by Bob Wentworth
Our way of being — the intentions, attitudes, and quality of the energy that we bring to an interaction — is more important than the particular words we choose to speak. The heart of Nonviolent Communication is not about speaking using a particular recipe. Rather it is about “being” a particular way. When one is being that way, one is said to be “in NVC consciousness.” (continues here)
Cards with basic human needs in the hands of exercise group participants.
(Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons)
Q&A w/ Oren Jay Sofer
Q: How can I stay connected to NVC consciousness?
A [Oren]: When I teach communication, I teach NVC, I say that the process is one of three different components. The first of those is presence. Which means simply embodiment and connection to the heart. Presence is about feeling what’s in your body and in your heart. It’s a felt experience. It’s not a mental experience. It’s a kind of experience we have when we’re in a bath, or hot tub and we’re really relaxed. Not necessarily that it feels good, but we’re really in our body and we’re present and we’re able to relax. So if you take a run, after you take a run, you’re really in your body. You’re here fully. So that’s kind of a prerequisite for a communication practice, because that’s where we source all of our information, from what’s happening within the body in the present. And if that’s absent, when we don’t have that connection with our body, it’s very difficult to have a productive conversation.
The next component is intention. It’s about where we’re coming from. So having a clear intention, as we know, for those who have training in nonviolent communication, the primary intention is to connect, to try to connect. For those who come from a mindfulness background, the beauty that I find is that the intention is actually the same. With a mindfulness practice we’re looking to understand experience, to really connect with it directly, rather than all of the other motives that we habitually have to fix it or change it or make it better, and so forth. It’s just to understand.
So, those form the foundation for attention in the NVC model: observations, feelings, needs, requests. Which is about our attention (with an “a”). It’s about how we pay attention to things. What we’re noticing. Are we noticing our judgments, our stories, all of the other components of experience or are we paying attention to what’s being felt, to what’s needed and to what’s actually happening on the level of observation. So all that is to say in terms of how do we stay connected to our attention. Which is really what I feel is in your question about how can I connect to NVC consciousness? For those who don’t have an NVC practice, that means the awareness of our own humanity and other people’s humanity and the understanding that all of us are moving based on a desire to meet our needs. When we see things in that way, there is more compassion to just understand where people are coming from. We understand that the best way to negotiate and work together is to actually create a connection based on our needs, rather than our ideas, our views, our beliefs, our opinions, our judgments and so forth.
So for me, that consciousness is really about an intention where we’re coming from and it’s about a view of how we see things. And for me the most reliable way I have found to stay connected to that, or reconnect to that, is through the body, through presence. Because when I’m not connected with that, it feels very different in my body. So having a practice where you can really begin to recognize how does it feel to be in my body in the present and what’s it like when I’m not there. And that starts to give us more information about what the difference is, and how to find a way back when we’re disconnected.
So the main tools for that are having a mindfulness practice, having a sitting practice, standing practice, walking practice, where you’re just constantly cultivating embodied presence and how that feels.
And then the other component in the secular mindfulness movement we call heartfullness practice. In a religious context or Buddhist or other contexts, it’s the practice of the heart around love and kindness that are strengthening certain intentions for how we orient to the world. By calling forth a certain intention and repeating it, just connecting to it again and again with a certain phrase or an image. And the more we strengthen those intentions in the mind, the more we strengthen that orientation to life. And again we have that foundation that we can come back to.
So that’s my summary. And I’m wondering how much of that is connecting for you and is it bringing up other questions or if anyone else on the call has questions or comments about the call.
Q: Yes, that was just music to my ears. What was the second component again?
A [Oren]: The second component is attention, how we pay attention to things. In NVC, are we paying attention with jackal ears or with giraffe ears? And for those who don’t know NVC, jackal ears, that means are we paying attention based on our judgments, based on our views, our preferences our thoughts, the mental world of filtering experience, or are we paying attention with our heart, with a sense of human connection. Awareness of feelings and needs is how we talk about it in Nonviolent Communication. Are we aware of the actual emotions that are present in ourselves and in the other person. Are we aware of the fact that this person has needs. I have needs. And not just like “I need to go to the store”. That’s not a need. That’s a strategy. “I need nourishment.” “I need relaxation.” Things that we can actually connect with and actually agree with valuing.
I think the question you ask “how do we stay connected”, whether it’s NVC consciousness or mindfulness or presence or everyone has different language for talking about the experience, of the different kind of experience we have of being alive when we’re awake and connected with our sense of what’s meaningful in life. With why we’re here, what we’re doing. And what we’re about when we’re on automatic pilot and not present. And as I said of getting a feel in the body on the difference between those two.
How they actually feel is really important because when we can appreciate how it feels to really be here, it sets up a feedback loop. We want to be here more because it actually feels good. Not in a superficial way, because sometimes being here doesn’t feel good in the sense that there are unpleasant experiences. But when we really study it enough, those who have a dedicated mindfulness practice or meditation practice know this directly: if there is sadness or anger or some unpleasant experience happening, to actually feel it with balance is less painful than to be avoiding it, reacting to it, and feeding it, running from it.
When I say it feels good or feels better. I don’t necessarily mean it feels pleasant, but that there is a deeper sense of relaxation, relief, meaning, connection that is sustaining in being present with an experience over being absent from it.
So that’s one component, learning to sense the actual difference. The other component is when we’re gone, when we’re lost and we’re not connected to our intention, and NVC consciousness isn’t present, when we wake up from that trance, what happens next is really important. If what happens next we wake up from that trance, and this is important in all the topics we’re going to talk about today. This is relevant whether it’s having balance in our life or working for change in the world.
If when we wake up from being disconnected what happens is blame and judgment, “there I go again”, “I’ll never get anywhere”, “I’m a failure”. “I’ve been doing it for so long” or whatever that story is, then we’re not going to want to come back. If what we come back to is blame and judgment, then who wants to show up. Every time you come home the first thing you hear is “what’s wrong with you” then nobody wants to come home. But if what we hear when you come home is “you’re back”, “it’s so good to see you”. Then we want to come home. So when you come back to presence, to awareness and to NVC consciousness, mindfulness, or however that is showing up for you when you come back there, it’s really important to notice that moment and notice what you do in that moment. And if there is blame, if there is judgment, to start to bring in tenderness. You start to bring in care. “Oh, it’s okay.” “You were gone for so long. How wonderful that you’re back.” Now we could do it differently again and have forgiveness for ourselves in those moments.
Oren J. Sofer, also known by his Dharma name Nyāniko, is a teacher and practitioner of Buddhist mediation, Nonviolent Communication (NVC) and Somatics. (continues)