Welcome to the first edition of Phases of the Moon,
the newsletter of the Maine NVC Network.

We intend to send out a newsletter once a month. Our purpose is to contribute to the NVC learning of people who have taken at least an NVC Level 1 workshop, and help us stay connected as we endeavor to deepen a culture of peace within ourselves, our families and the world. We believe a Level 1 offers so many new ways of thinking that additional support for learning and integration could be helpful.

Each edition will have a theme. This issue's theme is empathy. In NVC we use the word "empathy" to describe the energy of presence, creating inner calm and focus so that we can hold accepting awareness of both ourselves and others.

We endeavor to make each edition informative, connecting, inspiring and fun. Please let us know how the newsletter might contribute to your NVC well-being.



My Journey into Empathy and Self-Connection

by Peggy Smith, CNVC certified NVC trainer

In NVC we use the term empathy to describe the energy of presence, creating inner calm and focus so that we can hold non-judgmental awareness. I have come to think of myself as having an internal empathy battery. Here is an example of discovering my empathy battery in ‘negative charge’ and my journey of re-charging it.

At my second NVC workshop I experienced empathy, NVC style. Marshall Rosenberg, the creator of the Nonviolent Communicationsm process, taught a session on empathy. Then we were arranged in groups to practice empathy in the form of listening, then guessing feelings and needs (reformulation).

After I spoke, the people in my group made several guesses at my feelings and needs and I felt growing frustration. Then certified NVC trainer Gina Cenciose joined our group, and within a few moments offered up a reformulation that brought me deep relief. I knew in that moment that NVC was for me.

However, for several years empathy remained a mystery to me. I couldn’t seem to connect the dots of my various experiences. Working with the Empathy Blocks, (see textbox) and with growing patience, I could see that my habit of wanting to help by advising kept interfering. When I tried to listen I found that my mind wanted to offer suggestions, strategies intended to help reduce pain. It often involved suggesting a book to read or sharing an insight from some workshop I had attended. I thought these ideas would help reduce the person’s suffering. Then I began to experience that thinking of solutions kept me from being with the person.

My next step was to look with gentleness at my habit of offering suggestions as a way of helping. Since I had been a teacher for over 30 years, educating was a very strong habit. I decided that when my mind wanted to educate, I would simply notice.

Just notice.

Not try to change my habit, but instead become more aware of its many flavors and its deep roots in my behavior. What I discovered was a bit shocking to me: strong resistance to giving it up

Ahhhh! I noticed a part of me was telling myself I ought to give up educating. After all, educating is on the Empathy Blocker list. When we tell ourselves that we ‘ought to do something’, we can call that should-energy. I noticed that I was holding a lot of should-energy in those moments.

I remembered Carl Rogers quote: "The curious paradox is that when I accept myself just as I am, then I can change." This led me to a two-pronged approach to working with this habit.

  1. When I noticed that my mind wanted to offer suggestions, I would silently thank it for its ideas and ask myself if I was willing to bracket the ideas and come back to the person I was holding empathy for. Sometimes I accepted that request, which led to my being able to be in stronger presence with the other. Sometimes I didn’t accept the request, and I offered education.
  2. That led to the second aspect of my practice. When I did offer education, I watched the result. It was often not the connection I really wanted. So I began to ask myself with openness and loving kindness, why was the urge to educate so strong?

I told myself internally that I was not trying to get rid of educating. I wanted to understand its motivation.

I noticed that often, just before my thoughts of education arose, I felt fear. I began to look at my relationship to fear. I didn’t like it at all. In addition to the usual aversion to fear, I have a spiritual practice that promotes fearlessness. So when I experienced fear, I told myself that my spiritual practice was weak. Not an enjoyable thought.

When I realized that my suggestions were an attempt to relieve or cover up my fear, my attention shifted to my relationship to fear. I decided to try the practice of accepting my fear, by turning toward it and hold it in the arms of my loving attention, as I would a very frightened young child. I would say, "Fear, I see you. I accept that you are here. I welcome you as an old friend. Please sit here with me in my loving awareness."

I held it in my awareness. Not trying to soothe it. Not trying to shift it. Not trying to even understand it. I practiced being with it. I noticed how long I could sit with it without being swallowed up in its power. I noticed that the more I followed this practice, the longer I could usually be with it.

After several weeks I came to a realization that is currently working for me. Fearlessness is not being without fear; it is being willing to be with my fear, with curiosity and acceptance.

As I use this self-empathy practice to turn toward the emotions I fear, I become better able to be completely present with another person without falling into my habit of educating. I experience richer connections with myself and those around me.

Peggy Smith is co-founder of the Maine NVC Network
and founder/principle trainer with Open Communication

Empathy Blocks

  • Advising: "I think you should ­­­"
  • Educating: "This could turn into a positive experience if you just ---"
  • One-Upping: "That’s nothing, wait till you hear what happened to me."
  • Consoling: "It wasn’t your fault: you did the best you could."
  • Sympathizing: "Oh you poor thing."
  • Story-telling: "That reminds me of something I heard on the news ---"
  • Shutting down: "Cheer up. Don’t feel so bad." "Come on, let’s go (for an ice-cream) (to the gym)."
  • Interrogating: "When did this begin?"
  • Correcting: "That’s not how it happened."
  • Reassuring: "It will all be OK."
  • Denial of Feelings: "Don’t worry. It’s silly to worry."
  • Minimizing: "This isn’t so important."
  • Diagnosing: "Your problem is you’re a compulsive worrier."
  • Analyzing: "I think you are reacting like this because of your personality type."
a pair of people in an empathic connection, showing deep presence and listening

Suggestions for Practice:
Want some ideas to help Recharge Your Empathy Battery?

  1. Set the intention of bringing more empathy into your life.
  2. For the next few weeks notice which of the Empathy Blocks is a common reaction within you. Be in a place of gentle inquiry. Notice your reaction as a source of information, without attaching "good/bad, right/wrong" thinking to your noticing. Try inviting the self-inquiry by asking gently: "I wonder why I tend to respond with -(empathy block of your choice)- when I am listening to someone’s pain?"
  3. I suggest you have your own Empathy Buddy that you connect with weekly, either in person or over the phone.
  4. Download the Feelings & Needs cards, and use as part of your self inquiry process.
  5. Take an NVC Level 1 or Level 2 workshop to learn more and get more support.
  6. Deepen Empathy skills by participating in the 2010 NVC Integration Program in Maine.

In addition to the variety of NVC workshops I have attended that have contributed to the recharging of my empathy battery, I found this non-NVC book supportive: The One Thing Holding You Back, by Raphael Cushnir

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Empathy Buddy Guidelines

Having an Empathy Buddy is a powerful way to strengthen our Empathy Battery. While it can be very helpful to choose someone who has attended an NVC Level 1, it is not essential.

It is essential to remember that Empathy is holding PRESENCE with as close to 100% attention as possible. We can sometimes guide a friend to be our Empathy Buddy by making these agreements:

  1. Read over the Empathy Block list. Agree that during our empathy time each of us will hold the intention of not responding from one of these blocks.
  2. One of us will talk (or not) for _____ minutes. The other will listen with as full attention as possible without talking. There is NO back and forth talking.
    The listener will be aware that no matter what the speaker is saying, the listener does not believe or disbelieve the story. The listener is being present for the whole unbroken person who is inside each of us.
    Only at the end of the agreed upon time, the speaker may ask for advice, education, reassurance, sympathy, etc. and the Empathy Buddy can respond if they want.
    Alternate Idea: Have a set of Feeling & Needs cards. After the first person finishes their speaking time, they lay down feelings cards that match their current inner experience. The listener lays down needs cards that they are guessing might be the stimulus for the feelings. Try using this sentence frame: "Are you feeling ____ because of the need (value) of ______." When a variety of needs cards are laid down, the original speaker selects the needs cards that resonate for them in that moment.
  3. People switch roles.

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An oak tree in full leaf with sunny sky and white fluffy clouds, all reflected in still, clear water with a small rippled area at lower left corner

To me this photo symbolizes the empathy process.

The clouds represent our thoughts and emotions, that come and go like clouds in the sky.

The oak represents the strong, slowly growing self. Given healthful nourishment (including empathy), it grows in beauty and expansiveness, providing shade and food for others over a wide expanse.

The still water represents the person holding empathy, becoming so internally still that their heart knows just what to say or not say. The person holding empathy is a mirror reflecting the beautiful wholeness of the person sharing, even when the speaker can’t see it.

The slight ripple in the water represents that few of us hold pure empathy 100% of the time. Each ripple reminds us that our own emotions may surface, giving us an opportunity to mindfully return to stillness.

Dear Giraffe

The Dear Giraffe section will be a place you can send in your NVC questions for a direct response. We imagine that any question you have will be shared by other readers. We will pick one or two to answer in each edition. Questions concerning the NVC process, ways you wish your NVC practice could grow, places your connections seem stuck, NVC learnings you want to understand with more clarity, may be requests for Dear Giraffe. Please email us your question with "Dear Giraffe" in the subject line.

When Someone Deeply Listens to You

John Fox

When someone deeply listens to you
it is like holding out a dented cup
you've had since childhood
and watching it fill up with
cold, fresh water.
When it balances on top of the brim,
you are understood.
When it overflows and touches your skin,
you are loved.
When someone deeply listens to you,
the room where you stay
starts a new life
and the place where you wrote
your first poem
begins to glow in your mind's eye.
It is as if gold has been discovered!
When someone deeply listens to you,
your bare feet are on the earth
and a beloved land that seemed distant
is now at home within you.
from Poetic Medicine

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Book Review:
Being Me, Loving You, by Marshall Rosenberg

reviewed by Kristi Kirkham

In Being Me, Loving You, Marshall Rosenberg uses role play and lots of humor to walk folks through their very real relationship scenarios. Lively excerpts from interviews and workshops make up this 64 page book. I was intrigued immediately by four questions he posed for me to answer as though my partner were asking:

  1. Would you tell me one thing I do as your partner or friend that makes life less than wonderful for you?
  2. When I do what I do, how do you feel?
  3. What needs of yours are not being met? ¹
  4. What can we do to enrich each others lives?

With the excitement of using these questions as the basis of an engaging conversation with my partner, I stopped reading and went on to the day’s activities. My husband had agreed to make bread for me so I went to grind the flour. As we discussed how much whole wheat flour to grind, he said he planned to try a new technique in order to make the bread edible. Whoa! I was triggered. Excuse me, the bread I like is not edible? So I said something like, "It really bothers me when you criticize things I like." He said, "No don’t do this!" I said, "What, talk about it or grind the flour?" He said, "Both." I said, "You’re right," and left the kitchen. For the rest of the morning I was shaken, realizing that not only had my communication contributed to disharmony, but also that I wasn’t going to get any bread.

Can you see where I went wrong? Luckily, later, I had time to continue reading. According to Marshall, my job as an NVCer is to always see the gift behind my partner’s words. "If we hear anything but a gift in the other person’s message, we didn’t hear them. You have to notice when your NVC ears have fallen off." (p. 45) So here I have been blessed with a partner who gives me an opportunity to practice this all the time and I’m just learning to appreciate it. What if I had heard, "I want to make some bread that we both will like?" instead of judgment about the kind of bread I like. Bingo, I’m guessing I would have got my bread that day.

I’ve noticed that people pick this book up when it is lying around the house because it is small and colorful with a catchy title. It is a quick read with lots of practical ideas and examples. Because it was written in 2005, it uses the language of needs met or unmet.¹

Marshall also presents three suggestions to deepen your NVC practice, and explains how love is something you do as well as something that you feel. He covers some age-old dilemmas such as how and when to interrupt in Giraffe and how and when to scream in NVC. If you long for more closeness and connection and to express yourself in a genuine way that others can understand, you might find some useful information here. I certainly did.

¹ In this book, published in 2005, Marshall still refers to "needs met and unmet." For a different understanding describing needs as essential human qualities ebbing and flowing and changing inside people, check this video from Gina Cenciose. And, look for the feature article in next month’s Phases of the Moon: monthly newsletter of the Maine NVC Network.

Crossword Puzzle

This is a fully interactive online puzzle; we will have a new one each month which relates to the issue's theme.

Upcoming NVC Events

January 15 – 17, 2010
Level 1

Celebrate Martin Luther King, Jr. with learning Nonviolent Communication. Living Water Spiritual Center, Winslow, ME. details

January 22-23, 2010 - Introduction to Nonviolent Communication

Sant Bani School, Sanbornton, NH. details

April 20 – 21, 2010 - Introduction to NVC and Restorative Circles

Come learn about the work developed by Dominic Barter in Brazil. Workshop taught by Gina Cenciose. Meadow Wind Center, 100 Gray Road, Falmouth, ME details

2010 NVC - Integration Program

17 days of direct NVC instruction over 9 months. If you yearn to bring NVC into your way of being, this is the experience for you. details

Other East Coast Opportunities:

March 21 -28, 2010
Creating Workplaces Where People Thrive

This NVC event with NVC Training Institute will be the only such East Coast offering in 2010. Virginia location.

Looking for workshops throughout New England? www.newenglandnvc.org


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Celebrations Corner

The Celebrations Corner is a place to publish short accounts of how NVC has enriched your life. Sharing our celebrations with each other is a strategy for building inspiration, hope, and community. Please include your name with your submission, and email us, with "celebration" in the subject line.

A recent Level 1 participant wrote: "Thank you again for leading the workshop. I've read lots of self-help books, and this is by far the most useful, and I marvel at how there is NO bull** in it! My husband and I went to 6 months of couples therapy 2 years ago, and it was basically a waste of time and money, compared to the actual skills NVC has for changing one's thinking and speaking."
"Last evening I was the facilitator for our book club. We talked about short stories in Unaccustomed Earth by Jhumpa Lahiri - I took the feelings and needs list I use most and shared the outline of observation, feelings and needs/values in relation to thinking about the characters. It was just a little ten minute discussion at the end of the group but they were intrigued. I thought it was a great idea of mine; I had it prepared for if there was a lag in the reactions to the readings. When we did it I could see that we could have spent lots more time with the activity." - Theodate Lawlor, Orono

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