Dandelion Effect Podcast - Aimee Ryan: Nonviolent Communication - Andy Vantrease

Dandelion Effect Podcast – Aimee Ryan: Nonviolent Communication

Aimee Ryan is a Lead Facilitator at Ag Innovations, a California-based organization that helps mediate large-scale projects to build healthier farms, communities and ecosystems. Utilizing what she calls her essential trifecta—Nonviolent Communication, Internal Family Systems and Yoga—Aimee specializes in conflict transformation, group process facilitation and collaborative communication.

She’s worked with a broad range of clients, including non-profits, businesses, government agencies, schools, prisons, social and climate justice movements, and intentional communities. Regardless of the setting, Aimee is passionate about creating spaces that hold the complexities of the human experience and make room for “both/and” thinking. Spaces where people of diverse backgrounds and interests, partisan views, and political divides can resolve conflict and strengthen collaboration.

We focus on how the tools from her professional and life training can serve on a intrapersonal, interpersonal and systemic level. She walks us through an interactive exercise using nonviolent communication: the steps of observing, feeling, uncovering the need and making a request. Here’s a hint—it begins with slowing way down to tune into yourself.

We hear how Aimee’s love of collaboration and community building started with her upbringing at the Feathered Pipe Ranch—literally right up the hill from this world-renowned conscious living center in Helena, MT.

From the Hindu, Buddhist and Indigenous traditions that informed most of the offerings at the center, to her trips to India, Nepal, Peru, and beyond with the Ranch family, she recalls taking in a profound sense of responsibility to care for both planet and people. Today, this care continues to inspire Aimee and is pretty much built into her DNA.


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Episode Transcript

Andy Vantrease  00:17
Welcome to The Dandelion Effect podcast a space for organic conversation about the magic of living a connected life. Just like the natural world around us, we are all linked through an intricate web, and never ending ripple that spans across the globe. Here we explore the ideas that our guests carry through the world, remember who and what inspired them along the way, and uncover the seeds that help them blossom into their unique version of this human experience. This podcast is a production of the Feather Pipe Foundation, whose mission is to help people find their direction through access to programs and experiences that support healing, education, community and empowerment.

Andy Vantrease  01:03
Hi, everyone. Welcome back to another episode of The Dandelion Effect podcast. I’m your host, Andy Vantrease. And today I’m talking with someone who has become a dear friend of mine over the past few years and someone I consider to be a soul sister, Aimee Ryan. Aimee is a lead facilitator at Ag Innovations, a California-based organization that helps mediate large scale projects to build healthier farms, communities and ecosystems. Utilizing what she calls her essential trifecta, nonviolent communication, internal family systems and yoga, Aimee specializes in conflict transformation, group process facilitation and collaborative communication. Oh, that is a mouthful, but you will learn what all of that means in today’s conversation. Aimee has worked with a broad range of clients, including nonprofits, businesses, government agencies, schools, prisons, social and climate justice movements, and intentional communities. Regardless of the setting though, Aimee is passionate about creating spaces that hold the complexities of the human experience and make room for both-and thinking, spaces where people of diverse backgrounds and interests, partisan views and political divides can resolve conflict and strengthen collaboration.

Andy Vantrease  02:17
Today, we focus on how the tools from her professional life and training can serve on an intrapersonal, interpersonal and systemic level. She walks us through an interactive exercise using nonviolent communication, the steps of observing, feeling, uncovering the need, and making a request. Here’s a hint. It begins with slowing way down to tune into yourself. We also hear how her love of collaboration and community building started with her upbringing at the Feather Pipe Ranch, literally growing up right up the hill from this world-renowned conscious living center in Helena, Montana. From the Hindu Buddhist and indigenous traditions that informed most of the offerings at the Ranch, to her trips to India, Nepal, Peru and beyond, she recalls taking in a profound sense of responsibility to care for both people and planet. And today, this care continues to inspire Aimee, and you’ll see it’s pretty much built into her DNA. Without further ado, please enjoy this conversation and help me welcome my dear friend and soul sister, Aimee Ryan.

Andy Vantrease  03:21
Aimee, I met you a couple years ago through the Feathered Pipe, and you know, got to be really close with your dad, who has kind of taken me in as as a second daughter, and just your family as a whole. And I always found myself wondering what it would be like to have grown up at the Feathered Pipe. Maybe just tell me some memories that you have of growing up at the Ranch. Just to get a taste of what that would be like as a child here.

Aimee Ryan  03:51
Mmmm, thanks for the question. I think the first thing that comes up for me is deep gratitude as I connect. I have my eyes closed in this moment and connect to the experience of growing up at the Ranch, and really knowing, especially as I’ve gotten older, what a unique and privileged upbringing it was, and what an incredible place it is. It’s one of my favorite places on the planet to this day. Both the physical place but also the, yeah, the place that’s beyond physicality that we can all tap into wherever we are. And some memories actually, the first one that comes to mind when you ask that question is my dad would be down at the Ranch fixing or building things. My mom would be either in the yoga room or hanging out with guests doing her thing. And Sean’s out and about in the world. So I’d call up at the Ranch and ask for what was for lunch. And they’d say, “Oh God,  Aimee, it’s it’s Tuesday.” You know, it’s like, you know what’s for lunches on Tuesday, which would be my favorite Caesar salad and tofu steaks. And I would gather up a little bag or something and I walked there by myself through the woods and, especially as I’ve traveled different parts of the world, like what a sweet opportunity that was to be able to be alone as a young girl walking through the woods. I never even questioned my safety, you know, maybe a mountain lion or bear, I was always told how to, you know, theoretically get out of those situations. But just like what a sense of safety was at the Ranch, and yeah, so I’d meander down there, and then there’d be this incredible buffet of food that I was always instructed to wait until the guests ate first. Sometimes I followed the rules, sometimes not. And yeah, so having this incredible food and then lovely humans that were eager to see me and to welcome me. I think that’s something that all humans, but particularly young people really need. And I feel so grateful to have been, whether it was guests, or, you know, of course, Josh always wanted to throw me in the lake. And you know, there’s always sibling rivalries happening. Whether we were blood related or not, but, you know, for the most part, feeling, yeah, really warmly welcomed and loved up in that space.

Andy Vantrease  06:02
Do you remember when you first took a workshop or first started learning in a formal way?

Aimee Ryan  06:09
Mm hmm. It started of as just little dabbles. My mom would bring me to a class and we’d always be up in the balcony, a Judith Lasater class, or Erich Schiffmann. I remember really vividly. But my first full workshop that I ever did was with Brant Secunda. And I remember so vividly, we would wrap these God’s eyes with what is it called this popsicle sticks and yarn. And in all different kinds of ceremony that I think at the time, I didn’t even fully understand what it meant. But I love the songs and the rattles and making art that was reflective of, you know, divine beauty, that I remember being like, Oh, my gosh, I’m creating something that’s divine and beautiful. Yeah, that was my first real full workshop. I stayed in a tent. And it was very exciting. I didn’t have to wait in line to get the food. I got to just go in line because I was one of the guests. Judith Lasater was definitely the reason why I’d say today got to be involved in nonviolent communication. Her and Ike could host these workshops in the evenings on NVC. And my mom would sometimes bring my dad and sometimes bring me. And so whether it was an evening workshop, or a yoga class, or something like Brant Secunda, and as I, I was often dabbling in many different ways.

Andy Vantrease  07:28
Mm hmm. How old were you? Were you like in your teens at this point?

Aimee Ryan  07:32
With Brant Secunda’s, no, that one was like, I would think was an elementary school.

Andy Vantrease  07:36
Oh, wow.

Aimee Ryan  07:37
Maybe like, fourth grade, something like that.

Andy Vantrease  07:41
Knowing you know, what you do now, and knowing how deeply intentional spaces, and living in community is a part of your being, and as a part of your life, do you have any memory of it seeping in? Sometimes people have those glimpses of like, “Oh, this is this is big, like, this is something.”

Aimee Ryan  08:01
Yeah. Yeah, it’s a great question. It’s both and. You’ll hear me say it a lot. Because I’d say in some ways, it took me leaving, and whether that was leaving to go to summer camp for a few summer. When I was young, I went to a Jewish summer camp back east called Camp Laurelwood, that my mom even went to, and a lot of my aunts and uncles and cousins, so it was really sweet to get that experience. And then you know, going off to college, or even being a part of the social scene in high school in Helena, Montana, You know, those were, it’s sort of the contrast that made me realize, oh, wow, there’s something really special here. And I think I’m probably still at 33, taking in the ways in which my life and who I am and how I think, has been impacted by the Feathered Pipe. I do remember quite vividly the Ranch family. We went to India and Nepal when I was about seven. And so while that wasn’t physically at the Ranch, it was very much a Feather Pipe Ranch experience. And I remember that that was the first time I came into contact with my privilege. And I really woke up to…I can even feel like the tears well, now…how lucky I was, that not all little girls had food or a home. They don’t all have, you know, mothers and fathers who love them care for them, who are looking out for them, nonetheless, like the opportunity to go to another country. And it really, it was so consuming for me when I was there that I think I almost couldn’t fully take it in. But I remember, I remember the faces that I saw as young ones, like, you know, little girls that were my age that were, you know, struggling to get through the day. Anybody who’s been to India, you know like how overwhelming the poverty is. And so that sort of blew my little heart and mind open. I’d say like even moments at encampments, when India would co-host or helped organize these encampments with some Native American communities in Montana. Those sort of woke me up to different cultures. Wow, right here on this land that I, we may be read about in books in school, but to get to be engaged in and in relationality with them, sweet communities, our neighbors. And so yeah, there was some definitely moments, I’d say that the Ranch opened my eyes to the universality of the human experience, as well as how vastly unique we each are that we’re not all the same. But we all have, you know, these unbelievably similar human needs these beating hearts. We need love and shelter, and, and how it expresses is often quite different. Mm hmm.

Andy Vantrease  10:43
Yeah, I can relate to all of that. And I mean, I know as an adult, a lot of times, I’m not thinking about how much kids are picking up on. And they are. I want to shift into nonviolent communication, because the way that you ended that answer was a good segue into this idea of like a needs-based consciousness that nonviolent communication is based off of. And I know, it was such a huge part of your, your work in the world, and the way that you personally navigate the world, stemming from some of those similarities and some of those differences of the human experience and how we express ourselves. All of these things that are so different for us yet, we’re all pretty much wanting the same core things when it comes down to it, no matter where we live, and where we were born. Can you walk through what nonviolent communication is, and the ways that it has helped you personally come to terms with some of those bigger life questions?

Aimee Ryan  11:47
At least for me, at the core of nonviolent communication, and the essence of it, that I continue to come back to day to day is that beneath every action that someone takes is a longing for a human need. And that we all have these, as you mentioned, no matter where we are, where we come from, what we’re born into, that there are these universal human needs that we can all relate to, and that we’re motivated by them. We can know where we are in relation to those needs, or those needs being met for me, or are they not being met for me, of course, on a mental level. But that we have this incredible experience in our bodies, our feelings and our emotions, that let us know moment to moment. And we can really use our bodies. And this is where to me, NVC and yoga are such this incredible partnership for pointing to, you know, the same essential truth, is that we access so much through the body. And if we tune in, through our emotions, through our feelings, we can really get to know, you know, am I longing for more connection in my life? Am I longing for more understanding? You know, I’m, I just got off the phone with somebody and I’m really cranky. Why is that? Like, why are my hands clenched and my jaw a little tight? Oh, it’s because I’m really wanting to be seen for how much I’m trying here, right now. The underlying invitation is to get curious about what it is that’s motivating me. And then the really profound part that it’s had on my life is, it’s how I can start to listen to other people, either whether I’m watching the news and watching world events unfold, or, you know, watching my partner, a best friend, or a parent, or listening to them share a story, I can just start to tune in to oh, what is it that’s important to them, what’s motivating them beneath that story. Or no matter how tragic the expression of the strategy that they might be using, it’s not about condoning the strategy. You know, accountability is still important. And I have a lot more trust when we, when we both hold people accountable with, inspired by compassion, and when we make decisions based from that place.

Andy Vantrease  14:00
You were an NVC trainer for six or seven years, and just recently formally got out of that world to do some other mediation, which we’ll get into, of course. But I want to break this down a little bit more for for myself and for people listening.

Aimee Ryan  14:17
Absolutely. What’s often called OFNR is the sort of cacophonic version of an acronym is so observations, feelings, needs and requests. Those are the bold pillars that we might start to put our attention on. So observations, and the distinction being instead of looking at evaluations or judgments, we might start to notice and pick up on observations. Like what actually happened? What did somebody really say or do? And that’s not to say that evaluations and judgments are wrong or bad. It’s just that we don’t necessarily want to, when we’re noticing, [that] we have evaluations or judgments, we don’t want to stop there. It’s a great thing to notice. I have them all the time. And I don’t know any humans who don’t. But we just don’t want to, first of all unnecessarily believe them, or stop our inquiry process. It’s like, okay, so there’s some evaluations, there’s some judgments. And that can be a lead into what, what has actually been said,  what…And, and the reason that that helps is because in sharing with somebody, or even in sharing with ourselves, that the observation starts to make things really concrete. From there. Based on that observation, what do we notice are the feelings that are coming up? That includes body sensations. And I think that that’s more and more especially as more neuroscience and interpersonal neurobiology in different fields start to tell us, you know, what the yogi’s have known for centuries, is that the body sensations hold incredible amounts of information. And just the mere act of tuning into them can help us regulate. So just letting ourselves know, oh, when I noticed that, I actually feel a little bit of tightening in my jaw. I noticed my heart races a little bit. My stomach is a little clenched. You don’t have to say it out loud, it might be a split second that you notice those things. And the more often you do it, the better you get. And that those moments are moments of emotional self-regulation.

Andy Vantrease  16:18

Aimee Ryan  16:19
And then the beauty of it as we start to co-regulate with others in the space, whether they know it or not. And then once we sort of have this information of like, okay, I’ve noticed that my jaw is tight, and something’s here. And I’m feeling like, what’s the emotion, what’s the texture of this moment. It might be frustration, and it might be awkwardness, or I feel a little bit crunchy and irritable. The more nuanced we get, the more regulated we become, and more information we can start to take in. So they’re pointing us towards these universal human needs. Because I notice I’m cranky and irritable. It’s a sign that I’m not getting something that I really value. That might be connection, might be a sense of being understood or heard, might be acknowledgement. You know, there’s a whole host of them. And there are lots of lists online as we build our vocabulary. You know, it’s like learning a new language. Sometimes it’s like, oh, yeah, what are my needs. And at first, I just, anybody starting to dabble, I really encourage finding those lists. And they come in all different languages and shapes and sizes. And just to help build that vocabulary. And then that last one, the request is okay, now that I have this information about how I’m feeling and what it is I’m needing, what action might I want to take myself? Or what might I invite somebody else into with me, that might make my life more wonderful, or their life more wonderful, or this moment more wonderful in some way. And, you know, request, being different than a demand…You know, there’s these key distinctions in, in nonviolent communication. In that, there’s really a surrender to the possibility of a no, that a no might come back. And within that, there’s actually creative possibility, because that person is letting me know that my request, there’s some part of it that doesn’t meet their needs. And so we get to be in this dance together. Doesn’t have to be a conversation stopper. It’s just, if we allow it, [will] evoke more curiosity of okay, well, then what would work. And so that, you know, that’s a form that some people find really helpful and valuable to rely on. And I say, in trainings and in other spaces, like and throw it out the window, if it’s too wordy, and just start to put your attention on what matters to you, and what matters to others. If there’s nothing else you do. Just start to listen again to your own inner chatter, and the external chatter around you, and be listening, like what are the qualities of life that this person might be longing for moment to moment?

Andy Vantrease  18:52
Would you be willing to walk us through how to do this? Like, could we get experiential with it?

Aimee Ryan  18:58
Yes, I love the invitation. And it’s one thing to talk about something. It’s another just to get a taste of it. So I would love that. You know, now that there’s at least some shared understanding with listeners around the arc. I’d invite folks just to, if you can get a little bit more comfortable, even 5% more comfortable. Take a few breaths. If you’re not driving, you can choose to close your eye. Connect to your breath for a moment. And notice the space around you, and space within you. And bring to mind something that someone said or did that you didn’t enjoy. You know, on a scale of 1 to 10, maybe 10 being like the most challenging, deeply traumatic thing and a 1 being you know, nothing to something like a 4, 5, maybe a 6 something that’s got enough heat. Might be something that you saw on the news or happening in the world. Maybe it’s something that a partner or a parent said to you, or a child. Maybe it’s even something that you said or did, about yourself, or an action that you took that you’re not enjoying. So just take a moment and bring that to mind.

Aimee Ryan  20:22
And to begin, you might just notice the stories behind it. The, this is sort of like the judgments or evaluations. Marshall Rosenberg used to call it the jackal show. There’s some mascots in NVC, the giraffe being the being of NVC language and the jackals sort of nipping more judgmental. So Marshall used to say, enjoy the jackal show for a minute. Just notice what those judgments either about another person, or an event or, or even towards yourself that are coming up.

Aimee Ryan  21:01
And then start to tune in to, as we spoke to before what actually happened. So if there was a video recorder filming that moment. What actually took place? What were the words that were said? And the action that was taken. And you might just, again, notice, with that, any judgments or other evaluations come up, and just keep inviting yourself to get as crystal clear as you can. If there was a tone involved, or a volume involved, just getting clear on that observation. Sometimes you can know if it’s an observation as if you’re, if it’s about another person, that they would, yeah, they would generally agree. Like, yeah, that’s that’s about what happened.

Aimee Ryan  22:07
And then notice, as you watch this replay in your mind’s eye, what body sensations might you be aware of, in this moment, as you sit here in this car, in this room, maybe it is as you’re outside walking. They might not even be body sensations that are directly associated with that. And they might be. So maybe you feel the air on your skin, or the cushion beneath you. And you also might notice sensations in your belly or your chest. Maybe your face, jaw, your hands. Let’s tune in.

Aimee Ryan  22:56
And then start to notice if you can find words that go along with these sensations and even the emotional tone. Do you notice feelings of sadness come up? Or anger? Or frustration? Maybe it’s shock or surprise. And then from that place, as you’ve tuned into your own physical and emotional experience, you might just think about what is it that you were longing for in that moment? Or as you tune into it now? What are you? What’s the quality that’s missing for you in that interaction? Or in that event? Is it like a sense of connection? Being understood? Do you so wish that you could have that experience of acknowledgement maybe, or, or shared reality? Maybe it’s wishing that you could experience love in that moment or kindness? Or maybe even just clarity or compassion? Yeah, bring to mind whatever needs or wishes, wants that come to mind that you have a sense of weren’t a part of that moment that you’d really wished it would have been?

Aimee Ryan  24:36
I noticed for me too, and I get to this place often. There is that, even if I started with anger or frustration, another one, there can be a sneaky grief that comes in as we acknowledge the gap, what is and what we wish to be. Just notice anything in the emotional realm bubbles up now. Doesn’t have to be a linear process. And then finally, imagine what would help make that moment the next time or even this moment now a little bit more wonderful for you. And this might be a request that you make of yourself. Maybe it’s a request you make of another. And often two kinds of requests. One is maybe it’s a request for connection, you just want to know what was going on for that person in that moment. Maybe it’s that you’d really would love if someone could hold space for you while you continue to get clear on what was important to you in that moment, or to be heard about your experience. Checking to see maybe it’s about a request for yourself of next time that happens, you want to ask for a pause. Or let the other person know that you care about them, but you want to come back to the conversation another time. Maybe it’s a request to close the computer, turn off the TV. So you’re not as stimulated next time. Whatever might bubble up, there’s no right or wrong. But just notice, there’s something that you could ask for. The more doable, the more positively it can be framed. So we’re not making requests for people to not do something or you’re not to do something. Harder sometimes to do the nots. Just inviting you to, yeah, what could make this moment or the next time that happens a little more wonderful.

Aimee Ryan  26:51
As we close this experience, might just start to move your body a little bit. Come back to this moment. Open your eyes if your eyes are closed. And I just want to speak to why we might do this practice. It’s an invitation to continue to come back home to ourselves. So a pithy way of saying is connection before correction, before we try to change anything. How can we become both more self connected, but also more self responsible? Once we’re really clear on what we’re longing for, then we can take action in order to get there. Sometimes we’re not even clear what we are wanting before we try to go for strategies to fix the moment. I think the last thing I’d say is to leave listeners is if you do choose to engage with another person, for me, there has been a big practice of waiting for the heart to be really open, almost think of it like a flower. It’s we’re waiting for it to sort of fall open and blossom on its own. We’re not trying to pry it open or think that okay, we should be ready, it’s been five minutes, now I’m ready to engage again. Just to be honest with yourself is, is my heart open enough to engage. And it’s okay, if not. This can mean that we just need a little bit more empathy, this process that we just went through. You might ask a friend to hold space for you just helping you get connected to what’s really important to you. Or for you to hold space to yourself, you can write it down can be a really powerful process. Just to take your time and be gentle with yourself. I have to think of this quote by Pat McCabe who’s an indigenous elder in this country in North America. And she often says, “Any movement towards life is a revolutionary act.” That is what this process is for. It’s just a movement towards that life energy, towards ourselves. And especially in these times, it is a revolutionary act to slow down and self-connect and then take action from that place.

Andy Vantrease  28:56
Wow, thank you, Aimee, for walking us through that I feel just so shifted right now. I’m almost in like, just sitting back in my chair going like, woooph. You know, my example was something that happened this morning where I roommate said something and I felt like I snapped back and then I shut down. And I don’t even know if it would have been considered that from the other end or if that’s how it was received. But I went for a run after and was totally judging myself for the way that I had reacted to that statement. And so I was just working through that in this exercise and going like, man, it was just that it was like a split second thing.

Aimee Ryan  29:36

Andy Vantrease  29:37
And there were so many emotions wrapped up in it.

Aimee Ryan  29:42
Mm hmm.

Andy Vantrease  29:43
And just slowing down and kind of unpacking them. And I feel like I have a lot of experience with the first two steps just from having done self-awareness practices. And that first step of observation is very, very familiar to me. And then the second step of feeling, you know, and really coming back to myself and tuning into the sensory experiences and tuning into what I’m internally feeling and externally feeling that was all familiar. And then when it came to uncovering the need, that was a challenge for me. I mean, I’m going to go like, look up these, these vocabulary lists you talked about, because I was thinking, this was a split second thing, and the way I reacted, you know, was not for me, it didn’t feel great. There’s something happened in my body, felt constricting, or it felt like a contraction. And so I was thinking, “What was the need, there?” Not feeling heard for what I was really trying to say? And recognizing, I didn’t actually say what I meant. And so then I felt annoyed that this other comment came in, and didn’t hear what I said. And then I was thinking, Well, it’s because I didn’t say what I said. So it just really builds on foundation of, of what I am comfortable with, and then takes it to another a deeper level of understanding myself.

Aimee Ryan  31:17
I’m so glad to hear that, and really resonates with my experience. And it’s, as you’re saying, like the, and building upon these other, both ancient and, you know, newer somatic practices and body based practices. And to me, that’s really one of the gifts of nonviolent communication and what Marshall brought to the world, by no means is he the first but he just offered a particular articulation of this needs-based consciousness. And to really tune into the, that life energy that we can put words to that are things that we longed for that all humans longed for…food, shelter, love, and then some of these subtler ones compassion, and to be heard and acknowledgement and understanding things like that.

Andy Vantrease  32:03
Yeah, I mean, that brings up something that I’ve heard you talk about before where it’s like, intrapersonal. You’re self aware. You’re starting to listen to yourself talk and starting to really get into the nitty gritty of like, what, what’s happening with me? Like what, you know, what, what am I saying to myself? What am I thinking? What am I feeling? How is my body reacting to this. That’s all internal, and then bring it one step out of yourself to the interpersonal into your relationships into familial spaces, and community spaces and workplaces. And then bringing this, these concepts to systems. What sticks out in your mind, when you think back on when you were consulting with NVC and the types of transformations that you’ve seen, using these concepts.

Aimee Ryan  32:55
I’ve had the great privilege of working one on one. That’s really, that’s a beautiful space, just to see transformation and people’s own inner-dialogue. You know, we have these parts of ourselves that can be at war with each other, just like on the outer world. And so, definitely supporting the inner-dialogue, and see massive transformations there. And then, you know, families, absolutely, couples, several different intentional communities. So much trauma and drama gets stirred up in our home spaces. A lot of our core wounds get kicked up there. So it’s been a really fascinating thing to bring into intentional communities and eco-village type spaces. Also, I’ve worked with both for profit and nonprofit organizations, companies. And it translates. Of course, you might use different words and frame things a little differently. But if nothing else, just the process of slowing down. That’s often what facilitation and conflict transformation can be about. It’s not the only thing. But that’s been a profound, very simple technology is inviting people to slow down and reflect back. And to this day, I invite others to hold space if I’m in conflict with somebody. Because even though I know these principles inside and out, we need support. And I think if there’s anything that I’ve learned, it’s that asking for support is a sign of resilience. And that we’ve gotten in this culture, this myth about if we go to a therapist, or if we ask for a mediator, you know that something’s wrong. And sure, we might invite those kinds of support into our life when things are challenging. But to me, it’s a sign of great courage to be able to expose yourself and your wounds, and invite somebody into hold space. But it’s such an incredibly potent process. And magic happens in those moments. Yeah, it’s magic.

Andy Vantrease  34:42
Yeah. Right now I’m thinking of so many things that are going on right now. That to me just feel so huge. How does something like this scale up or does it scale up?

Aimee Ryan  34:55
Um, when I was in Israel, I was in the West Bank, actually, for a nine day, what has become an International Intensive Training, which is one of the core offerings of the Center for Nonviolent Communication. But this was before it was an official, IIT, it’s called. There was this nine day gathering of, of NVC trainers who brought together Israelis and Palestinians. And then there was a group of us that were international observers and there to support and yeah, hold space in many ways. There was these Palestinian women who, amongst many other things that were happening in these 90s, wanting to be heard for how dangerous it was for them to be at this gathering and how, yeah, how heartbreaking the the conflict. And they want it to be known for their experience. At that moment, some Israeli fighter jets flew overhead. Really, really low, crazy, like you had to duck your head, it felt like they were just overhead. Loud and circling around and super disruptive. We had to be with this, both the noise and then the, of course, the emotional impact that this has on the space. And after that the noise cleared, and the breaths were had. This woman spoke up and said, “You know, this is a moment of peace in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. We don’t wait for our governments to tell us when it’s peace. Like we decide.” Yeah, I feel teary even saying it. You know, we, we are here gathered with Israelis and Palestinians and an international, you know, group of witness. And we decide that peace is now. Peace is now as we break bread together. You know, peace is now as we hold each other’s tears, and show pictures of each other’s grandchildren. Like, this is what peace looks like. We wait for no one to tell us when it starts. That really stuck with me. That doesn’t mean we don’t work to change systems and institutions. Absolutely. And that we don’t wait for those to tell us that it’s time to celebrate, we made it, because we might never get there. So we celebrate along the way. And we find those moments of change and make them real. Such an act of courage and bravery every time there’s a gathering like that, or people show up or…You know, in this country, my God, you know, when I when I imagine African Americans or other marginalized communities showing up at protests, and to me, it’s such an act of bravery and courage to say like, we want this and we deserve this. And we wait for no one to receive it. And I get a lot of nourishment from seeing, seeing folks like that, who just step into their power and show us, the rest of us what it can look like.

Andy Vantrease  37:33
Aimee, I want to talk about the third essential in your trifecta of navigating the world. It is what’s called internal family systems. And it seems to be a huge part of your work. And it just builds so beautifully on to the foundation of yoga that you grew up with and then NVC. So can you just give an intro on internal family systems and then [I’m] curious to hear ways that it complements these other foundations?

Aimee Ryan  38:05
Yeah, so Internal Family Systems. On one level, it’s an evidence based psychotherapy practice that is getting a lot of traction, which is very exciting. At its core, it’s inviting us to listen to and welcome all parts of ourselves. You know, the founder, Dick Schwartz, he was a family therapist, which looking at you know, family systems and mothers and fathers and siblings and, and how they all fit together and how the conflict in parents as often manifest in a child’s, you know, behavior and different things like that. And he was, he was starting to notice that there was a similar dynamic happening internally with people. And it’s not necessarily mother and father, and those kinds of figures. But there are these parts of us, and that we all have parts of us. You know, there’s a part of me that felt nervous at the beginning of this interview, and there’s a part of me that felt really relaxed and grounded in. And that at the core that, that no part is, like, so bad or so egregious that it’s cast out of the system. That all parts of our internal system are welcome, and have a place, and that they make sense. I’ve been really uplifted just by the language and by this framework that invites us to get to know and listen to and get curious about the parts of ourselves that motivate us to do sometimes things that we are confused about, or don’t, you know, might feel shame about or don’t feel super proud of, and then the parts of us that are really motivated and, you know, are outward in the world and that we want to be known for. And then the really profound part for me is how do we look at the world through that lens? That if all parts are welcome, then, you know what we see happening in this country, the far right and the far left and the extremism that we’re seeing, particularly around White supremacy and, you know, it’s not new, but it’s it’s rearing its head in a particular way at the moment. And how can we start to get curious about what’s underneath there? That they’re a part of this system. And I always hesitate. Because, yeah, I don’t want to conflate being curious and compassionate with lack of accountability. It’s actually one of the principles that I really appreciate coming out of restorative justice. Accountability is actually an act of love. When I hold you accountable to your highest self, and to take responsibility for your actions and to be present to the impact that you’ve had on others, that it’s actually a gift, because it’s only then that you can really come home to yourself and really be welcomed back into sort of the fabric of community. And while I want us to all be curious and compassionate, and really start to investigate what is underneath some of these extreme behaviors, and how do we not cast anybody out. That’s, that’s very different than, yeah, not being accountable.

Andy Vantrease  41:00
So how to hold the individual accountable for the behavior. But really take a look under the hood of what motivated this? What is the need? Where did it come from? And how can we begin to have a conversation to reach out or to build some type of bridge? What’s that looking like for you. I mean, you’re working for, in California for Ag Innovations. And, you know, in that work that you’re doing, you’re bringing people to the table from all different backgrounds, different companies, different opinions, political viewpoints, I’m sure, religious backgrounds. At any given time, it sounds like you have a couple dozen people at the table working on these huge statewide initiatives. Just tell us a little bit about what you’re doing with Ag Innovations. And then we can get into the ways that you are approaching work from a human first standpoint.

Aimee Ryan  42:08
Yeah, so with Ag Innovations, we’re, you know, that, as an organization focus a lot on hosting collaborative spaces and supporting groups to unlock creative potential. I am working on a few different projects, one focusing on groundwater issues in California. And really, there’s a statewide initiative, I suppose you could call it that is inviting localities that are broken up into what’s called sub basins, to decide how they’re going to manage their their groundwater, because we’re, at least in parts of the state, critically over-drafting how much water is actually in the ground. And then another project that I’m starting to launch that I’m really excited about, is working with a few different state agencies to convene a work group that we’ll be looking at, really like, reimagining pest management. And while that might not sound sexy, it’s sort of like, you know, how we use pesticides, or what are other forms of being in right relationship with land, and with people, and with environment, with the communities around agricultural operations, that is really caring for the whole system. And so there’s lots of incredible things out there, agro-ecology and biodiversity initiatives. And there’s, it’s a whole field that I’m so grateful to get to be learning about. And I was really inspired by the talk you had with Allison. And, you know, the slow food movement and supporting both black and indigenous farmers and folks to care for the land. And there’s lots of threads we could go down on. But that project is really dear to my heart. And it’s one that I’m working on from the beginning and, and really bringing stakeholders from a wide array of backgrounds and interests to work for about 18 months. They’ll be putting out a roadmap, really offering other people suggestions, both at the grower and farmer level and at the agency level and beyond. What can folks do to have more sustainable pest management in the state of California?

Aimee Ryan  44:18
And it’s really exciting.

Andy Vantrease  44:19

Aimee Ryan  44:19
Yeah, especially, you know, California as, as the fifth largest economy in the world. What happens in California has impact. And just to, uh, to know that, folks at the state level, sometimes it’s so heartening for me to know that like, yeah, the people in these agencies cared deeply and, you know, want to, want to do right by this precious resource of the planet of ours. Yeah.

Andy Vantrease  44:42
So who is at the table, you know, on those projects? How the heck are you finding a common goal when you’re bringing so many people to the table?

Aimee Ryan  44:52
Yeah, you know, it’s everyone from farmers and growers in California, to big industry, to small farmers, as well as farm worker advocates and farm workers, you know, particularly people of Latino, Latinx descent, and indigenous communities. Folks from pesticide companies there, you know, big chemical companies. And we’ll have state agency representatives. We’ll have folks from environmental justice backgrounds and advocates, and people looking at it from, you know, very scientific point of view and a health a public health point of view. And so, when it’s all said and done, we’ll have about 30 people on this workgroup. And that is the task is to how do we find common ground. And as I mentioned earlier, that there is something about a pace and so sort of slowing down to speed up. And so taking the first few months to really get to know who’s in the room, and what are the interests in the room, getting away from positions and focusing much more on interests. And there’s a methodology that I use called Convergent Facilitation, which, if folks haven’t heard of it, I would highly recommend. It’s, it’s pretty, if you do any kind of facilitation or group work, I really appreciate it. And we’ll be looking at developing this list of, you know, what we might call like a decision making criteria that everybody agrees on, and starting to allow people to come out from behind the roles that they might otherwise inhabit and start to see each other as, as human beings with stories and with, with values that we can all relate to.

Andy Vantrease  46:29
To hear you say how long you’re going to take to really settle in and get to know each other, you know, you and I talk about cycles a lot in our other conversations. And somehow this is just now slipping into this conversation. Really honoring process.

Andy Vantrease  46:48
A lot of times, it’s like, there’s not time,. W have to act fast. I respect that viewpoint. And another part of me goes well, that, it’s just not natural. We’re told that we have to act fast on everything. When is it that we’re allowed to slow down and be more like nature? Especially, you know, now you working on natural resource projects, it’s very interesting. I don’t know if you’re thinking about it in this way. But you’re working on a project to benefit the planet. And what would it look like to build our process around the cycle? Or the process of the planet? Whether or not it’s on the professional level? Or is that in the back of your mind at all?

Aimee Ryan  46:48

Aimee Ryan  47:38
Yeah, absolutely. You know, actually, one of the first things that comes to mind when I hear you say that is, there’s this quote by Bayo Akomolafe. He says, “The times are urgent, let us slow down.”

Andy Vantrease  47:50
Mm hmm. I’ve heard that.

Aimee Ryan  47:51
And, yeah, that really speaks to me. And I see this principle reflected all over. And yes, definitely in nature. And as I think about this project, and I think about the different kinds of processes and things that we might do. You know, hopefully, it’s not just me that there are people in the room who also care deeply about this perspective. Who’s there to speak for the planet to be listening for the “needs” that are there? Like this, to speak to the interests that are more than human, beyond the human realm. Dominic Barter, who developed Restorative Circles, he talks about we as a facilitator, or as a mediator, we’re not impartial, so that we have no partiality or being quote, neutral. But that we’re omni-partial, and that were on everybody’s side. And so as I think about that, as the facilitator, you know, not so much bringing my own agenda, but as you said, having it [in] back of mind is how am I ensuring that we’re uplifting the voices of those that often don’t get heard. And so that includes the natural world, then the more than human world, and also includes marginalized groups, and people who are the outliers, and that we really, we need those outliers. And it’s sometimes the frustrating, you know, person that won’t stop talking or asking questions, or the one that brings really radical ideas, or the the agitator, and the system needs that. And so for myself, it’s, you know, it’s definitely an internal practice to have patience and to trust those outlier voices to bring something essential into the system if we’re willing to listen. Yeah, so that that’s what all I think some of the principles that I’ll be holding while I, I work with with this group.

Andy Vantrease  49:29
What are the ways that you’re doing that as you’re doing this work? I mean, like, how to be there, and be open, and I’m sure be triggered? And then dissipate that and still do your job?

Aimee Ryan  49:45
Yeah. That’s where the practices of things like yoga come in handy. And it put off the mat and out of the facilitation gig circle, that all that work comes in, and whether it’s through meditation. Or for me, there’s a lot of like, one on one listening exchanges that I deal with people in my communities, particularly before I’m going to go into a situation that might be high stakes or intense, like, like some of these meetings will be to get support. At that, I’ll need to get out my judgments in my evaluations, and go through my own process of getting really connected to each person and the preciousness of what they’re bringing, even if I disagree with it, to really trust that they’re bringing something essential. So it’s a lot of my own internal work before I get in the room. And then trusting the process, like really having faith that this world would be a better place if we learn to engage and care for all needs. And that my job is to continually make sure that there’s space that we’re caring for all the needs in the room. I have so much faith in that theory anyways, that I, you know, I want to dedicate my life to seeing what happens when we do that. And, you know, in a really practical level, I often like to feel my feet where my feet, when I feel nervous or flushed, wiggle my toes, and lots of deep breaths. Yeah, if there’s anything I’ve learned from yoga is to be able to find our breath. Leaning in to my own vulnerability, and authenticity and being transparent with that, as much as might serve a group. You know, the group doesn’t need to hold my, you know, we don’t need to do therapy for me and a group. But there’s also a moment where me bringing my own truth, and risking my own significance can really help unlock things. So, you know, at the beginning of this talk, I mentioned I needed a break, and I was, felt a little bit nervous, and lots of things were going through my head. And I just wanted to pause and the mere act of me doing that released so much of my inner tension. And so I noticed that the more I’m willing to do that in spaces, that I say like, oh, I’m feeling a little nervous, I want to take a break. Or I’m noticing this is actually quite intense for me, I don’t know what to do next. I’d love to take a minute of silence. If I’m willing to be the awkward one that wants to be in silence or whatever, wants to share an emotion or something, like, it both lets all the other people and their nervous systems know that you’re welcome. And your human nature is welcome here. And it also quite literally helps to calm me down. And that it’s okay, if it’s a little awkward. Yeah, I lean on that a lot, that principle.

Andy Vantrease  52:26
Yeah, I really appreciate that. And people in all situations can relate to that, whether they’re professionally doing something similar, or even just having a tough conversation with a loved one, and being able to go out on a limb and say, hey, maybe we can just regroup for a second because my heart is beating really fast, or I feel like I just need to take a breath. That’s powerful!

Aimee Ryan  52:51
It is powerful. Yeah, to me, it reminds us that like, oh, right, you’re a human…

Aimee Ryan  52:56
In a body, and it snaps me out of this story that I might be unconsciously starting to create about you. And I get to come back home, both to myself, but also to this moment, and to the other. I’m often the youngest, or one of the younger ones in the room, especially in some of these settings. And to be like a younger woman, it’s much different to bring in some of the woo woo if you’re like, you know, an older white guy with 30 years of experience and loads of respect in the room. I’m already, already a little fringy. I say things like “sensing in.” I’m learning to censor. And lots of feelings. And so how to bring it also in a way that translates, and that I can stay true to me, and know that I have this package also, to work with, which is both a real gift in some ways. Absolutely. And also, in some spaces, lean in to the trust that like this is okay to try. And it’s the risk of significance, it goes way up. It’s been a journey for me to lean into that. And more and more, you know, not to overuse clichés here. But like I’m learning, it’s not in the way. But it very much is the way, that like, I find so much more power and connection, first with myself, but then with a group, when I lean into those moments. And that to me is work, whatever we might call, like the magic or the miracles or the breakthroughs of groups happen is when people are regulated, when right brains are like the creative parts of ourselves are online, when we’re not in fight or flight, when we’re relaxed. It’s like, ah, that one, that’s when I can bring myself.

Aimee Ryan  52:56
In a body.

Andy Vantrease  54:33

Aimee Ryan  54:34
That to me is what creating these spaces and facilitating, whether it’s with the group at the state agencies or, you know, with intentional communities or anything else. It’s like, how do I create spaces where truth can bubble up?

Andy Vantrease  54:47
I think that some of the most impactful facilitators are using the tools, but they’re not talking about the tools. You know, it’s like you’re just, you’re reading reading what is going on with the humans in the room. You’re adept at understanding when to use certain language, when to know that certain language will, like throw up a massive block for somebody, and then you can get through to them. It’s so interesting to hear all of the ways that you have put together this life of experience that you’ve had. And then everything that you’ve learned, and be able to take that to different arenas throughout your life. Each phase leads to the next. If you had missed any one of those things that you did, you wouldn’t be where you are today, who you are today.

Aimee Ryan  55:44
Yeah. It’s so sweet to hear you reflect these moments back to me. And I think, like the humility flags are coming up, I’m like, oh, God, there’s been so many moments where it hasn’t been graceful, or I have like, totally missed the mark, or been like completely rigid or frozen. And that, to me is where like having a community of practice, people around us that are exploring similar things. I’ve been so grateful to have you as part of that. And you know, both people at the Ranch and people in NVC communities and others that, we need that to learn from each other, to dust each other off when we fall. Yeah.

Andy Vantrease  56:22
Well, the last question that I have, you know, started to ask guests is day to day, what gives you your internal flame, your life force, you know, from where you are drawing hope? What does that look like for you?

Aimee Ryan  56:40
What a beautiful question. I just want to take it in and connect to something real. Where am I drawing hope from these days? It’s from the people who are willing to take off their masks and be bold. You know, I’m thinking of like Amanda Gorman, who just delivered that beautiful poem at the inauguration. And, and just like the unspoken heroes, I’m thinking of some folks in my community, who are just, in their, like, silent and humble ways really stretching to show up for a loved one or their own community. And people are out there willing to risk their own embarrassment, you know, like risk, what it means to receive judgment or to not get it right, and to just like, try things, because we believe so deeply. And it’s just to the little bit more room for the rest of us to mess up. As I sit here, and I love the question, like what brings me hope and the lineage of teachers, big and small, that I stand on their shoulders, and both, you know, literal grandmothers and mothers and teachers, but think I’m just in this moment reflecting on teachers in my life, and feeling really grateful and humbled by the brilliant minds. You know, one of my teachers from my nonviolent communication world, often said this, “Life is a remix.” Yeah, sure, those new ideas that we’re all sort of re mixing the truth that’s out there. And whether it’s a song or a poem, or, you know, a facilitation gig or a one liner, like so much of what I’ve shared today, if not all of it has come to me through other brilliant hearts and minds. And yeah, I’m just feeling really grateful both for this platform to share and to be reflected back gifts by you. And then also just feeling, yeah, warm fuzzies those who came before me.

Andy Vantrease  58:49
Aimee Ryan, what an intimate conversation filtering through our inner worlds together, recognizing how important it is to tune in and learn about our own feelings and needs before making any steps to fix or change other people, or on a larger scale, fix or change systems. It truly starts with self. And honestly, no matter how many times I hear that, it’s always a necessary reminder to turn inward, rather than point fingers outward. It felt so good to me to slow down while Aimee walked us through the nonviolent communication exercise. And that’s something I’m going to be practicing more regularly. Whether I can remember to do it in the moment or after the event like we did today, both feel like a wonderful tool for getting clear and what I want and need and then learning how to make those requests that brings me towards life. The quote that she shared from Native American elder Pat McCabe was so poignant. “Any movement towards life is a revolutionary act.” So I’m thinking about that as I walk away. I hope you’re thinking about what does it mean for you to move towards life right now, today.

Andy Vantrease  1:00:01
To learn more about NVC, grab a copy of Marshall Rosenberg’s book Nonviolent Communication: A Language for Life. For information on Aimee’s work with Ag Innovations, visit aginnovations.org.

A special thank you to Matthew Marsolek and the Drum Brothers, whose music you hear at the beginning and end of this podcast, as well as Dr. Jean Shinoda Bolen, who first turned us on to the phenomenon of the Dandelion Effect and how ideas move through the world.

This podcast is a production of the Feathered Pipe Foundation, a 501c3 dedicated to healing, education, community and empowerment. If you’d like to help support this project, please visit FeatheredPipe.com/gratitude or leave a review on Apple podcasts and share with your friends. Be sure to tune in to our next episode in two weeks. We cannot wait to share another amazing conversation with you. Until then, have a beautiful day.

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