Journal with Compassion

By Rodger Sorrow CL Trainer

If we want to reap the benefits of Nonviolent Communication, it requires that we practice, practice, practice.  My three favorite strategies for practice or increasing fluency and building skills are empathy buddies, journaling and practice groups.  Journaling has the advantage of being the one that we can do almost anytime and anywhere by our self. 

Journaling is a way to practice and deepen our self-empathy.  We can slow the process down, notice our jackals and translate them to needs.  With practice we become quicker and the process easier to connect to our selves.  There are a variety of formats that work well and my preference is that jackals, observations, feelings, needs and requests are included. 

This is a list of possible topics or areas to explore with journaling.  Enjoy the practice.

1.   Gratitude; noticing anything that brings me joy

2.   Appreciation for myself

3.   Moments of stuckness

4.   Moments of withdrawal or shut down

5.   Moments of anger

6.   Moments of discomfort

7.   Moments of uncertainty

8.   Moments when my heart is shut down

9.   Moments when I’m not present

10. What’s wrong with me?  This would be judgments of self

11. What other people do that I hate.  These are my judgments of others.

12. Fears; What I’m afraid other people think about me.

13. With-holds; this is those things that I am afraid to express to others

14. Regrets, this a list of those things I’ve said or done and wish I hadn’t.

15. The Beauty and Living Energy of a Need

16. Celebrations

17. Resentment

18. Mourning – acknowledging needs not met

19. Conversations from the past with a parent or loved one that aren’t complete

20. A recent Conflict

21. The feelings and needs of someone I have been mad at

22. Appreciation and gratitude for someone I want more connection with

23. Learning; what insight I gained


This is Your Brain in Love: Scenes from the Stanford Love Competition

in LifeStanfordTechnology | February 16th, 2012 13 Comments

Can one person experience love more deeply than another? That’s whatThe Stanford Center for Cognitive and Neurobiological Imaging and filmmaker Brent Hoff set out to understand when they hosted the 1st Annual Love Competition. Seven contestants, ranging from 10 to 75 years of age, took part. And they each spent five minutes in an fMRI machine, thinking deeply about love and allowing the imaging technology to measure activity in their dopamine, serotonin and ocytocin/vasopressin pathways. If you think this sounds unromantic, you’ll want to reserve judgment. Though science may be the explicit focus here, the film has a touching human dimension to it.

The Love Competition was made as part of Wholphin, the short film quarterly published by McSweeney’s. You can subscribe to Wholphin to find more films.


Practical Neurobiology

Earlier this year I began studying Neurobiology and got completely fascinated and enthralled by the sheer magnitude of what our brains are capable of and how maleable they are. One day in late August I read 2 things which particularly impacted me: "each time we think a thought, we create a neural pathway" and "One reason we can change our brains simply by imagining is that, from a neuroscientific point of view, imagining an act and doing it are not as different as they sound"*.

I was stunned! At that time I was feeling particularly discouraged about my life and noticed how frequently I was thinking some version of the thought "I'm not OK"! Imagine the deep groove I was creating as, over and over, I thought the same thought!

An inspiration came to me: what if I used my imagination/visualizing abilities to change old, life alienated beliefs?

For several years now, I've had a morning visualization practice so I decided to add a new dimension to my daily routine. I began "seeing" limited beliefs, represented by the neural pathway, then sending light/love to it and noticng what happened to the pathway. Typically it begins to change and transform, sometimes I see my child self beginning in a constricted posture and then moving to a much more open and alive posture.  

This in itself is amazing to me, being able to "see" my neural pathways; what's even more amazing is that very soon, within a week or so, I began to notice I was responding differently to what previously would have stimulated anger or pain inside me. I was getting triggered less frequently with less intensity and much shorter "recovery" time.

As an example, I was in Best Buy, and had an experience that was so different from the past that I cried when I came out of the store! I had gone online to search for a recording device for an iphone (I wanted a better quality sound than with the built in mike). I found a product that plugged into the phone. When I got to Best Buy, I asked the salesman if they had this product, he responded that he'd never heard of such a thing!

In the past I would have immediately gone into jackal thinking "he thinks I don't know what I'm talking about, he thinks I'm stupid, he thinks he knows better than me" etc. This time I didn't go there! I told him that I'd found it on their website but that first I'd found it on Walmart's website and suggested we look. We found it and he was really appreciative about learning something new! I was blown away by how differently I responded and that I changed my behaviour without any conscious intent.  Ah, the sweet joy of unconscious competence!

If you'd like to learn more or make an apt for a session, please contact me at 805 687 6961, 403 926 0242 or

I look forward to connecting with you! Anne

*From Norman Doidge's "The Brain that Changes Itself"


Three Insights from the Cutting Edge of Compassion Research

Three Insights from the Cutting Edge of Compassion Research

By Emiliana R. Simon-Thomas | September 7, 2012 | 5 comments

A recent gathering of compassion researchers reveals new discoveries about how and why humans help each other.

Several weeks ago, a who’s who of thinkers and researchers convened at a conference in the mountain town of Telluride, Colorado, to explore the science of compassion. Their discussions revealed growing consensus that the biological, physical, and behavioral properties of compassion—the feeling we get when confronted with suffering, infused with the urge to help—have evolved to help us survive.

The conference—called The Science of Compassion: Origins, Measures and Interventions—encouraged rich cross-disciplinary collaboration and promised to accelerate the pace and progress of scientific inquiry into compassion. (The conference was organized by Stanford’sCenter for Compassion and Altruism Research and Education; the GGSC was a co-sponsor.) Here are three key insights I took away from the four days of discussion.

1. Compassion is push-pull

It turns out that feeling safe is a precondition to activating biological systems that promote compassion. In the face of another person’s suffering, the biological mechanisms that drive our nurturing and caregiving can only come online if our more habitual “self-preservation” and “vigilance-to-threat” systems (e.g. fear, distress, anxiety, hostility) are not monopolizing the spotlight.

In the other direction, having a genetic disposition and life history that’s led to a strong sense of social support, trust, and safety around people puts your “self-preservation” impulses at ease and opens the door for you to feel compassion.

How, then, can we relax vigilant, self-preservation systems so that our compassionate biology can more readily get into gear? University of Wisconsin researcher Helen Weng suggests the secret lies in the brain’s frontal lobes, which her studies show do a better job of calming alert signals from the amygdala (the brain’s almond shaped threat detector) when people complete a brief course in compassion.

This means that we can actually train our brains for compassion. When Charles Raison, another presenter, and his colleagues at Emory University also evaluated the effects of a compassion training course, they found lower stress hormones in the blood and saliva of people who spent the most time doing the compassion exercises.

But what’s in compassion training, one might ask? How does it boost the frontal lobes and attenuate stress hormones? Read on…

2. Compassion hinges upon mindfulness

The regular practice of mindfulness—moment to moment awareness of your body and mind—turns out to be a common theme across programs for training compassion, including those based at the University of Wisconsin, Emory University, CCARE, the Max Planck Institute in Leipzig, Germany, a consortium of clinicians in the United Kingdom, and, of course, 2,000 years of Buddhist tradition.

The opposite of mindfulness is sometimes referred to as “mindwandering”—reflexively thinking about what has happened, might have happened, or could or should happen. This very common non-mindful habit has been shown by Harvard researchers Matthew Killingsworth and Daniel Gilbert to decrease happiness. Judson Brewer, a psychiatrist at Yale University, has shown that mindwandering involves a predictable brain area (the posterior cingulate cortex), and that people can phase out activation in this brain area by practicing mindfulness.

Compassion, data suggest, comes more readily if people can be more openly aware of the present moment as it is occurring, particularly in the presence of other’s suffering, without reflexive thinking or judgment. (For more on the links between compassion and mindfulness, stay tuned for details about the GGSC’s conference on the relationship between the two, to be held in March of 2013.)

3. Brains like helping the group more than helping the self

Studies using optogenetics, a technique for making populations of living brain cells fire, and fMRI, which measures how much oxygen neurons are using, show that the brain’s pleasure systems also play an important role in compassion.

For example, extending compassion toward others biases the brain to glean more positive information from the world, something called the “carryover effect.” Compassionate action—such as giving some of one’s own earnings to charity—also activates pleasure circuits, which some people call “the warm glow.”

In the words of Dr. Jamil Zaki, a professor of psychology at Stanford, “humans are the champions of kindness.” But why? Zaki’s brain imaging data shows that being kind to others registers in the brain as more like eating chocolate than like fulfilling an obligation to do what’s right (e.g., eating brussel sprouts). Brains find it more valuable to do what’s in the interest of the group than to do what’s most profitable to the self.


In his keynote address, Richie Davidson, the director of the Center for Investigating Healthy Minds at the University of Wisconsin, highlighted the legacy of philosophical thought—now corroborated by a growing body of research—suggesting that compassion is both fundamental and beneficial to human survival. Davidson advocated that academia—and all workplaces, for that matter—provide facilities and paid time for training compassion. When he shared a photo of the Tibetan-Buddhist-inspired onsite meditation facility at his center and discussed their “time off for retreat” policy, the crowd cheered enthusiastically.

While speakers like Davidson might have been academics, their insights can be applied to many domains of life—from marriages and neighborhoods to workplaces and schools—to spread compassion well beyond the mountains of Telluride.


The Power of Failure (An Opportunity for Growth)

Video from KarmaTube