Lately I’ve been thinking a lot about how I’m going to structure and deliver the next compassionate communication course. In my mind, I had put the inaugural one at the end of January behind me. I then had a conversation with Chris Agnos of Sustainable Human, a guy I really respect and look up to, who mentioned I might want to make an effort to describe the experience a little more than the lip-service I’ve given it in previous posts.

It hit me. Of course! I guess I was a bit afraid to share the story because it might not be appreciated or that I might descend into a recount. But those fears are irrational, and it took a little prompt from someone to see it.

So here it is, Part 1 of a 3-part series telling stories from the recent Elements Course.

It’s past 7pm on Friday, the night before my inaugural compassionate communication course, and I’m looking at the participant list. Twelve people. I’m a bit nervous. Nervous with excitement: to share my experiences and skills in compassionate communication with a bunch of friends I love and respect. Nervous with fear: that I won’t present the content to a standard I’m satisfied with. I take a deep breath to centre myself. I’m so glad that this first one is with a bunch of friends and not total strangers.

At this point, my phone vibrates, indicating a text message. One of the participants has cancelled. Disappointment. I jump on my computer to read a FanGraphs article. After, I check my emails for any last minute queries. Two more have cancelled. Nine people, now. More disappointment as I anticipate the domino-effect of friends bailing when other friends bail. By the next morning, as I’m doing some last minute packing of food, we’re down to seven people on the course. I’m very disappointed that the numbers almost halved overnight and let thoughts of our generation being “flaky” pass without entertaining them. The advantage? Now I have a smaller group to connect more intimately with. Another advantage? I’m pretty close with the seven remaining. I smile and head to our meeting point at Heathcote Station.

The eight of us meet in the parking lot of Heathcote Station, comparing gear, asking what food we brought and how much water was packed. Jives were made at Dave F. for how much it appeared he was carrying. He said he was planning to gain weight on the trip by eating a ridiculous amount. James was also mentioned. Why? His food for the weekend consisted of potato chip sandwiches. He seemed happy!


Leaving Heathcote Station, we cross the Princes Highway and through a few roads to the trail head. As we pass some of the locals out for their Saturday morning coffee, I’m struck by the image of eight people with fully-laden backpacks walking along the highway. I wonder how the public perceives us? Do we look like over-prepared tourist backpackers out to hike a trail? Perhaps members of a scout troupe (or whatever the adult equivalent of scouts is). No, it wouldn’t be that, none of us had kerchiefs around our necks. Perhaps we look like we’re about to head out into the great blue yonder and do some exploring. Yeah, I like that one.

Regardless, the question of public perception has little practical value, particularly at this point in time, and I return my attention to Monica and what she’s been doing with herself since I last saw her. We lament over the fact that we live so close to each other (literally a 30 min walk) and yet hardly see each other. She is someone I place a lot of value on, and have such respect for. But maybe it’s okay not to see each other more regularly, and perhaps it makes the relationship stronger for it. Maybe.

As we start on the track, I take us down a short walk to Mirang Pools. As we walk, there’s a faint, welcome breeze pushing past our already sweaty faces. Arriving at the pools there is a small camping area with evidence of recent occupation. Discarded bean cans circle the remnants of a fire and flies buzz around. Not the most visually or audibly appealing site to start. I take us up onto some of the rocks, away from the old campsite to have our first session of the day.

Introduction and intentions.

Splat! Something lands beside me. I look down and see the meat of a bird carcass with the feathers stripped. Odd. Gazing up into the tree above me for the source of this strangeness, someone says, “There’s a snake in the tree!”. Looking closer, it appears to be a goanna lounging on the tree a few metres above us. Bummer. She must have dropped her lunch. We position ourselves around the rocks so as not to be directly under her and begin our session.


Our friendly goanna in the tree

I give a brief overview of what compassionate communication is, why I believe it’s important and what’s in store for the rest of the trip. I then flip it to the other guys. Why are they here? What do they want to get out of the weekend? The point is to help them connect with their intention for wanting to learn compassionate communication so they can return to this when they lack motivation. I’ve also found it helpful to bring the group together through their vulnerability of expressing themselves.

Most people share their intentions and it highlights to me that all of these people are deeply compassionate and caring at heart, but perhaps their habits sometimes cause them to express themselves in ways which are less than compassionate. They realise this and want to reconnect with that compassion.

Moving on from Mirang Pools, we follow the fire trail south-west along the Woronora Pipeline, the gravel crunching under our weight. At this point everyone seems to be doing great with the heat, water and fitness. I’m feeling pretty optimistic about the rest of the trip.


Continue reading Part 2.

Interested in hearing more about compassion and empathy?

Every week I write a couple of articles: sharing course experiences, writing guides to communication or the outdoors, as well as musing over compassion, mindfulness and movement as I float through life like a water lily.

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