Self-Connection in the Midst of Difficulty


The Self-Connection Process

In our Mediate Your Life training, we offer what is called a Self-Connection Process. This process integrates mindfulness with the basic language components of Compassionate Communication (Nonviolent Communication/NVC). The language components are: observation, feeling, need, request. In our training, these components are held within a 3-chair mediation framework and different processes we call “maps.”

The Self-Connection Process is a map to be able to find the inner “3rd chair” of awareness. From this place, you can navigate through the storminess and rough terrains of conflict to reach connection on the other side where new possibilities emerge for solving problems and for well being and happiness.

The 3rd chair is awareness, presence, and choice. In this place, the inner light of empathy shines on self and other, and you see with compassion the underlying commonality and connection that transforms and liberates. Action arises as choice, no demand, have to, or should, just kindness in service of well being.

The Steps of the Self-Connection Process: Breath, Body, Need

Breath. Observe your breath. Follow it in and out. As you observe the breath, observe the conversation of thoughts in your mind — the consciously talking to yourself thoughts, words, beliefs, and the automatic, habitual thoughts that pass through: perceptions, images, stories, evaluations, judgments of others and yourself. With the breath as your anchor, over and over stepping back into the inner 3rd chair, observing the flow of thoughts and beliefs. Past, future, “self” and “other” come and go, arising and dissolving like shadowy, misty phantoms, pure potential, not actual. You are the space of awareness in which this coming and going happens. Sense perceptions come alive — sights, sounds, smells, touch, taste!

Body. Feel your body. Feel the conversation of sensations and emotions, especially the difficult ones: the fear, anger, hurt, suffering. Slow and deepen your breath, activating the parasympathetic nervous system, relaxing with each out breath. When thoughts come, such as who or what’s to blame, return to feeling rather than thinking, allowing your body to process and let go. From the inner 3rd chair, you are the presence that feels, not the feelings and thoughts pass through awareness. Positive and negative fades. There is just feeling the energy, aliveness, life force animating your body, flowing through you.

Need. At the source of thoughts and feelings are needs — human and universal — a language of life, of connection and commonality: safety, love, freedom. Even deeper, need is the space of connection that holds the conversation between conflicting thoughts and feelings, and the source of new creative synthesis and emergent possibilities. From the 3rd chair of awareness and presence, you can see, hear, feel the space that connects everything, the space between thoughts and feelings, self and other, the space that surrounds all we perceive and extends to infinity. From this place, you see with compassion everything, everything dancing the dance of need meeting needs.

“Do it only if it’s play,” my mentor Marshall Rosenberg would say. “Follow your bliss,” mythologist Joseph Campbell famously encouraged. Taking action becomes play and bliss when we’re in the service of meeting needs, following our heart, giving and receiving, when we’re using our enormous power to enrich life and make life better for others and ourselves. It is acting from an authentic place, and not from the demands of fear or anger. Can you sense the choice that quietly arises in you as request, the truth that wants to be chosen? Can you find the courage to let this choice choose you and the solution find you?We are the dance. Life is the Dancer. What new thoughts and actions flow in you from needs: inspiration, kindness, service, giving, gratitude, joy, beauty, love?

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3 Steps to Make Your New Year’s Resolution Stick

NYResIt’s April and I feel crummy because a voice in my head is beating me up. On January 1st, I joined a new gym 3 blocks from my house with the resolution that I would work out diligently. After the initial flush of enthusiasm, I haven’t been going to the gym regularly. Instead, I’ve fallen back into my old habits of looking for something to binge on like Netflix in order to unwind from my days. Just over three months after my New Year’s Resolution, I’m telling myself I’ve failed:  I’ve wasted my membership and moreover, this is a pattern that speaks to my whole life.

If this scenario sounds familiar to you, you’re not alone. The research shows that most of us don’t keep the New Year’s resolutions we make. Each year, many of us set ourselves up to fail and then criticize ourselves mercilessly when we do fail.  So, what can we do to increase the likelihood that we will have a different story to tell come April?

So how do we formulate a plan?

The First Step is to create what I call the “Main Agreement.” The Main Agreement is what we are committing to do.gym-panorama-28914735  In this case, it is our New Year’s Resolution. My Present Self is, in effect, committing my Future Self to do something. And the “me” who shows up in the future, will likely be different than my Present self. And here lies the rub. I am, in this moment, committing a future version of myself to do something that the future version of myself did not agree to do. So what I’m committed to do now, and what I’ve imagined will make my life better, may not be what my Future Self will agree makes his life better.

To increase the likelihood that these Selves will agree, I suggest that the Main Agreement be very specific and doable.  So, instead of resolving “ join the gym and get in great shape,”  I would instead resolve to “join the gym and do least 15 minutes of cardio at least 3 times a week.” The specificity of this second resolution  helps me to be accountable to myself and others that I’ve told about my resolution.  

Often, after we’ve made the Main Agreement, we celebrate and that is the end. Instead, I suggest that as soon as you make the Main agreement, ask yourself “What can I do, what agreements can I put in place with myself and others that will increase the likelihood that I will follow through with my Main Agreement?” I call these “Supporting Agreements.” An example is to agree with myself to put specific times and dates into my calendar for each of my three weekly visits to the gym. And I agree with myself that I will not cancel one of these dates without rescheduling it for the day before or the day after.  I can also enlist someone else to be a partner to go to the gym with me at least some of these times. Another Supporting Agreement would be to hire a personal trainer. You get the idea.

TreadmillLastly, and paradoxically, one of the ways we can increase the likelihood of success is to plan for failure.  When you make your New Year’s Resolution, at the same time plan for how you’ll treat yourself if you do not fulfill the commitment. This is not to give ourselves an out. This is not to assume we are going to “fail.” Instead, this is a strategy to short circuit the inevitable internal critical voice that comes with perceived failure, and replace it with a plan of action, one that focuses our attention on what we’ve agreed to do in advance. By having this focus on what we’ve already planned, we’re less likely to get caught up in self-critical thinking, which has the contrary effect of reducing the likelihood that I will succeed in my commitments.

Creating a new habit of behavior is often one of the hardest things to do, it’s likely that I won’t get it right the first time. Just acknowledging that to myself begins to inoculate me against that inner critical voice, and the impulse to give up at the first instance of not fulfilling my Main Agreement.

Therefore, when I make my resolution I also create a “Restoring Agreement.” This is the agreement with myself about how I’m going to “get back on the horse” if I don;t fulfill my Main Agreement. One of the most common Restoring Agreements I have is to agree to have a conversation with myself (with or without the support of another person) about what have I lost and what detriment I have  experienced by not doing as I agreed. AND, very importantly, what needs did I meet by not doing as I agreed? This last part is really important because I want to appreciate that there was a reason why I didn’t do as I agreed. After appreciating both what I lost and what I gained by not fulfilling my commitment, I then can revisit my Main Agreement and decide whether I want to renew it as is or in some modified form, including additional or modified Supporting Agreements. I would turn to this Restoring Agreement the first week I did not fulfill my Main Agreement, and therefore would not be finding myself in despair come April.

By having these three steps in place, we can ensure not only that we will succeed in fulfilling our New Year’s Resolution , but also do so in a way that has more self compassion.


Focus First on Connection

In our workshops, we focus on developing the skills and capacity to create connection. With connection we can create trust. With trust, we can hear and be heard. When we can hear and be heard, we can the resolve disputes that arise as the inevitable consequence of being human. And with trust and the capacity to resolve disputes, we can collaborate to create the world we want to live in and that we want our children, and all subsequent generations, to live in. –Ike

To participate in the upcoming
Choosing Peace Immersion Training
in New Haven, CT January 15-18,
click HERE.


To see a listing of All Mediate Your Life trainings led by Ike Lasater and John Kinyon across the country, please see our SCHEDULE PAGE.

Changing the Attack Culture of Public Opinion

Ike Lasater is a former high-stakes trial lawyer, co-founder of Mediate Your Life ( and co-author of the newly-released book: From Conflict to Connection: Transforming Difficult Conversations into Peaceful ResolutionsHe co-founded the Yoga Journal, and is a resident of New Haven, Connecticut.


Meryl Streep wears a T-shirt bearing the words, “I’d rather be a Rebel 2D20E99400000578-0-image-a-51_1444106367778than a Slave” at a Time Out London photo shoot. Matt Damon interrupts a colleague of color during a panel discussion to explain diversity to her. On The View, Joy Behar questions why Miss America contestant and nurse, Kelley Johnson, wears “a doctor’s stethoscope.”

These incidents quickly gather a receptive audience of people eager to share their frustration and anger in social, digital and print media. The resulting criticisms take the form of opinion pieces, tweets and posts that erupt, spiral and go viral.

1430640970001380647The consequences of contemporary discourse are distressing to me. My distress has grown more acute in the last 20 years as a result of the nature of the work I do, which is to act as a mediator for people who are in conflict, and to offer trainings based upon the insights I have learned in these mediations.

This discourse is successful in part and dysfunctional in part. It is successful because it brings awareness to topics and it affirms people’s needs for community and shared reality. It is dysfunctional (and counter productive) because it is predicated upon creating an “other” that the writer attacks and criticizes. This process results in disconnection between the critic and their ad hoc community, and the “other” that has been created by the author’s judging and blaming critique.

It is particularly worrying to me when I see writers critiquing those that seem to be their potential allies. In other words, TwitterLogo_#55acee
Twitter_logo_whitewhere there could be connection and collaboration, the opinion piece, tweet or blog post seems likely to generate the opposite- disconnection and conflict.

For example, in response to Meryl Streep’s t-shirt bearing the words “I’d rather be a Rebel than a Slave,” The’s Facebook page introduced a blog post by Kirsten West Savali with the words “Streep and her co-stars were more than willing to minimize the complex and brutal history of black women in order to celebrate themselves and their heroes.”

These words “sell” and engage readers.   They make for good theatre.

And, at the same time, I cannot imagine that if the author of this Facebook post were to express this directly to Streep’s face, that it would be the beginning of a conversation that could advance the social agendas of both parties.

I see a missed opportunity.

There is an alternative that I have experienced in numerous conflict conversations in my own life and in my work.  I propose that there is a way for people to give full throated expression to their opinions, and do so in a way that reaches across the divide: to communicate in a way that has the underlying intention of connection.

To recast the critique of Streep’s actions (and for that matter, other public debates) I suggest three elements to include in the critic’s side of the conversation (Yes, it is a conversation).

First, the one offering the critique empathizes by making a genuine effort to understand what the person they are criticizing was attempting to communicate. This is a difficult step for almost everyone. When you are still in the midst your own reaction to something that has triggered you, most of us are resistant to seeing it from the other person’s perspective. It is therefore helpful to discuss your perspective with a friend or colleague until you feel you feel understand. This will make it easier for you to empathize with the one you are criticizing. Next, the critic expresses how they received the message and the impact of this, including their feelings and their needs that were not met. Finally, the last of these elements is that the critic requests what they would like the person they are critiquing to do. This last step can also be difficult.

This is what the expression of this process could look for a critic in this case:

“My guess is that Streep and her team were seeking to interest people in their film project, which had a lot of meaning for them, by wearing t-shirts with a quote from the leader of the suffragette movement. This was their way of calling attention to this time in history and their film. In doing this, they seemingly did not intend to demean or diminish anyone. And, at the same time, I want them to understand how frustrated and angry I became when I saw those words because they invoked in me the idea that they did not appreciate the struggle of black slaves in 19th century America- particularly the plight and struggle of black women. I ask that when Streep and her colleagues make similar marketing decisions in the future, that they ask themselves the question: “Is what we are proposing taking into account the perspective of black women in the United States? And who might we consult in order to expand our own awareness?”

The inclusion of these three elements in the critic’s communication still provides a means of gathering a constituency, as well as an increased likelihood that the writer will reach across the divide to the one whose conduct is upsetting to them.

Why should all of this matter? Why should we care about collaborating? How does connecting with the one you are criticizing advance your own agenda?

At the core of the work that I do is the premise that by really listening to and understanding the other person’s needs, you are more likely to be heard yourself, and more likely to create connection- and out of that connection, create collaboration that results in mutually satisfying outcomes.

To take this approach is to change a deeply embedded cultural template.  One that is predicated on determining who is wrong and therefore should be punished.  The constant search for who to blame divides us and is a barrier to the kind of cross cultural responses that we need in order to deal with issues like climate change, human rights and religious fundamentalism.

I have offered trainings in 16 countries including post 9-11 Pakistan and I have seen the power of this approach to bridge divides, where none seemed possible. I hope that we as a species can evolve and change our habitual reaction of blaming, judging and striking out against the other. Each of us can contribute our part to this evolution one conversation at a time.


Workplace Communication Tip Week 52: Intention Over Structure

“NVC is not only about how I use language to communicate with myself and others, but about how I filter my perception of the sensory inputs from the world inside and outside of me.”
– Ike Lasater, Words That Work In Business

Remember Your Intention

As you continue to practice and strengthen your application of NVC in the workplace, you’re bound to come across some challenging moments.

As these arise, it’s important to remember that NVC is simply a tool to reconnect you to your own needs and those of others—the structure is a way to remind you to stay focused on the present moment.

If you go into a future situation with a mental model of the structure (“I’ll do self-empathy and feel compassion; then I’ll be curious about the other person and do silent empathy and feel more compassion; then I’ll be able to have a conversation in which I’ll stay curious about the other person”), you’ve taken your attention away from the present moment.

Instead, always focus on what is going on for you now, and to use the structure to work with your experience, not try to fit your experience into the structure.

Ultimately, as Ike Lasater says in Words That Work In Business, “NVC is not about changing the way you talk. It’s about changing the way you think and the way you view the world.”

Mindful Practice for the Week

In the week ahead, check in with your intention as you take part in various workplace interactions. What does your intention tell you about what is occupying your attention?

bookcover_smallWords That Work In Business: A Practical Guide To Effective Communication In The Workplace can be purchased at PuddleDancer Press.