On Requests

I want to share some of my ideas about requests, as it is used in Nonviolent Communication (NVC). Each of the 4 parts of NVC syntax are essential, and we can easily practice only one of them in any interaction, and have better results than if we don’t. But being in touch with feelings as they are alive, even communicating them, won’t change the world. Creating presence to what is, what has happened, what I saw someone doing, is sanity-genic, but again, won’t change the world – although it sure is powerful way to get underneath a lot of everyday assumptions. Connecting deeply to the humanity and inherent innocence of any act through awareness and guessing of universal needs is again superbly useful, and have the power to de-escalate interpersonal dynamics very effectively.

Alas, requests, are on a different order of magnitude. When I ask for something – that is concrete and immediate enough for the other person to say “yes” or “no” to – it is my responsibility to be open to their “no” with equal love as if they say “yes”. In other words, for a request to be an actual request, I have to let go of my agenda, my preferred outcome, my strategy for meeting whatever need is up in the moment. Be open and willing to receive, yes. Hold on to the inherent beauty of my universal need, yes. But the role of others is not to tend to my every whim, it is to be honest, and connected to and caring about *their* needs.

So, to make a request, a personal asking someone for something that would meet a need or two for me, I have to preemtively surrender to their response. Be willing to explore their “no”. Be willing to take full responsibility for whatever upset might come about for me, in face of a “no”.

This brings me to the present moment. This brings me to stand in full partnership with the person I make a request of, that we are equals in this little interchange. I will not withdraw my love from them. I will keep the responsibility for my needs in my court. I expect the same from them.

To me, this is so similar to any activity. As I take action, I surrender to the result of that action. I don’t do something to gain points, or generate a particular response or outcome. I act to try to meet a current need. No eyes on the price, no attachment to outcome, no addiction to “the fruit of my labor”. There has to be that kind of “unity with oneself” that my teacher Daaji talked about recently, to notice what is true inside, and share it because its true, not because of wanting a particular result.


disagree without hostility

this is reposted from Metta Center website

“Relationships are the very basis of nonviolence. The person who is trained in nonviolence will not passively avoid difficult conversations and differences of opinion when they matter, but they will use a form of discrimination and self-restraint in deciding what is important to disagree about and when to keep quiet and wait it out. Who knows, maybe the person who disagrees with us has some truth in what they are saying– if not about the subject itself, then perhaps we get a glimpse into some experience that formed this person’s view, and it gives us pause. A hostile attitude on our behalf might keep us from learning something new, or seeing another person in a new light. Not to mention that hostility is rooted in a desire to harm the other; while the actual definition of the term ahimsa, from which the term nonviolence is derived, is “the extinction of the desire to harm.” When we interrupt hostility within ourselves, we interrupt a cycle of violence.”

read full text here


A Black Person in Handcuffs

copters up above
it’s usually bad news
that the news
wants to
make public

always like that
when berkeley students rise up
or when berkeley burglars get caught

militarization of police

last fall we had a humvee on my street
and gizzillion officers
chasing a poor guy
who tried to rob
the laundromat

for you have got to be poor
and pretty darn desperate
to rob the only lonely shop
that was open on that early morning

I never knew if he was caught
but at least berkeley citizens
stood up against the
of tankers in our streets

today, the hunt was
a success

I have never ever been
so glad to see
a black person

in handcuffs


on the ground

in a bag

they say he was armed
they chased him all the way from oakland
and arrested him in the park
just around the corner

next to the squiggly structure
my girl used to climb
when she was little


(c) Maja Bengtson, 2016

a black person in cuffs

Unity and Diversity of Meditation

I came to a kind of spiritual practice way back when, from within the wave of human potential movement that reached Sweden in 1980ies. My first brand of “meditation” was no meditation at all, but a daily contemplation of a passage in the blue book of A Course in Miracles. From there onward came years and years of studying my inner life, singing with abandon, observing my breath, dancing into stillness, serving selflessly, and sitting at the feet of many spiritual teachers from both the east and the west. I practiced Dynamic with Osho, Bhakti with Amma, Advaita with Gangaji, Vipassana with Jack Kornfield… and many others in between. And then in 2003 I came to Sahaj Marg – today also called Heartfulness – and I found something I did not know I had been looking for: An unchallengeable connection with something bigger than “me”. Early on, I described it as if “I was being connected with” (rather than me being the one reaching for connection) and that my habitual loneliness dissipated with every mornings’ practice.

I really believe that all forms of meditation and spiritual practice – regardless of its underlying philosophy or religion – has potential to bring us perspective on how we experience ourselves, find a condition inside that is different from the regular motion of mind… And in stillness, our unity is to be found.

It’s not all the same thing, though, does not all have the same result. Most research that reach my social media feed today is on “mindfulness” or “vipassana” meditation of Buddhist varieties. And it seems that at least in western media, the word “meditation” has become synonymous with “mindfulness”.

But it’s all different: If you spend hours every day watching your breath, you will develop agile awareness of the present moment and a kind of sensitivity to nuances. If you instead spend such hours calling out names of the Divine – expressing yearning for merger – or in selfless work for others (think ‘Mother Theresa’), you develop more outward focused qualities, like generosity. And, if you spend your daily practice in contact with divine light in the heart, well what can I say? I see lots of warm friendliness and joy in our gatherings.

It is always problematic when we make assumptions about meaning of words, when the same word means rather different things to different people. As a thought experiment, we can equal the term “meditation” to the term “sport”: anyone who partakes in any kind of sport will think of “sport” from the perspective their own practice. Some will think “sport – aha, something like soccer”, others will go “sport  – oh bicycling on country roads”, and so on. Admittedly, we’re more used to knowing about “different forms of sport” than “different forms of meditation”. And many forms of meditation will look the same from the outside: you cannot know if the sitting person is watching their breath or silently repeating a passage. But none the less, the word “meditation” has very diverse meaning to different meditators…

For some, prayer is a form of meditation. For others, doing the dishes or running a marathon. Or spinning cotton, like Gandhi did (and encouraged others to do, as an act of political significance). Not to mention partnered activities at various levels of intimacy. One of my teachers talks about “being in the zone” as a way to experience connection to the greater wholeness. Which can happen also in creative pursuit or at work, when we loose sense of time and space and ‘self’ as we get absorbed in the activity.

So it’s all different. And there is unity. Perhaps the greatest unity is about our shared impulse, our individual-yet-common pursuit of that quiet, that beingness, which has potential to connect us to the unity of life itself.

space over water

Not guns, but Belonging

I agree with President Obama: More guns will not make anyone safer. But, it’s not just the gunlaws! We live in a culture where killing is seen as a viable option when you’re pissed off.

Yesterday we heard of another tragedy, a kid shooting other kids at a school in Oregon, and then being “neutralized”, as they call it, by police. Shortly after, the President spoke of how all this is becoming routine, the horrific event, the briefing after, and what will follow of arguments for and against stronger gun laws. The worst horror, I think, is the routine: We get so many news of horror, we collectively desensitize, go back to business as usual. Besides, how well can we really distinguish between reality and fiction when it’s all communicated through the same screens?

I don’t know anything about this particular kid who took to killing his peers. But I do know that we live in a culture where the “training” everyone gets is allowing for what’s happening. It’s not just the gun laws (although they surely matter). What about watching movies where all the “bad guys” are supposed to be taken out? What about the interactive games, where a different set of bad “guys” are to be “killed” for you to score? And what about the more subtle act of honking in sudden onset of anger at someone who is driving in a way you don’t like? It has becomes the norm, in little and large ways, this endorsement of hurting others when we get upset, some form of retaliation, killing as a solution.

It’s a story of separation.
The real solution then, is in belonging.

Remember the saying “kids don’t do what you say, but do what you do”? It’s true, we learn how to belong to our shared humanity through internalizing others’ behaviors. But if our contact with a community of flesh-and-blood persons is scanty or scattered, we will learn from virtual ones. And virtual characters usually don’t reveal feelings and needs, don’t teach us how to give and receive empathy, how to negotiate differences, to dialogue or fight things out in some manner… There are plenty of options for restoring balance inside and connection with others, for recovering from our upset states, but mostly we learn that “others” are at fault, and we’re entitled to revenge.

It’s a story of separation.
The real solution then, is in belonging.

And then there is the *upset* itself. Some people flip easily, while others stay calm in the midst of emotional thunderstorms. What makes someone flip? Some action or interaction – or interpretation of it – that does not sit well, that is felt as humiliating, or lacking respect in some way. Psychologist Heinz Kohut showed us decades ago that some experiences can lead to “a sense of annihilation” – of “not existing” among ones’ group – and with that, a senseless rage can erupt. There is no lonelier place that that, and I surmise that’s just about how unhappy this last kid with guns was feeling.

It’s a story of separation.
The real solution then, is in belonging.

Or, as Martin Luther King Jr. said it: “We must rapidly begin the shift from a “thing-oriented” society to a “person-oriented” society.” In a “thing-oriented” society we tend to see others as entities to get something from, riches or fame or relief from pain, but not as the ones we share our beingness with.

The real solution then, is in belonging.

Maja Bengtson
Oct 2, 2015

Eruption of Human Goodness

I traveled to my native Sweden late August to attend a family gathering and take care of some business. Little did I know that I would end up immersed in this eruption of love that is Europe this week. When TV showed Germans waving flags and applauding as Syrian refugees arrived to a train station last week, we could not imagine that would set off an unprecedented outpouring of care, food, clothes, shelter, and help to refugees, all over this continent. It’s not all that clear why it broke loose this very moment, but I surmise a confluence of many factors: having witnessed the desperate hardship of refugees, and the letdown of the people of Greece; and how racism slowly but surely was taking a stranglehold on traditionally European values, and then the invitation by those Germans, so explicitly showing a different way, a fresh approach – one hinging on humanity and care.

Racism – or to use the Swedish term, “stranger-aversion” – has slowly but surely expanded across this continent over the last decade or so. The nationalist party is one of the largest in Sweden as per last year’s election but somehow was kept out of government by some creative coalition building. None-the-less, what we see and hear in regular media has made it seem like there is no more heart – only individualism and materialism – left in this place which used to carry its solidarity and humanism with pride. And now an influx of large numbers of refugees – a recipe for tension.

But instead, this: A self organized grassroots movement for helping refugees to safety. And. In Sweden also a migration authority that is prepared to receive even more than are coming, and with political backing to provide permanent status for those from war zones. Each country have their own limits and process. And, it turns out, it’s own way of interpreting international statutes, which creates part of the hassle and in some cases hazards for those seeking refuge.

After following the fate of that first group of refugees being mistreated in Budapest a few days ago, then helped to the Austrian border, then getting free passage – and cheers upon arrival – to Germany, I also wanted to “do something” when some of them reached all the way to Sweden. So I went online, joined “Welcome Refugees to Sweden” Facebook group, and then another, and then one more, initially to figure out what time was best to go to what location to help and maybe wave a flag. But then I started answering questions that came up online. And then I saw an important article that I posted to those groups… and after a short while it just grew and I quickly got quite immersed – from the comfort of my computer – with several threads of intense discussion and problem solving going on in parallel. The overall goal? To shepherd those fleeing people who want to come to Scandinavia, help them get all the way here where they can seek asylum. So, talking with ferry lines, looking up schedules, following news to get updates from developments on their routes, and trying to tease out the legalese of what constitutes trafficking and what is humanitarian help, so that those in cars knew what risks they were taking when following their hearts. The whole thing happening in conversation, online, in multiple threads in a handful of Facebook groups, all at once. All infused with so much care. And so much stuff, too, that organizers had to say “no more for now” to donations of food, clothes, bags and sleeping gear.

We get reports “40 refugees made it onto ferry xx” and “make sure there are people to meet up”. But also requests: yesterday someone suddenly posted pictures from inside a train. I didn’t get what was happening, but a few back-and-fourths later, I realized this man had his brother on a train that was stopped by police in Denmark. His english poor, his anxiety obvious. “they say passport or go back” and “can you help, maja”… scramble scramble, I had seen a link to legal help in regards to asylum in Denmark, I mentioned that, but also gave empathy, tried to maintain hope. Pray. Cry.

Maybe my newfound colleges had seen this coming and organized well ahead, but I don’t think so, for the most part it seems to all be erupting in front of my eyes. There are some key people, someone I know from college years. And we’re making it up as we go, giving advice to people who are in touch directly with those on the road. Everyone cares about their safety and successful arrival to whatever country they want to be in. Yesterday when Denmark suddenly stopped all trains and started forcing fingerprints and passport controls, we tried to get the word to people in Germany “take the ferry, take the ferry” (direct from Germany to Sweden). And then we shared a unified but nonsynchronous “hurrah” when late in the evening Danish Chief of Police decided to just let everyone go, let them continue through Denmark to reach the other Nordic countries. Why or how that happened I don’t know, it’s tempting so imagine that the love surrounding the decision maker was contagious. What happened at the site of the stopped train is more clear: they let all refugees get off the train where they had spent all day, and within minutes masses of cars were there and transported some 200 people to the Swedish border.

I know what this is, I’ve studied it for years. This is what nonviolence looks like in action.

We’re not against anyone. And we’re just trying to help where the systems are cruel or lacking. Help people reach safety. There are options for improving the official systems – someone created a petition for Humanitarian visas, for example – but while the rules are inhumane, hoards of caring humans make up the difference. This is what society could look like, all the time! Trust, caring, dignity, helpfulness. Sharing. Solving problems together, in dialogue. Social media helps, of course, a platform for putting out requests, coordinating needs in real time. But this has been done here before, in greater secrecy and with greater risks, when people helped Jews escape the occupation of Denmark in WWII, crossing the sound in small sailboats in the dark of night.

In September 2015 I wonder how this all is possible, and then realizing that threads of preparation have been going on for years, although I doubt anyone knew “for what”: In city of Malmö – the current vortex of the local goodness, and the main entry point to Sweden for refugees – there are initiatives for sharing economy, like gifting circles, and even a gifting clothes store. There is year round political activism. And a diverse community and probably much more that I don’t feel the pulse of from far away. All in all, some of what we talk about as “constructive program” could probably be detected here, with relationships being built over time, and shared values and projects to ground those. Enough of a core to hold the heartful chaos that thousands of welcomers-of-refugees bring to a joint purpose.

Maja Bengtson
Lund, Sweden
on September 10, 2015

PS. after writing this, I went back online, and there was a message. “My brother arrived now Thanks Maja”

Lost Touch

This is my sense, my fear of what actually might be happening to us humans in the western world… that we’ve lost touch with the fact that we’re living beings. That others are living beings.

A few weeks ago I witnessed a 6 year old friend play a video game. Not missing a beat, he told me how his task was to destroy [some enemy]… and on he went, shooting away, gaining points for his success. This boy is a total sweetheart, but this is his training. Along with that of millions of others.

And that is just the gaming world.  We also have umteen channels of TV and the whole world of movies that contributes to the same. And I’m not only talking about the obvious violent scenes. I’m trying to point to something much much more subtle here…

In virtual reality there is no real world harm done, we think. But what are we doing to our perception of life? Life on earth – be it nature, plants insects animals or humans – are we able to be in touch? How can we device weapons – and industries – of mass destruction!? How can we just keep going with habits and comforts, maybe tweak a few degrees from Accord to Prius when if it really mattered we would stop driving all together?

With such scary news – in the real world – of destruction of man and nature, the psychologist in me says “of course” we have to protect ourselves from the horror. A bit of denial here, a bit of disconnect there… And there goes our own humanity, our ability to feel, our ability to *be* in our infinitely precious humanity.

THAT then, seems to be our most important task. Rehumanize, resensitize, reconnect, restore the view that life is sacred. And that you and I, and all others, and all beings, and all of nature, is part of life.