So I was going to write something to answer all the people who wonder out loud (well, in email form, mostly) why it is that I require all clients and Kitchen Table-ers to read
sleep with it under their pillows own their own copy.
But I wasn’t planning on writing about it just yet.
Until I realized that tonight is Shavuot. And this is exactly the right time.
It’s all about the Moment. And the cheesecake.
Shavuot is a big deal for all sorts of reasons. For one thing, it’s the cheesecake holiday.*
* And even if you are me and you don’t eat cake, it’s still the yogurt and cottage cheese and blintzes holiday. Yum.
Also, there is the Tikkun Leil Shavuot which involves studying all night — and having deep, complicated discussions until the sun comes up. We kind of geek out on that stuff.
And then — I mean, really, as if cheese + nerdy scholarly fabulousness were not enough — there is a Moment.
Well, there is a tradition that there is a moment. And that’s enough for me. According to tradition, at midnight on the eve of Shavuot, the skies open. Just for this moment. And you are right there.
And it is because of this Moment that I make everyone I know read this (decidedly non-religious) text.
Midnight was approaching.
I was in a park in Berlin. The late night study group at the synagogue had been decidedly uninspired and we had run away.
Jonathan was a friend of a friend. Visiting from Canada. Armed with books. We studied and talked and debated until six in the morning.
Moving from café to café as closing time approached. (Yes, it was a somewhat secular interpretation of the holiday, but our intentions were pure).
But for midnight — for the Moment — we had to be right there. Under the stars.
And what I got from that Moment was the knowledge that all the tools I needed to heal myself and my stucknesses were coming to me.
That it was time to be more watchful because maybe I was already tripping over them.
And then I received the tool I needed the most.
As we walked and walked down Prenzlauer Allee in search of the next café, we talked about books. The kind that change lives.
And he made me promise to track down Nonviolent Communication.
He described how he and his Belgian girlfriend use the method not just as a practice but as a matter of course. How when a misunderstanding or an argument breaks out, they turn to the method and it brings them back to each other.
And I kept my promise.
And then I resisted the tool I needed the most.
I cannot even tell you how much I would have despised this book had I been introduced to it in any other way.
Luckily, I’d already been warned about the awful, awful poetry.
Yes, it is the dairy holiday, but that doesn’t mean I like cheese in my books. Seriously. If Jonathan had not guaranteed that this book would change my life, I probably would’ve tossed it out the window.
Also, it had something that suspiciously looked like “I feel” sentences. I hate that stuff.
Feelings? FEELINGS? It reminded me of that unpleasant (and extremely unsuccessful) couples therapy session with my husband in Israel.
Pompous old manTherapist: Let’s diagram some sentences!
Me (in my head): My husband cries himself to sleep every night and you want me to diagram sentences?
He gets up in the middle of the night and goes to his mother’s. What sentences? He blames me for his depression and every day he gets more controlling about what I’m allowed to say and do so that he won’t get more depressed, but you know what’s really important?
Sentences. What’s wrong with you?!
It doesn’t matter that I was wrong.
So of course now I realize that yes, our communication was shot to hell, and that learning how to speak compassionately could have helped us.
But because the person trying to teach the whole compassion thing wasn’t practicing it on us in that moment, we weren’t able to get it.
It wasn’t the right time. It wasn’t the right approach. Not the right doorway.
What I wanted for my husband was for him to receive from therapy what I had: the ability to take personal responsibility for stuff in your life not being exactly the way you want it to be.
What my husband wanted for me was for me to be an entirely different person.
The message that “communication could help us get along” was irrelevant. Now, if I could have understood that communication would help me to finally feel heard and acknowledged and safe, maybe I would have given it a chance. Maybe.
Anyway, I read the book. And it did change my life.
It cleared up the smog.
NVC got me through the trials and tribulations of living with an obsessive-compulsive drag king diva performance artist who hated me (no, not my husband — this was a roommate. I know).
It made everything better. More bearable, somehow. And it helped me get better at communicating with myself. I’d never be able to talk to walls or negotiate with monsters without it.
When I met my gentleman friend, and it seemed like he might end up being my gentleman friend, I tried to scare him off.
I told him that the only way I would be willing to consider getting involved was if he agreed to practice NVC with me.
The next thing I knew, he was immersed in the book.
When one of us is feeling tense, the other one pulls us back to the practice. No matter how upset I am, NVC helps me realize that what’s actually going on.
That his hurt and worried stuff has set off my hurt and worried stuff. And it brings us back to each other.
It brings us back to ourselves.
Consider yourself warned.
It has unbelievably cheesy poetry that will hurt your brain to read. Skip those parts.
You’ll start to wish everyone you knew had access to these tools.
You’ll be kinder to yourself. You’ll be more patient with others. You’ll find yourself drawn to a more mindful way of doing things, but not out of obligation or responsibility or anything.
More because it’s just a natural extension of what you’re doing already.
If you use Nonviolent Communication to change your language (and Dance of Shiva to change your brain), leading a grounded, intentional, relatively happy life gets way, way easier. I truly believe that. I’ve seen it happen a hundred times.
Anyway, that’s the long story version of why I have crazy prerequisites for working with me and taking my courses.
It’s not because I’m mean. It’s because my sincere wish for you is for you to be able to feel heard, acknowledged and safe whenever you need to. For you to have that kind of connection with yourself and the world around you.
And because sometimes a little cheese is appropriate. And because I want you to have a Moment under the stars too.
I’m reading it right now. And resisting it with all my might, truth be told – not because I don’t think it’s valid, but because the idea of using NVC in some situations/with some people just makes me want to run screaming. It’s SO MUCH easier to imagine punching them in the mouth than having a human exchange with them, in which I have to be present and open. (I know, I know – isn’t that charming?)
Seriously – I’m still reading it. And just got to the section about practicing NVC with yourself (which I resisted EVEN MORE, and which is where I suppose it all has to start).
Thank you, Havi. Really and truly, thank you. An amazing thing happened today, completely from out of the blue. It’s the thing that I’ve been pushing for, pushing so hard, and when I all but gave up it happened. I can feel things starting to open up. Glorious. Now, back to business. Must order this book….
Lizs last blog post..On not being struck by lightening
As always, thank you for your compelling post. I’m going to find a copy of NVC for myself.
I’d like to recommend a book to you: Bargaining for Advantage: Negotiation Strategies for Reasonable People by G. Richard Shell. The title is a doozie but the book itself is amazing. Shell explains how we’re constantly negotiating: with family, co-workers, at a stop sign [who gets to turn first?–it’s a negotiation with the other driver]. Best thing I got from the book: negotiating is not about a winner or a loser, you can negotiate so both parties get what they want. Here’s a link:http://preview.tinyurl.com/njqmvr
lindas last blog post..Fact
Hi Havi! As always, thank you for the pearls of wisdom that you offer here. I looked up this book at my library and unfortunately it’s checked out, so I’m reading The Gentle Art of Verbal Self-Defense instead. The 1980’s edition. But I hear there is a revised and updated version. Here’s the link: http://www.sfwa.org/members/elgin/Verbal_Self_Defense.html
That night in Berlin must have been a beautiful night.
I will buy this book for myself, it will certainly be extremely useful. I really wish it was available in French too (there have been translations of books by Marshall Rosenberg, but they pretty much all seem to be unavailable now), so that my mom could have access to these tools. She so desperately needs to feel heard, acknowledged and safe, and she doesn’t, which sadly makes life very hard for her.
Josianes last blog post..When life hands you lemons *and* makes the lemonade
Gotta love the NVC. And I also really love the way that you explain it. Cause of course in your explanation there is not one OUNCE of cheesy poetry!
I have been using those techniques for communicating even BEFORE it was called NVC. In ancient times, when I was a young and budding hippie therapist and dinosaurs roamed the earth, it was called PET ( Parent Effectiveness Training) and active listening and it was a lifesaver for me in my personal life and also with my clients.
And then that very clever Marshall Rosenberg came along and took that whole concept of compassionate listening and communicating and turned it into a world wide movement!
Yay Marshall!!! And yay you for asking your students to read that book if they are going to work with you. That way of learning to take responsibility for your own feelings and experience is just so amazingly revolutionary and makes life so much happier. And way more drama free. Something I appreciate more and more in my old age.
Thanks again for sharing such enlightening and personal stories about your journey. And I am SO SORRY that you went to a therapist that made you diagram sentences!!! I’ve heard about some pretty crazy and massively ineffectual therapeutic techniques in my time, but that one really takes the cheesecake!!
And coming from a tradition where there is a night during the year where the skies open for a moment? That is so incredibly magical. I was raised a Catholic but some of the things you talk about here make me want to be Jewish for your holidays!!
Love you bunches,
chris zydels last blog post..Creative Miracle Grow: The Crazy Wonderfulness That Can Happen When Someone Believes In YOU!
Yay, more fellow nvc-ers!
@Amna – you are so, so right about it being a complete pain, especially at first.
And when I encounter the people I really, really don’t want to use it on, I use it on *that*.
As in, “I feel FURIOUS when I want to punch someone in the face and can’t because I really want the world to know just how upset and hurt I am. And even though it’s hard for me to express my upset-ness in a way that doesn’t hurt the other person the way I’ve been hurt, I’m allowed to be as angry as I want and I’m working on it.”
Slowly, slowly. And anyway, it doesn’t require (thank god) that you be nice to people all the time. Because bleargh. Ick. 🙂
@Josiane – Oh, yes. And I find that using it on people (even in my head) can have a good effect. My parents are very, very not into it, but I use it when I’m having conversations with them by myself and it’s good there too.
@Claire – Hooray for Elgin! She is my hero.
@Linda – thanks for the recommendation – will take a look.
@Liz – wow. Can’t wait to hear the story behind *that*. Sounds like a whole lot is happening for you right now! Excellent.
@ Chris – I completely and utterly adore you. And I adore that you just said “that one really takes the cheesecake!!”
So so great.
Ok phewf! Glad you said that about the poetry because, really? the poetry, oh my 😛
But the method is phenomenal and so simple and at the same time so difficult to practice. I’m working on it 🙂
(Oh, and the controlling-depression-blaming relationship bit? Sounds so painfully and sickeningly familiar. Thanks for sharing that. I’m sorry to hear that had to be a part of your journey dear.)
Eileens last blog post..The new drug
Oh good, I had been wondering about this; thank you for this post. Just placed a hold on it at the library!
Marijane Whites last blog post..finding your thing: StrengthsFinder
Okay, I’m considering reading the book. But I am skeptical (possibly part of my problem). After reading many many many books, I’m wondering how many books does it take to get unstuck? I mean really, is my head extra thick? (Rhetorical). I have tools, but often I fall back into my stuckness despite knowing better. Which leads to frustration, unkindness, etc… Didn’t mean to rant, but I’m ready for my “night under the stars” already. Thanks for the post.
Carrie Tallmans last blog post..Parking Karma
All right all right already! Not you, Havi, The Universe. This book has been put in front of my face Idunnamany times in the last few months … except for actually getting my hands on a copy. If The Universe could please arrange that my local bookstore have it in stock please? And preferably on a day I have money. Thank you.
And thanks for the heads up on the poetry. I’ve had enough experience to know that many good things are hidden by cheese, but it’s still good to have some reassurance that there’s actually meat in there, so to speak.
You know when you’re resisting something so mightily that you don’t even realize what you’re doing is resistance? That? And when I say “you”, I mean “I”.
Anna-Lizas last blog post..Pollyanna Knows the Feeling
Ha! Thanks for sharing that about the poetry. I found it a bit cheeseball as well.
I’m reading NVC, trying to absorb, struggling with it a bit. I love reading your discussions of it. Super helpful!
Question: Is the “even though” part of your comment to Amna part of NVC? I recently heard people teaching EFT using it, but wasn’t sure if it was part of NVC too.
leahs last blog post..Whale Tales
Thank you for suggesting this book by way of personal story-telling. I just finished reading it, and intellectually I get most of it though introvert that I am, I can’t say I want to connect with people this much all the time.
Still, most of it I found to be worthwhile, if a little clunky sounding. I’m working on my clarity of expression, being more specific about my observations and removing the judgments from them and figuring out how to accurately express/name my feelings and what I want. I was also rather intrigued by the section on applying NVC to internal critical monologues.
There’s a lot to take in… I’ll probably try to read most of it again before it’s due.
Again, thank you for the review and for the note about skipping the poetry.
claires last blog post..20. Nonviolent Communication: A Language of Compassion
Sounds like a great book!
A friend with anxiety (of a somewhat different flavor than mine) recommended the book “Difficult Conversations.” I’ve resisted it, because — I admit — I don’t want to do difficult things. I’d like to think that there is ease under the facade of difficulty, and I just have to (effortlessly) melt through the difficult layer onto the pillowy reassurance of the ease part. (Havi, your metaphorizing is contagious and fun!) My goal is to have more motivating self-talk and more openness to others.
So, is NVC as useful as Difficult Conversations?
(And let me introduce you to the I-have-to-know-this-investment-will-pay-off-now monster of impatience.)
Ha! @VIVA – I also like the book Difficult Conversations (though the title might be problematic for those of us (me!) who want to run away and avoid difficult anything. Thought it was quite useful. Though if I were just taking one communication book to a desert island — with a person I’d need to communicate with — I’d probably take NVC. Also How to Talk So Kids Will Listen And Listen So Kids Will Talk…. But NVC first.