by Rod Windle and Suzanne Warren
From the Training Manual: Collaborative Problem Solving and Dispute Resolution in Special Education.

Section 3:



Being in the flow; being centered
Training for a flowing and centered response






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The key to successful problem solving starts within our own minds. Our mental attitude involves more than just "thinking" about a conflict or a problem. It involves an awareness of our emotions, our level of tension, and a commitment to being in the best possible frame of mind to approach the situation.

In this section we will work with what an optimum frame of mind might feel like and provide some exercises which can empower us to more readily enter into the best possible mental state for solving problems.


Being in the Flow; Being Centered

Aikido teacher Tom Crum describes this best possible frame of mind as being in the "flow". Others have described this state as being "centered".

We can think of a balanced state of mind as "centered". Why "centered"? Visualize a potter's wheel. The potter has a lump of clay and a spinning disk on which he hopes to create a beautiful pot. If he manipulates the clay from anywhere but dead center on the wheel, however, his "pot" will ultimately fly out of control, sending wet clay everywhere. It is only from the place of "center" that we can begin to create.

In a flowing and centered response, we are emotionally as well as intellectually involved in whatever is going on. We know what we are feeling and we are able to sense what the others are feeling, also. We are not controlled by our emotions or by the emotions of others. We may feel anger, or exhilaration, and we just notice that we are feeling these things, while we continue on with our process. If it is appropriate and helpful to express a feeling, we do. If it is not, we do not. We are sensitive to the timing of things and to the needs of others as they arise. We become masters of ourselves and of the situation.

We understand clearly our own interests and we seek to just as clearly understand the interests of others. We look for commonalties and openings which allow us to craft solutions which are acceptable to all parties. We are not driven by anger, by fear of conflict or fear of loss, or by greed.


Training For a Flowing and Centered Response

A flowing and centered response to conflict is something that some of us naturally do better than others, but it is something that all of us can learn. Over the past 30 years the habits and methods of effective conflict resolvers have been studied, and the results are available to those of us who seek to extend our skills. We have a clear understanding of the skills needed to expand our competence beyond an automatic "fight", "flight", or "acquiesce" type of response.

The tools and techniques which follow come from many diverse cultures and have sprung from the disciplines of the martial arts, national and international negotiations, and mediation theory and practice. There is a remarkable underlying similarity in the core approach from these different disciplines. It appears that many of the most useful practices of conflict resolution are not culture bound; as with a smile, they are universal.




"The prime quality of earth is balance. The prime quality of fire is focus, pointedness, and acuity. The prime quality of water is adaptability. As a person, you have the qualities: balance, focus, and adaptability.

You excel or lack in one of these areas in any particular situation. When you are in a high stress situation and act appropriately, then you are balanced, focused, and adaptable. These are the qualities of centeredness."

--Terry Dobson


The first step in creating a flowing and centered state within us is to notice where we are right now. This means to pay attention to our thoughts, our posture, our muscle tension, our breathing, our emotions and our overall mood. Noticing where we are is the first step in getting where we want to be.

"When all is said and done, the final and ultimate application of a martial artists' art is the application of his art to himself. Clearly, understanding and resolving the conflict, however small, that goes on within his mind is the purest application of his art.

--Walter Muryasz



Here are some descriptors which indicate a person who is maximally ready to deal with conflict or stress; a person who is ready to give a flowing, centered response to conflict:

A feeling of relaxed power and supple responsiveness

A sense of seeing everything but being controlled by nothing

A sense of inner calmness; a slowing of thoughts and associations; an ability to focus clearly on both the big picture and the details

A balanced and receptive physical posture

A reduced or eliminated startle reflex

An adaptable and open mind which says "yes" more readily than "no"

The ability to recover rapidly when one does "lose it"

When we can be balanced in this way, we can allow all of another person's emotions to register clearly in our awareness but then to pass through without leaving any residue or trace to contaminate our own response. We are able to give a clear and compassionate response to anger, hostility, fear, grief, or rage. Our minds are cleared from opinions and prejudices and we are able to sense subtle timings and generate new possibilities.

It's important to realize that this description of a "flowing, centered" state refers to a way of being in the world that is accomplished by all of us in varying degrees throughout the day; it is not an all-or-nothing state of mind. Our ability to enter and remain in this balanced state can be enhanced, empowered and improved through conscious training. When we have this foundation, it becomes much easier to successfully apply the skills of communication, negotiation and problem solving which will follow in this manual.



Misogi breathing for relaxation and stress reduction is a Japanese breathing method that has been used for centuries.

1. Sit or stand with the back straight. Loosen the shoulders, arms, torso and legs, allowing weight to drop "underside". Allow your entire body to be still, yet full of energy...relaxed but not limp.

2. Focus awareness on the area at the very center of your body, a few inches below the navel.

3. Begin with an outbreath through the mouth, allowing all air to naturally empty, then gently lean forwards a few degrees to expel remaining air. Return to erect posture.

4. Begin with an inbreath through the nose: breathe in the "energy" of the universe and allow it to travel up the nose to the top of the head, then down the spine to the base of the spine, and then into the center of your body and from there to every cell in the body.

5. Continue with outbreath through the mouth, following the reverse path: visualize gathering waste, negativity, and weakness from each cell, collecting it in the center of your body, and allowing it to flow up the spine, to the top of the head, and out the mouth. Lean forward very gently at the end of each outbreath to expel remaining air.

6. Allow your breathing to naturally slow down as the cycle progresses. A cycle can last from 3 to 20 minutes, or longer.




One day, a physician was in his office, writing out reports after seeing patients all day. Suddenly, without warning, an irate man burst into the office, stormed past the receptionist (who made valiant attempts to stop him), strode directly into the doctor's inner office, and slammed the door behind him. The shaken receptionist could hear the man yelling, screaming, and pounding his fist on something. This seemed to go on for a very long time. Finally, the man opened the door and came out, slammed it loudly, and ignored the receptionist as he plowed out into the street.

All was quiet. It took quite some time for the receptionist's heart to stop pounding in her chest. There was no noise from the doctor's inner office. She was, naturally, very concerned about how the doctor must be feeling.

After a few minutes, she thought she heard a noise from behind the doctor's sounded like someone was whistling a happy tune! She opened the door and peeked in, and was greeted with the sight of the doctor peacefully working on his records and, indeed, humming a happy tune. His face was serene and his manner, relaxed.

"I was so worried about you", she said, "That man was just ripping you up one side and down the other!".

"Yes, he certainly did" replied the doctor. "But you know, itís very difficult to be upset by a spongehead!".


Steps in the Spongehead Technique:

Listen carefully to the content of the attack against you.

Do not respond verbally to the points that are made. Try not to be defensive, just listen.

As you are listening, be brutally honest with yourself. What parts of what the other is saying have shreds of truth to them, no matter how distorted?

Mentally, sincerely thank the other for pointing those out to you, and giving you the opportunity to improve yourself. When you have completed this step, you will have "separated out" the truth in what was said.

The rest of the other's diatribe is obviously not true, and the arguments that are made are full of holes. Visualize the other's head as a giant, blue-green sponge. From the holes, the inaccurate, misleading and untrue statements pour out, as water from a leaky jug. The other now looks absurd, and, far from being threatening, it may be all you can do to keep from breaking out in laughter. It is, truly, very difficult to get upset with a spongehead!



Sometimes, the smallest changes we make can have the largest effects. One example of this comes from what we can do with our eyes. How we look at someone, or at a group of people, can completely change how we respond.

"Do not look at your opponent's sword, or you will be slain by his sword. Do not look into his eyes, or you will be drawn into his eyes. Do not look at him, or your spirit will be distracted."

--Morihei Uyeshiba, founder of Aikido

We can think of how we use our eyes as being either "hard" or "soft". Hard eyes are when we focus intently on any one thing or point, as when we look at the tip of someone's nose or strain to read the writing on a far away street sign. There is a certain tension, a narrowing of vision. Peripheral vision becomes lost. We may become caught up in whatever it is we are looking at. Sometimes, hard eyes can be very useful, as when we are putting a complex model together or trying to get a splinter out of our child's finger.


Soft eyes happen when we relax the muscles around our eyes and let ourselves see with our peripheral vision as well as with our central, focused vision. We see the individual in front of us, but we also see the people to either side, the clock above his head, the lights on the ceiling and the pattern on the floor. We take in everything and are distracted by nothing. Seeing in this way sends an entirely different set of signals to the brain from seeing with hard eyes. As our eyes see more, somehow our brains become more open to the diversity of possibilities that always surround us. Soft eyes also tend to have a calming effect on the people around us, and often on ourselves as well.



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