8-24-17 Slovenia: Nonviolent Communication on the Pohorje Plateau
This week-long European Nonviolent Communication Summer Festival was the real reason I visited Slovenia.
A very happy and empathetic couple from Canada, Cis and Cat, had thrown it out as a possibility while we gardened together in Bulgaria. Why not? I finagled a room at the over-booked conference by promising Ivana, who had a bed to spare, that I didn’t snore and I was in! In what I wasn’t sure but it promised to be an instructive week in a posh-ski-resort high above Maribor with lots of nice people. I could use that after getting lost, impersonal hostels and moving luggage. A place to stay put, be fed and it turned out .. to be loved.
Feel free to skip this blog if I get too saccharine but I promise you that this was one of the highlights of my year!
I had already studied NVC (also called Compassionate Communicaiton) with David Warren (feel free to contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org, re. classes and resources) in Melbourne, Florida, USA for months but couldn’t say I was proficient. As I left home with conflicts unresolved, I was wondering whether this communication practice could have prevented a relationship fracture. And I surely wanted to arrive back in the States having changed parts of myself that were unskillful.
Just having to take the cable-car up to the Pohorje Plateau gave me an above-it-all possibility of change.
What a break to get outside of entangled attachments and take a fresh view! And hopefully to land back into Maribor, Slovenia a week later with new understandings and practiced skills.
Nonviolent Communication is a communication process developed by Marshall Rosenberg in the 1960’s as a result of his work initially with racial tensions. It is designed to rapidly shift conflicts in groups, improve compassionate connection in relationships and bring one’s focus back to self-empathy and defining one’s own needs. Sounds a little airy-fairy, I know, but I’ve experienced it as profound. It takes practice of course and is better learned with someone rather than with a book. (But buy the book by the same name for starters!)
The Giraffe and the Jackal
I don’t have many pictures to share, folks. In the center of our opening group are the playful but oh-so-real symbols of NVC. The giraffe, symbolizing that wise and compassionate part of ourselves. And the ever-present jackal, that selfish irritable judgmental part of each and everyone of us! During the next week in workshops and events we got to work with all parts of ourselves and each other, with increasing acceptance and compassion.
NVC is a constantly evolving field, being taught throughout the world and incorporated into politics, schools, therapy and the work-place. Yep, it’s age old wisdom but new in its innovative applications.
How did it work for me?
Well, I was still working on problematic conflicts that I thought I had left at home. But nope – here I could transform them and move forward on this journey, with less baggage and more lightness in my being.
Not to get too personal here, folks, but those of you who love me know my issues. Usually around men, right? With your indulgence, I’ll describe the transformative process I went through. Maybe you can relate to it or at least breathe relief that I’ll stop whining to you!
First, I was shown how to “step into your enemy’s shoes.”
Not that anyone was truly "enemy", but just someone I had a conflict with.I thought I had vowed not to cast anyone out of my heart as the First Pearl of Macedonia. And that I had “forgiven” him as the Third Pearl. But that didn’t mean I had actually stood in his shoes, which after all is the foundation of compassion. What was different about this facilitated process is that as I first stood in my shoes, I was given empathy by a partner. Then in his shoes, given empathy for him. Then back in my shoes, looking at him with new understanding. Knowing what I now knew, what would be the best possible relationship going forward? I got the answer.
Part of this is accepting the jackal in all of us! Its just there, folks! No big surprise.
Secondly, I identified my “unmet need” that had led to so much ambivalence.
Mine turned out to me (and it popped up from nowhere) – i.e. my need “to matter.” Of course we all need to matter to someone! We need someone to know us, to care about us… to love us! Especially, on these crazy travels I needed someone in the world to report to every day so that someone would know if I was alive or dead! Did I fall off the mountain, drown in the lake …? But I did not want this “need” to fuel an unhealthy relationship. What to do? OK, folks, getting really weird here… A group of us took turns lying on a recliner, while the others circled, whispering, touching, telling us whatever we requested so that the important “need” was filled. I needed “to matter” – and that’s what they gave me in this Love Bath. I can promise that whenever I lie in a hostel, unknown by bunk-mates, or travel anonymously, I can still close my eyes and receive their love. I do matter. Of course I do! Just need to remember it….
Here is my home/empathy group -- don't we all need someone to listen to us without giving advice? And to remind us to think with giraffe higher wisdom and compassion.
Thirdly, and then we come to strategies.
Some practical ways to get the need met. Empathetic listening first, then strategies. Each of us stood in front of the group and listened to them brain-storm possible actions we could take to help ourselves or to ask for help. I listened and realized that just by simple daily text-messaging and skyping I can feel I matter. I can transform an unhealthy dependence on one person into multiple sources of love, duh! And relate to that one person in a less-needy way.
Descending in the cable-car back into the “real world” I was changed. I had found courage. (Even courage to go down to the "naked" sauna -- actually a normal thing in Slovenia and clothes are forbidden. Thank goodness no one else showed up!)
I had strategies. My sweet daughter April offered to message me everyday. Friends will email if I just remember to email them. And Cis and Cat, even though traveling to Sweden and having a baby, offered to always be available as my “empathy angels.”
If I get too critical of another I just remember this song, "See Me Beautiful."
Here is the inspiring link for Marshall Rosenberg singing it: https://youtu.be/9V1Bx4-5EnY
And here is our group singing it: https://youtu.be/9V1Bx4-5EnY
And you really want to get silly!!
Slovenia? I definitely experienced it as a place to love and be loved.