Doing Life through Numbed Pain


When looking to train mediators, we look for the sharpest of minds and the softest of hearts.

-Sheena Jonker


I blog in peace.

I can be a real genius at times. And by genius, what I mean is dumb-ass. (“Ass” in this context means “donkey” or “Mule”. No really.)

If you read my last blog, you will know that I recently took up freediving. If you, haven’t yet, you should read that blog. It’s cool, if I may say so myself. On the weekend of the course I had sinus and so I didn’t think I would do the open water dives on the Sunday. However, on Saturday night I took sinus medication. I did the same on Sunday. So I decided to attempt a five metre dive and all was cool in paradise. No pain. Then I decided to attempt a 10 metre dive and at 8 metres, my head pretty much exploded. So I called it on the dives for that day. Three days later both my ears ruptured.

So what happened? This is what happened. Painkillers. Numbed pain. The problem was still there but I was numb to it. And so I proceeded through numbed pain and caused more damage.

Sound familiar? I am not the only genius out there. We all do this stuff all the time. We numb the pain. Whether it is through substance use or abuse-alcohol or prescription drugs-, tuning out by staring at our smart phones or TV screens, shopping, over-eating, cutting behaviour in teens, most of us have a story to tell of how we try to tune out the pain.

Human beings will do just about anything to numb pain, whether it’s physical, emotional or spiritual. Some of the stuff we do just causes further detriment. Pain is a powerful life-sustaining resource. It is an indicator that something is in need of attention.

Most of the people who arrive in my office are going through a life crisis. Divorce, workplace conflict, strained business relationships and all kinds of legal disputes. It is possible that the majority of those I encounter are medicated: there is a psychiatric  drug for every life crisis and I hear stories all the time of scripts written out within minutes of walking into a doctor’s office and mentioning a particular life crisis.

Am I proposing that we take everyone off the drugs? Am I proposing that we don’t seek medical attention in life crisis? In an ideal world, yes. But the world is not ideal, so no, I’m not. Unfortunately, withdrawal from psychiatric drugs is dangerous.

But I do say this: when dealing with those in conflict, one of our prime objectives is to help them courageously and robustly address the source of the pain in their lives which often is the source of conflict. Disconnectedness in relationship is fertile ground for conflict in families, schools, workplaces and in business. Escapist techniques that help us avoid addressing the problems only perpetuate disconnectedness.

So first up, we acknowledge that almost everyone we deal with, is in profound pain. We teach people that pain is necessary and life-sustaining. We look to point them in the right direction via a collaborative approach invoking other disciplines and engaging other professionals if necessary. We start helping them to build courage to face the issues causing pain, and to start to see and acknowledge that substance use and abuse and other escapist techniques are counterfeit and simply mask the pain for a short while but help to perpetuate further detriment.

It is relatively easy to settle legal disputes and all kinds of other disputes, and we do that all the time. But actual conflict resolution, and life change for the better, takes time. It takes courage. It takes intention. It takes commitment. Many come to us in weakened states due to long term conflict exacerbated by detrimental pain-numbing techniques encouraged by the instant gratification world we live in.

So we train mediators. And as you have probably heard me say before, those we look to train are those with the sharpest of minds and the softest of hearts. We see too many professionals losing sight of the pain in the lives of those they deal with. We never want our mediators to own the pain of others, but our mediators can only help disputants to address pain if they see it.

I read a lot, research a lot, live a lot of stuff. Every process I am involved in teaches me. Every experience educates me. I am about to embark on an LLM and then an LLD in non-adversarial justice with the Institute for Dispute Resolution Africa. I am so excited. I am so honoured to have spent time with and to be getting to know Prof Faris. Such a great mind. Such a masterful teacher

The following are new aspects to our ADR and Mediation Training programs informed by my experiences and dealings over the last six months:

1.  Learning skills in Non-Violent Communication

2. Teaching others to communicate non-violently

3. Dismantling adversarial mindsets and systems in family relationships, schools, workplaces and in court

4. A collaborative approach to conflict resolution: shifting parties out of disconnected states and reducing anxiety in order to prepare for conflict engagement

5. Shifting from punitive justice to restorative justice

6. Process design

For more information on our Programs, please email

Until next time, peace

Sheena Jonker

Please comment below or email me

Twitter @sheena_ostjon




Free diving skills in Alternative Dispute Resolution? Yes!



As always I blog in peace. And today I blog having just completed a level 1 free diving course. This equips you to dive to depth on one breath and with no artificial breathing apparatus. Crazy, no?

It’s a dangerous challenging sport. So why did I want to do this?

I have shifted into a space in my life where the stuff I do is about the stuff I do and it’s about me, but it’s also not about the stuff I do and also not about me. So a year ago when I took up swimming again, it was about the swimming and it was about me but it was about more than that and about many more people. It helped me further develop life skills that I am passionate about: courage, intention, commitment and the ability to win with any hand.

I have always loved the ocean, and in my twenties, I scuba-dived a lot. But learning to free dive, for me I looked forward to learning to get into a peaceful state under any circumstances, to operate in fearful conditions and to remain focused. All skills that I need in the life I have chosen and the work I do in pursuit of non-adversarial justice. I think a learnt way more than I bargained for.

Firstly I learnt some fascinating physiological facts. That physically we are capable of way more than we know. I learnt about the mammalian reflex that we have and that allows seals to dive to amazing depths on one breath. This reflex is triggered in us when our faces encounter water.

I learnt that at depth there is a fine line between life and death but for some the challenge is irresistible. I learnt that fear can be life-sustaining as it keeps you sharp and that the aim should not be to obliterate fear but to build courage to operate even when there is fear.

I learnt that 90% of the dive happens on the surface. Preparation is profoundly important. Life and death important. Your surface work determines the dive.

I learnt that most freediving fatalities happen in the pool. It is often the thing we are least scared of that kills us.

I learnt that positive thinking is no guarantee of success, but that negative thinking guarantees failure. I learnt the difference between negative thought processes and realistic problem solving. It is all very well to visualize peaceful conditions during your land training, but how does that help you if there is actual danger on the dive and at depth. Do the peaceable training, but prepare for dangerous eventualities. Visulaize yourself handling curve balls well.

I learnt that good diving decisions in the moment are critical. I learnt that self-preservation is a life skill that is to be highly valued. If someone is willing to risk there own life, are they the appropriate person to teach you?

I learnt about athleticism and I learnt about the central nervous system. Under stress, 80% of your oxygen is used up by the nervous system.

I learnt that I am not special, we are all special. I learnt to start thinking about where my strengths lie and to be free in this.

I learnt to balance my focus on the goal with focus on the skill. It is excellent skills that will get me there, not merely setting and envisioning the goal.

I learnt to intentionally do everything with a certain quality, a certain presence and to conquer fear by diving skilfully. Confidence is accomplished through effectiveness.

I learnt that is important to acquire excellent skill and to use resources frugally. The more skill we have, the less energy we need to use. Your behaviour under water (under stress) is key.

Are you seeing this stuff? Are you seeing the life application and the application in what we do, in our fight to restore the template, in our resistance of adversarial and violent methods of dispute resolution? Do you see?

I was so honoured to learn this stuff from Trevor Hutton, professional free diver, and deepest spear fisherman in the world. And I was honoured to learn this stuff alongside my colleague Andrew McGibbon and amazing young orthopaedic surgeon, Dr Pieter Mare.

And I was honoured to feel closer and gain more knowledge of our great King.

I will be unpacking the skills learnt in our Mediation Training Programs and upcoming seminars.

I am also super chuffed that I will be practising the diving skills in the future with my friends and Traveor Hutton

Until next time, peace.