Beginning Anew: Practical Tips for Communication and Conflict Resolution

This article is written in honor of Thich Naht Hanh, a Zen Buddhist master who left his body on January 21st, 2022. Thich Naht Hanh was nominated by Martin Luther King, Jr. for a Nobel Peace Prize for his extensive reconciliation and peace work internationally in his home country of Vietnam during the Vietnam War.

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Living in community isn’t always easy, and yet healthy relationships are a cornerstone to our wellbeing.

When someone says something to us that we don’t like, or does something we see as hurtful, there is an internal experience known as “tying a knot.”

You may feel this as an energetic or emotional knot held in your gut or chest, and a rising uncomfortable negative emotion that comes up when you see that person. If we allow that knot to tighten and get buried, it poisons us over time—slowly draining us of our happiness and our positive energy and eventually leading to dis-ease.

“Beginning Anew” is a time-tested and effective method that was shared with the world by Zen monks to help us untie these knots. The beginning anew process is usually facilitated as a gathering where people communicate compassionately, listen deeply, share openly, and cultivate deeper mutual understanding.

Knots are most often tied when there is lack of understanding. Cultivating mutual understanding requires mindfulness and awareness; and therefore beginning anew is a process that opens the heart and expands the mind. You will know when you have successfully begun anew when you can open your mind, heart, and mouth and say or share anything without fear. 

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This article will summarize the process of beginning anew, and give you some tools to take your first steps. Beginning Anew is a delicate process that requires plenty of patience and extensive preparation. A lot more education and training is required to effectively practice it. At the end of this article we will provide more resources to support you on this journey.

A Beginning Anew meeting usually has a trained facilitator, who will hold space and uphold the guidelines of uninterrupted compassionate communication and deep listening. Breath awareness and mindfulness are keystones to the practice. There are four steps to beginning anew, but some meetings just focus on one or two of them.

BEGINNING ANEW STEPS

Expressing Gratitude (“flower watering”)

We are each in the process of blossoming into a beautiful flower, our full potential. The flower symbolizes the positivity and joy that we share with the world. Flowers bloom to their full potential when they are recognized and nurtured. Flower Watering is an opportunity to tell someone, or the group as a whole, something very specific that you enjoy or appreciate about them.

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Areas of Growth (“offering regrets”)

When we acknowledge the ways in which we can improve, we are given more space to grow. Offering regrets is an opportunity to take accountability in acknowledging times you could have been more mindful/skillful in thought, word or deed.

This may come in the forms of recognizing that you may have caused harm to another person or the group, offering any regrets, asking for forgiveness, and/or resolving to work on the issue.

Turning the Compost (“sharing suffering”)

Like a rotting pile of food waste, our suffering can weigh us down when we let it stagnate by not expressing it or understanding it. Like a well-tended compost pile, our suffering can be transformed into learning, growth and nourishment to our highest potential when we see it for what it is and can let go of our attachments. 

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Sharing suffering gives us the opportunity to share with the group what troubles your life at the moment. What feels like a heavy burden and you just want others to know? We should not ask questions or play therapist. We will just listen and acknowledge. It is like tea ceremony sharing in that there is no verbal interaction. Just deep listening.

  • Stay on the subject.
  • Don’t drag up the past. Stick with how you feel about it right now.

Untying Knots (“exploring difficulties”)

Do you have a difficulty, problem, or conflict with someone in the room? This is an opportunity to address that person directly with the support of the group to seek some resolution, or at least some open airing.

The practice leaders may offer helpful suggestions as needed for their process. On occasion, another member present may have something to offer the process of the two persons exploring, but it is important that the involved persons remain the focus. Advice is seldom helpful. No person other than those directly involved should speak without recognition of the leader(s) of the ceremony.

  • Be direct. Not running on endlessly or wandering about.
  • Admit that you are a contributor to any conflict situation.
  • Don’t lay blame. Problem solve.
  • Don’t try to win. Make your objective understanding and finding workable solutions.
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  • Make “I” statements. (I feel…, I am…), rather than “third party” statements.
  • Avoid the phrase, “yes, but…”, and synonyms.
  • Avoid the phrase, “if only…,” and synonyms
  • Use the phrase, “I won’t”, instead of “I can’t”.
  • Don’t assume. 
  • Don’t speak for others. Especially don’t tell them how they feel.
  • Don’t make threats. You can state consequences. Know the difference.

Remember your biggest support is in being present, mindful, listening, and not judging or reacting; not so much in offering active suggestions though at times that is a part. In order to begin anew with someone else, you have to begin anew with yourself first. Here is an activity you can do in order to start the process.

HOW TO BEGIN ANEW WITH YOURSELF

Sit down with a pen and paper. Put a vase of flowers in front of you. Smell the flowers and take 3 deep, mindful breaths before beginning this activity.

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Watering Your Flower

  • What are some positive qualities or actions that you did that you appreciate about yourself or your personality?
    • Examples to focus on: positive soul qualities like kindness, compassion, selfless service. Uplifting things you do for others or your own personal growth. Small things like smiling when you see someone. Passive traits like respecting people’s boundaries or never committing acts of violence. 
  • How do you contribute to others’ happiness and wellbeing
  • How do you take care of yourself in times of stress?
  1. Expressing Regret
  • What is something you said, did, or thought that you regret?
    • This can be something you did towards someone else, or a time that you didn’t communicate something skillfully.
    • You can’t regret something someone else does.
    • It can also be something you didn’t do – i.e “I regret not telling my friend sooner that he hurt my feelings”
  • Have you told another person that you regret this deed? Why or why not? How could you have communicated it more skillfully?
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  1. Exploring Difficulties / Expressing Hurt
  • What are you currently stressing about or what difficult experiences and emotions weigh on your conscience?
    • This can be something that someone else did or said to you, or a difficult internal experience.
  1. Asking for support or more information /  Making requests, resolves or agreements
  • What resources do you need to resolve these difficult experiences? What information would you like to ask of others or yourself?
  • How would you like to treat yourself or others (What inner resolves do you have in future actions?)
  • What requests do you have of others related to exploring these difficulties (how would you like to be treated)? 

Since this article serves as a beginner’s jumping-off point, here are more resources to take your journey deeper and guide you towards healthy communication and conflict resolution. Enjoy!


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