Is Conflict the Road to Peace?
A reflection on Henry Yampolsky’s new book ‘DisSolving Conflict from Within’
It is Monday morning, I am late for work, I am speeding when an idiot in his car in front of me who obviously doesn’t know how to drive slows me down. My heart starts pumping harder, my chest tight, my fists squeezing the steering wheel, and I am about to hit the accelerator to push this idiot off the road.
That was nearly twenty years ago and no, I didn’t follow through with the overwhelming urge to do something I would have regretted forever. Instead, I stopped myself, realising that I couldn’t change the fact that I was late, and that the driver in front of me had nothing to do with the pulsing anger in my veins. Within that moment of insight, I relaxed, and started to take responsibility for my actions.
2022, I witness a war between two educated countries, as if we hadn’t learned anything. Despite having solid education systems, knowledge about the terrors of war and the destroying power of bombs — a conflict has escalated. But the Ukrainian war is not the only dispute in the world right now. According to the Global Conflict Tracker there are indeed 27 more conflicts.
But this number is miniscule in comparison to billions of conflicts happening in the world at any given minute. There are mass lay-offs in companies like Facebook and twitter leaving thousands of people with no job on the lead up to Christmas. There are oppositions in politics, economy, religion, and related to climate change and global warming. There are competing views about the latest pandemic and the way it has been handled by the ones in charge. There are disagreements between companies, communities and in courts. And there are conflicts between staff and their managers, among friends, in families, between kids and parents, spouses, and there are people who experience the pull and push of conflicts within themselves.
Most of us suffer from all the conflicts that are happening around us, to us and also because of us. The initial approach is to either fight the other party or withdraw from the issue to avoid the uncomfortable emotions arising within us. When we fight for ourselves, casualties on both sides are the likely consequence. When we withdraw on the other hand, the casualty is only on our side, giving up a little more of what is important to us.
“Peace is not the absence of conflict, but the ability to cope with it.” Mahatma Gandhi
As Mahatma Gandhi once said, “Peace is not the absence of conflict, but the ability to cope with it.” We may have to learn to cope with conflict in a way that allows us to stand up for what we believe without utilising an automatic fight or flight response.
In my own quest to find inner peace and freedom, I recently stumbled over the book ‘Dis-Solving Conflict from Within: an Inner Path for Conflict Transformation’ by Henry Yampolsky. After reading the book, I reached out to Henry who jumped on a call with me to chat about his experiences of conflict resolution and his unique 4-step process to help individuals to better cope with conflicts.
Henry Yampolsky emigrated with his parents from the Ukraine to the US in the early nineties. As a trial lawyer he found law had more to do with winning or losing a case than with a fair outcome for both parties. A motorcycle journey across the Himalayas gave him insights about conflict, connection and dialogue. He became a mediator with a strong focus on peace building and conflict resolution which is now the focus of his career.
In addition to the afore mentioned 4 step-process, Henry writes about his personal journey, shares insights and tips of how to reach a more peaceful life. Through a number of case studies, he demonstrates the importance of a mediator who helps to uncover the underlying needs that fuel a conflict.
He reports on resolutions of real life conflicts between former partners, soon to be housemates and among groups of students who have started to fight with each other after a single event had reignited a conflict that had lingered deep in their psyche through generations.
Henry describes how the mediation process works and how an escalation of a conflict could have been prevented by facing the conflict head on. This means working through the different points of views, the emotions that the particular situation evokes and by entering into respectful dialogue.
On our call, Henry and I touch on some of the stories presented in his book, the Cherry-Blossom Experiment and how underlying needs can inform our interests which may have us fight for some subconscious beliefs that we have long outlived.
The second time Henry and I meet on Zoom, he leads me through his 4-step conflict resolution process from within for me to experience it for myself.
The process of ‘DisSolving Conflict from Within’
Researchers Amy Heath, Heather Mashuga, and Ann Arens suggest in their paper on the Effects of a Conscious Breathing Intervention on Emotion and Energy Flow  that “… conscious breathing leads to an increased feeling of grounding and connection, increased confidence, and increased intuition and spiritual growth. Conscious breathing helps facilitate emotional surfacing, and in some cases emotional release.” It isn’t therefore surprising that breathing plays a major role in the 4-step process of dissolving conflict from within. In fact, connective breathing forms not only the foundation, but is an integral part between the following four steps.
- Step 1 — Set aside the trigger
- Step 2 — Spot the story
- Step 3 — State the facts
- Step 4 — Relax into the discomfort
As Henry leads me through the process, I am starting to feel more relaxed even though I am thinking about an unpleasant conflict situation. Could that be all that is required to feel more peaceful? Just a few rounds of connected breathing and these four steps?
In his TED talk What a Himalayan adventure taught me about connection and dialogue, Henry talks about a motorcycle journey over the highest motorable passes in the world. An adventure that had him facing the elements of high mountains, the impact of high altitudes, the threads of unpaved roads along steep drops and the personal conflict battling with moving forward or giving up. Henry didn’t give up and learned that all that is needed for conflict resolution are four things: “…turning inward, observing without evaluating, expanding and exploring”. And these four things “ … can transform even the most difficult interactions into opportunities for growth, connections and dialogue.”
I myself have been on an adventure in the Himalayas sitting in ice cold busses that were passing trucks on unpaved roads with steep drops and tight bends. The hours were long and there were moments when all I had was focusing on my breath to ensure my imagination was prevented from colouring the horror scenarios that kept popping up in my mind. In some of these moments, I remembered that Monday morning in my BMW and I realised that I had chosen to sit in that freezing bus meandering those rocky roads on the top of the world.
Everything takes practice, and I guess it is much easier to relax into discomfort when there is little option for an escape. Nevertheless, running away from a conflict is hardly a solution. It comes at a cost as Mihaela Barbuta says in her LinkedIn article Why do we run away from conflict?: “A huge amount of energy can go into conflict avoidance, affecting one’s health, self-esteem or the overall feeling of identity — the conflict doesn’t go away, it is just internalized.”
Peace starts within each of us
A good friend of mine who had spent a year on the ice in the Antarctic once told me about his experience. He observed how about twenty people weren’t able to live in harmony and peace with each other in a confined space during the antarctic winter. He concluded that if twenty people couldn’t live in peace with each other we can’t expect a world of eight billion people to live with each other in peace either.
My own reflection on this goes as far as saying, that the world will long for peace as long as there are people experiencing inner conflicts. I am a strong believer that what we belief inside is reflected outside in our experiences of the external world. Relationships and the conflicts arising within them are the most important guide when it comes to uncover outdated beliefs, deeply buried unmet needs, and root causes of automatic reactions that has us want to hit the accelerator to push off the slow car in front of us.
Facing a conflict head on would probably be the most efficient way to resolve it. However, it requires the emotional maturity of the Dalai Lama or a long practicing Buddhist monk to navigate a conflict by ourselves. The solution lies in developing ourselves so that we are better equipped for dealing with conflict arising in our lives.
Henry Yampolsky has certainly presented with his book a solution for everyone that is ready to embark on a journey of peace. May it by allowing a mediator to step in when conflicts call for resolution, by starting to practice his simple 4-step process to resolve conflicts, or by stopping yourself in time before pushing the car in front of you of the road, action is required if you truly want the world to be in peace.
And if this is what you want, then start by looking within to dissolve your personal conflicts first. Check out Henry Yampolsky’s book, engage with mediation processes, find a coach to help you identifying beliefs that keep you stuck in repetitive reactions and most importantly take responsibility for your actions — because once you do, the world does become a tiny bit more peaceful.
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 Heath, Amy; Mashuga, Heather; and Arens, Ann. (2015). Effects of a Conscious Breathing Intervention on Emotion and Energy Flow. Retrieved from Sophia, the St. Catherine University repository website: https://sophia.stkate.edu/ma_hhs/1