Conflict is an illusion




The concept of what is an illusion on the idea of what something is. If something is only there when a viewer is in a certain state, a state that is less aligned with reality, then that something is an illusion. If the isness, the very beingness of an object can shift with subjective states, then our whole reality is maybe not as concrete and as obvious as we may have thought. The nature of isness, the nature of beingness is called in philosophical terms – ontology. The ability to transform conflicts into non-conflicts through perception is the process of ontological shamanism.


A table is supposedly there whether we are looking at it or not. A bike will continue to have a steely touch, to have two rubber tires and  gear cables should remain the same  whatever emotional and mental state we are in when we look at the bike. We assume there is a separation of object and subject. Our subjective states should not influence the objective states of things. 


But does reality really conform to this separation of subject and object?


Classical physics certainly thought so. The world of Newtonian particles colliding and interacting, and changing the trajectories would continue to collide and interact no matter whether there was an observer or not. Quantum physics, entering into our collective consciousness in the early 20th century through the genius minds of Heisenberg, Schroedinger, Dirac, and Bohr differed. And differed in a way which rocked the physics world and its philosophical foundations. Whether an observer was looking at an experiment affected the way particles moved. Objects positions and momentum were described with what is called a wave-function, and the wave-function collapsed when an observer looked at it, shifting the position and momentum of the object. The isness of an object depended on the subjective states of observers. 


What if we  turn our eye, our observation on ourselves, on our inner state, on our emotions, on our thought patterns. What if we treat our emotions and thoughts as the object of our perusal. Does the way we look at ourselves shift these emotions and thoughts? If so the the quality of isness of these states is malleable. If emotions and thoughts patterns can disappear depending on how we look at it, then we have a clue to the beginning of insight into why conflict  can be in illusion. If emotions and thoughts can disappear depending on how we look at it, can the arguments we get into with our friends, families and colleagues dissolve depending on we embrace and perceive them?


A man gets upset at his roommate for leaving dirty socks around the living room, he calls his roommate an inconsiderate, messy slob who doesn’t have a clue how to live with other people. Suppose the man has been studying NVC. He remembers that the methodology guides a person to look at their underlying needs, and see how their emotions are arising out of these needs not being met. In the NVC process the man can begin to shift from thinking and judging his roommate, to connecting with his need which is for cleanliness and emotions. The statement ” My roommate is an inconsiderate, messy slob” shifts to “I am upset because my needs for cleanliness are not being met” . The thought pattern shifts from being about the roommate to being about himself. The energetic daggers that he is shooting at the roommate dissolve. The roommate finds the second state much easy to listen to than accusations about their character.


Such a shift is not a repression of thoughts and emotions, it is not an artificial attempt to  replace one thought with another. As the second statement is really embraced and gotten, it actually feels more real, it gets more thoroughly to the root cause of what he is feeling. The body relaxes into the deeper authenticity of the statement.


The psychological and philosophical framework that NVC comes in, even if it doesn’t talk about it in this way,  assumes in effect that emotions and thoughts come in layers, with deeper layers feeling more real. The more surface layers dissolve into the deeper layers as we inhabit reality more fully. The nature of isness, the ontology of emotions and thoughts is like that of a curtain you pull back to reveal something more real.


Herein lies insight into why conflict is an illusion. The statement “My roommate is an inconsiderate, messy, slob” is in essence a kind of judgment, a label on reality. Its an illusion, because, if we let go of this attachment  to this statement, and drop into a deeper statement “I am upset because my needs for cleanliness are not being met”, we begin to sense something more authentic. We can tell something is more real, through the felt sense. The felt sense guides into sensing what is an illusion and what is not. 


Is the second statement as real as it can get? Actually we can go even deeper. If you drop into essence of your emotions, you can feel that open up to another emotion. As you fully embody anger, drop into the center of it, you may find it transformed into fear that feels even more real than the anger, closer to the truth of what it is you are really feeling. Brandon Bays, “The Journey” is one description of a process in which you can learn to drop into the emotions under emotions under emotions under emotions….. Its a process that takes you through an experience of these emotions in your body. At a deep enough levels,  after you have dropped through enough layers of emotions, you enter into what some would call mystical and spiritual experience. You ‘wake up’, and see the world anew.



While “The Journey” process focuses more emotions and the body sense, “The Work” of Bryon Katie focuses more on the thoughts. She gets us to really question or belief systems, and in the questioning process what often happens is we let go of our belief systems. Philosophers forever have been questioning our basic belief systems but they have done so within the mind itself. What most of philosophers don’t do is go outside the mind itself, and go into the felt energetic experience of a belief system itself. In that space one can ‘feel’ how authentic any given concept or idea is.  Byron Katie suggests we take our belief systems and ask what it would like to be without that thought.  She looks at our beliefs we have- like “My roommate is inconsiderate”, “Men are jerks”, “Emily is a liar”, ethnicity X is ______ (insert judgment). In her workshops, and on youtube videos you can witness people who go through “the Work” process, watch as they go through palpably moving transformations. They realization dawns on them  their husband isn’t  an idiot, their kid isn’t a nuisance, their boss isn’t an asshole as they so fervently thought. Those statements melt into more authentic statements about what is really happening. The participants in the process shift into a place of more love, more empathy. Its almost as if their world got reconstructed. Conflicts which moments ago, threatened to undermine their important relationships,  suddenly vanish in the light of numinous awakening.


Transformative processes like the Journey, the Work, and thousands of other such processes that exist in the healing world, coaching world, somatic psychology world, in the yoga, taichi, meditation worlds,  take us into deeper and more authentic worlds, each one built on an ontology of what our emotions and thoughts are, an ontology that throws into question centuries of philosophic and psychological dogma.  If our socio-economic-political-legal systems could harness these transformative processes, we would have a very different and healthier world. They could perform ontological shamanism, and our environmental, racial, technological, social problems might miraculously solve themselves.


What we seek is a strategic map to take these multiplicity of transformative practices for individuals and translate them up to the size scale of the socio-politco-economic body. In our culture we have tended to split the individual transformative work and the societal work. These different spheres can be merged. 


NVC is a process that takes one step towards taking transformational work beyond the individual toward the socio-poltico-econo realms, by taking transformational work into the relational sphere. One of the guidelines it provides  is how to listen to the other person. In really listening to each other, something profound happens, some kind of connection happens, and the problem, the issue is no longer the same. 


Have you ever been in the presence of someone who was listening to you so deeply, and so without judgment, that something more authentic awoke in yourself, emotions you felt more deeply buried arise, perhaps you even found yourself crying, or feeling a kind of eternal bliss you’ve never felt before. That person was embodying a way of listening based in presence and compassion that transform the nature of who you are. Your emotional and cognitive ontologies can shift due to the nature of the subjective state of this listener. 


NVC and mediation processes takes some basic steps to guide listeners to this ability to deeply listen. Sometimes people are so caught up in judgments and projections about the other person, so wrapped up in their anger and sadness that they cannot even hear what the other person is saying. One simple process is to simply ask people to repeat what the other was saying. That process can often begin to shift the energy in a conflict. Next is to guide listeners to listen to the layers underneath the surface layers to the more authentic experience underneath. In NVC as the listener you guess at the underlying levels, and the speaker can give feedback if you are right or not. In other methodologies you can intuitively sense energetically the underlying states of the speaker.


Marshal Rosenberg, sits on the stage at a workshop, with a a grey dark hair swept to the side, exuding schoolboyishness and  grandfatherly wisdom at the same time – calm and knowing, yet somehow with faint traces of adolescent awkwardness. He highlights your humanness in a way which makes everyone laugh, while he himself remains quiet. A participant in the workshop is also on stage, and talks about how when he feels terrible when his partner complains that he is too sensitive. Thats because you are listening with jackal ears Marshal explains. He whips out some jackal ears, that are on a hair brace so he can place it on top of his head, a ridiculous look, reminiscent of kindergarden plays. The ridiculousness lightens the mood, the kindergarden-ness of it makes people feel like this is a simple concept to grasp. Marshal uses the jackal and giraffe to signify two different types of ways of being and listening. The jackal signifies the habits of communication we are looking to move away, and the giraffe signifies the NVC practices we want to embody. “The fact that you find it hard to hear a message tells me that you are listening with jackal ears”, Marshal intones, “The messages that are hardest for me to hear are the ones when the other person is in the most  pain, and most need me to hear their pain and not get caught up in their judgment.” “Now with those giraffe ears,” and Marshal also has some giraffe ears mounted on plastic hair braces, “you will not hear anything about yourself, you will only hear what the other person feels”. Marshall then takes up some hand puppets, on one hand is  what looks like to me a kangaroo, it represents the partner making the “you are too senstive” comment; on the other hand is the giraffe representing the new state of the workshop participant in the other. Marshal demonstrates a conversation that the participant – as giraffe, and his partner can now have instead of the old argumentative conversations when the participant was the jackal. 


 “Are you feeling hurt because you like to be understood with what is being said without it being taken personally” the giraffe puppet says. 


“Yes you always take everything personally, I can’t say a thing with you getting upset, I mean you are just overly sensitive”, the kangaroo complains in an upset voice. 


Marshal says as a narrator, and also as advice to the giraffe “Deep breath, now is the time that the giraffe is  can give itself some emergency first aid empathy”. The giraffe relaxes with the self-compassion.


Then the giraffe speaks to the kangaroo “Sounds like its enormously frustrating, and you just  want to have your words understood, and see them understood without me being in pain because I could not hear it.” 


“Exactly, exactly” says the kangaroo.


The connection has been made. The kangaroo is no longer so frustrated at not having been heard. When understanding happens, some miraculous shift happens. You can literally feel the energy shift in a room.


The jackal and the giraffe see, perceive and embody different levels of reality. At one level it may indeed be that ones friend, partner, family member is being antagonistic and trying to create conflict. And thats what a jackal sees and responds too. (And it will see it even if the other was not even trying to be antagonistic) At a deeper level, ones partner may be trying to express their needs. The giraffe sees that deeper level of reality, and in that process sees beyond the conflict to the deeper truth that is in the situation.


What if we could translate these giraffe processes to our socio-political spheres? When the twin towers came crashing down, there was a trauma in the collective emotional field. This trauma was tapped into, and an anger that led the American government to bomb Afghanistan, and then in a kind of blind rage where logic goes out the door to bomb Iraq which did not seem responsible for  the twin towers planes. When a nation is trauma, a nation can collectively give itself self-empathy in a giraffe-like fashion until it finds enough emotional stability to listen to what the message is. The twin towers was a message, a message that could be heard with jackal or with giraffe ears. With jackal ears there is hurt, the message is that we want to destroy America, and the jackal response is to punish those who try to destroy. With giraffe ears Americans can ask the Afghanistanisti-s, the Arab world, for there were many there who felt aligned with underlying message if not the violence of the actions,  what it is that their needs are. There are many Arabs who are upset with how the American government treats them, and do not understand why America (so it seems to them) hates them. With giraffe ears Americans can ask what it is the needs of Arabs that are not being met when the American government acts towards them in a certain way. The answers may be quite surprising and revealing for Americans to hear. If there is an empathic connection made, there can be an easing of the collective emotional trauma in the Middle East. And it opens the way for the more militant and extremist, to empathize with America. In such an emotional climate the engines of war would find it harder to tap into the collective emotional trauma it needs to sustain its machinations.


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