Author and negotiation expert William Ury shares his expertise on how to approach conflict-laden situations with spaciousness and compassion, the intrapersonal exercise of mediation, and how societal trauma plays a role in our personal conflicts.
William Ury – Practicing Spaciousness and Empathy for Conflict Mediation
William Ury is the co-founder of Harvard’s Program on Negotiation and is one of the world’s leading experts on negotiation and mediation. William is co-author of Getting to Yes, a fifteen-million-copy bestseller translated into over thirty-five languages, and the author most recently of Getting to Yes with Yourself. Over the past four decades, William has served as a negotiation adviser and mediator in conflicts ranging from the Cold War to Venezuela to the Middle East. William served as a senior advisor to Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos in helping to bring an end to the last and longest-running war in the Americas. He is currently a Distinguished Fellow of the Harvard Negotiation Project where he currently works on the climate crisis and ending the war in Ukraine.
Notes & Resources
In this episode, Thomas and William discuss:
- Techniques to understand and employ effective mediation
- How to befriend “negative” emotions and see their value
- Unlocking deep empathy to see the bigger picture in situations
- Integrating past experiences to merge them into our present selves
Thomas Hübl: Welcome, William. I am so happy that we are here together again in our mutual inspirational space. So, first of all, welcome and I’m so happy that you’re joining us here. So some years ago, I don’t even know how long ago we met, actually close to where I am sitting right now. We met in Jerusalem in the American Colony Hotel. And that was our first in-person meeting. And I think we didn’t have many other in-person meetings ever since. So any kind of video conferencing really helped us to build our relationship and our friendship over the years. And so here we are again in a digital format.
But within that, within those, I don’t know, three or four years, we had many in-depth dialogues, and we kind of as a working title, we found like the dialog, the mystic and the mediator in dialogue. And so maybe do you want to share maybe from your side a little bit about the quality of the dialogue? And I will, I will come back in as you’re finishing. And so the mystic and the mediator and how, where do you see like on their wider scale, contemplation and mediation or meditation and mediation and internal development, trauma work. So that’s all going to be part of our dialog. But the mystic and the mediator, what that means for you?
William Ury: Yeah. First of all, I just wanted to say it’s a huge pleasure to be speaking with you again and what a huge privilege it has been to have this dialog over the last, I think it’s almost five years now between two seemingly, from the outside world’s perspective, very different fields, you know, meditation, mysticism, and mediation, conflict resolution. And I think what we discovered in that talk in the American Colony Hotel in the lounge there was, you know, maybe the talk could have gone on for an hour, but it went on for like four or 5 hours. And we kind of fell in love with the subject that’s in between us, which is, for me as a mediator and someone in the field of negotiation, in conflict resolution for now, over four decades, wandering around the planet, some of the most intractable conflicts around the face of the earth. You know, the Middle East, where we met, the Cold War, Venezuela, Colombia, North Korea, Indonesia, Yugoslavia, these places of great trauma. One of the things I’ve noticed is that the single biggest block to us making progress, the single biggest blocked us getting to yes in any conflict, whether it’s just with our family, or in the larger world, is not what we think it is. It’s not the difficult person on the other side of the table, however difficult they might be. It’s right here. It’s me. It’s myself. The most difficult person we have to deal with is the person we look at in the mirror every morning.
And so for me, what mediation, negotiation, getting to yes needs to be successful is that core inner work first on yourself. Because we tend to come into conflict very reactive, as the old saying goes, “When you’re angry, you will make the best speech you will ever regret.” And that, unfortunately, often happens. And so people get into a very destructive confrontation. And so the very first step is to step back. And so that’s why I think meditation and the deeper field of mysticism actually has a lot to contribute to our ability to resolve our practical differences in the emotional and material world. And so I’ve loved and learned so much from our conversations because it’s so rich, it’s exactly what’s needed. And if you think about it, what we’ve discovered is that actually, what’s meditation but intermediation, and what is mediation but outer meditation. Because both of them, even the roots of the words, are about sit in the middle. So when you meditate, you sit in the middle of the phenomenon. When you mediate, you sit in the middle of the phenomenon. You welcome it. You know, I loved your word hosting, you host the phenomenon. So I’ve just so much enjoyed and found so inspiring our conversations because to me, they illuminate the way forward, the way towards resolution, the way towards healing. Whether it’s at an individual level or at a global level.
Thomas: Yeah, me, too. First of all, I loved it the same way. And, you, you said something lovely about the inspirational space. And I found that very often in our conversations, and it’s also why I kind of gave the name to the podcast, the Point of Relation, on the one hand because it’s, it’s part of the maturation of individuation. So when we individuate we come to a point of relation that maturity means to be related to our environment, to ourselves, to people in our lives. And on the other hand, it’s also a bit inspired by our conversations that, you know, the Point of Relation also opens a space for inspiration that is not pre-planned, that is coming in because we allow a certain creativity and openness to come. And I think that that’s also part of like kind of an inner development, is that we surprise ourselves in life more often. That’s a good sign, you know, that we have ideas, that we say things, that stuff comes through that is innovative and creative. And so I often experience that with you in our conversations. So that’s really lovely. And, you said-
William: I love that, certainly, Thomas, if I might go ahead. I just want to just comment on what you’re saying, which is I love that because that inspiration, the emergence, the willingness to welcome in the new, I mean, this is what we need.The world has so many problems and it seems like a lot of things are scarce and in conflict. What drives people in the conflict is this feeling of scarcity. And the one thing that’s not scarce is creativity, is inspiration. And this is what I love about our conversations, is it brings that inspiration that you were going to say something.
Thomas: No, no, it’s beautiful. And it’s exactly because, as you know as well, and you do as well in a bit of a different way, I think we both engage in the phenomena of trauma or collective traumatization, and we see the replay of traumatization and collective traumatization. As long as it’s unconscious, it’s going to, it’s bound to repeat itself. And that’s true for our individual experience. That’s true for my experience as a person. That’s true for my intimate relationships. That’s true for my parenting. That’s true for me being part of an organization or a company, and it’s true for our countries. And so I would love to also, during our conversation today, to engage a little bit in that phenomena of trauma, like that overwhelming experience that creates an internal fragmentation, and how at the base of trauma, there’s always, since it’s overwhelming, there’s always a feeling of, it leaves us with a feeling of scarcity. Something is not enough. Something was not enough. There was not enough protection. There wasn’t enough human rights recognition. There wasn’t enough dignity, there wasn’t enough, something wasn’t enough.
And so as this often in our lives, also as descendants of people where it wasn’t enough, something has been hurt in the flow of life. So we end up with that scarcity that you mentioned. So, and that’s again, at the base of many conflicts because something’s not enough today, at least it seems like. And when we feel tired or triggered or reactive, we feel how not enough feels. There’s not enough space, there’s not enough awareness, there’s not enough balcony, or we don’t find a way to the balcony because life closes in on us. And I found your description, when you say getting to yes, maybe you can speak a little bit what that means for you, that getting to yes? Like, what does it mean getting to yes, yes to what? And also maybe the, what you just said before I describe as hosting, and I can host things only when I have enough space, and I need a space. I need to sit in a studio, a studio needs to host me in order to do that podcast now. And so I’m in a space. So when you speak about going to the balcony, it refers to a certain kind of internal space or space that we need to create within a tight situation. Maybe you can speak a little bit to both, because I think they’re very crucial when we want to look at conflict and trauma.
William: Right. So 40 years ago this year, my friend, colleague, and mentor Roger Fisher and I published a book, a little book, a hidden little book called Getting To Yes. And it’s gone on to have quite a life in the world. And that phrase “getting to yes” didn’t exist. It got coined with this book. And now I hear it and see it in newspapers. People use that phrase, but what does it actually mean? What we meant by it very simply was getting to an agreement. You know, you have two people who want different things and they get to an agreement. And that agreement could be to resolve a dispute, or it could be to make a deal of some kind, to make some kind of thing. And our notion at the time was underlying it was that the best way to get to yes was not at that time what people thought of negotiation. They thought this is a win-lose contest. You know, who’s going to win, who’s going to lose? That was the key question. And it was based on scarcity. Who’s going to get how much? You know, and it’s a very tiny fixed pie. And whatever I get, you don’t get. And what we tried to propose in that book as a process for getting to yes was, first understand that the people are very important, that we, that our personal, our psychology is really important. That you have to distinguish between the people dimension of the conflict from the objective. And so you have to start to listen to people, you have to understand, put yourself in their shoes, and so on, was really at the core of it. We call that separating the people from the problem so that while you remain hard in dealing with the problem, you could be soft and respectful and empathetic in dealing with the people. And we proposed that the objective wasn’t a unilateral victory, but was a new concept back then, but was a win-win, you know, was a mutual gain. And that instead of just seeing the pie as fixed, maybe you could expand the pie and then divide it up, you know, and use your creativity. And it all goes back to spaciousness, right? It’s like, open up, open up your perspectives, because maybe there’s more for everybody.
And so that was the essential tenet of the idea. And the idea caught on. And now you hear win-win. It’s almost like a cliche. Actually, I believe right now we have to go be more audacious even than win-win. We’ve left off what is the third win, which is a win for you, a win for me, and there also has to be a win for the whole. Whether that’s the family, whether that’s the workplace, whether that’s the community, whether it’s the world, whether that’s the natural environment. In all of our interactions we need to remember the whole, you know, it could be the divine, you know, the whole. And so how do we do that? That’s not easy. That is not easy at all. And particularly when there’s trauma, you get increased sense of scarcity, which is what generates this kind of win-lose, “I’ve got to win at the other’s expense,” but it also accentuates the feeling of separation, that I’m this little isolated individual or isolated unit, and I’ve got to battle with everyone else.
And so what’s the way around that? And this is where I’ve learned from you, Thomas, is it’s spaciousness. It’s inner spaciousness to surround the problem. It seems like a knot, surround it with inner spaciousness – spacious presence, spacious awareness. The kind of field you can tap into when you meditate, the mystical field. And then there’s also collective spaciousness. And you and I have played with collective presence and collective presencsing. And to me, it’s almost like if you think of, I’ve been working on how do I build bridges between societies or between organizations or between individuals who are deeply in conflict? The way is to surround them with spacious presence, and that then takes scarcity and it turns it into a possibility of abundance. It takes separation and it turns it into a possibility of connection. So this is why I’ve so much enjoyed our conversations.
Thomas: That’s beautiful. So I want to dig into something, I think, that’s interesting. When, like you said, so many things that I want to come back to. Like spaciousness, collective spaciousness, and many other things to the win-win-win. The third side, as you call it, which I think is a lovely term, but we’ll get there. For now, you mentioned something like putting yourselves into the other one’s shoes. And I have a question. So let’s say there are two possibilities, either I’m in your shoes and I’m part of a facilitator or mediator team, and I put myself into the shoes of one of the conflict parties. But then there’s the other one is, I am part of a conflict and I am asked to put myself into the shoes of the person that I have a conflict with, or the group or the nation or whatever that I have a conflict with. So let’s let’s speak a little bit to the complexity of what it needs to do that, because I think that act in itself already needs a certain kind of development. And I would love to maybe flesh out, for our conversation, what is the development that’s really needed? Because I can think about what do you think or feel, or I can put myself into your shoes, which are two different… On the one hand, I project my entire past on you, and then I believe I’m very empathetic, but actually I’m just thinking about what I believe about you. And then there’s another thing. And as facilitators, but as parties of the conflict, how can we get to a place to put ourselves into the shoes of another person? How does that work? What is that for a function in our capabilities?
William: And that’s a great question, Thomas. And one I’ve you know long kind of wrestled with. Because the truth is, it’s not easy to put yourself in someone else’s shoes and, you’re right, if you put yourself with all your projections over those issues, you might not have a very accurate understanding of what’s going on for them. And that the prerequisite for putting myself in your shoes is first to put myself in my own shoes. I mean, it seems odd, but actually, I need to start there. Let me, if I may, just give you a story just to kind of illustrate this. It’s a story about, almost 20 years ago, I was working, I was asked by President Carter to go to the country of Venezuela. And Venezuela at the point was highly politically polarized as it is, unfortunately still today. And there were a million people on the streets demanding the resignation of the leader whose name you may remember was President Hugo Chavez. And there were a million people on the streets supporting him. And the international community was really worried this is going to lead to major civil violence and even maybe civil war, like the kind of civil war that was afflicting its neighbor, Colombia.
So, anyway, I had some meetings over that period of time with President Chavez. And I remember one meeting in particular which illustrates the question that you’re asking about putting yourself in someone else’s shoes. My colleague Francisco, Francisco Diaz and I went to the palace because we had a meeting with him and he liked to schedule meetings at night, it was 9pm. So we waited, and we waited patiently and 9:10 pm went by, 11 pm. Finally, at midnight, after 3 hours, we were ushered in to see the President. And instead of finding him alone, which we found, which we thought we would, he had his entire cabinet arrayed behind him. So it’s a very public kind of setting. And he pulled the chair close to him and said, So, Ury, so tell me, what’s your, how do you think things are going here with the conflict here in Venezuela? And I said I looked at him and I thought I’d put a kind of a positive frame. And I said, “Well, Mr. President, I’ve been talking to some of your ministers here. I’ve been talking to some of the opposition leaders, and I believe there’s actually some progress.” Well, that was a mistake, because as soon as he heard the word progress, he flipped and he just got super angry. And he leaned in very closely to my face, very, very close to my face, and started shouting at me and saying, “You’re a fool. You know, you’re fooled by those traitors, those opposition traitors, they’re absolute traitors, and you’re being taken in by them and you’re naive and…” he went on, and on, and on.
And, in front of the entire cabinet, I was being dressed down. So I was hardly in a place, in that moment, to put myself in his shoes. The first thing I had to do was go to the balcony, you know, which is find a place of calm and perspective inside myself, because at that moment I was feeling like, wait a minute, I’m not a fool. I’m not now, you know, you start to get a little defensive. And I started to feel embarrassed in front of everyone. And then I’m also thinking, I’ve been working in this country for a year now, all of that work going down the tubes. You know, here I have been, so I thought that was it was the end, that’s where part of my mind was going. But then I was able to go to the balcony and I had a very simple technique that a friend of mine who was from Ecuador had once said, you know, he said, “William, when you’re in a tough situation,” he said, “pinch the palm of your hand.” And I said, “Man, why would I pinch the palm of my hand?” And he said, “Well, because it will give you momentary pain, it’ll keep you alert.” And so for whatever reason, I remembered to pinch the palm of my hand, and it just made me a little bit alert. So I brought a little bit of spaciousness, inner spaciousness, so I could observe my own emotions, my own sensations, my own discomfort. I could watch that. Just, I could watch the play. It was like, you’re on the balcony and there’s a stage and they’re actors on the play. I’m one of the actors, President Chavez, the cabinet. There are other actors, you can watch the play. And I was able to do that, watch the play for a moment, and then I was able, from the balcony perspective, to ask the all-important question is: What do I want to happen here? What’s my purpose? What am I trying to achieve? Because when you’re reactive, you lose utter sense of where you’re going. Because you’re just being reactive. You’re not being proactive. And so I was able to ask myself the question, well, you might feel like getting into an argument with and defending yourself with President Chavez, but what are you here for? I’m here for peace. I’m here to calm the situation. Is it really going to serve your purpose if you get into an argument with the president of Venezuela?
And the truth is, this was a man who could give speeches for 7 hours. If I’d gotten into an argument with him, we could have gone till dawn, you know, easily. And so I just thought, yes, okay. I bit my tongue. I listened to myself. I didn’t suppress my emotions. I listened to my emotions because they are really important signals. But I just listened to him. aving liHstened to myself, put myself in my own shoes. was able to listen to him. And listening is the key way to begin to build a bridge with the other, particularly in a conflict situation, is able to relate to him. I found that point of relation that you’re talking about. And so I said, I listened to him and he went on and on and on. He went on for maybe 30, 40 minutes. Just like I was listening to him. I was nodding my head and I was trying to figure out what’s going on for him. Is this a play? Is he making a show in front of his audience? Is he really angry? What’s going on? You know, just curious. You bring curiosity, you bring inquiry. And I was watching him carefully. I was observing from the balcony.
And at one point he started to run out of steam because I wasn’t giving him any kind of material to react to. And I noticed his shoulders slightly sink. You know, like body language. And then I heard him say in a slightly weary tone of voice, “So,Ury. What should I do?” Now he’d gone through the cycle. You know, there’s a cycle that people go through which is anger, and then after anger comes sadness, you know, a little bit. And he was going through that cycle. That was when he said, “What should I do?” That was the faint sound of a human mind opening. That was like, oh, there’s a crack there. Okay. Now he’s asking me. And so I said to him. You know, I went from the individual interaction here, which was, going to the balcony to see if we could go to the collective situation. Because I was a third sider, I was taking the side of the whole. And my focus was, what about the future of the children of Venezuela? That’s in play right here, right now in this conflict situation.
So I said, “Mr. President. It’s December. It’s almost Christmas time. Last Christmas, the festivities were canceled because of this political conflict. “Why not let the whole country…” go to the balcony for a moment, “Why not just call a truce?” A “tregua” in Spanish, “A truce for three weeks. Give everyone a break. And then in January, when we come back from the break, everyone will have had a chance to enjoy the festivities with their families. Then maybe they’ll be in a more receptive mood to listen.” Well, he listened to that and he said. “That’s a great idea. I’m going to propose that my next speech.” And his mood, it entirely shifted. So much so that is then thought, wow, Christmas. “What are you doing for Christmas?” He said, “You can come with me and travel the country with me.” And then he thought for a moment, he said, “But you’re a mediator. Maybe it wouldn’t be so. You wouldn’t be seen as neutral if you were with me the whole time,” he said. “But no problem. I’ll give you a disguise.” What I learned from that story was that one of the greatest powers that we have is the power not to react. It’s to go to the balcony. It’s to listen to yourself as a precondition to being able to listen to the other. It’s to put yourself in your own shoes as a precondition, to put yourself in the other side’s shoes, and then try to take it collectively. Like, how can the whole country do the same, the same dynamic? That’s to me, that’s the key.
Thomas: Very beautiful. Very Beautiful. Yeah, like the first time I heard that from you, I thought, well, that’s a that’s a strong situation and it’s a challenging situation. And I loved how you went through it. And maybe a short question attached to that. And then maybe I will say a few things about what comes up in me. I’m interested in conflict situations. There is, there may be three points. One is I have the capacity to stay spacious. And I can watch my emotions and I can use that as a guiding device, also as you said, to learn more about the relation we are in and maybe about my own triggers and find discernment. So there is a level of discernment if I’m able to be on the balcony. Then there is another one that I’m simply, I’m not able to do and I’m staying in my reactivity. And you would have said something or you would have defended yourself, and it would most probably escalate the situation.
And then there is another one that many people might experience in conflicts, that is that they dissociate because of prior violence that they experienced either in their childhood or in their life, that whenever conflict comes up, they don’t feel anything. And maybe from your own experience, if you have a few words on how to discern, because somebody that is dissociated might think, “Oh, I am able to observe the situation,” but actually I am observing the situation from a cut-off place. Then there is true spaciousness, the balcony that you are talking about, is hosting your own triggers and reactivity. And being grounded enough in that space to have a choice. The choice not to react, but to listen. And I’m I’m wondering if you if there is something out of your 40 years of experience that you can speak to the difference between being dissociated and numb and witnessing, or being in a real witnessing, because they are fundamentally different. And maybe you can speak to that a little bit about what you think about. Because that’s, I think, important when we talk about the balcony.
William: Really could not be more important. Because some people might confuse going to the balcony, detaching, with dissociating. Right. And they might use that language even as a kind of we might use it. And I can resonate with that, because I’ve gone back in the last few years to really do some deep inner dives in myself and my own traumas, my own individual and collective traumas, to find the parts of me that dissociate, that numb, that turn away. And, you know, with the idea of gently, bringing them back to face the situation in a gentle way, but to face it. And so that it is really important when I mean, go to the balcony, I mean, you go to a place of perspective, which then you then use to connect with yourself. It’s the exact opposite of dissociation. Going to the balcony is taking a breather, some spaciousness in order to connect first with yourself so that you can then connect with the other. If. If you dissociate, and you disconnect without connecting with yourself, that to me would not be going to the balcony. And I think people do that.
I think I think oftentimes I hear people in conflicts saying the emotions are the problem. You know, let’s just take let’s take all the emotion out of it. Right? Let’s take all the emotion out of it. Well, I understand that that, you know, obviously, certain emotions like anger and hatred and extreme fear drive this. But what I’ve learned over the years, and what has been really reinforced in my conversations with you, it’s about befriending. Befriending your emotions, befriending your anger, befriending your hatred, befriending every aspect, jealousy, envy, whatever it is, befriending it all, welcoming it, hosting it. And I love that term host, that you use often. Hosting it, welcoming it, not judging it, not trying to suppress it. Because each one of those things, as I’ve learned from you, has intelligence, has something, it’s an intelligent response that might have, that needs to, that intelligence needs to be learned from. And so it’s almost like for me, I think of this as like a kitchen table exercise for me with my own conflicts or even in the world is, I sit down at the kitchen table and I listen to all the different voices. You know, there’s the anger, there’s the fear, there’s this. They all have their place. I don’t sit them at the head of the table, at the head of the table I like to put self, you know, but nevertheless they’re really important voices to hear. So for me, balcony is all about connection. It’s about interconnection in order to facilitate our connection.
Thomas: Beautiful. Yeah. Lovely. Yeah. I want to say, like, maybe in my own language, I would say that even the notion, like, we are living in a, as you know, I’d love to speak about collective trauma as something systemic that has been going on for thousands and thousands of years. And we have been all born into a fragmented world. And that fragmented world lives in our nervous systems. And the different parts of our nervous systems are not expressing one function of response, one function of emergence, that thinking and sensing are not coherent functions that are connected, so that the body emotions, the mind relation, our spiritual capacities are seen as different parts, is already part of that original trauma fragmentation. And that creates a lot of internal isolation and separation and external separation. And so what I hear you say is also that the mediation work and your growth as a, like a more and more senior mediator over the decades that you did it also supported your own inner integration. And that, again, gives you more and more capacity for the external integration. Is that is that something that you would see as your own evolution also that every integration you went through,everything that became more whole in you also increased your capacity in the room with people in conflict?
William: Yes, without question. That’s been my own inner evolution. Because I, you know, I started off working in the external world with, okay, the problem is out there. And I increasingly found that in order to work that external world, I had to help people work on themselves. But in order to be able to help people work on themselves, I had to work on myself first. I am the, in the end, you know, when you show up as a mediator, particularly in these very tense situations, and it could be at any level, it could be in a family, it could be in a strike situation between union and management, it could be in these war situations that I have a predilection to focus on, the so-called lost, impossible causes of the world, because I believe there is possibility there, in order to do that, I have to tune my own instrument. I have to work on my own instrument. And so, and that’s a lifelong practice.
And I’ll just give you an example from the last few months. Last few months, I’ve been more on retreat, or at least a little bit. I’ve found a place here in the mountains, as you know, and I’ve been by myself and I’ve been doing some integration of collective trauma. I’ve been looking into the family, not just my biographical family, but also the larger extended family. And receiving just in the last few weeks, I have somehow, thanks to the Internet, I’ve received two diaries of relatives I didn’t even know existed. One on my father’s side and one on my mother’s side. On my father’s side it’s a great, great aunt who left an account so beautifully, exquisitely written, so trauma-sensitive about living through a pogrom, you know, a massacre of the Jewish people in Poland in 1906. And she describes it so vividly, the fear, the terror, the feeling like you’re being encircled by death as the mob camps closer and closer and the doors break down and they’re there. And she talks, and she talks about how they survived. And then the second diary is from a relative on my father’s side, someone I didn’t know either who was the, actually the first cousin of my grandfather who, my grandfather came to this country, but his first cousin stayed there in the little town of Hellmann in eastern Poland. And when the Nazis occupied it, she kept a diary, unbelievably, she kept a diary. And she was one of the very few people of 18,000 in that Jewish community, very few people who survived. And she kept a diary, but she kept a first-hand diary.
So I’ve been, which is just to say I’ve been integrating all that. I’ve been trying to, I’ve been seeking to host that inside of myself. And I found that as I integrate that inside of me, those stories, that pain, that terror, that fear that’s collective. As I integrate that, then I found that actually I am a. I have tuned my instrument so that I can be more available in the mediation and the negotiation work that I do in the world. So that, for example, in the same time period, I’ve been working with the President of Afghanistan, who has possibly the worst job in the world right now because Afghanistan, as you know, it’s just, it’s the worst conflict in the world. People are dying in the hundreds every day. There’s the possibility of societal collapse. It’s really a dire situation. But I find that because of the inner work that I’ve been doing myself on my own traumas, I’m more available in terms of presence, in terms of spaciousness to him as he faces a highly traumatized situation. And so for me, that work continues to this day.
Thomas: 40: 23 Beautiful. Beautiful. I would love to, from there, kind of in the work you said, if parts of ourselves are absent or not integrated, this space is filled with the past. And that’s why another person or situation or circumstance doesn’t have a space in us. That space is full of the past, un-integrated past. This might be fears, other emotions. This might be body contractions, tensions, absence, numbness. And then when you spoke about what happens if we if we integrate, integration means digestion, you needed to most probably feel your fears, you needed to feel the inner feelings of your ancestors in order to integrate them into your flow today. And then it makes space inside for somebody else to be hosted in you. And I love to speak about relation as the capacity, that’s why I also ask before about putting yourself in the shoes of others, like how can I have a William inside of myself right now? Because the William when I look at you, I have a William inside of myself. The William that I see is in my central nervous system. And if I have the capacity to really allow myself to feel you so my body gives me information, my emotions give me information, my mind, my relational experience of you. But for that, I need to make space for you. Because if my space is full and clustered inside so I can’t possibly feel you, then you appear to me like an outside. But when I allow myself to really feel you, we are in interdependent system. You are inside and outside. And that’s amazing.
And then I think one of the, let’s say myths of our time, and I would love to hear what you say to that, is that we have been trained to see ourselves as personal bubbles. And like, Thomas is over here and this is Thomas, my body and my nervous system is a personal property of Thomas, like William’s body and William’s nervous system is a personal property of William. And I think that that’s not only outdated, but it creates such a hyper-individualistic prison that my experience of my ancestral lineage as part of my nervous system, so there’s an ancestral nervous system and there’s a collective nervous system, so that the collective is not just out there, the collective is in here as much as it’s out there, because I’m part of the collective. The collective’s not all the others, you know, the collective includes me and not only includes me, there’s a part of my nervous system that is the representation capacity of the collective and of the third side, in all of us. It’s a kind of a joined cloud computing. And I’m wondering about your experience of integrating ancestral information. Lake ancestral feelings, ancestral trauma in yourself, and how you experience the subjective change when you say “I integrated something.” How did that feel and what do you say in relation to what they said about the different parts of our nervous system as one nervous system so that it’s hundreds of thousands of years ol, my nervous system, and I am also a personal part of it, but it’s much bigger in its complexity.
William: Wonderful question. So on the first part of the question, without question, my own experience of doing my own inner, supposedly inner trauma work with the ancestors in the collective, is that as I do that work, it frees up space. Frees up space within me, a sense of spaciousness. My nervous system, which was tense in a way that I didn’t even perceive that it was tense, gets to relax. And so that spaciousness that gets freed up allows me to be more present, particularly in situations like conflict, war situations in which these traumas originated. So that those traumas don’t unconsciously trigger that and I start to tense up and close up and are less present. So basically, doing the inner work, the inner outer work on myself frees up space so that I can be more present, so that, going to a previous point that you raised, I don’t, when I when I put myself in someone else’s shoes, I can watch if there’s projection going on. I can watch it more easily because I have more space. It’s more balcony. It’s, there’s more. You’re on the balcony, you have more space. You can see from the balcony. You can take off your blinders and you can see the larger picture. You can watch the play. And then from that balcony perspective, I can see if I’m going to make an intervention. Oh, what if this character does a little bit of this or this character does a little bit of that? Maybe the play can can shift. And that’s really the art of mediation. That’s the art of seeing if there’s a way forward in a very constricted situation.
So without question, its inner spaciousness that gets created by that integration that then frees up the ability to be more spacious and more present, particularly when you go back into situations that might trigger that tension, that constriction, that underlying trauma. And then to the second part of your question, which has to do with the collective, absolutely. To me, the third side, which I believe is our ancient human birthright for dealing with conflict. We always see conflict as two sided. You know, it’s Arabs versus the Israelis where you are, you know, in Jerusalem right now. All the tension that’s going on, Palestinians versus, you know, Israelis. But in fact, what we don’t see, and what I’ve learned from spending time with Indigenous peoples like the San bushmen in South Africa, is that there’s actually always a third side, and the third side is the larger community of which the two parties belong. And that third side is the whole.
And so when the when for example, when, as I watched in the Kalahari Desert many, many years ago when I was in South Africa, working on the situation with apartheid, whenever there’s a conflict in those groups, it’s not just seen as, oh, that’s a conflict between individual A and individual B. No, it’s it’s a collective. It belongs to the collective. And it’s the group’s responsibility to help bring those parties together, to mediate. And so someone goes and hides the the weapons out in the desert, and they all gather together the women, the men, the children around the campfire. That’s the third side. And they talk and they listen. And it goes on for days until some kind of resolution emerges, some kind of relational repair starts to take place. That’s because because it’s the third side that embraces that holds the conflict. And so for me, you’re absolutely right that that things that we think are individual are actually collective. And the whole that surrounds holds everything. The parties are part of it. It’s not that the mediator is just the third party. It’s that the third side includes the parties themselves.
Thomas: Right. And what do you, what’s the conclusion for us, let’s say for every one of us. So we distilled a few principles today. So one principle is being able to put myself into the shoes of others, which is not just thinking what you might think, so that I can be better in my negotiation, but it’s actually me being able to feel you, which includes the thinking. It’s a sensing and thinking, which means it’s a sense making. And often in trauma, our mental capacities and our sensing capacities are kind of split. But in our more wholesome or integrated self, we are like, it’s one function. So putting myself into the shoes of others means that I need space. So I need like an internal balcony in order to make space for you and to put myself in your shoes. Because if I’m tense and reactive, most probably that’s going to be hard. So as you said, I come back to my own self contact. I create space in myself and then I get a feeling of you and they see, okay, where are you coming from?
And then my own capacity to take the perspective of the other person helps me to create the bridge to maybe like a shared intention or a shared win-win that we can develop from that perspective, but that we can develop that when we are in separate, completely separate spaces. And I think we also heard that at the base of most of our conflicts in life is some sort of trauma, being it our own childhood trauma, being it either our ancestral trauma transmission, or being it being part of a collectively traumatized society. Trauma creates, on the one hand, a very reactive, hyper activated state in the nervous system that is very charged with stress. On the other hand, it creates a numb part, a dissociated part that is split off. And the effect of it is that we experience life as fragmented, black or white, you and me, us and them, and so on.
And that fragmentation is part of the way how I experience my life and situations that meet me in that fragmented space. It’s like my window has a crack and I’m seeing the outside world through that crack. And because that crack is pretty disturbing, my brain photoshops that crack and it looks like a regular life, but it’s kind of just made more beautiful and pushed unconscious, but in a way, every time I meet a conflict, I’m being reminded of my own crack. And so as William shared, the capacity to be able to volunteer, because I have to volunteer to do some inner work, or I’m pushed into the corner by my life so strongly that I experience any kind of deeper crisis that I will have to do some inner work in order to resolve it. But signing up as a volunteer to do some inner integration work, to be interested in my inner world, first of all, and to see the benefit of doing that kind of inner trauma. integration and shadow integration work, is key to become more generous as a person, to become more generous as groups and societies, in order to turn scarcity into creativity.
And I think one takeaway is that it needs us to be able to find the relation to the past that we turned away from in order to find a wider future together. So the legacy volunteering to integrate the scarcity and integrate the unintegrated part of life creates a more generous and a more abundant world today. And and I think William shared with us very beautifully how that practice of decades of ripening were also like walking a path of maturation that we see this as a calling is a beautiful trait that not only serves our work and our relationships, but it serves this third side.
And the other part is that we also see that that the notion of being a separate particle versus individuation meaning a specific expression of the whole. And there is still, because trauma creates the notion as if I were separate and and I am kind of a separate person, but nobody is ever separate in the unified biosphere. So we are individuated, and individuation means that I am and a specific expression of the whole. But I’m part of the collective dataflow. And being part of a collective dataflow means being part of a shared intelligence. It’s like cloud computing. If you take multiple supercomputers and you hook them up together into a network of supercomputers, and often the weak link is the data connection. Supercomputers are much stronger than the data connection. And so appropriate relation, the point of relation is increasing our relational capacities, which means bridging separation into interdependence, and interdependence upgrades our capacity of a shared cloud computing network of biocomputers that we call collective intelligence. And I think we see often how the links are broken or hurt, and relation is hurt, and relation means to the past or the future and to the world of today. And and if we heal relation, we actually upgrade our collective intelligence. And one way to see the necessity are conflicts, like one way to see that that’s important is through conflict. And other ways are through, for example, climate change. We see that it’s necessary. And so there’s a few, just a few reflections to get us started here. And we will deepen the conversation. We will also deepen the beauty and the challenges of relating and being part of an interdependent world. And yeah, so we continue the series. Next time, William and I will dive deeper into some more specific areas of conflict resolution that are burning topics of our world today. And so thank you very much. And we’ll hear each other soon again.