpa early enough, it’s very workable. You can acknowledge that it’s happening and abide with the experience of being triggered, the experience of urge, the experience of wanting to move. It’s like experiencing the yearning to scratch an itch, and generally we find it irresistible. Nevertheless, we can practice patience with that fidgety feeling and hold our seat.


In these moments, we can contact the underlying insecurity of the human experience, the insecurity that is inherent in a changing, shifting world. As long as we are habituated to needing something to hold on to, we will always feel this background rumble of slight unease or restlessness. We want some relief from the unease, so when shenpa arises we go on automatic pilot: without a pause, we follow the urge and get swept away.

Mostly we don’t catch shenpa at an early stage. We don’t catch the tightening until we’ve already indulged the urge to scratch our itch in some habitual way. In fact, unless we equate not acting out with friendliness toward ourselves, this refraining can feel like putting on a straitjacket and we struggle against it.

Staying Fully Present with Shenpa

The best way to develop our ability to stay fully present with shenpa and to equate that with loving-kindness is in meditation. This is where we can train in not getting swept away. Meditation teaches us how to open and relax with whatever arises, without picking and choosing. It teaches us to experience the uneasiness and the urge fully and to interrupt the momentum that usually follows. We do this by not following after the thoughts and learning to return again and again to the present moment. We train in sitting still with the itch of shenpa and with our craving to scratch. We label our story lines “thinking” and let them dissolve, and we come back to “right now,” even when “right now” doesn’t feel so great. This is how we learn patience, and how we learn to interrupt the chain reaction of habitual responses that otherwise will rule our lives.


You can also begin to notice shenpa in other people. You’re having a conversation with a friend. At one moment her face is open and she’s listening, and the next you see her eyes glaze over or her jaw tense. What you’re seeing is her shenpa, and she may not be aware of it at all. When peace is your goal, this is an important observation.

From your side, you can keep going in the conversation, but now with a kind of innate intelligence and wisdom called prajna. This is clear seeing of what’s happening.

Without being blinded by your own story line or trying to get some ground under your feet, you simply recognise your friend’s shenpa and you practice patience—you give the situation some space. You have the innate intelligence to realise that when you’re discussing something that needs to happen in the office, or trying to make a point with one of your children, or your partner, that nothing is going to get through right now because this person has just been hooked.

Our Wisdom Becomes Stronger

So simply by recognising what’s happening we can nip aggression or craving in the bud—our own and that of others. As we become more familiar with doing this, our wisdom becomes a stronger force than shenpa. That in itself has the power to stop the chain reaction. One method of doing this is to bring your awareness to your breath, strengthening your ability to be there openly and with curiosity. You might also change your way of talking at that point and ask, “How do you feel about what I just said?” The other person might say, curtly, “It’s fine, no problem.” But you know enough to be patient and maybe non-aggressively say something like, “Let’s talk about this again later,” understanding that even simple words like this can avert two people from going to war.

Our training is to acknowledge when we’re tensing, when we’re hooked, when we are all worked up. The earlier we catch it, the easier shenpa is to work with; but nevertheless, if we catch it even when we’re all worked up, that’s good enough.

Sometimes we even have to go through the whole cycle and end up making a mess. The urge is so strong, the hook is so sharp, the habit is so entrenched, that there are times we can’t do anything about it.

But what you can always do is this: after the fact, you can self-reflect and rerun the story. Maybe you start with remembering the all-worked-up feeling and get in touch with that. You can re-experience the shenpa very vividly and experiment with not getting carried away. This is very helpful.

We could think of this process in terms of the four Rs: recognising the shenparefraining from scratching, relaxing with the underlying urge to scratch, and then resolving to interrupt the momentum like this for the rest of our lives. What happens when you don’t follow the habitual response? You’re left with the underlying energy. Gradually you learn to relax into that shaky, impermanent moment. Then you resolve to do your best to keep practicing this way.

I once saw a cartoon of three fish swimming around a hook. One fish is saying to the others, “The secret is non-attachment.” That’s a shenpa joke: the secret is don’t bite that hook. If we can learn to relax in the place where the urge is strong, we will get a bigger perspective on what’s happening. We might come to see that there are two billion kinds of itch and seven quadrillion types of scratching, but we just call the whole thing shenpa.


Dr Gabor Maté: Why are you addicted?





Adulthood and its phases

Adulthood and its phases


Some of the soul gifts of adulthood are often disguised in unwelcome events or strangely wrapped parcels. If we have time we will reflect on the gateways, the phases, the processes, the portals that we can recognise – through experience – in adulthood, and bring our love and shared attention to these. So much attention is given to the phases of early human development. In the first year we revisited the landscape from conception through to 21.

As we move into the ceremonies and the inquiry of “adulthood”, what does this mean to you?

If you designed your own view on ‘the phases of adulthood’, what would it be? 

Spend some time in reflection, and draft a series of phases, or processes, or insights, about this question, including the aspects of your experience – or what you observe in life around you – that might not have been given enough visibility, and maybe share these in your study group.


What strikes you now about the span of life that we might call adulthood? 

How does your reflection on marriage, and the journey of committed, intimate partnership, stir this question? 

What are the ways in which your inner being, your soul and presence, comes to life? 

When you bring these questions out of the mind, and into the presence of nature, of your body, of making food, of music, of poetry, of stars and moonlight, what happens……?

Resources that might be helpful:

  • Richard Rohr’s book “Falling Upwards”
  • A website focussing on women’s menstrual cycle and menopause as major spiritual teachers “Red School”
  • The concept of Biography Work, founded upon the work of Rudolf Steiner: google will bring many concepts forward.
  • Karen Maezen Miller’s  book “Momma Zen”

Adult Relationships – Transforming the Drama Triangle

Adult Relationships – Transforming the Drama Triangle


The Victim is Vulnerable. They accept the power of their vulnerability and channel it through creativity

The Rescuer is Responsive and caring. They accept the power of their caring and channel it through empathic listening

The Persecutor is Passionate. They accept the power of their passion and channel it through assertiveness

We can switch between the Victim, Persecutor and Rescuer roles very quickly, both within ourselves and in relationship. Think of a common scenario in your life where these roles play out.What could you do – or have you done – to transform the dynamic?

Do you habitually take one of these roles?Which one?  What in your biography predisposes you to this role?

What is the relationship between how the drama triangle plays out in your life and your understanding of you’re a) Shadow b) Defences c) Mistaken Identity

There are lots of variations on how the drama triangle transforms – here’s one source

Emotion, addiction and shadow

Psycho-spiritual themes for this gateway: emotion, addiction and shadow. 

We are bringing three strands of linked resources to you here, and you will find many more. 

The work of Pema Chodron and of Gabor Mate all provide gateways through which to be in this territory. All three engage with addiction on all the levels, and as a spiritual issue.

“All of the levels” means that in our own work together we would like each of us to look into this from the perspective of perhaps assuming that we are all addicts. And the question then is to ask in what way? If this is true, then we are all in need of understanding this material, and finding ways to be honest, and ways to heal.Through this sort of self inquiry we are likely to become kinder, wiser, and more useful to anyone else…..


You will hear many definitions of addiction. Addiction might broadly be defined as the process of something that we use to soothe something else, and that the something else will usually arise from a trauma of some nature. The something that we use can itself become deeply destructive to our health, making it all the harder to create space for the original upset. And this then becomes the work. In Russell Brand’s words, we are ‘crying for connection’ through our addictive patterns. And how do we, in this training, find connection that truly heals?


How do all the themes above weave together? Many forms of healing say that we must first know an inner place of resource of some kind, before we can effectively turn to the wounded/ traumatised/ upset places within us. We must first develop an adult capacity to hold upset, and to feel resourced, before we can successfully turn to the work of being our own inner parent to the parts that are longing for healing. Hence the work of the ‘the house’ and the work of prayer and meditation. A virtuous cycle.

Assignment: Inspirational talk

Inspirational Talk 

Due by 23 February

Write an inspirational talk that will take no more than 15 minutes to deliver.  


Use this opportunity to deeply inquire into yourself about, for example, an issue, an experience, a knowing, a longing or a teaching that you feel deeply called to share.  


This piece of work can elicit feelings of real vulnerability.  We offer you our support in diving into this, as it can show the way towards a deepening sense of life purpose and expression when taken to heart. 


Please include a max half-page reflection, at the start or end of the transcript of your talk, about why you chose the material that you did, and what the process of working on this particular personal material and process has meant to you in terms of your inner development on all levels – eg. your body, spirit, psychology, family, environment. 


Please upload this assignment via your student portal as a PDF