By Ike Lasater with Julie Stiles
George* was shaking as he got up and walked to the center of the room. It was just a few minutes into the start of the second day of an Mediate Your Life training. There had been some tension the first day over how much we, as facilitators, had planned to cover and how much people could really take in. George was the participant most upset about the potential for information overload.
We had the chairs set up in a circle that accommodated the 50 people in the room. George walked to the center of the circle carrying his notebook, in which he had outlined what he wanted to say. His distress was evident in his voice and the way his hand shook when raised his notes to look at them. Despite his anxiety, he was trying to be clear and practice the skills. He told us how painful it was for him not to have enough time to absorb what we were offering.
When I talk about our training, it’s often in terms of how people can resolve conflict and increase connection with themselves and those around them. However, the real gift of the training, and one of the things I most enjoy seeing happen, is exactly what George was doing that morning.
He was speaking up for himself.
This is not a small thing. Think about the way most people react when hurt. When we feel hurt in response to something someone has done, we often don’t tell the other person, or at least not right away. We may self-edit our words and actions; we hide our pain and blame and judge the other person, all of which disconnects us from ourselves and them.
Often these situations evoke beliefs around an experience that we may be painfully repressed about. This leads to repressive reasoning; for example, “I will only get hurt more if I reveal my hurt” or “No one is going to listen to me” or “It’s dangerous to speak up” or “People won’t like me if I speak up.”
Withdrawing and not communicating are ways of taking care of ourselves that might serve us well in certain situations. Unfortunately, these fearful strategies too often become a default strategy, and one that prevents us from checking whether or not our fears have a basis in fact. As a consequence, we may never develop the capacity to speak for ourselves, or whatever skills we have developed in that direction will begin to atrophy.
That is why the Mediate Your Life training offers a safe and supportive environment in which people can explore new ways of taking care of themselves. They become more self-connected and more confident about speaking up when their needs are not met.
This speaking up is another form of self-care and an index that the training is succeeding. After all, our training is a microcosm of “real life.” If someone isn’t speaking up in the training, where else in their life are they not getting heard?
George talked for about a minute and a half before I gently interrupted him. “Excuse me, excuse me. I want you to get heard, and right now I’d like to make sure I have heard what you have said thus far.” I started reflecting (repeating in my own words) what George was saying.
His whole body changed. He cried. Then he spoke some more, and I stopped him again to reflect. We went back and forth a few times. After a few minutes of empathy, George named three requests, and then added, “You know, what I really want is a hug.” I stood up and gave him a hug, and the whole room erupted into clapping and cheers. I made sure I reflected George’s requests and we went on with the day.
George had come to the second day of the training in an agitated frame of mind. He hadn’t slept well. He had been upset overnight and spent a lot of time writing out what he wanted to say. If he had not taken the chance to get up and speak, and if he had not been met with empathy and openness from the group, he might well have carried his agitation through the day, staying disconnected from himself and from everyone.
Instead, George used the tools in the training to find the courage to speak up. The first step was awareness—awareness that he was distressed and that his needs were not being met. This marked a huge shift, and one that many of us avoid in our daily lives. Once aware, George did the self-connection practice to clarify his needs and decide what requests he wanted to make. When he got up to let the group know his needs and requests, his doing so became a part of the training for all of us.
We teach many practical tools in Mediate Your Life. But, at a fundamental level, the training is about helping our participants to blossom, to realize that they have choice in each moment, and to develop their inner resources. They learn to speak up for themselves so they can have the life they want.
I want us to learn to take care of ourselves, to develop the awareness in the moment that our needs are not met, to develop the skills to reconnect with ourselves and speak up in a way that is more likely to get our needs met, and to develop the capacity to stay in the discomfort of conflict long enough to experience resolution. Building these up in the training supports people to begin to speak up more for themselves in their lives.
At the end of that second day of training, as we were harvesting the learning and people were sharing what had happened for them, George raised his hand. He told everyone what a wonderful day it had been. He had been clear about wanting to learn to speak up for himself, but was afraid of being excluded from the group if he did. He told us how touched he was by how the group had received him and given him feedback after his sharing that morning. He described how he had connected with people throughout the day and felt a part of the community. The room again broke out into spontaneous celebration.
* Not his real name.