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Spirituality: Inside-Out Approaches to Conflict Resolution

Updated: Mar 6, 2023

By Marides Virola-Gardiola

As a centuries-old practice rooted various faith contexts, meditation has been influencing secular practices of organizational management, stress relief and wellness for over five decades. In the area of conflict transformation, there is a reassuring discovery of inner awareness as an approach to understanding what lies beneath the surface of our conflicts, and exploring pathways to their resolution.

“Practice and enlightenment are not two, “according to the great Buddhist sage Dogen. Neither are mediation and meditation, he continues. Those who have taken on meditation as a lifestyle can learn more about mediation as a practice; and those who do mediation can start or continue a regular routine of meditation, as an integral part of their work in dispute resolution.

This inner-outer perspective anchors mediation into an awareness of the deeper sources and strategies in dealing with conflict. On the other hand, such a lens makes meditation a more authentic and complete approach to address underlying causes of disharmony. Integrating the inner and outer, we are led to profound insights both for ourselves and others.

Consciousness is Key

Consciousness is a term meant to indicate awareness. It includes awareness of the self, of bodily sensations, of thoughts and of the environment. We use the opposite word “unconscious” to indicate senselessness or a barrier to awareness which roughly translates in Tagalog to “nawalan ng malay” or “nawala sa sarili” when we are in a fit of rage or strong emotions during a conflict. This shows how consciousness, or the lack of it, contributes either to the escalation or the resolution of conflict.

During MedNet's August 2020 Refresher Course for Mediators, speaker Judy Johnson introduced an innovative approach to resolving conflicts especially during these highly challenging times. Helping each party to raise their level of consciousness from lower to higher states brings them to explore themes outside of their limited interests, needs and wants into a middle way or what we know as the common good.

Mindfulness is a state of higher consciousness that includes an awareness of the thoughts passing through one’s brain. Whenever we react aggressively, and immediately take a moment to check the self as to why we responded in such a manner, that is being mindful. It is a more deliberate consideration of one’s thoughts which could be described as an expansion of conscious awareness. It is when one takes the time to consider the possible influences on one’s thoughts and actions. Studies have shown that when one engages in this more conscious consideration, one can move away from being influenced by dirty tactics and positional bargaining. In a state of higher awareness, one is also capable of recognizing limiting mindsets and stereotypes.

When we are not paying attention, it is more likely for us to be influenced by non-conscious stimuli. The good news is that we can use our higher conscious awareness to protect against external influences as we continue to engage in problem-solving, harmony-building, and transformation-catalyzing.

Mediative and Meditative Approach

Thought to be traditionally oriented to internal sensations, meditation and self-awareness are also wellsprings of skillful techniques and insights not only into ourselves, but into others and our relationship with them. Meditation and mediation can be integrated by improving awareness which can easily be applied to a wide range of difficult conversations, interactions, and relationships.

Meditation leads to inward attention such as on the breath, noticing thoughts, emotions, and internal bodily sensations, then letting them go. On the other hand, mediation focuses attention on outer manifestations such as on communications and interactions between parties-in-conflict, identifying and discussing what is not working in their relationship, then generating possible options on what might be done to improve or let go of it. These inner and outer combinations allow for more creative solutions.

Some examples of the use of mediation techniques include: empathetic storytelling and private reflection, creatively reframing differences to reflect underlying unities, asking parties to empathetically imagine what it might have been like to have experienced what the other person experienced; asking them to speak directly to each other from their hearts; drawing their awareness to what they are experiencing at the moment; asking each what the other could do that would help them listen or speak more openly, and using feedback to reinforce awareness and on-going practice.

It also helps to make people mindful by questions that will help draw attention to what really matters like: What am I doing that is helping to fuel the conflict? What am I not doing that is helping to fuel the conflict? How might changing my attitude, behavior, or response help me resolve, transform, or transcend it? What would it take for me to do so? What is preventing me from moving forward or letting go?

There are boundless opportunities for integrating mindfulness, awareness, insight, and contemplation practices into dispute resolution, both personally and professionally. All it takes is some daring to break the glass ceiling. ###

Marides Virola-Gardiola is the President of MedNet. She is an independent facilitator and trainer specializing in organizational development, human resource development, peacebuilding and conflict transformation. She has been creatively integrating meditation into her work since 1994.


This article is part of the August 2022 issue of The Mediator. Email us at for regular subscription.

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