FAMILY MEETINGS When I was about 12 years old, my parents instituted family meetings on Sunday evenings to give us a new way to explore open communication. I intentionally say instituted; I experienced these meetings as forced and institutional and I hated them.
We were a Quaker family, and as such I grew up believing that all violence is bad, that fighting and war never solve problems but in fact always create more problems, and that every person contains a spark of God which I should be able to connect with if I just try hard enough. This is not necessarily exactly what Quakerism teaches, but rather how as a child I subconsciously internalized the teachings.
Our family meetings were designed to help us learn to use our words to nip potential problems in the bud before they developed, or to resolve problems that had already developed. With four girls approaching adolescence, what a fabulous idea! What a marvelous skill to have!!!
We opened our family meetings with a few moments of Quaker silence. The intent of Quaker silence is to listen in gathered silence for the still, small and quiet voice of God.
During that period in my life I
was often so preoccupied during Quaker silence with studying everyone
in the room and privately assigning demerits to anyone who coughed or
squirmed that I wonder if I might have missed hearing the voice of God
even if She had spoken directly to me in a clear, loud voice!
Here is a painting I pained of a Quaker meeting for worship.
After opening our family meeting with Quaker silence during which time I quaked with anxiety knowing I’d be called upon to speak, my three younger sisters and I were each invited to say ANYTHING we wished while the rest of us listened. The implication I remember was being specifically invited to talk about things that bothered us. I don’t remember one single subject we ever discussed; instead I remember dreading being put on the spot, and I remember my throat feeling painfully frozen with no words! I longed to be outside playing like everyone else!
During the same period of my life I must have spoken critical words to my girlfriend about someone else. My girlfriend replied, “I’ve never heard you say anything bad about anyone before!” I remember feeling both surprised and really proud that I was seen as someone who never said anything “bad” about anyone.
My father, an English teacher and text book editor by trade, consistently and lovingly corrected our grammar and our pronunciation. I can still hear the gentle laughter in his voice as he taught us the difference between the words bring and take. When we repeatedly mixed them up, he’d say with a twinkle in his eye,”You don’t know if you are coming or going!” His kind corrections never come across as criticism. Thank you Dad!CONFLICT & VIOLENCE
None the less, while I gradually learned to speak Standard English, I remained shaky using my words if conflict was involved. As I mentioned above, in my loving family and Quaker community, I grew up believing that all violence – whether mild or intense, whether passive or aggressive, and whether physical or verbal – was wrong and bad. My subconscious mind gave me lots of reasons to avoid saying anything critical to anyone – it saw criticism as BAD! Unfortunately I missed developing a clear understanding of alternate ways to resolve conflict.
I GOT ALONG OK
For decades I did my best to connect with that of God in each person, to expect the best in everyone, to be nice to everybody, and to generally live peacefully. Though my life had a few rough spots and I lived with vague underlying anxiety, I also experienced many successes and I got along OK.
I got married and had two children. I worked for ten years during my thirties and early forties in corporate America as a computer programmer. Math has always come easily to me and I am blessed with naturally and easily recognizing visual and logic patterns. I also speak and write acceptable Standard English. These gifts and abilities allowed me to do a decent job writing computer code. However, sometimes interpersonal communication was challenging.
I painted this picture of my son YiAn and friend Tony playing chess around that time. I intentionally painted into the background my experience at that time that life was one big chess game - fun yet somewhat adversarial with winners and loosers, and with lots of rules.
MY LACK OF TACT CAUSES PROBLEMS
During my annual performance appraisals I was repeatedly surprised to hear that one individual or another had difficulty with me. I was accused of having a lack of tact. Do those of you who know me recognize my straightforward communication style here?? Until my performance appraisals I had NO idea that these individuals had difficulty with me; I certainly wished they would have spoken directly to me instead of to my boss! Perhaps they had tried to their words! I thought I was a nice person!! Why was this happening? Again!!!?
In any case, at that time I felt frustrated, dismayed and helpless because I thought to myself “This is the way I talk!! This is how I was raised!!” I was totally unaware that my communication style might have limitations or that learning new ways to speak as an adult was even possible.
I realize now that when I needed to say anything which could possibly be perceived as critical, my voice frequently became tense. So people would have difficulty not with what I said, but with how I said it. And I was mystified – what to do????
I was eventually given a termination offer from my computer programming job. This was a painful and difficult episode for me, made more so by my superiors’ request that I not talk with my co-workers about the offer. I interpreted the whole situation as an indication my work wasn’t good enough. In addition, the prospect of loosing my high paying job while being the primary provider for my two half grown children was frightening.
In the end, this termination offer was the tremendous gift which cleared the way for me to attend massage school. In 1995, after having done massage as a hobby for 25 years, I began the next chapter of my life as a professional massage therapist. Since then, along with learning the manual therapy used in massage, step by step I’ve learned new ways to say things and new ways to listen. Learning to speak and listen with my heart has led to marvelous healing and painted rainbows of JOY in my life.
In my training to be a lomilomi massage practitioner, much emphasis has been placed on living pono – a Hawaiian word meaning to live in right relationship with all living things, with nature and with Spirit. Pono means to live in a way that supports the highest good.
LIVING CONFLICT FREE
When I heard Kumu Maka’ala Yates, currently my primary mentor and the developer of Mana Lomi®, say one day that he strives to live conflict free, I caught my breath in surprise. CONFLICT FREE!!!! I thought conflict was a natural part of life! I thought that my challenge in this life was to learn to not avoid conflict but rather to handle conflict openly and gracefully! I was startled by the concept of living conflict free.
Kumu Maka’ala further explained that he strives to live conflict free starting within his own self. Ah….. to be conflict free within myself, within my own heart, mind, body and Spirit!! To know in the depths of my soul that I am living pono and doing the right thing, and to know that I am OK just the way I am!!!
To be clear like this!! To be clear like this even if someone is annoyed, irritated or angry at me!!! WOW! What a wonderful vision!
To live conflict free is now my vision. For me, living conflict free is both a daily and an eternal healing journey without an attainable destination. On this healing journey there’s always more for me to learn! And believe me, I have lots more to learn!!
MAHALO ~ THANK YOU
Thank you Spirit and thank you Mom and Dad - Virginia & Robert Hillegass - for giving me life and for setting me on this life path.Thank you to my Quaker community, the community of my spiritual roots, for planting in me the belief that the spark of Spirit exists in all people and that cooperative and diplomatic ways exist to resolve conflict.
Thank you friends Kim Hartley and Jennifer Wengler for helping me learn to speak from my heart.
Thank you all my teachers of Hawaiian spirituality, and most especially Kumu Maka’ala Yates, for helping me develop spiritual wings. Thank you for inspiring me, for challenging me, and for awakening me to see that the time for protest is past and that the time for working together in harmony has arrived.
Thank you Gary Lynn Heard, my beloved husband, and thank you my cherished children Rose and YiAn Quach for teaching me so much, and for learning along side of me.Thank you all my dear readers. I send you my love.
Barbara Helynn Robles
Please read part two to learn many of the life giving words, phrases and expressions I’ve learned since graduating from massage school that help me live in grace. Read part three to learn about the resources that have helped me to learn these wonderful communication skills.