Asking for a volunteer to do the Connection Practice with me onstage at a workshop can sometimes be tricky. I never know what the issue or celebration will be. And sometimes the challenges seem unsurmountable.

Take, for example, an 87-year-old who came forward in a workshop last month.

Mary shared:

"I have been friends with a man named Joe for 22 years.  Neither of us wanted a romantic relationship.  Now he is in Assisted Living and he depends on me for everything. I take him shopping, to the movies and whatever else he needs.  Now he has dementia and I have to remind him several times of our plans.  This is a lot to handle but I don’t mind doing it. What bothers me is that, in 22 years, he’s never said 'Thank you.'"

The participants, with Feelings and Needs Lists in hand, guessed what Mary was feeling while my assistant wrote the words on a flip chart. Then I asked Mary to identify the three feelings resonating the strongest for her. She pointed to “hurt,” “resentful” and “frustrated.”

Then the participants used their lists to guess her needs as they were written on the flip chart.  The guesses that landed for Mary included “communication,” “connection,” “love” and “appreciation.”

Then Mary said, “You know, I realize it’s not really appreciation, it's love – just love exchanged between friends.”

Can you see it? This woman wants love from a man who hasn’t expressed it in 22 years and now has dementia.

I asked Mary to take a seat and we would all move into heart-brain coherence. I instructed everyone to reach coherence and then radiate it to Mary. Her job was to move into coherence and then ask herself, “What do I need to know?”

Mary put her hand on heart, closed her eyes and moved into coherence. Before long, she opened her eyes and said, “My daughter was telling me about something called eye-gazing, where you look into someone’s eyes for a long time. I think Joe would be willing to do that with me and, if we did, I think I could feel the love.”

The audience made a collective gasp of awe. And I got to witness how powerful it is when we get those charged up feelings and needs out of the way, then join together in coherence and intention for one person to find an answer.

The Connection Practice is powerful individually and is even more powerful when we come together to do it. With this power, we can be the change we want to see in the world. Now that we know how – let’s do it, dear ones, let’s do it.

My newest book, Completely Connected: Uniting Our Empathy and Insight for Extraordinary Results, has been sent to the printer at last!  It will be launched on March 29; if you can, come to a launch party that day – email us at info@rasurinternational.org for details.

Although I’ve never had a baby, writing this book must surely be similar to that experience – the mother is full of love for the baby coming forth, yet is stressed by the labor pains.  Having birthed this book, I’m pleased that it gathers into one place everything we have learned over the last decade about how the Connection Practice changes lives – including how to heal pain from the past when we perceived that a core need wasn’t met.

When we perceived a need wasn’t met, we often formed a belief that it would never be met. Driven by this belief, we continue perceiving this core need is not met in many situations in our lives. Or we may believe that we can only meet that need with a particular strategy that may actually be painful to ourselves and others. But we no longer have to be held hostage to the past.

Trauma from being parented is a factor in the formation of core needs for many of us. One of our graduates, Cat, shares how she is able to transform those needs now:

I’m using the Connection Practice when I run up against pesky, painful memories, the ones that continually pop up. Now I go "back in time" and change how I felt when it happened.

When I was in second grade, I was struggling to learn to read. My dad decided he'd help me. He invited me to sit on his lap and read to him. I was so thrilled. My dad never let me sit on his lap or held me in anyway and this felt wonderful. I began reading and soon he slapped me on the leg, shook the book at me and screamed, "There’s no ‘have’ in that sentence. Why are you saying ‘have’ - do you see it" and on it went. I cried; he put me down and he never held me on his lap or tried to help me again.

As a little kid, I couldn't conceive of the demons that haunted my dad and, even today, I'm only guessing. He was deeply wounded and his anger was often out of control. By using the Connection Practice, I’ve changed the focus of that incident from my hurt to empathy for his hurt and pain. My insight was that, in the end, it wasn't about me. It was about his inability to help me, or himself, in a constructive way.

My point is that the Connection Practice can change what might be called a "negative defining moment" to an "enlightened moment.”

Inner healings like these are precious turning points. We can stop being held hostage to the past and live fully once again, once we know how.


The holiday season is in full swing and, despite what the commercials and Christmas specials portray, there’s a good chance of negative family dynamics getting stirred up this time of year. Perhaps you’re thinking:

There is a different way to respond. Take, for example, this story:

Trainers took the feelings and needs cards to a local fair one weekend and laid them out on tables in our tent. Then as people came by, we invited them to describe a recent situation that was stimulating negative feelings. The person was instructed to pick up the feelings cards that resonated for them and put them in the blank space in the middle of the table.  The trainer would then choose needs cards to guess what was going on for the person and put those in the middle as well.  The individual was asked to identify their three most important needs and the trainer reflected this information back in an empathy statement. For example, “When your mother said she didn’t want you to date Marcos, it seems you felt angry and resentful because you need respect, understanding and autonomy.  Is that right?”

The boyfriend of one trainer watched this process all day long, but didn’t participate.  After he went home, he received a phone call from his cousin, who habitually bent his ear with her dramas.  Rather than listening with his usual feeling of resentment, this time he was curious about what was really going on and tried guessing her feelings and needs. Voila! The conversation shifted; she gained new awareness and he learned to connect rather than tolerate.

Empathy is not niceness. It’s not just agreeing with or listening to someone. It’s also not fixing them, or comforting them, or reasoning with them.

Empathy is that connection that makes someone feel like their experiences and emotions are heard and understood. And one of the most effective and efficient ways to do this is guessing their feelings and needs.  (Click here for a list of feelings and needs.)

The next time your brother picks a fight, or your mom says something negative, or your aunt brings up what happened when she was 20, try asking them if they were feeling _____ because they value (or need) ____________. Even if you guess wrong, the empathy will land, the charge will be taken out of the emotion and it may well shift the conversation.

Perhaps you can start a new holiday tradition for your family by giving each other empathy.  It will bring a warm glow to your hearts that will last well beyond December 25.

P.S. December 31 is the last date you can make 2014 tax-deductible donations to your favorite change-making organizations. We need and appreciate your donations. Please donate today.

Return to Rita Marie's Corner

Last Monday, a 21-year-old man in northern California called the police to tell them that he was going to kill himself. He wanted them to come get his body so that his parents would not be the ones to find it. After he hung up the phone, he shot himself.

The family saw no signs that something was wrong. He and his mom worked together so they saw each other every day. He had spent the weekend going to the movies and hanging out with friends. He left no note.

It leaves his parents to wonder why.

And it makes me wonder: If he had known some way to turn inside and find a different way to handle his challenges, would his parents still have their only child?

I don’t claim that the Connection Practice is a cure-all. But if this young man had the following tools, would it have made a difference?

We’ll never know of course. My belief, which drives me in everything I do, is that these tools would have helped. It’s why I’m so dedicated to teaching connection to everyone I can reach.

Suicide is the third leading cause of death in 15 to 24 year olds. Let’s keep focused on our commitment to teach young people how to connect, inside and out, and drive this statistic down.
Return to Rita Marie's Corner

The principal of Oakley Elementary, Penny Peacock, wrote a letter in June 2012 to sum up her experience with implementing the Connection Practice:

“As a principal, I am always searching for new programs that will help our students be the best that they can be emotionally, socially and academically. I opened a new Title 1 school [a school with a large low-income student population that receives government funds] last fall, with students from four schools coming together. They all came with their own set of needs, all of which were a mystery to us. My priority was to develop a foundation that would allow for trusting relationships among students, teachers and administrators.  A successful foundation would launch new possibilities of academic success, friendship and safety, and the hope for the American Dream.

…We started with hope, but we ended with a sense of awe and gratitude. Through the Connection Practice, teachers and students of all age levels learned how to reduce barriers and gain insight, which empowered them to bridge the gaps and make social, emotional and academic connections within our building and to the outside world. The program provided the tools, but the awe factor was in watching the students begin to own it and use it in their own lives.”

The Connection Practice builds character in students as they learn to overcome challenges and take responsibility for their actions. Through connecting, there is a better chance that students will admit negative behavior was harmful, learn from it, and want to make amends. Consequently, it’s more effective than harsh punishment.

The Silent Epidemic - Perspectives of High School Dropouts, a study conducted for the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, concluded that lack of connection within the school environment is one of the primary reasons that students drop out. When students use the Connection Process Game every day, they feel heard and experience a heightened sense of belonging that is the best antidote to that modern day problem.

To see Oakley Elementary’s experience happen in more schools, support our work by becoming a member or making a one-time or recurring donation.

Return to Rita Marie's Corner

We’ve been teaching the Connection Practice to school teachers, parents and children since 2004; my heart’s desire is to see it offered in classrooms throughout the world.

To make that possible, we’ve attempted to measure the impact of the Connection Practice.  How do you measure subtle shifts into positive emotions and clear thinking that results in better choices? How do you measure the full impact of preventing an irrational choice?We found it easy to collect anecdotal evidence, but we also went about collecting the best quantitative evidence we could with our limited resources.

In 2004, the first Connection Practice program was implemented at the Elías Jiménez Castro School in Costa Rica. At the end of the year, ninety-four percent of the teachers reported an improvement in the quality of their communication with the students.  By 2005, we had recruited a graduate student from the University for Peace and a doctoral program student from the University of Barcelona in Spain to evaluate the program at the same school.

We were elated at their year-end conclusions, shown in the table below, which compares the results from teacher surveys issued at the beginning and the end of the year.  These are the questions that were answered by twenty-nine teachers in the second year of the program:

1. I feel peaceful.

2. I manage my anger internally rather than acting it out.

3. I resolve conflicts creatively.

4. I identify my feelings during conflicts.

5. I express my feelings during conflicts.

6. I can identify my own needs.

7. I identify my needs during conflicts.

8. I express my needs during conflicts.

9. I make requests to get my needs met.

10. I can identify the feelings of others.

11. I help others identify their feelings.

12. I can identify the needs of others.

13. I help others identify their needs.

14. I help others to make requests to meet their needs.

15. I use nonviolent methods in my classroom.

16. I use nonviolent methods at home.

Each choice was given a value as indicated below. All values for each of the 16 questions were added to give each question a total worth.

1 2 3 4 5
Never Rarely Sometimes Frequently Always


Then these numbers were graphed. Seeing that the teachers had improved markedly in every skill was thrilling.

Teacher Improvement Graph

In 2006, upon the request of our project donor, we left our first school in order to focus on one in a troubled neighborhood. One of our volunteers was doubtful about whether the Connection Practice would continue to have an impact after we left the Elías Jiménez Castro School. On her own initiative, she conducted teacher interviews there a year later. She was pleasantly surprised at her findings. The lasting benefits the teachers experienced in school were:

The lasting benefits teachers experienced in their personal lives were:

Outside evaluators continued to assess our Costa Rican program each year. One study showed that misconduct reports were cut almost in half. Another study indicated that relationships among teachers and with the principal improved significantly.

Our goal is to provide a scholarship for any willing teacher or parent who needs this support in order to learn the practice. A portion of the profits from our business courses help us create and sustain these programs.

Return to Rita Marie's Corner

Welcome to our new website and to my first blog. Let’s begin by addressing one of the most distressing issues of our time – bullying.

When I consider the challenges of bullying in our schools and at the workplace, a memory from my childhood comes to mind. My father and I are walking together on our Missouri farm at twilight, ambling along on the parallel tracks made by the tractor wheels. As we come up
bullyingto the creek where the tracks disappear, Dad asks me, “What’s the best way to have confidence in life?” I tell him, “I don’t really know.” After all, I’m only ten. He says, “I don’t know either but I sure wish I did. I never feel comfortable with people.” I feel the anguish of Dad’s loneliness and our hearts merge in sadness. The mystery of that unanswered question hangs heavily in the air as we fall into silent step together.

Years later, when my father is age 87, we are eating lunch at Luby’s Cafeteria in Arlington, TX. “Dad, what events in your life had the most impact?” I ask. He puts down his fork, his eyes downcast, as if he’s quietly listening to a voice of the past. I can see he’s challenged by the question and I wait.

“In my early years, my parents created a loving family. That made a big difference. But I was bullied from the fourth grade on and I never told anyone.”

“What?” I’m incredulous. “I never knew that. You must have been so scared and lonely. Tell me about it.”

As he tells me, I now understand why my father, who has such natural dignity, struggled to have the confidence to fulfill his life purpose. It’s no wonder he was seeking advice from a ten-year-old. Bullying stole his confidence. The Connection Practice that I teach now could have prevented that or resolved it peacefully.

Bullying is one of the many symptoms that shows up when we’re unconsciously crying out for connection. Threat Assessment in Schools, a well-researched guide by the US Secret Service and Department of Education, calls connection the “critical emotional glue” and “a central component of a culture of safety and respect.” If we want to continue evolving into a kinder world, we must have the emotional safety that connection brings us. Otherwise, we often make choices, like bullying, that propel us in the opposite direction.

Instead of making bullies wrong, it’s possible to melt their hearts by helping them connect to themselves and others. Jose was a sixth grader who attended one of our Connection Practice courses. When he first arrived, he was punching the other boys; it was hard to get his attention. Then he had a chance, like all the kids, to play an emWave® software game, a fun way to learn heart-brain coherence through biofeedback. Research shows that achieving coherence between our hearts and brains results in better impulse control, increases our ability to be empathetic and gives us greater access to insights. I noticed that Jose stopped punching other kids after his turn on the emWave.

I joined Jose’s group in the last exercise of the day. I asked him whether he’d had any conflicts recently. He said he’d failed an exam and then had dragged a girl across the playground by her hair. I began guessing his feelings around this event. I asked if he was feeling angry because he’d failed the exam and he nodded. As we dug deeper, I found out he’d failed many exams and I guessed he felt some hopelessness over that. “Yes, that’s right,” he said. I guessed that he was lonely, “Yes, sometimes I am,” he affirmed and his face visibly softened.

Then we explored the needs underneath those feelings - needs for learning, achievement, and connection. When I touched upon the need for belonging, a big tear slid down his cheek. The empathy had opened his heart. Then I guided him back into the coherence he had learned about earlier. With his eyes closed, I encouraged him to ask himself what he needed to know about his conflict and just listen inside. When he opened his eyes, I asked him, “What did you hear?” He said, “Now I can find my feelings and needs so I don’t have to hurt anybody.” He had melted. Now he had a new skill that would help him make better choices in the future and his teacher, who had already been trained, would reinforce it.

In Costa Rica, over 1,500 teachers in 45 schools have been trained in the Connection Practice. Besides the 40,000 students those teachers have impacted, almost 4,000 students have received training from Connection Practice staff members.

Bullying doesn’t just happen at school. One day I was preparing to meet with a business associate who tended to blame and belittle me. I decided to use the full power of the Connection Practice before meeting with him. I identified my feelings and needs: I was nervous and uncertain because I value respect, trust and progress. Then I guessed that he felt worried and stressed because he needed security, understanding and to matter.

I moved into heart-brain coherence and an insight came in a flash: Less is more. I considered how to minimize my words and simplify my request. In the meeting, I listened respectfully and subtly responded by guessing his feelings and his needs as he told me all that was going on in his organization.

When I stated my request, this time he didn’t try to discredit me. Instead, my request was met with cooperation and I felt an authentic, warm connection between us as we said goodbye. Because he’d been heard at a deep level, he stopped his bullying behaviors and we were able to move forward.

When we have achieved the skill of connecting with ourselves and others, we can manage our emotions successfully and access our best intelligence. It takes practice, but now we have a methodology that is backed by science and the confirmation of our own experience.

I was baffled in how to help Dad when I was ten but was able to come through for him in his eighties. He learned to embrace his feelings and needs, rather than suppressing them, and found that he could achieve heart-brain coherence as a way to think at his very best. We lived together and our relationship deepened through this new way of processing whatever was coming at us in life.

Dad became an advocate of the Connection Practice and would start conversations about it with strangers.  In an e-mail to his grandchildren, he wrote, “This skill is better than a college education.  I have hope that your lives will be successful and happy.  This skill can do it for you!”

In 2011, Dad attended a conference to launch Connection Practice trainers and he got to know them better. We ended the event with an appreciation walk; each person took a turn walking down the middle of two lines of trainers, as they whispered words of appreciation in that person’s ears. My white-haired father, Carl Johnson, participated with the rest of us, reaching into each person’s heart with his words.

When it was his turn to walk down the line, each trainer spoke softly to him at length, while the others stood by with tears rolling down their cheeks. When they finished, the group gathered into a tight circle, arm in arm, and spontaneously rocked back and forth, deeply connecting with Dad. This was the greatest victory in his life: he had overcome his lack of confidence and was finally at home in connecting with others.

Each week, I will cover topics like this one in my blog.  I’ll share what I’m learning about connection and also examples that others have shared with me.  I hope you will join me.

To know more about the Connection Practice, write to info@rasurinternational.org.

Create more connection in the world! Support RFI’s mission by making a donation of $15 per month or more.

Return to Rita Marie's Corner

The Connection Practice envisions a world where generational pain is transformed into generational peace.

Our Supporters and Partners

Top heartusershopping-carttwitterfacebookgroupenvelopelinkedinyoutubeinstagramenvelopephonemap-marker