Jan 152015

Robert GonzalesI remember vividly my first encounter in 2011 with Robert Gonzales, a certified trainer with the Center from Nonviolent Communication, when – within the first morning of a three-day retreat – he uttered:

“Living from a protected heart is an undoable contract with ourselves” (… or so I remember it)

At the time, I was going through the hugely dizzying roller coaster and unraveling of a relationship that I was considering more than “difficult” or even (warning: label ahead…) “abusive.” No relationship counseling or even the communication skills I was learning at the time were helpful to bridge the widening gap that was in front of us.

My new skills of finding out more clearly about my needs and holding them dear (something I wasn’t used to doing consciously then) actually fueled more of the fire and anger of this untenable disequilibrium in our relationship. (This could be the subject of a whole new series of posts – and is so dear to my heart when I now have the honor of teaching these same skills to new people and women in particular).

I truly thought I needed to “protect” myself – and was even judging myself to be “too weak” or “soft” and telling myself that I needed to build my protective walls up even more.

So you can imagine how I found Robert’s invitation to live from an undefended heart quite not in touch with my “reality”!

Over the following three days of the retreat, I listened and got to witness him over and over in deep supportive empathic listening and connection with people just like you and me who opened their hearts so deeply, vulnerably, and courageously to him.  I slowly began to recognize, feel, and more profoundly, befriend this armor of protection that my inner “guard” had built around my heart.

I was able to become more conscious and aware of its presence, of its vigilance, and – beyond my initial self-judgment that it shouldn’t be there – to just start by paying it a visit, be in companionship with it – as uncomfortable as it could be.

Slowly, slowly, I got to be curious about all that it was holding dear and precious, that it was “protecting,” so I could support it, with gratitude, in letting go of the grip and firm hold it had on my heart and uncover what is true, beautiful, and also vital to my aliveness. I discovered brand new and “core” needs in me such as “curiosity” (toward me, you, life), “trust” (in myself mainly, in our innocence, in our pure essence as human beings as we were gifted at birth), and a deeper realization that someone else’s needs were never really in competition with mine.

Living from a protected heart was keeping me more in a “survival” mode than a “living” one.  

It was keeping me in a win-lose dynamic that continued the cycle of pain and hurt, just as having one’s needs met over another person’s never quite brings the peace or joy or satisfaction one is looking for.

Today, although my guard is still here, and sometimes wakes up in sensing “danger,” we have this continuously growing friendship that allows me to engage with it, thank it again, and let it know that I’m OK, that I take into great care and consideration all that it’s wanting me to know and to hold at all costs, and that I can handle it from there. My heart remembers now what it feels like to trust and feel safe from within.

From that place, I can now experience with greater ease curiosity towards what is precious in someone else’s heart and hold “our needs” altogether and respond from a place of open -, sometimes broken-open-, hearted essence.

I’ll be transparent: It’s not easy to hold it all every day, and as I often say, “Life is a journey, not a destination…”. But today I have greater trust in my capacity to come back to an undefended and open heart and act from a place of deep compassion – and fierce love – toward myself and “the other.”

So what happened to this relationship?

Based on what continued to unfold in actions and words that really did not work for me, and with my new ability to hold my needs for safety and trust as my responsibility to honor (because expecting it from another just wasn’t happening and wasn’t effective on top of giving my own power away), I did choose separation and ended our relationship agreement as it was.

What was – and still is – different for me, though, from the years of anguish and despair in trying to salvage what we had, was the strong and peaceful love that I felt toward myself – and toward this person even – and the understanding that this would be the best solution to honor each other in the future.

Today, I don’t hold anger or resentment toward this person – or myself – for the end of our relating. I even experience greater compassion and love for us all who are trying to live life to the fullest, seeking happiness – or relief from pain – in places that will not fully satisfy us. I recognize that everyone is on their “perfectly imperfect” journey, myself included. Above all, I hold my needs for safety and deep trust as core pillars in my relating to anyone more than ever before.

So, from my heart to yours, if you find yourself in a place of “needing protection,”* I offer the following practices to support your holding of safety and trust (and maybe some other unmet core needs of yours):

  1. Journal or listen with greater curiosity to your thoughts about needing protection “from”. Uncover what stories you may hold about yourself, the other person, or life in general.
  2. Pay an internal visit to your sensations. How are you feeling? Where is that feeling lived in your body?  This part may be the most uncomfortable one, but I found it crucial in increasing awareness of how often I may feel the tightening or fear living in my body.
  3. Get support or learn several somatic ways to relax your nervous system. I was once asked, “What did you enjoy as a baby to be soothed?” A simple rubbing of your wrists on each other, a tapping of key meridian points with techniques like Emotional Freedom Technique (EFT), muscle-testing, or even a simple weekly massage can help your body remember what it truly feels like to “be safe”.
  4. Consciously focus on the needs that are crucially missing for you. Bring up a memory of what it feels to “be safe” or again bring up the thought/memory of a friend or anyone in your life with whom you have experienced deep trust. Stay in this memory. “Take a bath init.” Track how it feels in your body. It helps your body to remember what this memory feels like, so it can access it faster and faster each time.
  5. When you feel this relaxation and feeling of deep safety and trust, from this place of open-heart, think about: What do you need to ask of yourself, or of another, to experience more safety or trust in your life right now?


Need more clarity or practice? You’re in for a treat! Robert Gonzales is coming near DC, visiting Philadelphia Feb 13-16**. Early bird discount is available until Feb 1st. I hope you will consider treating yourself to this gift that keeps on giving.


If you are longing for more companionship on this journey to reclaim your sense of undefended self, I offer deep empathic and restorative one-on-one or partners coaching sessions using the models and practices taught by Robert Gonzales and many other teachers. Also see the upcoming “Reclaiming Ourselves” Women’s Program, which will launch in March, in Washington DC.

*If you are in a relationship under which you are feeling in any way afraid for your physical, mental, or emotional safety and more, do call the Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-SAFE(7233) or go to your nearest Domestic Violence Center. 

** This event is offered by Heart To Heart, a Philly organization focused on providing transformative education in jails, prisons, and communities. I invite you to find out more about them and how to support their mission.


Dec 302014

Since the Dec 21st Winter Solstice, which scientists claimed was the longest night since 1912 in the Northern Hemisphere, daylight is lengthening again. And while Winter will still surely offer its share of darker, colder, and maybe even snowy days, it also holds the promise of more light returning – and gives us a chance, like other animals in this season, to cozy up, rest, and maybe make some rich “compost” of our 2014 experiences and stock up internally for our upcoming budding Spring and outwardly rich Summer ahead.

There are many deep rituals at this time of year, from the many diverse celebrations to a marked transition into the “New Year” (whenever it is for you according to your calendars). January 1st for many is marked with the special and ancient routine of reviewing our past year and setting up new intentions for the one ahead.

Have you ever wondered why year after year you are able to make some progress (or maybe leaps and bounds) in some areas of your life and not in others? 

Maybe you’re noticing that some patterns are deeper than others and hold you in a repetitive and reactive mode that seems very sticky and difficult to scratch from yourself.

Maybe, like me, you tried to set your intentions with the spirit and trust of “already experiencing what you most long for,” anchored strategies into the deeper aspirations/needs that your have for yourself and your life, created some vision boards, or set a myriad of to-achieve goals with doable steps in the hope of “finally” having the life you wanted.

Maybe, just like me, you dabbed into – or have a steady routine of – “positive affirmations,” “mantras,” gratitude practice, daily meditation, deep breathwork, Focusing, EFT, or physical, mindful movement practices like yoga, Tai Chi, Qi Gong, maybe even some holistic modalities of Reiki and other energy healing options…

And maybe you have still found some areas of your life, or yourself, that just wouldn’t bulge or serve you and others in the ways you most longed for.

What I have found to be the greatest obstacle to any new flow and increased capacity to “make life more wonderful” was in my own mind. It was all rooted in one core belief that somehow I needed to be different … : a myriad of “I should be more….” (intelligent, productive, physically active, healthy, thin, fast …), more more more more… which in other areas, funny enough, was that I needed to be less … (egoistic, loud, outspoken, silly, etc…). In one word, I needed to … be other than “me.”

As long as any of my intentions to support a change in my life were grounded in a story of “should’”(be different than …), soon I was battling another “inner demon” or facing the same old one just slightly transformed. 

Marshall Rosenberg calls this orientation of inner (and outer) language the 4 Ds of Disconnection:

1. Diagnosis (judgment, analysis, criticism, comparison)

2. Denial of Responsibility (blame, finding fault, or “can’ts” )

3. Demand (“shoulds”)

4. Deserve (justifications of either punishments or rewards)

 406811_449662218413394_1685852943_nReady for some rich Winter Soup to Make Life More Wonderful?
(the cold is really bringing up a warm soup analogy in me today…)

All of the practices described above and more still are very rich ingredients to add to this. And to be with those repetitive patterns you are longing to change, here are some key ingredients I offer for consideration – from many great teachers:

  • Listen, listen, and listen some more (to yourself and to others). Welcome all expressions as they are and explore the gem behind it. Check out these pointers on Empathic Listening from a dear mentor of mine, Holley Humphrey. Consider listening the slow turning of that soup that makes it all come together…
  • Go on that exploration to find your inner voices, your core beliefs, your “shadows.” They long to be heard and held in tender arms as they hold deep keys to yourself. (*see below the downloadable journaling exercise written just for you!)
  • Add a large dose of radical self-acceptance. In the end, you are the one you are most longing to be accepted by. Of course it’s delicious when others do accept and love us. And sometimes we can’t even “feel” their love and acceptance when our own rejections and judgments are in the way. Tara Brach’s dharma talks are not only funny but right on this topic.
  • Sprinkle some “one-of-a-kind” advocacy. As Rachel Naomi Remen says, there is nothing “broken” or needing to be ”fixed” or even “healed” or “‘transformed” in you. You are uniquely you, attempting your best at all times.
  • Finally look for support! “It takes a village” … is oh so real. Find an accountability-empathy buddy who will also radically accept all of you and nurture you towards remembering to express more of yourself.

Lean over that pot, smell that soup … From here, what is your intuition telling you about yourself and your year ahead?

YOU are holding your own answers at all times. Listen inward to your deep wisdom.

May you enjoy a rich, fluid, rooted, and infused-with-love 2015.

Mali Parke
Core To Coeur Coaching
The Peace Circle Center

* Wanting more support diving into your core belief exploration? Here is a turn-of-the-year exercise, rooted in the work by Robert Gonzales, a CNVC-certified trainer (coming in the Philly area mid-February by the way!). I called it “Holding Light on Our Core Beliefs/Shadows When Holding Intentions for the New Year”. It is yours to keep and journal with!

** I’m an email away to support you one-on-one with individualized coaching, grounded in this practice of compassion, to embrace of all shadows and lights of you and provide a nurturing empowerment for you to express your truest form and essence.

*** Upcoming “RECLAIMING OURSELVES” mini-retreat and 8-week journeys available to women in the DC area, starting Feb 1. See all details here.