This is Part 3 of a 3-part series telling stories from the recent Elements Course. Check out Part 1 and Part 2 for a little context.


Next morning is quite relaxed. A few of us head down to the pools again for another swim. David F. and Irina attempt to make pancakes using a knife to flip them. The scene amuses me, but I think they do a pretty good job of it. Dave E. and I eat breakfast on the rocks while Monica and Johanna try out synchronised swimming below.

Around 9 o’clock, I call everyone together and we sit around what appears to be an old campfire. Fitting. There are a few more exercises I want to cover before we take the trail out of the national park and back into our daily lives.

Taking responsibility for our feelings and needs.

By connecting our feelings to a need of ours which is or isn’t being met, we take responsibility for our actions. No longer do others take the blame for our emotions – “You make me angry!” – we acknowledge that others may influence our state, but we are ultimately responsible for it. In an effort to practice listening to the other person, we work through statements and attempt to identify needs which are being expressed.

What needs are potentially being expressed through the following statement?

It disgusts me when people don’t prepare for these meetings and just expect those of us who did our homework to supply the answers.

Leave your responses below in the comments.

The guys got the hang of this concept quickly but also recognised the need to practice and reinforce it regularly. We moved on to one of my favourite topics: making requests.

Making clear and actionable requests.

There’s so much content here worth sharing, but I take my time and am careful not to rush. How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time.

When we request something of someone to make our lives more wonderful, it’s important that we request that which we’d like them to do, rather than that which we’d like them not to do. A few examples of these requests framed in a negative way:

  • Johnny, I would like for you to stop interrupting me during class.
  • Babe, I never see you! I don’t want you to spend so much time at work.
  • Can you not watch TV at such a high volume?

By framing in the negative, we may provoke resistance in the other person – “You can’t tell me what not to do!” – or confusion as to what we are actually requesting.

In addition to requesting in the positive rather than negative, it’s important that we give specific actions we’d like the other person to undertake and avoid vague generalities. Vague requests might be “I want you to listen more.” or “I want you to love me like you used to.”

Lastly we cover requests vs. demands. It’s a fine line between the two. Are you requesting or demanding something of someone?

Well, it depends on how you respond to them. It’s not just the words, but your body language, tone, the way your eyes look … It’s also the relationship you have with the person. Not a simple topic. Being aware of the difference allows us to have a greater chance to make requests, rather than demands, of others.

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We stand up for a stretch and some food. I tell the guys I appreciate their patience, questions and participation this morning. There’s a lot of content and I think it’s really important.

A setback. One of the group is suffering from his anxiety, really wanting to make a move and finish the trip. I relax and talk to him, listening for his feelings and needs. His request is obvious. He wants to leave right away on his own. After hearing him, I express myself, telling him how I’m afraid that if he leaves he’ll get hurt or lost and how his safety is important to me. I ask that he waits for the rest of the group with the condition that we’ll hurry ourselves along a little. He agrees and starts packing his things while I go into the last session around the campfire.

Patience and self-empathy.

Self-empathy is one of the most powerful gifts we can give ourself. When applied, it helps to humanise the people around us, no longer seeing them as monsters out to harm us, but people whose needs aren’t being met. We give ourselves empathy exactly like we would another person, by listening for the feelings and connecting these feelings to our unmet needs.

I get the guys to think about something they did or said they now regret, and we work through a flow-chart which helps them mourn and practice self-empathy. This process helps liberate us from acting out of fear, guilt or shame. We’re motivated by a sense of play and wonder.

The camp packs down and we make the short hike up to the end of the trail. The steep rocks right before the finish are some of my favourite. Physically challenging on your legs and balance. Visually amazing. Alas, no photos were taken this time.

At the trail head we pause to discuss some strategies for continuing the practice and conversation of compassionate communication. I stress to the guys how important this is. If we don’t have support structures and networks in place to hold this story, then we’ll lose it.

We take a quick group photo before hugs are exchanged and we part ways. One thing that pleasantly surprised me over the weekend was how well the guys seemed to connect with each other. I knew everyone, but they all began as strangers to each other. In a couple of days, they were quite close. I smiled. Two days in the bush speaking openly can do wonders.

-Luke.


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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