A core belief in many traditions holds that the human condition is “dynamic” i.e. not a “static state”. Either one is progressing or digressing on both the physical and spiritual planes. We witness this phenomenon in the physical world (ocean waves for example) natural sciences and animal physiology, as well as to human behavior described by economic theory and other social sciences. I believe that our “calling to mediation” requires us as individuals to “work on ourselves” – to stay in touch with life itself!
Recently I participated in a type of self growth class which met once a week for six weeks. It was entitled “Worrier to Warrior” (Don’t read too much into the title- it was meant as a “hook” to get students). Each lesson began with a brief review of what had been covered previously and what would follow over the next one and one half hours. The workbook we took turns reading from, included a few short survey lists which were intended to indicate to class participants how he/she felt (anger, shame/guilt, frustration, pride, happiness), and how one perceives his/her past achievements, and reactions to various scenarios). The purpose was to put the participants in a “self introspection” mind set. These measurements/perceptions might change during the course, in the process increasing one’s awareness of what was going on inside of us and how a changed mind set could help us “frame” difficult or tense situations in a positive light. We each took turns reading a few paragraphs from the workbook, followed by an explanation from the facilitator of the philosophic/religious underpinnings, taking questions with some discussion. I took notice how classmates reactions might assist me in understanding my own struggles. Often I notice that presenters/lecturers, in a rush to cover the material, don’t take full advantage of the learning opportunities presented by comparing and analyzing these shared student reactions to the texts/ideas which they are reacting to. Taking time to listen means more than just hearing!
Several of the class text materials included tales about the patience, tolerance and optimism wise sages displayed in the face of dire circumstances. These sages were role models for us to imitate. We had it inside of ourselves to resist our selfish and natural animalistic state and rise above to accept the challenges with faith and perseverance, connecting to our spiritual side and ascending to a higher state of being. If one could achieve these changes in our daily existence (in our human relations and to what the universe throws at us) then we could benefit by consciously substituting worry, anger and aggression with resolve, confidence and service to a higher source. Easier said then done perhaps but just being aware of these choices to choose to react with calm/patience is a goal to consider and test. Life’s obstacles are in truth opportunities for something new and improved, and a healthier way of living. A lot of the motivation/rationale behind reaching a higher spiritual level of calming accepting obstacles, or even at a higher spiritual plane of embracing setbacks as opportunities for growth, rests on acquiring a “spiritual perspective”, i.e. constant awareness that ultimately it comes from G-d . This can be perplexing for human reasoning to accept what appears as negative phenomenon may in truth be something “positive”.
What I came to realize early on in this course was that the “paradigm shifts” suggested were consistent with what occurs in “mediation” – i.e. “re-framing” – opening up new possibilities on how to deal with conflict. The disputing parties in a mediation experience frustration, anger , depression and other negativity. They want justice and for the problem to go away. Enter the mediator who assists the disputants in at first defining the dispute and eventual goals as both parties see it. Using his/her skills in a subtle fashion, the mediator re-frames the conflict in less confrontational scenario, caucuses, hopefully making gains with clever use of questions and encouraging the parties to imagine how the other side feels and how their frustrations might be justified. Constructing viable options, leaving time for individual reflection/reconsideration can translate into a settlement. I believe that a similar process occurs for each of us when we consciously confront our personal issues-making time to engage in self-help groups, exercises, classes which might deal with emotional, parent-child conflicts, volunteer activities, therapy sessions and other self introspection activities where we become aware of possibilities for change. And sometimes , this need not be “intentional”. Life brings us opportunities to sacrifice for others- be it our time, energies or finances. We may not be aware of the positive change until well after the activity has concluded. This spiritual growth means that humans can become somewhat better- i.e. we are not the same person. It means transformation on how we feel about ourselves and others translating into more honest and positive relationships with others at home, at work and in the public sphere. The key is to take time for this growth to occur.
The more I ponder this, the more I appreciate how incredibly crucial “timing” is for successful mediation. When I registered for my certified mediation course in Pittsburgh, Pa some seven months ago, I felt that when the class “role playing” was rushed (do to course time constraints), the disputing parties would not make good “real time” decisions. Lack of sufficient time to reflect on one’s position is a detriment to mediation success. It takes discipline to listen, pause, slow down and give oneself and others time to process and allow for change. My motivation to get involved with mediation, was not so much to find a new career path, but rather, I had a feeling that mediation training might give me tools to get along better with others (communicate more effectively) which ultimately allows for greater “inner contentment/peace.
Before mediation, I had worked as a lens technician, importer/wholesaler, intervenor for a partially deaf blind high school student, and most recently as a private contractor in masonry construction. Upon reflection, all of these endeavors taught me (1) the importance of “fit”, i.e. my service/work product/suggestions had to match with the desires of my clients. (2) coordination with clients and other relevant parties, i.e. it wasn’t just about me and what I perceived was best. (3) clear communication was essential i.e. I had to understand exactly what the other party wanted to achieve and fashion my suggestions accordingly (4) they and I needed time to explore, consider and test different options.
I realize that prior to becoming a certified mediator, I already possessed and enlisted a mind set of what makes for successful mediation! However, the “mediation universe” (literature, lectures, etc.) has given me an exciting paradigm– ideas , incentives to proceed further to work on myself as a human being. Until now I just took this self improvement awareness for granted- that most mediators already are aware of. So I was surprised when I was asked to submit a short article on this subject. Mediating in and of itself , cannot provide all of the catalysts for self introspection and prescriptions on how one deals with one’s individual inner demons. But a “ mediation consciousness” helps us face our frustrations and inner conflicts “head one” – reminding us that we are all on a self improvement journey.