Facilitator Journal | Issue #0400, July 7, 2009
A couple of weeks ago I took part in an Ascension Retreat in the forests of Northern Georgia. While we spent most of our days meditating, each evening we had a meeting where we shared our experience. One evening, a very heated conflict erupted between two women at the retreat who also happened to be roommates in a cabin with several others. This week's article, Simmering in a Stew of Conflict, explores an alternative to conflict resolution that does not necessarily involve its facilitation in a conventional way. Instead, we explore how the conditions might be set up to let a conflict stew in such a way that it burns itself out! I welcome your comments and stories as they relate to this article.
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Simmering in a Stew of Conflict
Know that there are alternatives to conflict resolution that may have better long term impact.
Group Dynamics Skill
A couple of weeks ago I took part in an Ascension Retreat in the forests of Northern Georgia. While we spent most of our days meditating, each evening we had a meeting where we shared our experience. One evening, a very heated conflict erupted between two women at the retreat who also happened to be roommates in a cabin with several others.
One of them recounted the events that led to the conflict while the other listened on. After some time the other woman shared her account of what transpired, which sounded quite a bit different.
As a facilitator, my first impulse was to jump in and help them understand the other’s point of view, with the hope it would lead to some kind of resolution. I refrained from trying to resolve the conflict because the purpose was not about issue resolution. Rather, the purpose was to choose where we put our attention: on the seeming reality of our outer circumstances and beliefs about them or, on the truth of the present moment.
So each women, while obviously upset with the other, was also committed to dealing with the situation at its source. That is, they were both interested not so much in understanding the hot buttons of the other so that they could relate in a civil fashion. Instead, they were interested in completely extracting their buttons.
How did they do this? In the next section, I'll do my best to share my observations and direct experience on how conflict might be transformed without moving through a resolution process.
Now let's get real here. Conflicts don't usually just work themselves out do they? The vast majority of the time I'd agree. But given certain conditions, I believe that conflict can be resolved at its source, within the hearts and minds of each individual involved. Here's how I think this might be done.
- Each party must be willing to at least accept the possibility that their outer reality is a reflection of their inner reality perceived through the filters of their conditioning.
- Each party must also be willing to accept the possibility that an inner state of peace is not dependent in any way on outer circumstances.
- The above premises make possible an invitation for each party to accept 100% responsibility for their conflicted state. This translates into a personal statement along these lines: "I accept that my feelings of upset and judgment toward the other party originate within me. These feelings are mine and mine alone."
- Once ownership is accepted, each party has the opportunity to "be with" their feelings of conflict. By simply witnessing feelings of upset without judgment or a desire to change them, eventually they either pass or their true source--an erroneous perception--becomes evident. During this period of inner reflection, each party may find it helpful to express what they are experiencing or seeing in the presence of the other. The full disclosure of one's erroneous perceptions to another usually invites compassion.
I realize the idea that inner conflicts are caused by erroneous perceptions may fly in the face of reason to some. So let's take a look at this. Ask yourself first, what is the source of your hot buttons or triggers? When you are triggered emotionally, what goes through your mind? Take a moment and check it out.
Isn't the source of your unrest an argument with what is? Aren't these triggers simply deeply entrenched definitions of how the world should be. Without these judgments of right and wrong, only compassion exists. This is our natural state.
- Once each party finds peace and clarity within themselves, nothing more is required. Still, some action may be evident. There may be a request or confession made to the other. There may even be an entry into sorting out details in the physical world to improve future interactions. But now, with internal filters cleansed of irrational judgments, the emotional charge is missing and the work is easy.
Now back to the conflict that erupted on a Tuesday night. By Friday night, the two women were embracing as friends, expressing their love to one another. The sharing around this conflict that occurred during the ensuing nights was sometimes nonexistent. But by Friday night, each of them had come to recognize the source of the charge they had experienced. In both cases, the charge originated from experiences that had occurred much earlier in their lives. Once this was recognized, their hot buttons lost their juice and the conflict did not so much resolve and dissolve.
Sometimes letting a conflict stew with the right intention allows it to burn itself out! I welcome your comments and stories as they relate to this article.
Have you ever had a conflict dissolve in the fashion described in this article? Or do have anything to share with regard to these ideas? I look forward to hearing either. Please share your thoughts and experiences with me by replying to this email.
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