Befriending emotional maturity and compassionate conversations with a lawyer-and-mediator-turned author and teacher.
A deep dive into integration is far from easy—but when paired with the right tools around conflict work, emotional maturity and compassionate conversation, this process can lead to even greater transformation and healing. How to navigate those friction points within and interpersonally largely shapes our ability to bring powerful lessons gained from a peak experience, like ayahuasca healing, into our daily lives. Meeting conflict as friend, not foe, is often the dreaded work that bears the most fruitful outcomes for healthier relationships—starting with the one with yourself. As always, so much easier said than done.
That’s why we were honored to talk to Kim Loh, author and teacher working at the confluence of conflict, meditation and embodiment. Kim helps people navigate conflict more fluently, with clarity and compassion, and transform their conflicts and themselves in the process. She’s also the co-author of Compassionate Conversations: How to Speak and Listen from the Heart which features integration practices that we’ll be exploring in greater depth here.
This conversation couldn’t have come at a better time too, with many of us heading home for the holidays to visit family. While family time comes with its joys, it can also be a highly triggering time for those of us still working through unresolved childhood triggers, wounds and traumas. Maybe we’ve changed and our family members haven’t. Or maybe we’ve taken massive steps towards healing and our parents have yet to meet (or consider) the new version of who we are. This comes with the territory of doing the work to transcend old limiting beliefs and habituated patterns. To affect our environment, we first have to change ourselves without an attachment to an external outcome.
Transforming conflict through tools like emotional maturity and compassionate conversations can help us move through life and our most important relationships with far more congruency and grace. Grab a pen and notebook for this one!
Our compassion in conflict is informed by the quality of our stillness.
Kim’s own personal story models the power of integration. Her evolution from lawyer to conflict mediator at the U.N. to independent conflict author and teacher, informed by a Buddhist practice, is testament to what’s possible when we question society’s mandates and give ourselves permission to imagine things differently. After traveling the globe far and wide, training in yoga and meditation, adopting Buddhism as her spiritual home of choice and evolving her philosophy around conflict, Kim ultimately merged her various passions under a new integrated umbrella that she now coaches, teaches and writes about.
The integrative glue that binds it all? The quality of our stillness. Rather than a combative, win/lose approach to conflict that centers around a punitive system of justice, Kim leans into a restorative and reconciliatory approach that asks “where is the Middle Way?” Through her own personal experience around stillness and having learned from wisdom traditions like Buddhism and Taoism that direct us to Nature for answers, she encourages us to embrace the light and shadow inherent in all living beings. We are just as much the light as we are the dark—the yin and yang are two sides of the same living coin. Interestingly, the power of shadow work lives across many wisdom traditions, including those within the lineage of Shipibo healers working with ayahuasca. At the expense of demonizing our darker parts and pushing them into the subconscious shadow, we stand to benefit from bringing curiosity to conflict itself and releasing its potential grip through self-guided inquiry: How can conflict transform us and show us how big our hearts really are?
The body is where we show up to do the work.
Inhabiting your authentic self in conflict and communication means working through all kinds of physical, emotional and mental resistance in the process of healing old, outdated patterns. It isn’t enough to simply think your way out of our fears, as they relate to real or perceived threats to relationships, a sense of belonging, identity, or general beliefs or values, to name just a few. Luckily, there are tried and true practices that can offer up greater emotional, mental, and spiritual well being both internally and interpersonally. Luckily, these practices can serve any integration journey, whether you’re just coming off a potent transformational experience, looking to refresh an existing practice or finally ready to share your journey openly with others.
“If we can learn to relate with fear directly—not trying to get rid of it but becoming aware of what it looks like, tastes like, and feels like in our mind and body—we can develop fearlessness. Fearlessness is necessary to working with conflict, and it comes from including fear, not from being free of it. The first step is to look directly at what we are afraid of when a conflict comes up. This is to admit our fear, to allow it space in our body and mind.” – Diane Musho Hamilton (“Everything is Workable”)
Emotional maturity: a somatic practice to process emotional conflict.
Metabolizing emotions in a healthy and balanced way is the crux of emotional maturity—the practice of integrating emotional challenge without over-dwelling beyond a healthy limit. This can be challenging for the over-feelers (empaths and HSPs, looking at you) and under-feelers (the ones scared of feeling too much). But the true gem here is learning to strike that healthy balance between processing the emotion for its valuable information AND letting it go completely. The practice of “emotional transmutation” can offer up a calming way to both pay attention to the sensation of conflict (in a fight, flight or freeze state) and defuse its charge through careful observation. The steps are outlined below if you’re curious to try it out:
- Feel bodily sensation – simply feel whatever sensation in the body, without shifting into labeling and judging the experience as ‘good’ or ‘bad.’ Some things you might discover include swirling, gripping, aching, clenching sensations in different parts of the body. Sensations are ever-shifting, so pay close attention to that too.
- Name the feeling – here we assign the feeling a name, or emotion. Studies have shown that even the subtle nature of naming something can help dispel its charge.
- Watch the mind/body feedback loop – rumination can extend an emotion’s lifecycle, unless we disrupt it through observation. Notice how thoughts reinforce sensations and vice versa—how sensations beget thought.
- Drop the story – this is probably the hardest part of the process: interrupting mental activity that keeps the body from feeling pain or discomfort. Staying present with the breath can help facilitate this.
- Experience the energy and intelligence of the emotion – when your mind and body are in a calmer, more parasympathetic state, you’re now ready to ask yourself: “what is right about this feeling or emotion?” The answer could be “I don’t know, I’m in something right now” or it could be something more clear like, “I’m desperate to protect something, I don’t want to jeopardize it.”
- Let go – Allow the emotions, feelings and sensations to leave the body as best as you can. Oftentimes after doing the first five steps, there is less emotional charge to deal with, and the act of separating out the bodily sensation, the emotion, and the story we attached to it can help the energy begin to naturally move through and release.
- Decide whether to communicate about the feeling – at this point in the process, tune in to whether you feel further action or communication wants to be taken.
Compassionate conversation: a dialogue of making the invisible visible.
Coming off the heels of a transformative emotional transmutation, retreat or peak experience with plant medicine or psychedelic-assisted therapy can feel momentous. How we decide to move forward in our integration, interactions and conversations is a highly personal and subjective experience. Naturally, this process will come with its challenges, especially if we’ve realized we want to do things differently in our relationships, like asserting new boundaries or flexing previously dormant sides of ourselves. This is where timeless tools like nonviolent communication, along with making the invisible visible, come in handy.
To preface any potentially thorny or tender conversation, we can begin with a practice of making the invisible visible through compassionate communication. Does this other person understand why we might be feeling a desire to change or shift the relationship? A potential phrase to set up the conversation and prime the listener’s mind with context could go something like: “I’ve been doing some work on myself. Ultimately, I want to heal and become more loving and free…” By making the invisible visible (ie: your intentions for having the conversation) with this preface, we bring a compassionate lens to the conversation by creating the right set and setting for a request to follow. A nonviolent request is a place to get creative and honest about how you’d like your needs and boundaries to be met going forward. We invite you to try it.
Becoming an empty vessel of stillness and calm is far from a passive process. As we actively work on regulating our nervous system to find the still point of harmonious and clear knowing, we begin to lay the groundwork for greater congruence within ourselves and the environment and relationships around us. The quality of our stillness becomes a fantastic training ground, both for knowing what’s right about our emotional landscape and discovering the source of truth for how we want to bring those insights forward into the world.
“If we weren’t empty, how would we heal?” – Dianne Musho Hamilton
For a deeper dive into the world of emotional maturity and compassionate conversations, visit Kim’s website here.
For an educational primer on navigating conflict, check out this course:
Heart Connections: Strategies for Navigating Conflict & Difference