Friday, October 4, 2013

Sex at the Edge, Part 2: Consent

The other night I was at a concert in my town when I saw the token "creepy guy" of my social circle. Many young women have had distasteful run-ins with this older man, yet he continues to frequent community events without being challenged for his poor respect for boundaries. An interaction I had that evening points towards why that is so.

I saw a young-ish looking girl dancing with him, and said to my friend (who knows the whole story of my negative experiences with this man) that I ought to warn her about him, 'cause I wish somebody had warned me about him. Later, that girl came up to dance near us, and my friend started to tell her of the man's reputation. I came over only to hear the girl say, "I don't want to know; I'm dating him." I told her about it anyway, in a general way, and she asked me, "Did you use your voice?" I was caught off guard by this question, which seemed to blame me for his actions, and said that I didn't have a chance to, because I was asleep when he did the creepiest thing towards me, (which was to crawl on me and whisper in my ear how he loved me, but I didn't tell her the details). Her response was to give me what was for me a very uncomfortable hug. "That's too bad my boyfriend took advantage of you in your sleep when you were a teenager, let me contaminate you with his energetic germs."

What I didn't tell her, but I wish I had as suggested by my friend later, is how scared I was in that moment that he was going to rape me. I wanted nothing more than to push him off of me angrily and tell him how not OK it was what he was doing, but I was alone in his house (he came back early in the middle of the night while I was housesitting for him on his trip to Burning Man). I was scared that might escalate the situation and push him to do something he might not do otherwise. So I lay there quietly pretending to still be asleep, hoping he would go away, and promising myself that if he tried anything more I'd fight him off tooth and nail.

I have told this story so many times that I grow weary of repeating it, yet the trauma of that fear still lives in my body. Not only do I resent him for it; I resent my community for not responding in any significant way when I spoke out publicly, years after the fact. It really left me with a sense that nobody cared. I also received a lot of remarks similar to what the girl said about using my voice that are indicative to me of a dissonance I have with the culture surrounding of events like rainbow gatherings, music festivals, heart song and drum circles, and wholesome foods potlucks. The ethic around touch and sexuality seems to be that touch is great and we need more of it in our lives; let's move away from mainstream culture by touching all the time. However I have not noticed people asking if a person wants touch. In fact, on the other hand, if someone speaks out against it they are often seen as uptight. So ultimately, the responsibility for stopping or preventing unwanted touch is on the person receiving it, and at risk to their social acceptance.

There are many examples of this. At my first rainbow gathering, which was amazing in many ways, I had a rude awakening to this lack of consent culture when I told an acquaintance of mine not to touch me and he acted like he was entitled to. When I asked the circle of people around us for support, not only did they fail to chastise him, at least one long-term friend looked at me in a way I interpret as her thinking I was ridiculous. I felt alone, scared, and angry (to protect myself) in the moment.

In another instance, a friend of mine came home from a festival with a traumatic story about a young man she was spending time with for a whole day and went into some hot springs with where the norm is to be naked. He suddenly grabbed her with no permission asked and she could even feel his boner against her leg. When she vehemently said that she needed space, he said, "What's the matter? We're all one anyway!"

This excuse of unity and oneness to violate people disturbs me greatly. On the other hand, I have experienced what is called consent culture around groups of people who identify as punks, anarchists, activists, and/or Reclaiming witches. In these communities, to my experience, there is a strong ethic around asking before doing anything physical to someone, and especially sexual. In some instances this ethic does seem to get in the way of moments unfolding organically--for example if someone is crying, or just sitting next to you during a moment of sweet group connection, it can feel very natural to put an arm around them, but awkward when the social norm is to always ask before touching.

I have given a lot of thought to this question of consent because of my experiences in both types of communities (and let's not even get started on mainstream culture!). The conclusion I have come to is that there are three types of situations that are best approached, in my ideal world, with different protocol. The categories are:

1. Situations where consent has clearly not been given, and there is no indication that the person has implied consent, or reason to believe that consent is implied. I would say this older man laying on me in my sleep falls in this category. Other important examples include having sex or kissing someone for the first time, or even the second or third, or anytime outside of an ongoing committed relationship, or when lots of time has passed between encounters.

2. Situations where consent is clearly implied, or there is ongoing consent, such as in a relationship where certain norms have been established. This is the area that I'd like to see acknowledged more in some of those anarchist social circles I mentioned. One example I've heard is that it's never OK to have sex with someone in their sleep. This is (to me) obviously true at a party with strangers, but with a trusted lover, being woken up to sex sounds delightful. This category includes all things previously discussed or agreed upon, and may include some kind of agreement like, "I'll let you know if you no longer have my consent for this."

3. Situations that fall into neither of these categories, but are some kind of grey area--such as putting your arm around a new friend who you think needs comfort, or trying something new but not too wild in bed with a relatively new lover (perhaps...armpit kissing?). These are things you think might be nice for the other person, but aren't 100%, or even necessarily 80%, sure.

For category 1, I think the best thing for the initiator to do, and in my mind the ethical thing, is to express verbally what they desire, and ask how the other person feels about it before moving forward. Obviously the other person must feel positively about it and say yes to do so. Also, there is something about asking consent to even discuss specifics. For example, if someone I don't know in a bar comes up to me and asks if they can give me a rim job, I would find that lewd and offensive. Prior to mentioning such details, I believe consent to discuss them is appropriate, perhaps something like, "I find you really attractive and am looking for some casual and kinky sex tonight, are you interested in hearing more?"

For category 2, but especially category 3, I've developed an idea of what I think is ethical, which is that you can go ahead and do what you want without asking, BUT if the person reacts negatively, take full responsibility for your actions. Apologize, empathize, and accept their response, no matter how unexpectedly strong it may be. In category 2 this wouldn't apply as much--the receiver would have more responsibility for not having communicated a revoking of consent. But in category 3, I think this is crucial. Another way of saying it is, don't do anything physical or sexual towards someone unless you are willing to accept their reaction, whatever it may be. If the fact you didn't ask traumatizes them, you are partly responsible for that.

I like this ethic because I think it allows for some open-endedness, rather than a hard and fast formal consent rule, but discourages people from taking the risk of not asking unless they are pretty sure it's OK.

Do you think that you would be a healthier, happier person if this ethic of consent was taught in 8th grade health class (or any type of information about consent for that matter)? How do you feel about being on the receiving end of it? Or the side of initiating touch with these ideas as guidelines? Any other comments about the issues raised in this post more generally? I'd love to hear from you, please comment below.

Sunday, September 29, 2013

Sex at the Edge, Part 1

I've wanted to write a blog about sex for weeks. I've thought of it before the past weeks; and I have often been stopped by my desire for privacy. If I blog about sex, surely "creepy" men (or possibly other genders) will message me or make comments that I am uncomfortable with, thinking that they are invited to relate to me personally about their sexuality.

Let me make clear that this is NOT the case. Whoever is reading this: I respect your sexuality as sacred, but that does not mean I want anything to do with it. This blog is to explore ideas and concepts about sexuality, not to exchange sexual energy. Do not send me any messages or comments that could be interpreted as you expressing sexual energy towards me. You are welcome and encouraged to share any other thoughts, feelings, and experiences in the comments below; and maybe you will find the concepts explored useful when sharing your sexuality with others, in person (or maybe not), elsewhere, who have consented to do so.

Now--onward! What do I have to say about sex, today, or any day? I could talk about cliteracy, a word and movement I just recently learned about. In the past, I have blogged about the importance of foreskin and the atrocity of infant circumcision. I've also touched on my experience with Tantra. What more is there to say?

I had an attempted one night stand, of sorts, over the summer. I knew the guy for many years prior, but only peripherally. We never really hung out, just saw each other around. Unfortunately, it was awful. I kind of hate the word "foreplay," because I see the activities it usually signifies as integral to "sex" rather than separate. But I'm not sure how else to explain that this person did not seem to value foreplay whatsoever. I tried my best to share my (self-accredited, I suppose) expertise at communication in this context. He seemed to feel really awkward about this, which made it more difficult, but hope I imparted at least a glimpse of possibility for a more conscious approach to sexuality.

I wish I could share more details and glean lessons learned, but I don't know how to do that without possibly betraying his privacy. One lesson learned, for me, is that even "casual sex" should not preclude intimacy. In fact, if I'm going to participate in casual sex, I want it to be intimate, and sensual, human connection, not just mere physical gratification. I have a box under my bed to help with that.

Afterwards, I noticed the benefit of my years of practicing observing without evaluating (a la Nonviolent Communication). Part of me--but only a small part! yay!--wanted to go into a shame spiral about my choice to partake in that activity in that way. I was able to connect to the rational explanation that that impulse probably comes from years of socialization in a Judeo-Christian culture, and that there's nothing wrong with trying to get my basic human needs met. So instead of shame, I simply mourned. I mourned that only 30% of men in the U.S. know what the clitoris is (this statistic is hearsay, but I trust it based on my own experience), and that culturally people seem so uncomfortable communicating their desires, fears, and other relevant information in a sexual context.

When I came up with the title to this blog, I thought I'd explore what sex means in the life of those of us who are...counterculture, for lack of a better word. I live my life at the edge of society in many ways, and sex is certainly one of them. I want to continue with this topic as a series, sharing my take on this important aspect of life based on the synthesis of my experiences, Tantra workshops I've attended, and books I've read on sacred sexuality, as well as how skilled communication, including NVC tools, enhances sexual experiences a hundredfold. If there are any specific topics you'd like to see explored, please share your suggestions in the comments.

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Taking Sustainability Into Our Own Hands

I've been experimenting with using a dating site lately, and one of the people I started talking with on there said in his profile that he studies sustainable manufacturing. I messaged him about this topic, and we have gotten into a debate that brings up a lot of what is most painful for me about greenwashing--which is when industries and education programs try to make something sound environmentally better, but really isn't going to save the world and actually serves to maintain the status quo by misleading people to trust in trumped up non-solutions to ecological problems. So, this is my way to vent about that while sharing my perspective on worthwhile ways to true sustainability, available in the here and now, instead of putting our faith on some idealistic technological solution of the distant future.

Meagan's 5 Rules for Practical Sustainability

1. Never buy anything new that you can get used. The more we buy from currently manufacturing industries, the more they will manufacture. I think in general, the carbon footprint of even a green product is higher than that of a non-green product purchased at a thrift store, or better yet, acquired at a clothing swap or while dumpster diving. This also gives you more money to buy the better options for things you have to buy new--such as organic or recycled toilet paper or organic food.

2. The best solutions involve human interaction rather than money. Two great examples of this in Chico are Rely On Community, a Facebook group where members can ask for or offer resources of all kinds, such as furniture or extra garden veggies. This easily duplicable format has already spread to Arcata (Rely On Community Arcata) and could be put to use in your community too! Like Food Not Bombs, it is open source technology. The other example in Chico is our monthly Abundance Exchange, which is like a clothing swap, only for everything: books, furniture, toys, art, etc. People bring whatever they don't want anymore, and anyone can take anything regardless of how much stuff they brought. Community members take turns hosting this in their yard by coordinating through Facebook. One of the most beautiful, culture-shifting moments I have seen from this event is when passersby stop, thinking it's a yard sale, and ask how much something is, only to be told everything is free. This really warms my heart. Leftovers are also donated to a thrift store or homeless resource centers. This also embodies a permaculture principle by stacking functions: free "shopping" also becomes a social event, meeting needs for connection and fun.

3. If you want to help the Earth, spend time in Nature. Sustainability seems to get watered-down and abstract in artificial settings. Some so-called sustainability experts or scholars are focused so much on statistics and projections and economics, that the idea of sustainability gets divorced from anything that can actually help the Earth regenerate resilient biodiversity. This is my opportunity to give credit where credit is due: I got the idea for this blog from a place near my house where I go to connect with Nature. There are plants and logs and rocks there, who listened to me vent and then suggested this blog. I thank them. Nature is not only inspiring though, being in connection with nonhuman beings helps us cultivate empathy for them that many participants in industry and consumerism sorely lack. It reminds us that Nature is not an abstraction, but a community of sentient beings.

4. Do things on a human scale. This is stolen directly from the permaculture principle list. It means that we humans need to be more humble, and limit ourselves to activities and projects where we can more easily see all the long-term consequences. For example, only making changes to our environment that will go back to nature within our lifetimes, or only using technology that is human powered as much as possible, such as bicycles instead of cars, hand-powered egg-beaters and nutcrackers and cherry-pitters, etc. (You can also make bike machines that do these tasks much more efficiently, on zero fuel, and you get a work out).

5. Empathize with self and other. Sadly, this is a principle I did not have the inner resources to apply during the conversation with above-mentioned user of internet dating site. I was agitated upon receiving his messages and responded with reactivity instead of thoughtfulness and the patience that it takes to cultivate mutual understanding in the presence of disparate worldviews. However, I cannot see how we will create a sustainable society without empathy. When people get into "rational" arguments and say things like, "Don't be emotional," they are usually in one of their most emotional states of mind, and are refusing to acknowledge the impact or wisdom of our feelings on why and how we make decisions. It is cliché at this point, but we can always honor the values and needs behind someone's political or economical strategy, even while disagreeing on those strategies, and this makes a more peaceful society by staying connected to each other's humanity.

On this note, I am currently starting a new NVC practice group that will meet to practice just this--having conversations with those who we don't see eye to eye with, seeking understanding and mutual respect without having to agree, and being heard in a way that cultivates trust across party lines--or even intra-party lines. If you would like to be a part of this project, which I'm calling The Edge Effect, please contact me at

What about you? What rules do you have for yourself for practical sustainability? I know I missed a few, or probably many, that I would happily include on this list. Please share in the comments :)

Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Permissiveness or Domination--Is There a Third Way?

When I showed up at the Montana Rainbow Gathering and unknowingly camped across the main trail from a large fenced area with a menacing "Enter at Your Own Risk" sign, I had no idea that these neighbors would shape and impact not only my experience that week, but the experience of those who participated in the Nonviolent Communication workshops I came to offer as well.

Initially I found it amusing that this group of people would choose to identify their camp as "The Projects." "How strange that the elements of outside society are re-creating themselves here," I thought. I had never heard of this camp despite this being my fifth national rainbow gathering. Many of the other rainbow attendees refer to this crowd as "crusties." The typical Project camper, of which there were a few dozen it seemed, is a traveler (hitchhiker, train hopper) with dirty black and grey clothes, usually with patches and holes, but more of the latter. They are loud and raucous, ignoring the rainbow policy of "No alcohol in the gathering!", asking passersby to give them snacks, and setting off fireworks til the wee hours of the morning (another rainbow no-no with the dangers of forest fires, not to mention people wanting to experience the rejuvenation of the quiet forest outside city limits).

It didn't end there though. This group was on one side of many conflicts throughout the week. I don't think they always "started" it per se, but they did seemed to be purposefully antagonizing those around them with such antics as putting logs and digging holes in the path at night, so that people walking through without a flashlight would trip. Ouch. My approach to this was to just go around, because I quickly came to the conclusion that the more people reacted to their behavior in any way, the more things escalated. I also saw what they were doing as mostly harmless, a letting off of steam that builds up from being in cities too long.

Sometimes these folks got into fights with each other, which once again didn't bother me as much as some other people. It seemed like consensual fighting, more letting off steam. This is just what these people did for fun. It's not my idea of a good time, but different strokes for different folks. Sometimes it did seem that people got involved who were not so consensual about it, however, and that's when it became really dramatic.During these times, I found myself in a conundrum. Despite my skills with NVC, there was simply too much going on for me to see any meaningful way I could contribute to defusing a brawl. There were so many people yelling, there were already people from Shantisena (the rainbow peacekeeping infrastructure) trying to help, that all I could do was give silent empathy to all involved from the sidelines, and try to help the sensitive souls of bystanders by inviting them over to my camp, Empathic Rejuvenation, to relax and ground.

During these times, I wondered if this was a situation for protective use of force. Marshall Rosenberg, founder of Nonviolent Communication (NVC), made this distinction between using force to protect health and safety, and using force to punish--punitive use of force. The second would be considered violence in the NVC system. For me the line between these two things gets really blurry though. Although most NVCers, including myself, would see capital punishment as punitive use of force, proponents could argue it's protective in the sense that it can discourage others from killing people (whether or not this is the case, people can and certainly do argue it). One of our options, that was never acted on, was to ask the police overseeing the gathering to intervene with this camp. I was even convinced for a day or two that this would be a good course of action, mainly because I was sick of the fireworks.

But, I thought, wouldn't I be hypocritical if I asked the police to intervene for my cause (no fireworks) but oppose them for intervening in other cases? There are many illegal things happening at a rainbow gathering--people walk around nude, have their dogs off leashes, and bring a variety of blacklisted substances for recreational or spiritual use. No, I didn't want to promote such an arbitrary double standard. I want to let go of brute force as a solution to minor problems, and find other creative ways to deal with social challenges. What this meant in this case, was until we found a better way to work with this group of people, we had to default to putting up with them in the meantime. In the grand scheme of things, walking around logs and holes is not that big of an inconvenience. I'd like to save protective force for more important things--such as when there really are nonconsensual fights, although in this case brute force didn't seem to help with that either, just more escalation.

I still don't know what creative solution would work for the Projects and the rest of the rainbows to live together in peace. One thought I have is to work with the Shantisena crew next year, offering them the powerful tool of NVC-style empathy, both for their own rejuvenation and to use in the midst of conflict. This idea inspires me; I see it as a new frontier in human development (which I also see in the gathering as a whole).It is painful to me to see how quickly some of the people who say we want a new world resorted to brute force in the face of The Projects, a tactic of the so-called "old paradigm." I believe looking at situations through the lens of human needs helps to defuse a lot of the "us vs. them" energy and open up at least the possibility for a solution that works for everyone involved. I hope that activists and rainbows and all cultural transformers will consider learning more about the NVC system for resolving conflict; it is one of the few things that gives me hope that the miracle of a more peaceful society will ever emerge.

Resources for learning NVC: (Also see Miki Kashtan's blog "The Fearless Heart") (Center for Nonviolent Communication, founded by Marshall Rosenberg)

Question: In this situation, I think The Projects are needing expression, freedom, autonomy--and to act these things out as much as possible in an environment where there is more freedom, as opposed to mainstream culture. I think those who got so upset with The Projects want harmony and respect. Do you have any other ideas for trying to understand where each of these parties is coming from? Please share in the comments below, and as a challenge to your mind to grow in restorative ways (rather than punitive ways), refrain from making any diagnosis about who is right or wrong in the situation--it's harder than you think!

Sunday, May 19, 2013

Getting Dirty with Interdependence

I have a sheet on which are printed some core NVC principles. One of them reads, "Human beings meet needs through interdependent relationships." I love this because it challenges and contradicts one of our society's basic assumptions, which is "Everyone out for themselves" and the accompanying, "Must be self-sufficient." 

This is especially important to me not only because of the connection and community that result from practicing interdependence, but because of what happens when we don't practice it. For one thing, we are isolated and lonely. Just as bad, when we don't share resources, everyone has their own copy of each thing we think we need to survive. Their own car, their own power tools that get used once a year, and their own brand new clothes and notebooks at the start of the new school year. And once we're done with those things, instead of sharing them with others, they go to rot in a landfill.

Here in Chico, where the university students mass emigrate at the end of Spring semester, many of them are in such a rush to get home where mom can do their laundry, that they throw all their usable but unwanted possessions in the trash. Each year, myself and dozens of other broke, homeless, thrifty, resourceful, and/or ecologically aware people go through these items to find things they can put to good use, or give to those who need them. Ironically, this act--of dumpster diving--is technically illegal, although it would make more sense to me that throwing away usable items would be illegal! 

Regardless of illegality, I have never been approached by a cop in day or night when dumpster diving, and I encourage you to partake in this money-saving and adventurous activity. You never know what you're going to find. Students, don't wait til next year to buy notebooks and binders--there are plenty waiting around in your local apartment complex trash bin, with only the first few pages written on! Or you may find wallets with gift cards on them--with balances up to $25, in my experience! 

And if you are leaving town, please, bring your unwanted items to a thrift store, or the city plaza where homeless people will benefit from the clothes, or one of the Diversion Excursion sites such as W. Sac and N. Cedar. With interdependence, we can build community, save money, have fun, and lessen our ecological footprints, all be meeting our needs collectively instead of independently.

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Codependency & The Feminist Fairytale

I was sitting glumly on the curb across the street from Has Beans coffee shop when a friend came up to talk to me. I said I was sad about our mutual friend asking me to go away from her (I don't remember why). My feelings had been hurt. His response? "Oh yeah, I am codependent like that sometimes too." This was how I learned that being codependent means being selfish or needy, feeling hurt when I shouldn't feel that way.

A few years later, when I learned about universal human needs, I rejected the notion of codependency, believing it was a negative way of naming interdependence, which means humans naturally meet needs through relationships. Codependency is just a word that comes out of our individualistic culture, I thought. It's just a pathological rejection of collectivism.

Time passed, and I read a new definition of codependency, something along the lines of "a codependent is someone who, when unsatisfied in a relationship, tries to give more of themselves to the other person to fix things, instead of asking for consideration and care." This resonated. I could see myself doing this at times. I would go into the classic cycle of emptiness, giving to fill the emptiness, and resentment, followed by an explosion of demanding for my needs to be met. OK, I thought, I'll speak up for my needs sooner in relationships, instead of waiting so long. And I have tried to do this more and more in the past few years.

But that word codependency still lurked around my life, popping up here and there. A psych teacher I had recommended the book Codependent No More, which I eventually happened upon in the used section of Lyon's Books, and purchased on a whim. I have recently blogged about this book, about how I have found it to be vague and lecturing. It's subtitle, though, is How to Stop Controlling Others and Start Caring for Yourself. That's a totally different definition than all the others I'd heard! Am I controlling? Do I not know how to care for myself? My boyfriend thinks so. He even used that book's subtitle in an argument with me. I'm uncomfortable with this definition though. It is very distant, conceptually, from the language of human needs. I hear it as I'm a bad person. And I don't like that, in fact I really dislike it.

This semester, I'm taking Psychology of Women and Gender through Butte College. My teacher, Katy Luallen (highly recommend her), assigned us All That is Bitter & Sweet by Ashley Judd. In this book, Ashley shares her discovery of codependency, and going into treatment for it. She learned that codependency includes "anyone who tries to control the behavior of others (or themselves) as a coping mechanism to medicate loneliness, that hole in the soul left behind in the aftermath of abuse--which does not have to be radical, dramatic, big-time abuse." (Later she defines childhood abuse as "anything less than nurturance.") I resonated with this a lot. I have that hole in my soul from receiving less than nurturance as a child--being passed from one relative or guardian to another, each with their personal cocktail of neuroses.

I like this definition because it gets at the cause, not just the symptom. The hole in the soul. That is the source of the difficulties. Unfortunately, it is very difficult to heal that hole in the soul. My psych teacher says that if a child doesn't attach to their parents, the only way to cure them of "Attachment Disorder" is to have a relationship similar to parent/child as an adult for an extended period of time, with lots of mirroring and care.

This is the fairy tale relationship that I, and I'm sure many others like me, dream of: the happily ever after, where our beloved shows up perfectly for us in every moment, and never wavers in their devotion. Like a parent "should" be to a child. In class, someone commented that most people in our culture exhibit symptoms of codependency as Judd names them:

1. difficulty experiencing appropriate levels of self-esteem
2. difficulty setting functional boundaries
3. difficulty owning and expressing their own reality
4. difficulty taking care of their adult needs and wants
5. difficulty experiencing their reality moderately

No wonder, then, that the codependent's ideal is iterated over and over again in our Disney movies and after-school cartoons. We are a culture of codependents. We all, or almost all, share these symptoms.

One cultural "backlash" to this situation, that actually reinforces this ideal, is to tell people, especially women, that we can be perfectly happy without a partner. Girl power! the message goes. If he don't treat you right, leave him, say the million memes on Facebook. It's better to be single than to be with someone who isn't perfect. I have read these messages, printed on backgrounds of flowers and mountains or girls with sarcastic expressions on their faces. I have read these messages, and felt ashamed of myself for choosing to be in an imperfect relationship. Maybe I should just be single, and learn to be OK with it.

I recently received support from my empathy buddy on this topic, and I had a wonderful moment of clarity. While these messages stimulate guilt in me for not being "strong" enough to wait for the fairy tale Prince Charming, and be on my own until then, the idea of a single happily-ever-after is also a fairy tale. I call it the Feminist Fairy tale. It's a reactionary response to codependency, an overcompensation. This idea that women could rid ourselves of ever having to feel loneliness, could be completely satisfied through friends and a job, without partnership or intimacy--maybe some people have experienced this, I have even experienced this for periods of time, but it isn't something that lasts. The loneliness always comes back. I believe partnership is a universal drive, whether it's slightly pathological (seeking a parent/child type of love) or not.

I'm letting go of both fairy tales. I'll probably never find Prince Charming, although I accept the part of me that wants that. Nor will I probably ever fill that hole in my soul, once and for all, so that I can be totally happy without any kind of intimate connection and bonding. It feels good to just acknowledge that, accept it. Maybe that's why people get up in front of AA or CODA (Codependents Anonymous) and say, I'm an alcoholic. I'm a codependent. I am imperfect. I don't fit into these molds, these fairy tales, that society has given me. And that's OK. I love and accept myself anyway. I am doing the best I can with what I have.

Please share in the comments below how this blog affected you. Are you inspired, confused, in disagreement? I am curious regardless! I look forward to reading your responses.

Saturday, April 6, 2013

On Detachment

Last night I was reading a self-help book that isn't based on NVC principles, and I felt myself rise to a very subtle challenge: staying centered while digesting an author's (usually abstract) imperatives.

Most personal growth coaches speak in the language of imperatives: Do this. Don't do that. You've been acting this way, now act that way. Melody Beattie, in Codependent No More, instructs her readers in the art of self-care: "Giving ourselves what we need is not difficult....The formula is simple: In any given situation, detach and ask: "What do I need to do to take care of myself?"

I am annoyed with this abstract phrasing, but before I go into the 'why' of this further, I also want to note that obviously I'm finding enough value in this book to choose to read it. I'll come back to that later.

Beattie uses this word detach throughout her book, with no definition or description of how to actually enact this behavior anywhere. In the chapter on detachment, I found myself thinking that she danced around the word the whole time, giving me as a reader only a blurry, peripheral glimpse of what she means by the term. As someone with 10 years of my life dedicated to holistic wellness and growth, I can relate her abstract concepts to more tangible things, but if I couldn't, I think it would be useless to me. Her paragraphs start, "Detachment is based on the premise..." and "Detachment involves..." rather than a simple, clear, definition. Most painful of all for me was this section:

"How do we detach? How do we extricate our emotions, body, and spirit from the agony of entanglement? As best we can. And probably, a bit clumsily at first."

When I first read this section, I thought, Yay! Finally! She's talking about the how...the tangible guidance I was seeking. Instead she describes a very different type of how than I'd hoped for. Of course readers will be clumsy with this lack of substantive instructions.

I don't mean to single out Beattie and bash on her, but she is a prime example of something that seems to run rampant in the self-help industry: abstract instructions, flung at a reader who is already having difficulty with life, and now they have this new imperative that they don't even know how to do. This seems to me to be a recipe for disaster. I have this vision of a bunch of neurotic, broken people running around trying to live by a code written in a foreign language.

I once heard Miki Kashtan say that if someone has never experienced something before, they are not going to be able to have that experience just by hearing about it. Many self-help books seem to me to commit the logical fallacy of 'begging the question' or answering a question with the question itself. If this model was transposed to other disciplines, it would sound like a music student asking their teacher how to play the piano, and getting only this response: "As best you can." This is not the job of the instructor. The instructor's job is to show the specific steps. The "picture" as Miki Kashtan would say.

Sadly, I have for years fallen prey to this trap that I have never heard anyone articulate: reading an abstract imperative such as "detach," and then stressing out because I don't know how to do it. Feeling guilty for not being able to accomplish it. But this is patently absurd. It is not my fault if I don't know how to do something I haven't been clearly taught how to do. Again, this is like blaming a child for not knowing how to do a math problem if their teacher were to only place their homework in front of them, without a lesson. Sure, some people can teach themselves music and math and emotional maturity, but not everyone.

I see that I am repeating myself, which makes sense, considering the NVC principle that people repeat themselves until they feel understood. I am longing for shared reality around this. My basic point is that when we as individuals have powerful experiences, or learn how to do something, and want to share it, we must figure out how to put that in language we would have understood before we had the understanding we have now, in order for others to benefit from our insight. Ironically, I am not sure if I am doing this myself at this moment. But I hope so.

So, about last night, reading the book. I noticed myself starting to go into shame or guilt for not knowing quite how to follow Beattie's instructions, or if I even wanted to do so. Then, I had a moment of grace, where I came back to myself and resided in the present moment, present with my feelings about the topics she was describing, even allowing myself to disagree or feel frustrated, instead of wishing for approval from this distant author. The irony of this is that I imagine this might fall under her definition of detachment, but I don't think I would have figured that out from reading her book. I think I was capable of having that experience because of many years of practicing NVC style empathy and EFT, both of which teach radical self-awareness and acceptance.

So, the above paragraph was my experience, and now I will try to offer a tangible and clear practice for having a similar experience of your own if you so desire. Take out a self-help book you own and turn to whatever page you are on, or turn to one randomly. Read a few paragraphs. See if your mind is struggling to integrate the concepts or skills you are reading about. Next, tune into your body and notice what sensations and emotions are coursing through you. Are you tense, hopeful, scared, sad, angry, relieved, excited? Sit with these emotions for a while, maybe even journal about them. Journal about what you find inspiring about this book as well as where you disagree with the author.

For a variation, try this practice with this very blog. Go back over a paragraph or two and do the same practice. See what comes up. I would love for you to share your feelings, inspirations, and disagreements on the comments below. What I want more than agreement is to help people connect with themselves.

PS As I said earlier, part of me does like this book. I can sometimes appreciate its abstractions. They help me escape from myself when I'm overwhelmed. I like how they are open to interpretation, when I grow weary of the specific instructions of my main NVC practice. I also like the journaling prompts, because their abstract nature gives a lot of room for interpretation as well, instead of the specific exercises from NVC. It's kind of like TV. It helps me shut down emotionally when I need a break from the intensity of my experience.

Thursday, March 7, 2013

Anger -/- Violence

Today I went in to see a counselor I am currently working with, and we talked about how in my family, people are pretty scared of anger, so much so that if I express any anger, my aunts get pretty triggered and start talking about only wanting to be around happy people. During our discussion I remembered an insight I had a few years ago, about how for most people anger and violence are so linked, they seem almost synonymous. So much so, that I have caught myself saying, "I want to slap that person," when I was angry, even though I didn't really want to. I had just learned (mainly from another particular aunt who frequently made such statements) that that is how you express anger. But if you really look at it, they don't have to be linked! They are not the same thing.

In doing social change work, part of the journey is working with intense emotions. Anyone who has gone to a big rally of any sort will know that. There is yelling on both sides, from the protesters and counter-protesters. (Anger is not the only feeling present for activism--there are others just as important, if not more so, hidden underneath the anger, such as fear and grief and pain for all those who suffer at the hands of our current economic/political systems, but I would like to come back to this more in another blog.)

Activists who embrace nonviolence have already realized that although they are angry, they don't want to express it in ways that perpetuate more and more pain. We tend to think, though, that violence is only a physical act. However, most activists would agree that when a president gives an order for bombs to be dropped on civilians living near an alleged terrorist hideout, the president was being violent. He did not participate in the physical violence. His words led to it, even the thought process that led him to think that bombing people was the best response to the situation.

Over the past 7 years I have become thoroughly convinced that how we think about conflict as well as every word we utter has a profound impact on the degree of violence we experience in our lives and in the world. That is why I am so inspired when I sit with a group of people who have committed themselves to the path of Nonviolent Communication, for example the NorCal NVC Steering Committee of which I am a part. When I sit in a circle with these people, whether for empathy or business, sometimes I get this thrilling feeling that is a cousin to falling in love--the thrill of actually having hope for the world.This is because I have seen how we respond to conflict nonviolently, or at least tried our damnedest, with each other and others in our lives. If what is true on the microcosm is also true on the macrocosm, then forming more circles of people such as this gives me hope for a miracle.

A few years ago I got really into reading Derrick Jensen for a few months with my roommate at the time. Although I feel a true sense of companionship to that man in terms of intense care for the world, I realized after a while why I was so uncomfortable with his response to the world's problems. He truly believed in the victim/perpetrator model of human interaction, and applied this model to the state/corporations and the Earth, which of course isn't exactly a new idea. But the longer I've lived my life, the more I've seen that the victim/perpetrator model is not one that accurately represents reality. Just one of many examples: with my current partner, who is one of the most communicative men I've ever met, I have had friends and even professionals encourage me to end the relationship, because I complained about some aspect of it.

One time I called a support hotline, because I just needed someone to talk to, and the woman was very quick to label my partner as emotionally abusive. In NVC we call this "feeding the fire"--fueling the person's judgments and resentment, contributing to the clouding of their best discernment. This woman had no idea of what was really going on in my life--she heard my unprocessed version of events, when I was angry in a particular moment, and jumped to all sorts of conclusions based on this model she thought was universally applicable. I imagine if Jonah had called and given her his version of events, she would have said that I was the emotionally abusive one! This way of thinking is all about taking sides. But any marriage/relationship therapist will tell you, "You can be right, or you can be happy." Making relationships work is all about cooperation, collaboration, and seeing the other's humanity--not proving who is wrong.

While we can choose who we want to work through intimate relationship challenges with, we don't get to choose who we share the planet with--unless of course you just kill those you don't like, obviously a popular response currently. I think there may be some other, dare I say better?, ways to deal with our interpersonal conflict, on all scales. There is much talk these days of moving from an individualist culture to a collectivist one, because collectivist cultures in general are more sustainable, ecologically and psychologically. For this reason, I invite you to join me for the online and teleconference course "Sharing Power & Advocating Effectively," offered through the University of Earth and starting for the first time March 27th 2013. To register contact Rich Silver at or 530-638-6325. Space is limited so call now!

Saturday, March 2, 2013

Fighting the Republican Terrorists

A few years ago I had this amazing experience. I was standing in line at the movie theatre with my partner, waiting to see Avatar, and somehow the woman behind us started talking to me about politics. It seemed we generally disagreed at first, but I did something I'd wanted to do for a long time--I used my empathy skills, to triy to connect with her fears and concerns.

With the tools of NVC I was able to do this without indicating agreement or disagreement, simply giving her the experience of being heard. If I noticed any points of agreement, I made sure to highlight those. Then, once I sensed some openness in her, I occasionally inserted a question or perspective of my own that was somewhat challenging her ideas on how to deal with the country's problems--and I had the miraculous experience of being listened to instead of argued with! She met my respectful listening with the same.

By the time the line started moving to go into the movie, I had the sense that I had just had one of the most meaningful conversations of my life. I had dreamed of this for years, ever since I heard of NVC--using empathy to navigate political conflicts--but until that moment I hadn't really applied it. This was partially because I tend to surround myself with friends who agree with me politically, so there was never a chance. It wasn't until a year and a half later that I would actually seek out this kind of challenging conversation.

This was when some local Tea Party activists were trying to pass Measure A in my town, which would have changed the election dates for city council members to a few weeks after finals--discouraging university students from swinging the vote towards the liberal end of the spectrum. My whole town was fired up about this; name calling was spewing from all sides, and even my roommate who was working on the No on A campaign could vent for hours about the evils of the Republicans.

At the time I was partnering with Jonah, my boyfriend from paragraph one, to facilitate a group called Grounding Spirit, which was designed as a safe space for people to process their overwhelm and other feelings about the state of the world with all its crises. After one particularly cathartic evening of this, it came to me that the best thing I could do was approach the Measure A proponents and attempt to converse with them nonviolently, to reconcile with each other's humanity, even if we disagreed politically.

I went up to their booth at the next Farmer's Market, and had a very pleasant interaction, despite firmly stating my intention to vote No on the measure. These people were actually quite friendly to me and I enjoyed talking with them. One member, who was also the president of the university's Republican club, agreed to meet with me to discuss how we could make local politics more respectful and collaborative. Although nothing immediately tangible came of it, I feel that I made a very friendly acquaintance, and we continue to amicably chat with one another when we run into each other around town or on campus. I am hopeful that I can build more relationships such as this, that this can contribute to a peaceful revolution--one where, through dialogue, we--liberals, conservatives, anarchists, and everyone else--admit that things are not working very well for most people, and together find new ways of doing things.

I find myself discouraged when I see the very same people who are opposing war with bombs and bullets abroad waging war at home with verbal attacks. I wonder how we will ever have peace if we don't find a way to respond to conflict peacefully, no matter how passionate we are about a cause. When "fighting the Republicans" becomes as sacrosanct a mission as "fighting the terrorists," I don't think we are really changing anything.

I would love to find more people who want to delve deep into communicating nonviolently for social change. If this is you, I invite you to join me for the class, "Sharing Power and Advocating Effectively" that I am offering through the grassroots wisdom school University of Earth starting March 27th. For more information or to register you can contact Rich Silver: / 530 368-6325. Space is limited so sign up soon!

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

How Do We Create An Egalitarian Society?

Last Fall, on the one-year anniversary of the Occupy movement, C.T. Butler spoke with our local Occupiers about the importance of egalitarian decision-making structures, among other things. I have long been a fan of the consensus process, on which he wrote the book, and I'm in complete agreement with him on the importance of collaborative communication processes. There was one thing that I disagreed with him about though: the idea that in order to be an effective movement, we have to define who is in the movement and who is not. He said this would be demarcated by goals or values, that it doesn't make sense to try to collaborate with people who have different goals.

While I see his point in terms of efficiency, order, and perhaps even safety for the members of a cause, I think any kind of exclusion defeats the purpose of the Occupy movement, and in general the kind of movement I would like to see happen--one where as an entire society, we come together with our neighbors and community members to re-evaluate how we are going about business as usual, and see how we could do it better--for all of us. I don't think consensus alone is going to work for this endeavor, because it automatically excludes people who are more familiar and trusting of "power-over" decision-making methods such as majority rules (democracy) or executive orders (dictatorships).

Unfortunately I don't think there is an easy, painless way to go about including everyone, but I think the tools of Nonviolent Communication (NVC) can help, because unlike consensus, NVC does not require buy-in from all parties to facilitate egalitarian conflict resolution and decision-making. Certainly these things would be easier if all parties were using NVC, but not downright impossible as in the case of the consensus-based GA's, where those not skilled in the process with a lot to say could disrupt an agenda so much the best solution we could think of locally (and in many other places, that I've heard) was to ask them to leave.

What I love about Nonviolent Communication is that it offers tools to work collaboratively with whoever shows up, even if they are initially unfamiliar or uncomfortable with egalitarian models of decision-making. Because how can we truly have a successful society if we don't include everyone? Then those people who aren't included will just organize into a warring faction...legally, verbally, or physically.

For example take someone who is against the environmental movement. It might be easy to think that those of us who value the integrity of our ecosystems cannot work with someone who does not. However, NVC would teach us to identify the universal human needs that both parties share. These may be: hope for the future, security & safety, freedom/choice/autonomy, respect, and consideration (of self or others, including other species). Many of these would needs would apply on both sides of the debate, so that at this point it stops being an either/or dilemma where one side is asked to sacrifice for the other (either jobs and the economy or wildlife and habitat) but a process of integrating the concerns of all affected beings.

Obviously this is actually quite similar to consensus in principle and in ideal outcomes; the process is simply different and more inclusive because even one highly skilled person using NVC could direct a group towards this kind of conversation, without all of them agreeing to participate in any particular structured process. NVC has a bit more flexibility in terms of negotiating specific situations.

Of course I still value consensus a lot and think it's a crucial tool for sustaining an egalitarian culture, which is why I'm including it in the upcoming distance-learning class I'm facilitating for the University of Earth, in which I will mainly be sharing Nonviolent Communication and how to apply it for social change. This has been my passion for many years, ever since I learned of Marshall Rosenberg (founder of NVC) and his work doing mediation in war-torn areas such as the Middle East and Rwanda. With NVC, I have sincere hope for the possibility of a better future.

If this you would like to learn more about NVC, I invite you to join me for this combination online/teleclass called "Sharing Power & Advocating Effectively: Essential Tools for Sustaining an Egalitarian Society," which will go from March 27th to May 30th. For more info contact me (Meagan, 530-205-3569) or to register contact Rich at University of Earth ( / 530 368-6325).

Monday, February 4, 2013

Healing = Empathy

I was looking through the journals that are a part of the curriculum for the Bay NVC Leadership Program, and came upon this question: What is your understanding of NVC empathy? I have answered this question so many times that I just glossed over it, as I would a worksheet with the question: 2 +2 = ?. I have such an emotional feel for what empathy is, that the word and the feeling that goes along with it are one and the same, just as 2 + 2 and 4 actually feel like the same exact thing, there is no difference between them, so its pointless to translate.

As I continued to look through the journal prompts, though, I felt some discomfort arise in me. If I want to teach NVC, I better be able to explain what empathy is verbally, since I can't communicate this felt sense telepathically. So I started trying to write how I felt when I thought of NVC empathy. What came up to the surface is that empathy is healing. Soon I realized that to me, they seem like synonyms. Empathy is healing and healing is empathy.

What is healing? Think of all the healing tools you've ever heard of: massage, EFT, even a hug. All of these things have an empathic element to them. They allow space. They say yes, when they are effective. The massage therapist says "yes" to the pain, by being gentle with what hurts, providing movement and touch that works with the pain, rather than against it. EFT (Emotional Freedom Technique) also says yes, yes to our realities, loving and accepting all our of our thoughts, feelings, and sensations. And a hug definitely says "yes," definitely allows space.

Empathy is spaciousness, spaciousness for whatever is real, and in that space, healing occurs. I might go so far as to say that it is the only time when healing can occur. Other treatments--approaches that say "no" to the experience, such as certain types of affirmations, or any type of healing arts practitioner that says no, don't work, they make it worse. Think of a massage practitioner who keeps applying pressure when you say it hurts--not only would that be wildly out of standard protocol, most people experiencing it would probably not go back to that therapist, not feeling physically safe with them.

Similarly, listening, to be empathy, must say "yes." Not agreement, as we always say in the NVC community, but validation of the person's experience. Agreement that they are having that experience, feeling what they feel! That is why when I think of empathy, I think of healing. Because skilled NVC empathy, in my experience, can accomplish what all these other approaches can, combined--its not specialized like some healing arts, its broadly applicable. It can give a sense of healing to almost any sort of emotional pain, whether a harsh word from a co-worker or the trauma of childhood abuse

Of course NVC teaches techniques to convey this sense of "allowing" using words, and they are very supportive. It's hard to know how to say yes to someone's experience without agreeing with their perspective, if you don't have the tools. If you would like to experience the healing power of saying yes to our experience, and you live in Chico or surrounding areas, join NorCal NVC for one of our upcoming events. I'm doing the following intros this month (February 2013):

"But I Don't Communicate Violently!"
An open introduction to NVC's basic concepts and consciousness. Feb. 16th 5-7:30pm, 2155 Park Ave

Needs Awareness for Direction & Empowerment
Feb. 20th, 2:30-5pm, 2155 Park Ave. A 9 week series will follow this free introduction.

Weekly Drop-in Class: Honoring the Antsy Mind
 An empathic meditation class, Fridays (Feb. 8th, 15th, 22nd) 5-6:30pm

For other events that are more current (if you are reading this in the future! Woah time travel!) check out