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  • Roma Kessaram

Embracing the Energetic Dynamics of Conflict: An Exploration of Integrated Mediation Models

Updated: Apr 6



I am indebted to the thoroughness of the research and leads provided in Goldberg, R., and Blancke, B., "Wisdom and Conflict Resolution: A Possible Framework for Integrated Practice", 13 Cardozo J. of Conflict Resolution (2012), 437. It has been inspiring to note that there is some good discourse around expanding the conflict resolution paradigm in a way that furthers our wholeness. This blog/article should be viewed as a work in progress, which attempts to continue the discussion opened by Goldberg and Blancke. I welcome feedback: romakessaram@gmail.com

Introduction

As a volunteer mediator at the Institute for Mediation and Conflict Resolution in the Bronx, NY, I was adept at the transformative style of mediation generally practiced in that Center. Transformative mediation like other styles developed since its articulation by Bush and Folger in The Promise of Mediation spoke to my inner desire to help parties fully recognize each others interests, needs and humanity as well as a desire to support their personal empowerment processes. In fact, it never ceased to amaze me how little one needed to guide the process from a purely intellectual space, and what deep effects, attentive listening, timely mirroring of sentiment, and skillfully employed intuition could have on positively reorienting the parties.

In the transformative mediation school, one refrains from judging success by the fact of an agreement at the end of a mediation. The process, if properly conducted is thought to hold its own party-agency enhancing potential which is an end goal in itself. Yet there were some mediations where, even though relevant communication and negotiation skills may have been acquired by the parties and emotional wounds were somewhat tended to, the parties remained far from resolution, where resolution would have been a desired outcome, in addition to simply having the opportunity to vent and be heard.

This article attempts to make a connection between two closely related, but as yet not intersecting fields, of dispute resolution (specifically mediation) and energy psychology with a view to exploring a potential tool to diffuse intense emotions in the mediation room and allow the parties to more readily engage with each other from their highest selves. The intent is to continue the discussion advanced by Rachel Goldberg and Brian Blancke of cultivating a more effective, whole person approach to conflict resolution.

To start, I note that there is already much ongoing thinking about the energetic dynamics of conflict and I summarize some of the writing in this regard. Next, drawing in part from Goldberg and Blancke's article, I examine the existing precedent for integrated mediation and negotiation models, adding a few more important points of reference. Further, I propose that energy psychology in the form of meridian tapping is a useful additional tool to diffuse on a somatic level, negative emotional energies of individual participants in mediation. It may also provide an opportunity for parties to heal from underlying trauma which may be directly or indirectly driving the conflict or contributing to an unhelpful conflict pattern. As such, the incorporation of energy psychology into mediation paradigms which already have the goals of developing party self-awareness, personal growth and healing is a logical, and worthy endeavor with the promise of helping to overcome intractable conflict.

The Energetic Dynamics of Conflict

Interestingly, my mediation training was subsequent to my first Vipassana meditation retreat and coincided with some energy healing work that I was undergoing for food sensitivities. In those mediations where I was party to a positive shift in perspective occurring between the parties, I was also attuned to an energetic change in the room and in the dynamics of their interaction. Indeed, these moments are known to anyone who has been part of a conflict that has resolved well and are very familiar to seasoned mediators. In his article entitled: "The Energy of Conflict and Conflict Resolution: More Than a Metaphor", October 2013, http://www.cehd.umn.edu/ssw/rjp/PDFs/Energy.pdf (accessed May 2016), Ted Lewis notes:

I have often heard mediators talk about emotional energies in terms of being blocked or released. And any mediator or facilitator who has done multiple cases has experienced on occasion that magic pivot-point during a meeting when the mood shifts from tension and mistrust to relief and greater trust. Sometimes you can even identify a statement that activated this transfer of emotional energy: it may have been a sincere apology by one party, or perhaps an empathetic acknowledgement of what the other party has experienced. As I have witnessed these shift-points over the years, I can say that I have felt, literally, the profoundness of these moments in my heart. There is a stirring, and then there is a relaxing. It is as if the human heart was a source of energy activity, the hub of where negative or positive energies were both stored and released. Little wonder, then, that moments of expressed apology or forgiveness between people, those heightened moments of energy transference, are spoken of as coming “from the heart."

In a more recent article Lewis expands on his ideas related to the energetic dynamics of conflict, noting that the resolution of conflict can also be viewed as "essentially a 'dissolution' of negative forces...[and] a good and successful resolution process is one where negative energies have been sufficiently dissolved and dissipated so that they do not resurface later and stimulate future problems." (Lewis, T., "The Energy of Conflict and Conflict Resolution: More than a Metaphor" (Part 2), April, 2016, http://www.cehd.umn.edu/ssw/rjp/PDFs/EnergyofConflictArticlePart2.pdf, last accessed June 2016).

Other practitioners have also understood the energetic dynamics of a conflict. In their article, "The Energy of Conflict: An Emerging Paradigm (www.mediate.com/mobile/article.cfm?id=1398, October, 2003, last accessed June 2016), Deborah Isenhour and Marilyn Shannon note their belief that "the energy brought into the room by the mediator and by all participants has a great influence on the outcome." They offer the Source Mediation™ model which aims to raise the awareness of parties in a conflict to what they call the three ways that energy manifests: "individual energy: through emotions with an emphasis on relationships, through actions with an emphasis on results and through creativity where the emphasis is on vision." It also aims to help mediators understand the importance of their energy in maintaining neutrality. They are careful to note that their method does not supplant existing models of mediation but rather acts as a supportive overlay to those models.

Further explanations of Source Mediation are not immediately available on the internet and perhaps an answer is provided in the literature, but the question that appears to persist is how one might release blocked energies that are not already shifting towards release in the course of a mediation? How do we give the parties in seemingly intractable mediations, the best chance of creating the profound "from the heart" moments of which Ted Lewis writes. While, as mentioned above, the theory underpinning a number of mediation styles, does not place a huge premium on settlement or resolution, for those cases where the parties voice a genuine motivation to find a resolution, can the tools of energy psychology possibly be helpful in facilitating these moments? But first, let's examine the precedent for multi-dimensional or integrated mediator and mediation practices.

Precedent for Integrated/Multi-dimensional Mediation Practices in the Western Paradigm

(i) The Dispute Resolution Practices of Louise Diamond and Kenneth Cloke

In their insightful article entitled "Wisdom and Conflict Resolution: A Possible Framework for Integrated Practice", 13 Cardozo J. of Conflict Resolution (2012), 437, Rachel Goldberg and Brian Blancke (downloadable here) make the case for a whole person approach to mediation which involves not just our intellectual and emotional selves but our spiritual and somatic selves. They convincingly argue that there is precedent for, and value in, the practitioner/mediator engaging with his/her spiritual understanding in a way that respects and facilitates party self-determination and honors the totality of human experience. Citing examples from the work of Louise Diamond and Kenneth Cloke, the authors note that:

Both have developed an awareness of what their emotions and body can teach them about the situations they are in, and have learned how to use somatic and emotional intelligence to hold and bring peace into conflict. Diamond moved into liminal, transformative space, to open her situation to love. Cloke elicited profound insights and movement from negotiators just by allowing them to tell him what their physical location said about the conflict they were in. By working to move parties to a more profound, emotional place, he was able to elicit from them criteria that moved the negotiation to a different level. Both create processes that support and prioritize party self-determination. Both practitioners believe that the core of their effectiveness is their spirit, and that is what allows them to create space for extraordinary shifts. (Ibid., 463).

The authors note that Cloke describes his method partly through referencing the energetic dynamics of conflict: " 'The challenge...is to move into places in a conflict that trap the most energy, which means touching the deepest, most potentially explosive parts of the conflict. However, those places are also the source of the deepest transformation.'" To avoid triggering an explosion Cloke notes that one must: " 'Show up with as much sensitivity to [the parties] as you can possibly muster, with as much freedom as you can muster to move where they want to move but are afraid to, even if it's counter intuitive...the only way to do it right is to feel your way into it.' " He recommends fine-tuning one's intuition to be able to feel correctly into situations. (Ibid., 462.)

(ii) Mindfulness in Negotiation and Mediation

Leonard Riskin and Rachel Wohl have been long-time proponents of incorporating mindfulness practices and teachings into negotiation and mediation and into the legal profession more generally. I do not intend a full history and explanation of mindfulness here. The articles discussed below by Riskin and Riskin and Wohl, provide that background and help us understand the value of mindfulness and mindfulness practices in negotiation and mediation.

In the Annual Saltman Lecture “Further Beyond Reason: Emotions, The Core Concerns, and Mindfulness in Negotiation”, 10 Nev. Law Journal, 289, (2010), (downloadable here) Riskin notes that often negotiators will learn very helpful conflict resolution tools such as collaborative systems of negotiation like the Core Concerns System but will forget to employ the systems in the heat of the moment. (The Core Concerns Framework is an indirect method for dealing with negative emotions by focusing on appreciation, affiliation, autonomy, status and role which can engender positive emotions. The system is detailed in Fisher R., and Shapiro, D., Beyond Reason: Using Emotions as You Negotiate, (Penguin Books, 2006). Riskin notes that, what he later refers to as the Six Obstacles, can often get in the way of employing the Core Concerns Framework (or any mediation style that aims to foster a more interest-based, understanding oriented view of the conflict). These obstacles are: automatic, habitual ways of thinking, feeling and behaving, sensitivity to emotions, insufficient social skills and inadequate focus (or a distracted wandering mind). (Riskin, supra, 304). Mindful awareness, Riskin notes, has the potential to reduce these obstacles. In over 15 meticulously researched and cited pages, he address the positive effect of mindful awareness on each of the obstacles, detailing the available research and usefully applying relevant aspects of Buddhist teaching to explain the positive effects of the development of what some psychologists refer to as “meta-cognition”. Indeed, anyone who has been engaged in mindfulness meditation or daily practices can attest to the greater levels of awareness of one’s emotions, bodily sensations and thoughts that these practices can foster. In short, that awareness helps us control our reactions to external stimuli, often to great positive effect.

Riskin also notes how the practice of the Core Concerns Framework can reinforce mindfulness practices in a virtuous circle. However, even Riskin stresses that cultivating mindful awareness is not easy and requires diligent practice. Even with such diligent practice, there is no guarantee that in the moment of heightened emotions, one will be able to rest in a more expansive awareness. Recognizing this, in their jointly written article, “Mindfulness in Conflict: Taking STOCK”, 20 Harv. Negot. L. Rev., 121 (2015) (downloadable here), Riskin and Wohl propose three “tools of awareness”, collectively known as SSITS which can aid in the deployment of a more mindful approach in the heat of conflict. All three tools essentially involve pausing to take a breath and observe one’s thoughts, body sensations and emotions before proceeding. In the third tool, the element of setting a clear and simple intent before proceeding is added. By developing easy to remember acronyms and deconstructing into easy steps the important elements of mindful awareness, the authors hope that negotiators will more readily be able to trigger their meta-cognitive mind, not enter a spiral of conflict escalation that negative emotions sometimes trigger, and more positively to engage frameworks like the Core Concerns Framework to engender positive emotion.

In addition to developing mindfulness tools for negotiators, Riskin and Wohl teach a class at Pepperdine Law School which uses the STOCK tool (the last of the SSITS), to help lawyers, judges and mediators be of more effective service and gain more fulfillment out of their professional lives. Riskin’s article, “The Contemplative Lawyer: On the Potential Contribution of Mindfulness Meditation to Law Students, Lawyers and Their Clients”, 7 Harv. Negot. L. Rev., 1 (2002), (downloadable here) was a major contribution to a more self-aware and collaborative orientation of practitioners in the dispute resolution field.

(iii) Integrated Mediation Practices Intrinsic to Indigenous Traditions

Goldberg and Blancke illustrate their call for a spiritual and whole person approach to dispute resolution by detailing the Hawaiian practice of Ho’oponopono wherein the mediator is as much recognized as a healer, as a dispute resolution expert and is usually well-known within the parties’ community and to the parties themselves. Ho’oponopono, like other indigenous healing rituals, aims at restoring the individual and the community to a state of harmony. The focus is not just on the dispute itself but restoring all of the relationships involved. Citing the work of Pukui, Haertig and Lee, "Ho’oponopono" in Nana I ke Kuma 61 (The Queen Lili’uokalani Chindren’s Center Series 1971), Goldberg and Blancke note that the process of Ho’oponopono involves

pule, or opening prayer, a statement of the problem and ‘self-scrutiny and discussion of individual conduct, attitudes and emotions, absolute truthfulness and sincerity…honest confession to the gods (or God) and to each other of wrong-doing, grievances, grudges and resentments’ and kukulu kumuhana, where the problem is identified and the strength of the group is brought together for a shared purpose, until all aspects of the matter have been revealed. Then the parties engage in some form of restitution, mutual forgiveness and closing prayer. (Goldberg and Blanke, supra, p. 453)

They note that in Ho’oponopono the parties create a liminal space supporting change by entering the process with the intention and resolve to right wrongs and speak honestly and authentically. The spiritual framing within which the process takes place is “essential for supporting parties and the intervener to enter the work with honesty, sincerity and a transformative resolve”. Moreover, the work needs to be done in a sacred context since the overt aim of the process is to:

'discover the Divinity within oneself. The Ho’oponopono is a profound gift that allows one to develop a working relationship with the Divinity within and learn to ask that in each moment, our errors in thought, word, deed or action be cleansed. The process is essentially about freedom from the past…Connect with the Divinity within on a moment-to-moment basis…[and] ask that that moment and all it contains, be cleansed. Only the Divinity can erase or correct memories and thoughtforms.'

(Goldberg and Blancke, supra, 455 citing the words of Morrnah Simeona, a traditional kahuna in Deborah King, Beyond Traditional Means: Ho’oponopono, the New Times, April 1989.)

Finally, Goldberg and Blanke note that Ho’oponopono attempts to help situate the conflict within a broader context and time continuum and asks them what kind of person they want to be and why they want to be that person (Ibid., 456). The kahuna then, and throughout the process, explicitly encourages a self-reflective, honest communication by the parties and also engages in this process herself.

The broad point that Goldberg and Blancke make through reference to Ho'opononpono is that there are models of dispute resolution in which multiple intelligences including a spiritual intelligence are incorporated explicitly into the mediation model and it is through the engagement of these multiple intelligences that personal and relationship transformation has more of a chance of taking root and extending beyond the time limits of the mediation itself. Their call to invoke these multiple intelligences, in support of a multi-dimensional approach to conflict resolution, while of course respecting party self-determination, is a laudable one and hopefully their work will continue to inform and shape the Western alternative dispute resolution paradigm.

(iv) Modern Day Shaman-Mediators

The Ho’oponopono model seems a long way from the Western model of mediation and dispute resolution with its insistence on a secular and analytical approach. While of course there are examples (and mindfulness meditation and daily practices, are perhaps one case in point) of different cultural practices being assimilated into Western societies, it may be a while before such an explicitly spiritual and relational approach to dispute resolution has widespread currency in the West.

There are some encouraging signs however, of indigenous practices explicitly informing and being incorporated into, the Western mediation model. Elizabeth Clemants is a mediator, social worker, conflict resolution trainer and modern day shaman in New York City who has recently started to speak explicitly to her blending of her work as a shaman and her work as a mediator. She notes that although she kept these aspects of her professional life separate for many years at some point she realized that “the [shamanic healing work] was the same as the mediation work.” (Podcast at: http://www.stitcher.com/podcast/conflict-engagement-specialists/e/35169797?autoplay=true, at 7:00, last accessed June 2016). As someone who actually sees personal energy fields, she can see when these energies are negatively activated and knows immediately that a particular issue is significant (even if downplayed by the party) and is holding negative energetic charge. Through her shamanic and mediation training she is able to facilitate insights and can observe the subsequent transmutation of that energy.

She notes that shamanism holds that you can see everything o