It has been several years now that we have been bringing Emotional CPR (eCPR) — our public health education program designed to teach laypeople to assist each other through emotional crisis — to communities across the United States and overseas.
Many people have told us that the skills they have learned in our training have helped them communicate better in all their relationships. They also tell us that eCPR is a “way of life,” in that it is a practice of being more accepting of and present to ourselves and others. This is very good news, and it is an invitation to take our understanding of eCPR to a deeper level.
A few months ago I had the great honor of speaking with Kofi Annan, former secretary general of the United Nations, after a talk he had given here in Washington, D.C. We spoke about eCPR and there was a moment that I will remember for the rest of my life.
He looked deep into my eyes and said, “We are in the same line of work. We are peacemakers.”
It was a profound statement that inspired me to think more about eCPR as a tool of peacemaking.
Gangaji, a spiritual teacher, reminds us that human beings have been making war for a long time in all cultures, meaning in all minds, because the culture is a reflection of the mind. I have a frequent reminder to think about this concept because I have a bumper sticker on my car that reads: “Inner Peace Creates Global Peace.” I am coming to a clearer understanding that when I am not at peace in my own mind, I am waging an internal war and that war is projected onto or communicated to others.
The war in my head can be framed around a variety of battles — it can be framed around the ancient and false belief that I am not good enough, I am not smart enough, or if that other person would do something good enough, or if this condition or that condition were met — then all would be wonderful, great, and peaceful. I have constructed a story that tints the lens through which I see myself, others, our relationships, and the world. If I remain unaware of how I have tinted the lens, and I remain stuck in the story, the conditions for peace will not be met. Peace is revealed in the absence of war — in the absence of labels, judgments, and conditions.
If we take another step deeper, we can see that the source of this war comes from the belief that we are some thing that is separate from others. This early learning, this sense of separation and human disconnection, is so pervasive and integrated into the threads of our culture that it makes it hard to see. This experience of human disconnection, a separation of self from self and self from others, is a fundamental concept in both trauma-informed practice and in eCPR. The impact of trauma and human disconnection played out in my own early childhood, for example, by my experiencing such a profound lack of safety that it resulted in my clinging to anyone who offered safety and anything that could numb the pain.
Another result of the belief that we are some thing and this thing is separate from each other is that we get focused on protecting this thing. Whatever the thing is — our territory, our home, our family — we protect it and hold on to fear, and anger and revenge, and we wait for someone else to do something differently so that we think we can find peace. Our tinted lens reinforces the idea that that other person is different — separate from me. And this separation perpetuates conflict and war. It perpetuates the war in my head which perpetuates the war I wage with others. The inner war creates global war.
When I am practicing eCPR I am cleaning the lens. By that I mean I intentionally focus on letting go of judgments and labels; there is nothing to protect. We focus on perceiving a person in distress in their full humanity. The distress is a particular patterned way that this person’s internal war has escalated. As a supporter, our role is to be with them and assist them in finding peace.
We do this by seeing the genuine person underneath her lens, underneath the social conditioning, underneath her story. And when we do this we are perceiving or ‘being’ underneath our own lens. From this place, where peace is revealed in the deep connection of two people, I mirror back the best I see in her, my great hope for her, my belief in her, my knowing that together, in this moment, we will move through this.
This process of being together in raw, vulnerable moments is so profoundly validating that when we try to find words to explain it, it diminishes the process. It must be experienced to be fully understood. The emotional bond, the spiritual bond, the energetic bond is mutually transformative and healing. It is often this bond that transforms crisis into new learning and pathways to healing. In this process we think more clearly and see new possibilities that we may not ever have realized existed before.
Why is this? I think it is because we are getting underneath what the person has been taught to believe about themselves, their relationships with others and their relationship with the world. We are offering a contradiction to their past negative or limiting beliefs, and an invitation to feel, and see, and do things differently.
Crisis is often, if not always, a time of shifting, rebalancing or disconnection between what has been and what we are now feeling, perceiving, or experiencing. It is a disruptive opportunity that is an invitation for a perceptual shift, and a shift in our actions. It is an opportunity to live our lives more aligned with our deepest values and beliefs.
It is in this manner that eCPR is a tool, a process, to finding inner peace. The invitation is that each one of us takes responsibility for creating peace.
Gangaji. “Being in Peace.” 2003.