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The Radical Aliveness of Miki Kashtan

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“All alone, I made my own decisions” (p. 64) writes Miki Kashtan, co-founder of Bay Area Nonviolent Communication, in her vulnerable work, Spinning Threads of Radical Aliveness: Transcending the Legacy of Separation in Our Individual Lives. I am reviewing Miki’s second recent book, which is part autobiographical self-analysis and part philosophical treatise with a flavor of a revolutionary pamphlet passed out in great earnest.

For full disclosure, I know and adore this person. And she has had a noteworthy influence on me throughout my adulthood.

She sometimes speaks of the tantrum that ensues when one grasps for independence as an “autonomy fit”, and I have playfully retorted with an accusation of “interdependence fit.” We get each other.

And like her role model Marie Curie, Miki lives with scientific rigor and sustained effort for the world she wants. Don’t worry; she writes about self-care as well.

She has faced the aloneness of which she speaks with great courage, and this book documents a personal account of attachment and disappointment as a toddler in Israel, including vulnerable journals from her mother (when Miki was a baby) about the experiences of caring for a newborn. Miki reacts to these journals as she reviews theories of psychotherapy, sociology, and nonviolence.

She writes that “Empathy… can only be attained initially in relationships where it is expressed by others” (p. 119), as she describes mechanisms of how people come to mutually recognize each other. A later section, “Crisis, Empathy, and Community”, reads like a modern day version of correspondence between peace and civil rights leaders of the 1960s.

An experience of difference met with relational aggression led up to a social experiment of living as a chameleon amongst age-mates while fourteen for two months. She pulled off the social ease, engaging in conversations that were not meaningful to her. However able, she never again chose to change her color.

Miki is eloquent and cutting as she challenges us on how to say “yes” authentically (p. 306, requiring an understanding of saying “no” as well). A friend once told me that one person can’t slap awareness into another, but since I met Miki in 2006, I’d say her thinking has been one of the most likely slaps to reach me. I have had the privilege of attending many trainings and retreats with her, and her long-gathered wisdom is well-delivered in this text.

Her book is best contemplated alongside the Rolling Stones in the background exhorting “I can’t get no satisfaction” on repeat until complete. Next, you work to pursue a “satisfying level of self-connection” (p. 367) and perhaps, broader connection, and perhaps, peace.

I feel compelled, maybe from what some call pathological avoidance of anything that seems like a demand, to acknowledge that she offers 17 core commitments (including “Risking my Significance” and “Generosity”) as one strategy to live Gandhi’s principles and to help encourage the consciousness she describes in her book. I see this as a request and trust that was her intent.

Part of the gift of her search and her vulnerability, both in self-analysis and social analysis, is that we can trust that she only challenges the reader in ways that she has faced herself. She alludes to some lofty goals like “psychic liberation” in the same text as she describes simple, daily practices. You can also read more at her boldly named website, The Fearless Heart.

The reading is not easy, but satisfying. 416 pages total.

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