NVC Two Bridges

Penny Wassman

February 2010

Dr. Marshall Rosenberg has presented humanity with the unique gift of Nonviolent Communication. Its beautiful simplicity and integrity support the recognition of our interconnectedness and our purpose as vital beings on this planet.  This process of compassionate and infinitely evolving awareness invites us to the place where humankind connects and life is celebrated. Collectively, I believe, most of us forget this place, and yet intrinsically we know it. 

I see evidence of this each time I ask any group of people the question, “What is important to you?” They respond quickly with answers such as purpose, trust, respect, compassion, inclusion ...and so on.  These responses are representative of a vast array of human needs, all of which flow from our deepest yearning: simply put, to love and to know that our loving matters.  As infants, we wish little more than to be loved and to know that we bring joy to those around us each time we elicit a smile.  So, even when we are very tiny, we have a sense of this most vital aspect of life – the particular energetic quality we might call love – or as poet and visionary Mark Nepo phrases it, this “spot of grace”.

Sadly, many of us over time lose touch with this vital aspect of knowing.  Our social conditioning, entrenched over millennia within systems of power and domination, contributes to this disconnection.  Instead of connecting to what’s important to us, we find ourselves enmeshed in power struggles, concerned with who is right and who is wrong, critical of ourselves, critical of others, projecting thoughts we think others may be thinking of us, offering unsolicited advice, making demands of others, succumbing to wills of authority, looking outside ourselves for our own empowerment, rebelling, confronting, controlling – the list goes on.  The NVC process invites us to notice the difference between these disconnecting behaviours and those that connect us as humans. 

My experience is that initially most people form a cognitive relationship with NVC.  This serves, as the song goes, “like a bridge over troubled waters” to assist people to notice their disconnection.  The mental structure of NVC bridges the gap to connection by providing awareness and understanding of the four components of NVC: observations, feelings, needs and requests, and their relationship with each other. It’s important to learn and practice this mental perspective as the first step in a deepening practice.

I believe there is a second and infinitely more important bridge to be crossed: the shift out of the mental constraints of “doing NVC and getting it right” to intuitive heart awareness.  This is the bridge that frees us to live in harmony with our deepest values. As it is navigated, the limitations of our conditioned ideas and actions are recognized and the constraints are released.   This shift to the heart frees us to fully experience, in day-to-day life, the innate beauty we in the NVC world refer to as needs.

Needs (other than those necessary for physical survival like food, shelter, and water) are living energies, absent of form.  Take some time for a moment to consider any human need – integrity, love, play, or wisdom for instance.  When we spend the time to focus on a need we discover a particular, recognizable and unique energy – a quality when touched that brings with it a kind of settling in – a peaceful yes of recognition.  Even as we consider the human need for family or community, while we may have certain people in mind we are actually referring to the energy qualities of sharing, belonging, love, nurture, and joy that inform our vision of family or community.   A deeper recognition of these qualities occurs by degrees as we release our mental chatter and live life fully and in the present.

Let’s be clear: it is very important to learn the subtleties of NVC. That includes spending sufficient mental time to learn the difference between an observation and an evaluation, to learn the difference between feelings and feeling words that are really thoughts, the difference between needs and strategies, and to understand how to formulate do-able requests without making them demands.  But there comes a time when there is a far more significant recognition in my view – one that asks us to absent ourselves from the constraints of the mind – to stop trying to figure out or “do” this NVC stuff – to let go of the training wheels and just be with what we know – really to allow ourselves to slip into the inner knowing of our heart.

The movement to the heart invites us to hold NVC lightly - essentially, to hold observations as directional points of reference, to allow feelings to evolve as touch points for authentic recognition of underlying needs (as associated sensations in the body are noticed and acknowledged), and especially to create lots of space to be fully present to the particular energetic qualities of human needs as they reveal themselves and are experienced. As this occurs, the mind is quieted, the need is invited into the stillness of the heart and time is suspended. As NVC is held in this way, it becomes apparent that consciousness does not concern itself as to whether or not needs are met or unmet.  Instead consciousness is concerned only with how the need is lived.  From this place, strategies and requests evolve naturally, intuitively flowing from this very full place of experience, recognition and presence.

The practice of NVC is, in my experience, the development of an ongoing, evolving, life-long consciousness of compassionate interplay and outreach in which personal authenticity plays a key role.  For without deep personal authenticity, ongoing inner awareness and accountability, empathic presence for others is certainly limited.  How can I reach out to others if I am unwilling to reach into myself, unwilling to honour and experience this place of inner knowingness and intuition where life just somehow fits?

This journey to authenticity evolves in proportion to one’s willingness to own the projections, inner and outer criticisms, moralistic judgments and so on that I spoke of earlier. And it involves being present to the underlying energetic qualities which we call needs which matter so much to us as intelligent, sensory, fully spiritual creatures of this planet.  I believe this consciousness is an integral part of our responsibility and our purpose as human beings.

So I invite you along with me on this journey.  As this can often be deep, raw, serious work, I ask that you support yourself and each other with infinite compassion and empathy and create plenty of space for fun and play.  That being said, I have discovered an almost exquisite joy in allowing myself to be more and more authentic, open almost to the bone.  It seems only then that the beauty of life is released to flow its natural course, enriched and vitalized with the nutrients that seed empathic presence.  For only then do I fully know this spot of grace in myself and in others and realise that I am, as each person is, an integral and vital part of the infinitely beautiful, complex, and interconnected world we call Life.