EXPLORER 36 - Oren Jay Sofer




Our guest today is Oren Jay Sofer a Buddhist meditation, mindfulness, and non-violent communication teacher, and author. In this episode, we talk about his journey with meditation and mindfulness, how can we communicate to create deeper understanding and connection, and the three steps to have better and more meaningful relationships.

Oren’s Journey

“The more we understand the causes and conditions that lead to our suffering, the less we suffer because we don't inflict it on ourselves and others.”

Oren grew up in the northeast of the United States, in a middle-class, Jewish family with a lot of emphasis on education, social values and justice. In his late teens, he went through a hard time, like many young adults, trying to find his way, taking drugs and being unsure of his place in life. 

Oren had an opportunity to study abroad and went to India to study Buddhism for 6 months. He fell in love with the practice, and it changed the course of his life. He devoted himself to Buddhism and spent the next 10 years of his life studying, practicing, and even living as a renunciate in the tradition of Ajahn Chah. After a few years, Oren discovered that being engaged in the world, doing projects, being creative and relational, his place was in the world and not as a renunciate.  

He was subsequently asked to take the teacher training by his teachers at the Insight Meditation Society. 

Before he had ordained, Oren lived at the Insight Medidation Society in Massachusets, worked there as a cook and did some personal healing work while practicing the Dharma. During this time, he noticed that the practice on the cushion was less accessible when he had conflicts and it was difficult to bring the practice from the cushion into interactions with other people. It waas then, that he met Dr. Marshall Rosenberg, the founder of Non-Violent Communication, and started taking trainings in Non-Violent Communication. 

Non-Violent Communication

“Once we start to understand what the deeper needs are, the possibility of more empathy and compassion arises”

Nonviolent communication became a part of Oren’s journey, as it helped him to translate the values of the meditation practice directly into his conversations and relationships. He learned to understand how our thoughts interface with our perceptions and how to be clear with our own feelings and needs and experiences and how to communicate those in a way that makes it easier for others to hear us, as well as how to listen to understand without being reactive. 

Nonviolent communication is a way of understanding oneself, and relating to others in the world. It is not a communication technique as in speaking, but a way of understanding others. The central principle of nonviolent communication is the fact that part of what it is to be human is to seek a certain kind of fulfillment; like a plant will turn towards the light, the human heart and mind and consciousness will try to seek fulfillment of universal needs. 

We have basic needs, relational needs, and higher needs. It is important to understand the difference between a strategy and a need because most conflicts happen at the level of our strategies. Once we understand and learn to communicate our deeper needs, we can also understand others more, and shift our relationships.

The Three Steps To Have Deeper Conversations And Understanding

“Remember that presence and intention are the foundations that need to be in place first. It's not about what you say, it's about where you're coming from.”

  1. Lead with presence: Develop your internal resources by being present and aware of your heart and body, and just show up. Presence is our natural state.

  2. Come from curiosity and care: This step is about your intentions. Intentions are the motivation behind our actions, so we are invited to cultivate the primary intention to understand. 

  3. Train your attention: As human beings, we have the capacity to choose where we place our attention, but if we don´t train this mechanism, our attention gets easily dragged around by all sorts of distractions (thoughts, sensations, mobile devices). We can train our attention to consciously choose where we put our attention: 

    Marshall Rosenberg identified 4 key components to pay attention to for better understanding and communication: 

    1. Our observations: what actually has happened, what is the objective data (without added judgments and interpretations) 

    2. Our emotions in the present moment: what am I actually feeling rather than the story we are telling ourselves

    3. Our needs that arise: I feel like this because of my need X in the moment

    4. Being able to make a clear request: a suggestion or proposal for how to move things forward 

Oren’s advice is to not get hung up on the form. You don’t have to follow this model step by step, experiment with what works for you.

Palma’s Reflection On Intention

This week, we invite you to look at your intention when you enter a conversation. Whenever you enter a conversation, check what is your intention and if your intention is to be there to understand. 

The other theme, we invite you to reflect on is the notion of needs and to look beyond what it is that you want and to see what it is that you really need.

You can try this meditation from Oren that will guide you to sense and explore your needs.  

About Our Guest, Oren Jay Sofer

Oren Jay Sofer teaches Buddhist meditation, mindfulness and Nonviolent Communication nationally. A member of the Spirit Rock Teachers Council,  he holds a degree in Comparative Religion from Columbia University, is a Certified Trainer of Nonviolent Communication and a Somatic Experiencing Practitioner for the healing of trauma. Oren is the author of Say What You Mean: A Mindful Approach to Nonviolent Communication and co-author of Teaching Mindfulness to Empower Adolescents. He is co-founder of Mindful Healthcare and the founder of Next Step Dharma, an innovative online program that helps meditators integrate their retreat experiences into daily life. Find him on Twitter, Instagram, or Facebook, or check out his newsletter.

A special thanks to Oren Jay Sofer for taking the time to share his inspiring story with us.


Resources Mentioned In The Show:

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