Secrets of Peacemaklng - California Divorce!


Secrets of Peacemaking: Understanding-Based Guides for Opening a Dialogue With Our Inner Selves

It is no secret among mediator legal and mental health professionals that the opportunities we enjoy to serve people in economic and emotional crisis pay dividends far beyond merely disengaging from the role of lawyer/warrior or therapist/evaluator that dominated our early careers.

Being a mediator is a metaphor that speaks to our desire to live whole, meaningful, and generous lives. Mediators are blessed with an invitation to redeem our personal stories in the course of helping others, and thus to live more wakefully in the present. The disputants who share their conflicts with us offer a path to such open-heartedness. Those we hope to lead themselves can remind we facilitators that each of us lives fully only in relationship with others. That is their great gift to us in return for our efforts, and one reason why we are drawn to this practice.

But blissful allusions aside, understanding and improving the interdynamics between mediator and the parties requires a dedication to cultivating a self-reflective practice, as well as the obvious nuts and bolts skills and perhaps a knowledge of the law. This is one reason why some of us tend to become perpetual mediator trainees, contributing what our spouses and partners may complain looks to be (okay, what is) a disproportionate amount of time and money on mediation retreats and workshops - far more than when satisfying basic continuing ed requirements. As responsible consumers of mediation training content, we do need to balance our desire for accumulating skills and seek out efficient programs that are aimed at both professional and personal development.

Together with my mediation partner, retired Judge Gretchen W. Taylor, I recently returned from a six day February, 2011 training workshop among a passionate group of professional mediators from the United States and Europe, led by mediation pioneers Gary J. Friedman, Jack Himmelstein and Norman Fischer of the Center for Understanding in Conflict. This advanced mediator program drilled down onto learning to use the power of our own caring, curiosity, and authenticity in dealing with impasse and emotion dynamics that threaten to overwhelm both mediator and the mediation. Their approach not only addresses the real time struggles of mediating challenging cases, but their understanding-based model nourishes our souls while advancing our techniques, and so also opens us up to feeding the souls of our mediation clients from the most authentic parts of ourselves in a manner that is particularly helpful with high conflict.

Their teachings are especially important for divorce and family law mediators. People in the midst of relationship focused mediation are experiencing a broad range of emotions that can be triggered or inflamed by something that is said or felt during the process. This is common when participants engage in persistent and back and forth recriminatory speech, or other exchanges that erupt outside of mediation. These dynamics can harden positions and threaten to derail the mediation if not addressed in a skillful manner. Certainly they can challenge mediators deeply to frame a constructive response, and commonly even lead the mediator to a desperate sense of inadequacy for the task.

Gary is a peacemaking trainer and mediator whose home is north of San Francisco. Jack is a conflict theorist, mediator, and mediation trainer who was formerly a law professor at the Columbia University Law School and who resides in New York, N.Y. Norman is a non-lawyer author and former Zen abbot who teaches mindfulness practices to lawyers, mediators, and many others. For those of us who appreciate the contributions of Buddhist psychology to our professional and personal lives, this team presents a unique combination of skill-sets.

Our retreat took place at Chacala, Mexico (at the remote zen center of Mar de Jade) in an intense workshop entitled "Self-Reflection in Action: Using Our Inner Selves to Help People in Conflict." The professionals who were drawn to the training were a deeply authentic and spiritually minded community. It was also a courageous and honest crowd. Five of the participants had traveled all the way from Europe.

This Mar de Jade program is offered once every two years and requires that participants have taken the Advanced Mediation Training offered through the Center for Understanding. The training is grounded in principles of Buddhist psychology that combined easily with the more familiar fare of group role plays and lectures. It is the first time while with a group of lawyers that I have been asked to participate in daily seated and walking meditations, and to listen to guided mediation dealing with compassion, forgiveness, or joy, all choreographed by a Zen abbott with decades of mindfulness training.

The mindfulness aspect of our training facilitated is something that all the other participants reported was immensely helpful for centering our intention and possibly overcoming anxieties that arise in ourselves and in the parties. Besides the role plays, other techniques were practiced that were useful for understanding what underlies conflict. These include mechanisms for physical and emotional feedback to help remain 'present' with the parties and ourselves, and in establishing interactions with other mediators in ways that extend beyond study-groups.

The Center for Understanding team has developed useful techniques for becoming unstuck when strong emotions threaten to overwhelm mediation, reframing those moments as opportunities to aid the process and our own progress. Of particular focus was how the parties' emotions can strike chords within us that generate the kind of response or reactivity we are more usually familiar with from the parties. These can be intensely negative or positive feelings. By looking at what underlies them, we are helped to better understand how resentment ripens into judgments that interrupt or render impossible the openness required for crafting workable resolutions. It is possible to "out" of these judgments in ways that help to diminish the otherwise co-optive power they might assume over wise and sensitive decision-making, but only if we can shine some amount of light upon them.

When high conflict family law matters feel to be spinning out of control during mediation, the Friedman team teaches us that by our reflecting upon the pain or fear that underlies the parties' and our own strong emotions like anger we can develop a deeper curiosity and a genuine interest in what is really going on. This connectedness will be sensed by the mediation participants, and is a big step towards softening anger and opening to compromise.

The parties' raw pain is almost always an elephant in the mediation room in family-related cases, threatening to blow the process up. The back stories of our own lives provide a beautiful jewel of experience that potentially offers wise empathy and intuitive solutions; however, in order to share this wisdom it needs to be accessible to us. It is possible that if we are to be the best mediator we can be, and so enjoy the continuing rewards that make our profession so very satisfying and rewarding, we will benefit by blending our mediation style and signatures between our inner presentness and our outer tool-kits of technique and strategy. The Center for Understanding in Conflict attends to both.