Nuggets From John Kinyon's Call

Posted by Joe Houska on Dec 27, 2020
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Last Saturday, we had the privilege of hosting Awakin Call with John Kinyon.

John Kinyon works to advance human connection and cooperation through empathic communication and nonviolent mediation. He applies the work of Marshall Rosenberg, the founder of the global “nonviolent communication” movement, to the practice of mediation. For Kinyon, Rosenberg’s approach represented a perfect marriage of the two streams of his personal motivation and inspiration: the work of American psychologist Carl Rogers, which since grad school had represented to John a “simple but powerful way of thinking about therapy and how to be with people”; and the social-political nonviolent change work of Gandhi. Kinyon has been practicing mindfulness, meditation, and consciousness traditions (including the poetic tradition) for over 30 years. He drew on these to develop an approach for coaching disputants to use mindful empathy to penetrate the positions that appear to conflict until they experience the underlying human needs.

Below are some of the nuggets from the call that stood out for me ...
John Kinyon Nuggets
  • John had a formative experience at age 5 when he lost his mother in a tragic way. That deep loss left him with a lifelong desire for, and inquiry around, connection: how much it means to him and the ways in which we can get disconnected and into conflict.
  • John was the person in the friends’ group whom everyone could talk to, feel supported by and listened to.
  • John was also in mainstream culture as a popular jock at school, including on University of San Francisco’s soccer team. In college and grad school, he started traveling around and having amazing experiences that kept opening him up more and more.
  • In 1998, after he went to Spain to study, he began traveling internationally and his eyes really opened to the world, immersing himself in this multi-cultural experience outside of the United States. John found himself fascinated by both all of the differences and commonalities across humanity.
  • Five years into a clinical psychology Ph.D. program, John sensed that “this just wasn’t it.” He didn’t see a future in it. He was totally enamored by certain aspects, such as Carl Rogers’ work, but he wanted to bring the work out into the world in some other way than typical clinical psychology. He walked away from his soccer career despite his coaches trying to talk him out of it. After he left, he met Marshall Rosenberg (who started Nonviolent Communication).
  • John made various heart-based decisions, like leaving the Ph.D. program, that didn’t make sense to him, and instilled in him doubt, uncertainty and fear. Yet paradoxically, John knew that’s the direction he wanted to go.
  • John was drawn to Mahatma Gandhi and Carl Rogers and, at a young age, ended up on the Board of Directors for the Center for Nonviolent Communication and working with Marshall Rosenberg. After 9/11 hit, John planned to go to Afghanistan with Marshall Rosenberg and Ike Lasater to help resolve conflicts. After Ike had already left on his flight, Rosenberg decided not to go because of the danger and tried to talk John out of going. But John went anyway. Once there, John and Ike teamed up and decided to make one decision at a time and made their way to Karachi and Islamabad. There they picked up a translator and made their way up into the North-West Frontier Province within Pakistan.
  • Repeatedly John and Ike would patiently use compassionate empathic communication, first getting past a border check. For the first two days after they arrived at into the North-West Frontier Province, John and Ike empathically listened to elders of various tribes despite the challenges of eight different languages being used. During these two days, they listened with compassion to the rage, pain, what people had been through, and how the United States had contributed to it.
  • On the third day, a conflict finally arose, when some got quite upset after others invited John and Ike to the mosque. They empathized with one side until reaching the underlying needs, such as hospitality, connection, charity, and then empathized with the other sides’ needs such as safety, protection, and respect for tradition. After getting each side to acknowledge their own needs, John asked each side to reflect back the needs of the other side. This took quite a while, but eventually happened. John asked, “Does anyone here not have all these needs (connection, charity, hospitality, safety, protection, and respect for tradition)?”
  • Once everyone understood their own needs and the other side’s needs, John invited everyone to brainstorm a strategy to meet all needs. They found a solution that met all needs pretty quickly: John and Ike would go to the mosque and sit outside with the door open. Everyone stood up and cheered and one elder said, “With these tools, we wouldn’t need to fight any more.”
  • That work deeply bonded John and Ike and they formed the Mediate Your Life program together, which has served people all around the world. John is driven to continue offering this work to serve something much bigger than himself, despite the challenges that keep coming up.
  • John likes to call his work “empathic communication,” although others call it different things such compassionate communication, or mindful communication. It doesn't have to be Marshall Rosenberg's Nonviolent Communication. But whatever it is called, it’s communication that's focuses on empathic connection. It's about how do we human beings connect empathically? What communication and mindfulness brings us back into natural connection, compassion, care, and encourages compassionate response?
  • With our politics and existential crises, John believes we need a critical mass of people able to communicate empathically. For everything humanity needs to achieve, We need a goal to get people able to communicate empathically, similar to how John Kennedy set a goal to reach the moon within a decade.
  • John uses a "three chair" model of mediation, where the disputants are in two chairs, which chairs represent the duality and polarity of the conflict. The third chair, for the mediator, represents non-dual consciousness, holding both disputants without taking sides non-judgmentally. The mediator holds the whole.
  • Going underneath the separate, individual and distinct thoughts and feelings of the disputant's strategies, the mediator finds the universal human needs. We are all part of something larger together. We all want safety, respect, community, love and peace. Finding such universal human needs requires moving beyond the separate self into the "we" space of what we all want.
  • In John's day-to-day life, he constantly taps into his work to deal with difficult thoughts, feelings or interactions. "It's like meditating through the day."
  • With Ike Lasater, John has developed maps for dealing with different territories that arise within conflicts, provide guides for when we are triggered, as well as exercises to practice staying calm in the face of intensity. Some maps are more about internal conversations that we have with ourselves, and others are for external conversation between ourself and others (when we are part of the conflict), or to facilitate other people who are in conflict. These situations come up over and over again and these maps are helpful, comforting and powerful guides.
  • John gave an example of how his son was in a Little League championship game. When his team was behind with one man on base, his son hit a homerun, which would have brought his team into the lead. But the opposing team's coach disputed the play, asserting that his son’s coach had interfered with the play, which resulted in the homerun and its runs not counting. John got furious at the other team's coach, who he saw as "stealing his son's glory" and causing his son's team to lose. John felt hate for the other team’s coach. After a while, John remembered he knows how to deal with this. And over the next days, he went through the maps. He started with self-empathy. Behind his fury, he found sadness and love for his son and teammates. When John's rage and pain turned into love, everything softened. Then John was able to empathize with the other coach. John imagined that the other coach probably had the same needs -- love and care for his team. Everything dissolved away. He still had the pain, but not the enemy images. When John eventually spoke to the other coach with curiosity, John softened even further as he learned about that coach’s needs, and they became friends.
  • John described that he uses an inner mediation map to discern the difference between an impulsive idea versus following your heart. The elements of this map involve finding and giving voices to a person’s internal parts, which might, for example, be his or her head and the heart. After the thoughts and feelings for each voice are found, he gives empathy to each, finding the needs, first for one part and then similar empathy for the other part. While one part might have needs (or longings or feelings being pulled toward something), for example, for safety and connection. The other part might yearn for authenticity, meaning, courage, purpose, or adventure. Then he invites each part to tell the other part what it heard that part say. And the last step is to ask the two parts to try to somehow to meet the needs of both, by inviting them to make request of each other.
[Nugget Writer’s Notes: We thank the various listeners who took the time to provide feedback about how I (Joe Houska) allowed the Call to not only have questions and answers during the last 30 minutes of the program, which is the normal format for Awakin Calls. Those providing feedback seemed to want more respect, predictability, and consideration. While the choice was based largely on John's desire expressed before the Call to demonstrate his work live, it was a difficult decision. I regret making this decision, especially after reading feedback that suggested that I may have made this decision to work on my “own stuff,” or at least not more fully explaining John’s previously expressed desire. As my intent had only been to serve others, I deeply thank each person who provided feedback and helped us learn. Please keep the feedback coming. 😉 ]
  • John mediated Joe’s inner conversation between a part of him that wanted to listen more deeply to the trees and another part that wanted to focus on earning money. Focusing on the part that wanted connection to the trees, John asked what that part’s voice says. Using such questions, John uncovered Joe’s desire for self-nourishment. When Joe mentioned an inner voice shaming himself that he should be doing more, John heard below that a deep sadness and grief and wanting to contribute to the health and well-being of the planet. Joe reported an inner shift that was touching and helped him self-connect. Then John demonstrated the final step, asking Joe if there was a request between the parts, which Joe indeed found.
  • In response to a question about where to learn more about Nonviolence Communication (“NVC”), John suggested The Center for Nonviolent Communication (
  • In response to a question about how to apply NVC when triggered, John referred to the founder of NVC, Marshall Rosenberg, who recommended understanding the relationship between communication and what we see happening in the world that we see. We are swimming in language and the language that we use shapes our experiences. For example, are we in a world of connection and care, or are we in a world that’s about violence and suffering? John recommends that we stay aware of and choose the language we use moment to moment. He notes that there is a language that judges who’s right and wrong, who’s good and bad, and punishes the bad and wrong people. We can use language that disconnects us and promotes violence, suffering, and negative conflict that we see in the world. You also see in the world lots of people being compassionate and incredibly kind. What’s the difference? Marshall Rosenberg clued into the way we think, which is shaped by the language we use. And this influences the experience we have and what we end up creating in the world.
  • We have a choice. With enough consciousness and mindfulness as to how we use language, we can shift, from the language that creates violence and suffering, to language that brings us back to our natural connectedness, care, love and cooperation. It’s simply a road map of what can help us do that, such as by nonjudgmental observing, including our thoughts, rather than judging things bad or wrong. We can connect our observations to what we feel in our bodies, to get grounded into our feelings and our bodies. From what we are thinking and feeling, we can go into our underlying human needs. And from our needs we can make requests based on giving, that are not demands that are trying to manipulate others.
  • John has a concrete vision – a critical mass of people all over the planet, a community whose members support each other, communicate empathetically and choose to respond to the violence and fear in a way that brings us back to connection.
  • John believes this could happen if we realize that empathic communication is just a part of being healthy and becomes seen as a key component of health and well-being just as much as diet, food, exercise, and more recently mindfulness.
Lots of gratitude to all the behind-the-scenes volunteers that made this call happen!

Nuggets from Transcript

Inner Knowing About the Right Direction: "Because I do think that if we kind of have that inner knowing, that knowing of the path, but our mind comes in and says, are you crazy? That makes no sense, it's not logical, right? But there's some other part of us which just knows. It just knows that that's the direction we want to go in, but there is so much doubt and uncertainty and fear that sometimes we don't. But, those moments can make all the difference."

Empathic Communication:  "I like to call it empathic communication. People call it different things like compassionate communication or mindful communication, but to me, whatever we call it, it's communication that is about empathic connection. So it's a type of communication, but it doesn't have to be nonviolent communication -- this whole body of work that my background is in -- but something more generally that is about "how do we human beings connect empathically?" It's built into us but we get disconnected from it. And what's the language and the communication and the mindfulness that brings us back, through conversation, through communication, to that natural connection, empathy, care, compassionate response?"

Tapping into the Universal (Non-Dual Awareness) Beneath the Particular:  "What I learned in that tradition about this is when we go from what we are observing and what we are feeling in our bodies and what we are thinking in our minds, if we find underneath that and our strategies what we want or don't want on a personal level, we can learn how to go underneath that to find something universal."

"Our universal human needs is being able to expand our consciousness to be with that larger wholeness, how we are all part of something larger together. And the needs point us there.  The language of needing safety, or respect, or community, or love, or peace, those words are universal. All of us humans want that, want those qualities. ... How we hold our attention and awareness can bring us to that kind of transpersonal, beyond just this separate self, into this "we" space, what we all want and need, and how we are all connected in something larger."

Empathizing With Ourselves:  "Sometimes we have to give ourselves a ton of empathy first, before we can even contemplate trying to empathize with the other, the enemy."

Nonviolent Communication as Using Language to Bring About the Kind of World We Want to Live In:  "The words that come to us and the way we put those words together can really create our experience of reality. What I've come to see in doing this work is, can we be aware of that language? You have to have the awareness to know thoughts are coming into our mind all the time. We're swimming in language almost constantly. The screens, the words we're hearing from others, the way we're talking to ourselves. That means just words -- and all those words -- are also shaping our experience. Are we in a world that's about connection and care and love or are we in a world that's about violence and suffering?

And so what this work is about, I think, is being aware of that language, moment to moment, and that there's this choice of what language brings us into the world that we want to be in. And there's a language that's about judging who's right and wrong, who's good and bad, and punishing the bad people and the wrong people, and trying to demand and make people do things we think they should do, or we think is right. So there's a way to use language that really disconnects us and gets us into violence and conflict in a negative way, and suffering. And  we see that in the world, right? I mean, you look all over the world, you see tons of suffering. But you also see lots of love and people being compassionate and kind, just incredible, right? And what's the difference?

What Marshall clued into was the way we think leads to the experience we have and what we end up creating in the world. And then we have a choice, if we have enough consciousness, enough mindfulness, and know how to use language, we can shift from the language that creates violence and suffering to a language that brings us back to our natural connectedness, care, love, cooperation. ...

We can observe what's happening, and then we can connect that to what we feel in our bodies. So we get grounded into our feelings and our bodies and from there, from what we're thinking and what we're feeling, we can go into our underlying human needs. And from our needs, we can make requests to meet those needs that aren't demands that trying to manipulate each other, but just requests to try to enjoy giving.

Envisioning a Collective Effort at Empathic Communication:  "My vision, it's gotten very concrete lately. It's a critical mass of people in the world around the world that are practicing what I like to just generally call “empathic communication.” Doesn't have to be Non-Violent Communication in that particular tradition, but just this ability to communicate that gets us connected, empathically, a critical mass of people to do that.

The support that I think we all need is community. To be in community, to learn together, to support each other. So that's really at the core that I see, is how do we support this community for each other? ... I just see it as it's like a collective effort of people all over that are doing this in similar kind of ways to be able to, I don't know. What I see is that if we have this clarity that this is an important piece. This is important, like if we want to do all the other things to save the planet and save ourselves, like knowing how to communicate that responds to the violence and the hate and the fear in a way that connects, that brings us back to connection."

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