My Empathy Coach

Pronouns: he/himCertified Mindfulness Instructor
Certified GRIP Facilitator

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The Power of Empathy

Empathy is an innate human capacity that can be developed and refined like any other human capacity. Empathy enables us to meet the challenges in our daily lives with compassion. We meet the hurt, lost, alienated parts of ourselves with kindness and care. We feel more human as we learn to skillfully navigate our feelings. This care naturally flows out to the people in our lives. Empathy is an antidote for objectification and othering. It gives us a sense of connection and belonging to the human family while honoring individual differences.

"Sunil has been an extraordinary contributor to the GRIP Training Institute, which offers an intensive healing and accountability program to incarcerated people inside the CA State prisons. He has provided several NVC trainings to our staff and program facilitators over the last few years, and also contributed his deep wisdom in a myriad of smaller ways as a member of our organizational community. His willingness to be vulnerable himself has been a model for the rest of us. He has helped us all grow in our capacities to listen to one another deeply, speak our truths, and connect at a deep human level with one another across a wide range of differences. As an organizational leader, I have turned to him for coaching and guidance as well, and appreciate his humility, humor, and care as a fellow traveller on the path of healing and transformation."
- Kim Grose Moore
Executive Director GRIP Training Institute


"I just wanted to take the time to thank you for your workshop on Friday, February 23. I was honored to be invited and concluded the session with a lasting sense of connection and enrichment. This was not my first time in a session with you and I was quite excited to have another chance to be part of the community and to learn and inquire. Your training, experience and commitment to the practices of NVC and mindfulness was evident in your communications with the group, as well as the inviting and safe space you nurtured for the participants. You truly inspired a sense of mutuality; and, I signed off feeling both intrigued and transformed."

~ Julianne Brenza




Empathy Coaching for Individuals: In my role as an empathy coach, I will support you in respectfully welcoming the parts of you that want to be heard and acknowledged. We will co-create a compassionate, non-judgmental field of listening where these parts can safely reveal layers of experience that have been waiting to be received and held. Healing naturally emerges when we can fully meet our experience with a compassionate presence. This is a shift from doing to being.

Empathy Based Offerings for Organizations Based on an organization's needs and goals, I tailor the following processes to meet the particular needs of the group I am working with.1. Listening Circle: A 2-hour listening process that deepens empathic connection and trust between individuals in an organization. When individuals in a group feel heard and received by their peers, they experience a greater sense of safety and connection. They also experience an increased sense of mattering and belonging. This creates a safe space for individual differences to be honored and respected.2. Empathy Circle: A 2-hour experiential process that nurtures and deepens human connection within organizations. The process draws on the principles and practices of Nonviolent Communication (NVC) and Mindfulness to cultivate empathy, presence, and nonjudgemental listening in a respectful way that transcends organizational roles, titles, and power dynamics. Participants will also learn a simple practice that deepens their emotional intelligence.3. Mindfulness for Grounding: A 1-hour Mindfulness session using different guided meditations to help participants shift from a scattered-mind-and-stressed-body state to an increased sense of ease and well-being by being in the present. From this resourced place, participants will have an increased capacity to both focus on their objectives in the present and also to connect with others.

Recent Public Offerings

About Me

I am a certified GRIP facilitator, actively engaged in teaching a restorative justice-based healing and accountability program within California's prison system. I am also engaged with creating remote learning courses for incarcerated people under the auspices of Buddhist Prison Ministry.  My journey has led me to teach Nonviolent Communication (NVC) to diverse groups, including incarcerated individuals at San Quentin prison.In 2021, I achieved certification as a Mindfulness Meditation Teacher by completing the comprehensive 2-year program led by Jack Kornfield and Tara Brach. Additionally, I hold the honor of being a graduate from BayNVC's 1-year NVC Leadership Program in 2008.I am actively engaged in my own psychospiritual development as a student of the Ridhwan school for over 10 years. I deeply appreciate the wisdom imparted by remarkable teachers and teachings, which have enriched my life in countless ways.I wholeheartedly welcome opportunities to support others on their personal path to fulfillment and wellbeing.


"My encounters with Sunil have been profoundly healing. His capacity to offer attuned presence and compassionate reflection are exemplary––and truly unparalleled in my experience. Through our interactions, I consistently have the sense of melting softly into the truth of my being, and I experience the freedom and peace that come from being so deeply understood and accepted.Few people are equally at home working with both groups and one on one, but Sunil is remarkably adept in either context, and appeals to a very broad range of personalities and needs. He has done beautiful work both with me personally, and in our organization with dozens of teachers of embodied awakening."~ D.B., PhD

"Thank you for all the skill and heart you have put into working with the teachers. You are making a big positive difference in our organization."~ L.M.

"First, I am delighted that you are continuing these NVC evenings. I feel deeply met in many ways by participating, especially by setting aside the time to authentically connect with my own feelings and needs within a supportive community.It is having a big impact on my work as a coach and counselor. I'm so grateful to have these warm NVC evenings facilitated by you. Your hosting meets my needs for care and competence!"~ Katie Grace MacElveen, Ph.D.


"Service is not an experience of strength or expertise; service is an experience of mystery, surrender and awe. Helpers and fixers feel causal. Servers may experience from time to time a sense of being used by larger unknown forces. Those who serve have traded a sense of mastery
for an experience of mystery, and in doing so have transformed their work and their lives into practice."
Rachel Naomi Remen

Being A Touchy Feely Guy

Prison facilitation work is intense as we support our incarcerated students process their pain, grief, shame, etc. in order to help them get in touch with their "authentic self", who they are under the coping strategies they adopted, often in response to traumatic childhood events and conditions. I believe we all have our coping strategies whether we've been incarcerated or not.As we were driving home from a prison class, my female co-facilitator called me a "touchy-feely guy" in an appreciative way. As I was reflecting on her words today, I remembered the experience of being one of the few men in the NVC practice groups I started attending in 2004. I experienced self doubt and shame since I believed "real men" would be watching sports rather than sitting in groups talking about their feelings. I sometimes wished I was a "normal guy" who enjoyed doing guy things. When I was invited to be a facilitator in this prison program in 2019, I thought I'd be too "touchy feely" for the big, tough men I imagined I'd be working with. That was my projection based on stereotypically narrow ideas of masculinity propagated by our dominant media and culture.I am now in my 5th year of facilitating prison work, having worked with multiple groups, of predominantly cis men, in 4 different prisons. I am coming to see that being "touchy feely" is one of my features and not a bug. This is one of the unexpected gifts I've received from the trust the "big tough guys" put in me when they allow me to support them with their deep vulnerability. A few month ago, I had an incarcerated facilitator, who fit my tough guy profile, unexpectedly turn to me in a team meeting and say "I didn't realize until recently that I depend on you to process feelings in the group". It really surprised me since I had been holding onto the story that he didn’t think I was man enough to be on the team. Another projection. Dr. Dan Siegel talks about how relationships shape us and are part of our self.bell hook's quote comes to mind: "Rarely, if ever, are any of us healed in isolation. Healing is an act of communion." In that communion, the distinctions between the healer and the healed melt away as do judgements of being too touchy feely or tough. That's the space of our precious humanity where our authentic selves can be found. ✨

My First Prison Visit

It was Friday, January 12, 2019 when I arrived at the gates of San Quentin State prison. Waiting for me was my escort, Susan Shannon, who was also the Buddhist Chaplain on Death Row. It was a scary experience to walk across the San Quentin yard to the education building. Nothing in my life had prepared me for this experience. All the Netflix documentaries about prison gangs and the violence in prison yards flashed through my mind. I didn't know how Susan could be so open and happy while walking through the groups of men working out, playing tennis, basketball, etc. Susan was practically a celebrity in the yard since she had been teaching different healing and recovery classes at San Quentin for close to a decade. Her friendly and open attitude towards the men was in stark contrast to how contracted and scared I felt.At that point in my life, I had been teaching Nonviolent Communication (NVC) at a Buddhist center in Sacramento for 3 years. I had never set foot before in a jail or prison. A GRIP facilitator, who attended one of my classes, suggested I would be a good fit for GRIP. She put me in touch with GRIP's founder, Jacques Verduin, who connected me with Susan. Now here I was walking into a 2-hour GRIP class at San Quentin with Susan.In the small classroom, we sat in a tight circle of 35 which included students and a handful of facilitators. I did my best to pretend I was cool despite being all wound up and scared inside. During the 2-hour class, I heard two men share their personal journeys from childhood to being incarcerated. As I listened to their stories. the humanity of the men cut through my monster images of them. I did my best to choke back the tears that started to flow. At the end of the group, when I was invited to share a few words as their guest, I couldn't speak. I was choked up with emotion. I experienced an unexpected sense of safety and respect as the men were present for and received my deep vulnerability and tenderness. I told the group that I had walked into the class thinking I was going to teach them NVC. Now I realized I needed to sit in groups like this in order to do my own healing work. Without missing a beat, the group took a vote and invited me back to join them as their guest. I gratefully accepted. Needless to say, that was a transformational experience for me.Fast forward to today, I am in my 5th year as a GRIP facilitator working with students in 3 different prisons. I am being fully used by this program. Howard Thurman's quote captures how fortunate I feel - “Don’t ask what the world needs. Ask what makes you come alive, and go do it. Because what the world needs is people who have come alive.” GRIP is challenging me to grow and heal as I support the students in the program.

Mourning With NVCSunil Joseph, myempathycoach.comI was facilitating a circle of six men in a Northern California prison on a Monday afternoon. This was the tenth meeting of our yearlong healing and accountability class. Our group comprised 33 incarcerated students and five facilitators, of whom three were incarcerated. Most of the students had life sentences with an average of 20 years of incarceration. Each meeting was two hours long with a mix of teaching and personal sharing. This Monday, the students were reading a letter from their heart to someone who had died. There were five groups of six to seven students each spread around the long, rectangular room. In each group, a facilitator was inviting students to take turns reading and connecting with their grief. There is a lot of unprocessed grief in prisons; incarcerated people suffer significant losses including missing birthdays, funerals, graduations, the loss of dreams, opportunities, health, connection with loved ones, dignity, safety, agency, identity, possessions, and even the loss of life. Groups like ours offer students, who want to heal and transform, a safe space where they can be vulnerable. Few of our students had experienced therapy, meditation, and other healing modalities before they came to prison.In my group, Joe (not his actual name), a 6-foot tall white man who I judged to be in his late 60s with tattoos all over his neck and arms, offered to read his letter first. Joe looked 10 years older than he was due to a rough life. The tattoo of a pointy-hooded man that looked like a KKK symbol on his arm caught my eye. As a person of color and an immigrant who had encountered xenophobia, I felt uneasy and unsure about holding space for someone with a white power symbol. Joe was quiet and respectful in his demeanor; the black men in my group appeared to be relaxed around him. At that moment, I chose to believe the tattoo was a relic of his past. As a practitioner of Nonviolent Communication (NVC), I knew that I had an “enemy image” of Joe. According to NVC, we hold enemy images when we disconnect from an individual or group’s humanity and see them as the “other” in some way. In NVC, we shift out of othering by finding our common humanity. This is one of the reasons I love NVC.As Joe started to read his letter to his mother, I did my best to give him my undivided attention—to “feel with him”—despite my lingering low-level unease with my thoughts about his tattoo. In order to feel with someone, I find it helpful to shift from focusing only on their words to also sensing the vibratory quality or emotional tone of delivery through the tone of voice, intonation, quality of breathing, pauses, eye movement, facial expressions, posture, and gestures. I find that this is similar to broadening my attention from just the visuals in a beautiful space, like a grove of redwood trees, a cathedral, a zen temple, a garden, etc. to also include their particular vibratory feel. I was also paying attention to the emotional tone of the men who were listening.In his two-page letter, Joe spoke to his mother, acknowledging the ways he had let her down. His mother never gave up on him despite the different kinds of trouble he got into that eventually landed him in prison. I also heard Joe’s regret and pain for her heartbreak when he was sent to prison. The deep sadness, tenderness, and regret in Joe’s voice spread through our small group. I could feel and see the heaviness in the shoulders of the men who were listening, some of whom hunched forward. A thick, heavy silence settled on us. It felt like the group was holding their breath. After getting Joe’s permission to interrupt, I asked the group if they could feel a deep sadness and heaviness as they heard Joe’s letter. There were slow, silent barely perceptible nods with downcast eyes. We were feeling the sadness together. Joe’s sadness created a space wherein each man was touching into his own pool of unshed tears.In order to resource our nervous systems, I asked the group if they would be willing to take a few deep breaths with me. There were slow nods. I led the group in a few, slow deep inhales and exhales. While we were breathing, I also asked the men to gently push their feet into the ground and relax their legs a few times. I find this connection with the body and ground to be helpful when feeling intense emotions. In addition to regulating the group, I was slowing us all down to be with the sadness and tenderness that Joe’s sharing had brought into our group space.Once I felt the group was breathing again, I asked Joe to continue reading. As Joe read, I felt his mother’s unconditional love and positive regard for Joe. I imagined she may have been the greatest source of love in his life, the one person who never saw him as a monster. In that moment of feeling his mother’s love, my enemy image of Joe as a white supremacist dissolved. My fear dissolved and was replaced by warmth and care for Joe. He was no longer the “other” to me. He was just like me in this space of our precious, common humanity. This was the emergence of emotional empathy. I felt Joe relax and soften as I reflected my impression of his mother’s unconditional love. Emotional empathy is an act of communion since we have a shared experience of feelings and thoughts. The sadness and regret were more bearable in this place of human connection. bell hooks says it beautifully: “rarely, if ever, are any of us healed in isolation. Healing is an act of communion”1.There was something pure about Joe’s sadness and regret. I did not sense significant shame, anger, self-criticism, agitation, judgment, etc. It felt like his feelings were coming from his heart. In NVC, mourning is an organic healing process that emerges when we connect our sadness with the preciousness of what was lost. In NVC lingo, the term “need” represents what’s precious or important to us. It felt like Joe’s heart was mourning the loss of his connection with his mother where he experienced unconditional love. I asked Joe and the group if they were feeling a quality of love, however subtly, in addition to grief and regret. When they nodded, I led us in a few collective guided breaths to slow us down and make space to feel the love together.When I checked in with Joe after the breaths, he was connected to the love from which his sadness was emerging. The love did not make the sadness go away. Instead, it changed the quality of sadness, giving it a bittersweet flavor. The pain of loss was tempered by something precious and important to Joe's heart. I could feel a sense of movement as the sadness was being integrated by the connection with love. When Joe confirmed this for me, I knew that the NVC process of mourning was underway. At this stage, there is nothing to do other than to stay present and experience the healing happening in one’s body. As I thanked Joe for his courage to be so vulnerable, there were gentle nods and appreciative glances towards him from the other men. I asked Joe to stay present with his internal process as we transitioned away from him. The rest of the group appeared to be integrating the process since they were sitting more upright and making eye contact with me as I spoke.When we open to the loss of something or someone dear to us, we can feel submerged and lost in an endless ocean of grief, despair, sadness, heaviness, etc. with no way out. NVC’s mourning process asks us to connect with the preciousness of what was lost i.e. our needs. It is like diving for precious pearls within the ocean of grief to unlock an alchemical process of healing.References:
All About Love, bell hooks