Four months ago, a couple called Bodhi and Veena came to one of our OWLs (one-week long Nonviolent Communication (NVC) workshops) in Himachal Pradesh, India. When I met them last week at a follow-up event, I was very touched by their story of how NVC enriched their lives, and asked them if they were willing to share it with all of you, the wider NVC community. They were happy to do this.
Both had some understanding of NVC, through watching Marshall Rosenberg’s videos, reading his book Nonviolent Communication: A Language of Life, and Veena attended an online course. However this was their first workshop of experiential learning. And there was a context to join the workshop: they felt stuck in disagreements and unpleasant feelings. It had been going on for seven months, during which time they had faced serious business challenges. Gradually it became an issue on a personal level, where they were not sure if they were able and willing to continue their partnership.
Although there were hurt feelings, frustrations and lost trust in each other, Bodhi and Veena were still open to find a way to take care of themselves and their relationship.
Gesine Schrader: When did things start to shift for you? What was the key moment on the first OWL?
Bodhi: It was on day five! Until then I had not fully registered how we were relating to each other on the feeling level. The biggest thing for me actually was to come in touch with my own feelings. On day five we were sitting at breakfast, and we got talking. We realised that we still had a friendship. That was a start. Then we said, let’s see what else is there.
Veena: I remember we were honest about saying that we hadn’t experienced for some time the kind of feelings associated with being lovers.
GS: So, it was really about coming in touch with your feelings and also what you’re longing for?
Bodhi: I guess what it really turned on was the authenticity of saying what is there. This was the starting point. That is what I’m feeling and that is what is there. Then from here, let’s walk on and see if there is a connection.
Veena: To name it was important. Even to say that, the feelings of lovers are not there anymore. And then to see, “Oh, so what is there between us?” And then we found, “Oh, I wish him well and I want to see him blossom.” And for him also. Fortunately we weren’t in the position of hating each other because of what had happened. There was an awareness that something had been lost. Just naming it brought us very alive. We became more authentic with each other.
GS: Naming it brought you and the connection more alive?
Bodhi: It was all very confusing for me before we came to the workshop. Through the workshop I got more clarity about myself. I enjoyed the depth of my experience and found that there is a way to connect with my need for freedom and autonomy, as well as to care for the connection with someone and care for their needs. I found staying with someone and just listening is very powerful!
Veena: Actually, we were always in different groups during the first five days. I had very enriching interactions with other people. The exercises we did really helped to heal some of the wounds. I got some understanding through the role plays of what’s going on, what’s actually bothering me. It was the setting of the workshop and sessions that we did that actually helped to release and heal some of the stuff.
And then when we came back from Himachal Pradesh, we found strategies to keep NVC alive. One of our favourite strategies was to have a long walk every day for 3-4 weeks. We practised listening deeply to each other. It was like house cleaning of a relationship from like ten years ago.
We weren’t sure if it would help to speak about the past, however it helped on some key issues, because we started to look at it how things are now, in the present. There was nothing to forgive, because we were able to understand each other.
Here’s how I understand what happened: Veena and Bodhi came in touch with their feelings and needs in a deep way which enabled them to be honest and authentic with each other, to name “what is there”. They discovered how powerful empathic listening is. I guess their needs to be heard, to be seen, to be understood and mutual care were met. Their relationship came alive and and they could feel the flow of connection again.
As a result of this, they decided to continue working together. Celebration!