nonviolent communication-empathy (NVC)
Book Review, Self-Care

Learning NVC: The best decision I almost didn’t made

“All that has been integrated into NVC [Nonviolent Communication]  has been known for centuries about consciousness, language, communication skills, and use of power that enable us to maintain a perspective of empathy for ourselves and others, even under trying conditions.” — Marshall B. Rosenberg, Phd

nonviolent communication-empathy (NVC)

Would NVC really be useful for me?

I was like most people the first time I heard about NVC. I heard, “Nonviolent Communication,” and thought, “That’s nice… for you.” Most people figure they’re (mostly) not violent, so why bother spending time learning how to be communicate nonviolently? And like most people, I passed on it the first time a friend invited me along to her practice group. It wasn’t until I moved a thousand miles from anyone I knew, and had ‘nothing better’ to do with my time, did I decide to go to my first practice group in Taos, NM. Nine years later, I realize learning NVC was the best decision I almost didn’t make– for my peace of mind, my health, and for my relationships and interactions with any and all human beings. It’s now one of the techniques I recommend to patients most regularly — that’s how big of an impact its had on my life.

How does practicing NVC help?

Increased Peace of Mind

Probably the biggest insight I’ve gained from Nonviolent Communication, also known as Compassionate Communication, is the understanding that everything we do, and everything we feel, is a reflection of our needs being or not being met. That means there is no [true] emotion that is too ‘unreasonable.’ There is no action too ‘egregious,’ or person too ‘evil’ for either. With no perceived demons, there can be peace of mind. In today’s political climate, holding this perspective is an invaluable tool for staying present, open and engaged.

Increased Wellbeing

Over the years I’ve been practicing, I think the biggest paradigm shift for me was to learn that in NVC: Having needs doesn’t make someone ‘needy.’ What if how you felt really mattered, and was perfectly acceptable? You got it. What if you simply needed what you needed, and that was OK? You got it. What if, out of this understanding, you could come to care for yourself — for what you really needed — without shame, guilt, or fear? You got it! Talk about a huge weight lifted! Nonviolent Communication is such a gift to one’s own wellbeing precisely because it separates our needs from our strategies [to get those needs met]. That means, you don’t have to change how you or someone else feels or needs to be able to be healthy and happy. Instead by listening to what we need, we can seek out the supportive conditions to our health and wellbeing. Mind-blowing, I know!

Heartfelt Connection

Once we’ve learned how to be open to the seemingly ‘unacceptable’ within ourselves and our world, the ultimate goal of Nonviolent Communication is to be able to connect with others from the heart. Could you imagine what the world would be like if everyone knew, and treated one another in such a way, that “everyone’s voice matters, and what is alive for each is sacred“? It’s no surprise NVC is used all around the world to settle everything from domestic to political disputes. It’s practiced by all types of folks in prisons, schools, health care, law, and social services.

Don’t let the name fool you

The biggest hurdle to Nonviolent Communication tends to be the name. Once you realize it’s not really about communication at all – but about how we connect with ourselves and others, you realize there is no self talk, no small talk, or conflict in which NVC doesn’t apply. There are few tools so vastly impactful!

Want to get started?

Awesome! Check out the Center for Nonviolent Communication‘s website. For a brief introduction to the work, I encourage you to read John Cunningham’s booklet, “Compassionate Communication and Empathy’s Awakening.” For anyone interested in self study, I’d recommend getting both founder Marshall Rosenberg’s book, Nonviolent Communication, and the accompanying workbook by Lucy Leu. For folks in Seattle interested to practice in a group setting, I’ll be leading a workshop covering the first eight chapters of Marshall Rosenberg’s book come March. I would love to see you there! I encourage you to register early as there are limited seats.


Reiki, Self-Care

Community: Unique Currents in a Stream

Columbia River Mouth and Bar

No one person can effectively live in isolation. We all affect the water around us and the way of the current. So, how much of our swimming with or against the current is learned and how much of that inclination is nature?

They did a study with men and women wherein they were looking to see the correlation between the participants’ exposure to testosterone in the womb and their later ability to empathize (i.e. connect with others). (I’ve just scoured the internet seeing if I could find the clip, but alas, I cannot!) It was fascinating! They started by gathering men and women with varying levels of exposure to testosterone in the womb. An easy at-home trick to see your own level of exposure is to compare the length of your ring finger to that of your index finger on the same hand (see: photo). Keeping your wrist straight, if your ring finger is longer than your index finger, as shown here, you were exposed to more testosterone in the womb. Conversely, if your index finger is longer than your ring finger, you were exposed to more estrogen.

Longer ring finger than index finger = more testosterone exposure as fetus.

Checking the ratio of testosterone (red line) to estrogen (yellow line) exposure

Researchers then gathered these men and women with all varying levels of testosterone, and put them each with a crying baby. The individuals with more estrogen (both men and women), instinctively reached out for the baby to calm and care for it. Those with more testosterone did not. Oddly, the man with the greatest testosterone level of the group, however, also picked up and held the baby. When the researchers asked the man why, he explained he never naturally connected with people; and in fact, his inability to connect was so strong, he had to learn to mimic other people’s behavior in similar situations to get on.

Learning of this man’s challenge in life, I became aware of a powerful truth: It may not be in our nature to do something, to feel something, to know something, and so on; but, we can learn to do almost anything if we put our mind to it–even without understanding why we’re doing it at the time.

As for me, I certainly started out not an empathizer (did you guess that’s my hand?). I was a New Yorker, and an introvert. I took pride in it, too. I took the Myers-Briggs when I was in my early 20s and I thought that was good justification for my inability to care for people’s feelings, “Oh, well, I’m a Thinker; and it’s obvious you’re a Feeler. So, unless you want to talk solutions, I don’t really want to hear your feelings.” Yikes! And this general disinterest verging on distaste for other people spilled over into all areas of life; I was happiest avoiding my neighbors and enjoying a singleton’s life.

Gradually things changed. I moved to San Francisco, and found a roommate that shared my values. I started practicing Buddhism and found a community not comprised of a ‘group,’ but of individuals. I started to see that each person matters and has a unique and marvelous gift for this life; that there is no ‘better’ and no ‘worse’ among us.

I believe learning Reiki was a huge part of this process for me – to learn that we are all unique faces of this greater whole. This was further fleshed out by my learning that having needs doesn’t make us “needy.” (Thank you, NVC.) Eventually, my energy work practice brought me to my current understanding and relief that we are not competitors; we are creators. Pretty awesome and intense stuff!

So, maybe it’s in part nature and in part nurture; but regardless of how we’re born, or what we choose to do with our lives, we can’t forget the ways in which others color and change our perspectives. Just as much as our actions affect others; we are constantly in the stream of the gentle push from others. We decide whether we want to be pushed to greatness, or pushed to shame. Remember: You get to choose whom you keep in your life.

Umqua Bank Holistic Health Fair with Melissa Dana 04/13

Connecting at Umpqua Bank’s Holistic Health Fair

In the meantime, I’d like to thank some folks that have recently entered mine: Candace, Alex and Shalena over at Umpqua Bank in Ballard. I had met with the Store Manager, Candace, a while back and really enjoyed hearing the ways she had been expanding the Ballard bank’s community offerings (among other things, you have her to thank for their fantastic rotating art gallery in the back!). And while representing my practice at their holistic health fair last weekend, I got to witness firsthand their successful efforts to raise awareness about local resources available to folks! Thank you for all your hard work in making the health fair such a success!

Community is certainly the theme at Umpqua, what with their unique ‘word salad’ on their windows (yes, I had no idea what that was, either) describing the local community’s vibe, their paid 40-hours of volunteering for employees, a rotating spotlight on local merchants, to even their hosting group sessions for small businesses looking to learn tips from experts in different fields. (The list goes on….) If you happen to be in Ballard (or in any other of their many Seattle locations), I encourage you to stop on in and check out their interactive ‘Discover’ wall; perhaps you’ll be surprised what you find!

Thinking of your connection to those around you, what’s one way you might leave the world a better place for having lived in it?


Does the Mood Strike You?

Exhausted and Frustrated Collapsing

There can be such clarity in simple expressions. Mood: often we feel overwhelmed by how we are feeling, or how we want to be feeling, that we forget our moods simply come and go. How we feel in a moment is not who we are at heart. Nonetheless, our feelings give us great insight to our needs–and that is something well worth addressing!

Physically, our body is a well-oiled machine of incredible capacity. Caring for it must include an awareness of how we nourish it, what we demand of it, how we treat it, and how we think about it. “What the Bleep Do We Know” is a super cool movie that illustrates this point, that our thoughts can directly affect the function of our bodies. Dr. Masaru Emoto in Japan proved that using words to deliver intention to water can even physically affect the shape of its crystals. So what does that mean for us in how we talk to ourselves, think to ourselves about how we are and how we would like to be?

While moods may wash over us seemingly out of nowhere, there are a few fantastic methods to help get to the bottom of what’s going on. I love the Non-Violent Communication model set up by Dr. Marshall Rosenberg. It’s simple enough in its approach–it has four basic parts: (1) Everyone has the same, universal needs. (2) Our feelings indicate whether our needs are or are not being met. (3) We each choose strategies to ensure our needs get met. (4) Everyone can get their respective needs met by choosing cooperative strategies. For those who battle with anger, depression, and anxiety, this can be a very powerful tool. Just to be aware that it’s not being “needy” to have needs can be extremely liberating! It’s also empowering to start recognizing that in each action, we are always striving for the same thing — to get our needs met. So, when we don’t like the outcome our of choices, we can have clarity that it’s not our needs that are the problem, but our strategies. This can create space for the important shift out of pessimism (something internal, i.e. “What’s wrong with me?”) to optimism (something external, i.e. “This didn’t go well for me.”). The more and more we create a separation between what we experience and who we are, the easier it is to respond creatively to our situation, and remain open-hearted.

The Pathway” is another fantastic resource I recommend to patients. In this book, author Laurel Mellin, MA, RD describes the method of doing what are called “cycles” as a method to move through the mood. The cycle roughly breaks down into asking one’s self: (1) How am I feeling? (2) Are my expectations reasonable? (3) Are my thoughts powerful and positive?  (4) What is the essential pain/earned reward? (5) What do I need? Do I need support? You’d be amazed what can get uncovered in a cycle with simply applying attention! I think about our brains like massive storage houses — with endless drawers for our experiences. We carefully and carelessly place and toss our happiness, our frustration, our being seen, our being forgotten, our hopes and our desperation. Each drawer deepens and widens with each year of our lives. Then we get a new experience — Uh! Goes in the drawer! But guess what? Each time we open it we’re reminded of all the junk and all the joy we’ve known before! That is, of course, unless we regularly empty the drawers…. All the more reason to parse out our feelings and needs daily!

Chemistry is no small part of it, too. Studies have shown vitamin and mineral levels do make a difference. Key players include chromium, phosphorus, zinc and an array of B vitamins among others. B vitamins in particular can be crucial in treating mood disorders; and supplementing with a methylated folic acid (i.e. B9) and B12 can make a significant difference to those inefficient at activating these vitamins. I mention this just as an example to remind everyone that we’re talking about the mind-body-spirit connection. Treating the body, we affect the mind. Working with the mind, we affect the body. The best healing works on all levels.

I personally love Reiki’s ability to listen deeply to the spirit while working with the body-mind. It’s a great avenue for cultivating awareness of what beliefs we hold, what fears we have, what holds us back from being our full, true selves. Honoring the sacred voice in each of us, Reiki can light the path when things have grown dim. I treasure the softness, kindness, and wisdom that come straight from the heart of each person I meet. When things grow dim, come on in!