In 1998, I was desperate. Working two demanding jobs, two challenging teens, one bed ridden husband, and my life spinning out of control.
Me? After two years of visits to every kind of alternative healers, my herniated disc was so painful I opted for surgery. Alas! The surgery did not go well. All my doctor could recommend to heal was disability leave.
What I didn’t realize at the time was that I needed more than physical healing.
You know what they say, “When the student is ready, the teacher will appear.” Jean Morrison, now my GROKtheWorld business partner and dear friend, arrived to teach a Nonviolent Communication workshop at my daughter’s school.
Intrigued by what I learned, I signed up to hear the NVC founder Marshall Rosenberg speak in San Francisco. What he said spun my head around. In hindsight, it was both the beginning of my own cultural deconstruction, and a shift to a divergent path of personal growth and freedom.
I had thought the problem was my zany teenagers, my husband’s illness, and my stressful jobs. It didn’t occur to me to look inside myself and realize my disc drive wasn’t out of space—my whole operating system needed a major upgrade.
The year of disability leave gave me the spaciousness I needed to find my bearings. What I was learning challenged most every belief I had except one. As a long-time meditator, I could appreciate the confluence of NVC and mindfulness. They were non-dual paradigm changers. Both necessitated a nonjudgmental awareness of present moment experience. Mindfulness was the consciousness, but NVC offered the daily tools to get there.
NVC felt like meditation off the cushion.
The first tool of NVC—observation—taught me to let go of judgment and just observe what is happening. What can a video camera see? What would an audiotape tell or transcribe? It doesn’t see an out-of-control teenager nor does it see an incapacitated spouse. Instead, it sees a teen passing out invitations to over a hundred friends and then having a party. It sees a teen washing their clothes and a marijuana baggie left in the washing machine. It sees a spouse sleeping during the day.
The second tool—feelings—helped me to take self-responsibility for my experience. I easily mistook feelings for words that blame such as “I feel abused”, “I feel insulted”, “I feel neglected” instead of “hurt”, “sad” or “lonely”. Feelings start on the inside and go out. Can I experience my felt sense and then name it? During those difficult years, I felt lost, scared, lonely, and confused.
The third tool—needs—helped me understand what messages my feelings were sending. An analogy might be feelings as the ringing of a telephone, and needs as answering the call. During those dark years, I needed more support, understanding, peace of mind, empathy, trust, security, self-care, nurturance, fun & play.
The fourth tool—requests—was challenging for me. NVC makes a clear distinction between requests and demands. If I’m not willing to hear a ‘no’, it’s really just a candy-coated demand. The guidelines helped me make true requests: specific, not vague; doable; and make it a do-want (you can’t do a don’t), taking everyone’s needs (theirs and mine) into account. In hindsight, I could have made more requests of myself - for increasing my meditation, cutting back my work, and getting therapy to better understand what was creating my angst.
This understanding, along with more NVC readings, classes, and Marshall talks, lead me out of the dark ages. My example of better self-care and more respectful communication was picked up by my teens and husband, which in turn lead to greater domestic tranquility.
When I was granted trainer certification in 2004, I knew enough to teach the skills. My students became my teachers, helping me hone my own learning and growth. From 2010-2020, I had the good fortune to teach NVC and other classes at the University of California, Santa Cruz. Many of those students have stayed in touch. Since COVID arrived, I’ve heard from a number them who either want to continue their NVC training or become certified trainers themselves. Live is a circle.
It’s taken me these past twenty years to understand that learning Nonviolent Communication is not a destination. It has become an ever evolving life-long path accommodating what is emerging within our world and inside of us. The emergent global message coming to me is to tend to the needs of those marginalized in our cultures, and above all listen deeply and care for the needs of our living planet. What needs does she have in order to thrive so that humans can survive?
What needs are emerging within you and within our world? We hope that our GROKtheWorld games and products will continue to be a source of support for your inner wisdom, growth, and strength.