Using NVC on Silent Retreat; Opening the Door to the Field of Connection

Using NVC on Silent Retreat; Opening the Door to the Field of Connection
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Date Posted: September 12, 2018
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I love the topic Mary has offered for these blogs- what’s new in NVC. Something new- at least in relation to the inception of NVC- is the integration of NVC into many spiritual paths by NVC trainers and practitioners.

My practice of Nonviolence Communication has from the beginning been linked to a Buddhist mindfulness practice. I first heard of Marshall Rosenberg and the workshops he was giving about how to listen and speak from the heart in 2002 from a teacher in my Buddhist sangha (community) .

15 years later I have become a trainer in Nonviolent Communication and both practices live in me. This is a story of how Connect Before you Correct has a new meaning and application for me in my practices of NVC and Mindfulness.

A few weeks ago I attended a six-day silent retreat with non-dual Zen teacher Adyasha

Using NVC on Silent Retreat;

Opening the Door to the Field of Connection

 By Roberta Wall.  www.steps2peace.com

I love the topic Mary has offered for these blogs- what’s new in NVC. Something new- at least in relation to the inception of NVC- is the integration of NVC into many spiritual paths by NVC trainers and practitioners.

My practice of Nonviolence Communication has from the beginning been linked to a Buddhist mindfulness practice. I first heard of Marshall Rosenberg and the workshops he was giving about how to listen and speak from the heart in 2002 from a teacher in my Buddhist sangha (community) .

15 years later I have become a trainer in Nonviolent Communication and both practices live in me.

A few weeks ago I attended a six-day silent retreat with"  non-dual" Zen teacher Adyashanti.

A strong intention set for the retreat by Adya and the participants was to cultivate inner and outer silence, as a strategy for returning to the still, unconditioned place deep within us.

In NVC language, this can be described as the place beyond or before the formation of identities and strategies , beyond or before notions  such as right and wrong, appropriate and inappropriate, fullness and deficiency. In Buddhist language, it can be described as the place beyond or before notions such as a separate you and me, birth and death, coming and going.

On day 1 of the retreat, I felt my whole being relaxing, opening, allowing in the familiar retreat experience of openness and quiet joy. Anchoring into awareness of my breathing, I enjoyed feeling light, free, connected to sensations arising and passing.  On day 2, following the retreat schedule, I deepened into enjoyment of the rhythm of sitting and walking meditation, of resting  in silence, of opening to nature and the freedom from daily distractions and worries. 

Each morning, we all gathered to listen to a talk by Adyashanti. I felt invigorarted and excited to try the practices he was offering, especially to explore what lay beyond the busy mind, the quiet resting place which is always present and often largely abandoned by my daily living habits. Who was I on that level? 

On the third day,  I settled in to listen to the talk. Adya spoke about childhood experiences with his father and connected them to children learning what he called "impule control."   He spoke about an old psychological expereiment with children, where children who waited before eating candy that was placed in fron t of them were "rewarded" a few minutes later with more candy. He connected this capacity to wait to coming into choice about how we follow our monkey minds. And then he said, the children in that experiment were tracked and the ones who waited did "better" in life and the ones who didnt wait, who didn't have "impulse control", are the ones who are filling our prisons (I am paraphrasing here because I was so triggered by this point, I don't recall the exact words.)

What was my experience of being "triggered"? As I listened, I felt my  body begin to stiffen, my heart beat sped up, my jaw clench, and my mind and being become agitated with  thoughts of judgments ( he is irresponsible to speak this way, he is a teacher), he should be leading us to compassion and understanding not spiritul bypass) , anger ( this is outrageous and irresponsible and ignorant) , distress ( I am out of integrity sitting here listening to this, this entire retreat is a distraction from what's really important in the world, my entire spritual path is a false distraction unless I jump up and shout, stop, this is outrageous, the prisons are filled with African American youth and disenfranchised and we must take action to stop this) .

I began to integrate the NVC practice of self connection and self empathy into what I was experiencing.  Not to "force" a return to the still, quiet place, rather to embrace whatever was, holidng it, not even with "compassion" or "acceptancec", rather just allowing it to unfold. I stayed focused on my breath to stay with the physical sensations and mental activity,  not trying to change anything, in fact welcoming the spaciousness of the retreat  to examine the strong life energy that was arising in me. 

My daily NVC and Mindflness practice of moving through the day with awareness of feelings and needs that were arising and falling in experiencing had prepared me to watch and be present with all that was happening within me now. I could  "be with " without labeling "feelings and needs,", "thoughts or sensation".  And this "being with' opened me into experiencing parts of myself that are usually crowded out. The spacousness and slowing down of retreat allowed me to witness how thoughts raose from painful sensations, how sensations arose from external circustances, how each step connected to wounding, concerns, fears, that were already living in me.

There were times over the next days that my heart beat was so intense I went and laid down on the bed in my room.  

Strategies appeared in my head, like waves in a stormy sea.  Even though we had been encouraged to refrain from writitng, I decided to write about what was hgappening, as a way to get some clarity about what was going on inside of me. Through the writing, I connected with my deep yearning for spirutal teachers to use their pulpits to inspire their students to deeper understanding of the injustices in our world. I discovered my fears that spritual paths are distracting us- me- from the contribution we are really called upon to make in today's world.

I stopped writitng and returned to the retreat schedule. And deeper needs of mine arose as my anger at Adya faded. My own deep need to trust myself and how I am understanding and contributing to the world. My own deep need to trust that I am growing in my capacity to do that, to trust that silent reteats, which I love, are serving the needs that are the most precious to me.

I was enjoying the space to explore and be with the sensations of this inner activity arising from what had been a place of inner calm and quiet. With the luxury of days of silence and retreat, I had the space to let the sensations arise and fall, just following them-not even bringing a “compassionate presence” to them, as I might choose to do in the throes of a conversation or “real life” interaction. Here I had the space and willingness to follow the energy, to learn about it, experience  it from the inside. At times it seemed clearly that the silent space was a steady benevolent presence, watching over and being with the activity of this worldly being.

The Realization

After days of following this inner experiencing, on the 5th day of the retreat, my heart completely turned. My being was released from the separation of anger and judgment directed at the teacher. I experienced a release from feelings of distress and fear that had been fueled by deeply held thoughts that teachers “should”  speak and act a certain way. Slowly, as my anger toward Adya  calmed, I felt a shift into curiosity. What could I learn from him to answer my questions about myself and my own purpose in life. I discovered him as a potential ally, rather than a danger to what I hold dear.

I had held with deep compassion the value judgments that had arisen in me - connecting with their purpose to create a world more in alignment with my deeply held passions for social justice, awareness,of the power dynamics that are causing young people to be incarcerated  and for spiritual teachers and communities that are leading us toward a heightened awareness. I recognized and embraced the passion that was fueled by strong identification with the part of me that relies on judgments of others  in order to find a safe place -  a place with connection and meaning in the world.

Empathy Giving rise to Curiosity

As I brought a steady peaceful presence to  all that I was experiencing inside myself, I noticed a deep curiosity arising,  first about what was important to this teacher to express himself in the way he had. What was important to him?

Usually, I stop here, feeling grateful for how the energy of curiosity brings me to a new place from which to make choices about what to do or say. (And that usually helps me trust that my actions and words come from the energy I value in this life. )

And here on retreat, I welcomed the time and space  to go deeper into experiencing how curiosity and connection live in me.  I could hang out and examine more about these qualities, learning more about myself,  before I moved to strategy or action.

I welcomed the energy of curiosity to live in my body and being.  Curiosity, not as a “step” or a “procedure” in NVC. Rather, curiosity as a process and energy to move through my being, to see what it would awaken in me; perhaps a new yearning for connection to the human energy in the other person and in myself. Perhaps beyond that to something as yet unimagined.

Connecting with the energy of curiosity living in me,  I felt an expansive  openness in my being. Greater clarity arose about what it was that I was more deeply yearning for. It wasn't just to understand "him".

The energy of openness in my being  led me into a field where my life energies  (my “needs” in NVC parlance) were present without any resistance to, or boundaries from, connection with  the energies of  his being.

There were no boundaries such as “my needs” to learn and “his needs” to contribute.

There was a meeting of the energy fields in which what we typically call “needs” in NVC was  life itself, reaching for life itself.

There was one formless  field, untethered  to notions of “my needs” and “your needs.”

This wasn’t a dropping of what was important to me.  I do long  to trust that spiritual teachers are speaking from their pulpits with skill and awareness that support us moving toward  a world that values and meets everyone’s needs.

This was a welcome release from adversarial positioning to an all embracing doorway to support and companionship on my own evolutionary journey, a deepening and clarifying of  meaning and purpose in my life.

My energy had journeyed  from feeling angry at the teacher to feeling curious about the teacher to looking toward the teacher as a source for my own learning and growth to a celebration of our shared participation in exactly what I want to direct my life toward. 

Connect before you Correct has taken on a new and deeper meaning for me. Not just to stop and get curious about the other person's needs rather than getting angry toward them. Although this itself is a significant shift!  Now, to go further, to allowing the power of curiosity to bring me into connection with the experience I am having that was triggered by something the other person does. And connecting so deeply with that experiencing, that the entire event becaomes a support and instrument and tool in my own self understanding, in pointing me toward greater truth of my own existence and purpose. Nothing to "correct", just to explore and learn and grow. 

Roberta will share a four week telecourse on NVC and Buddhism with the NVC Academy in July 2019.