(I wrote this short article for a German NVC magazine and then thought that it might be of interest also for English speakers, so here it is…)
Similarly to all other aspects of life that NVC is exploring, self-empathy/self-connection is also, for me at least, an ongoing research, an ongoing journey of discovery. It stretches from very practical questions of how to do it, when to do it, how to know whether I am self-connected, to very existential ones of what self is at all, who is connecting to what, what it all actually is in its essence…
Key points about self-connection I have learned so far:
Self-connection is a holistic, embodied process. It is not an intellectual activity in which I am browsing through the list of feelings and needs, identifying them with my mind: “yes, I guess I feel sad because I need, let me see, well, I need love and trust.”
It actually fully involves my body and sensations that flow through it. Not only that, it furthermore taps into the amorphousness of my being, into the ever-evolving creation of “myself” in the moment. It stretches into the very essence of who and what is it that I identify as “myself”. So, yes, it is about embodied fullness of experiencing.
Self-connection is about staying with what is alive now. It is about being with the reality of the present moment. It is not so much about remembering the past experiences, feelings, needs…, but about being with what is manifesting through me right now, despite temptations of my mind to react to it by analyzing the past and planning the future. It is about being attentive and present with how life is manifesting itself right now. It is about relaxing into the mystery of life unfolding in the present moment. As simple as that.
Self-connection is about embracing the flow of life. It is about going beyond the distinctions between the “positive” and the “negative” experiences, beyond trying to change my feelings, pacify them, fix myself, turn myself form sad to happy… To me it is really about meeting my own being at that famous field of Rumi – beyond ideas of right and wrong. Beyond even the concept that I am not OK now as I am in pain, and then me trying to heal myself so I will be OK again, meaning happy, enlightened. It is about saying yes, with the fullness of my being, to the miracle of life as I am experiencing it. It is about easing into the flow of life, about resting in it, about embracing it in its wholeness. Or, in other words, it is about letting myself be fully embraced by the flow of life.
Why self-connection sometimes doesn’t seem to work
While the above may sound quite abstract, it perhaps gets a bit clearer and more grounded when I remember how my mind is conditioned to operate.
For instance, when trying to connect with the flow of life in me, or, in other words, when trying to self-connect, there will very often be strong tendencies within my mind to put it all into a conceptual box: “Well, of course A happened because of B, and so I now feel X. This is how life is. This is how things go…”
Well, can my mind really grasp how life actually is? Or does it just keep creating a very simplified and mono-dimensional image of it, which then becomes the framework for a rather limited experience of life?
Or I act out of the concept that some feelings are good and some not, and then I try to pacify the not-good-ones and maintain the good-ones. Or I try to suppress it all. Or change myself into something I believe I should be. Etc, etc…
Similar thing often happens when I try to be with another person that is going through something emotional; the tendency to “help” this person, to heal them, to somehow change them into the image that I have about how they should be: happy, fulfilled, peaceful… This is where all the classical empathy blockers seem to be coming from: educating, comforting, telling stories, giving advice…
The purpose of dyads
The dyad work started in 1960’ in the US, originated by Charles Berner that both Robert Gonzales and myself learned from directly. The general idea was to combine intensive self-connecting meditations, inspired by the work on Koans in Zen Buddhism, with the power of pure human connection, devoid of the social conditioned interacting patterns.
The way we use dyad work within NVC and primarily at the Awakening to Life Intensives is to dive deeply into self-connection, with the help of questions that the mind cannot answer and that rather invite us into holistic experiencing. Opening up to the life in us in the moment, embracing what is, experiencing the breath of aliveness, this all helps us to activate the process of deep self-connection that soon guides us beyond the known self, beyond our mental concepts, beyond the pre-set categories in our mind, beyond the distinction between myself and the otherness. We learn, moment by moment, to be fully present, to embrace the flow of life, and, yes, to awaken to the mystery of life.
At the same time we can, while being in a role of a witness in a dyad, learn to get back into the innocence of marveling at the mystery of life that is revealing itself through this human being who sits across from us. To just witness and wonder at the manifestation of the flow of life, without trying to fix it, change it, even name it, identify it.
In other words, we can learn to be fully alive, to be fully present to the life as it flows through us as well as through others. If there is any difference between the two at all, that is.
The purpose of the Awakening to Life Intensive
There is a certain difference between doing dyads once a week, or once a day, or even a few times a day at workshops, and between doing them from early mornings to late evenings for a full week straight. Especially, if it is done within a dedicated community of people, with questions that follow a certain deepening direction.
While working for one full year on finetuning the structure of the Awakening to Life Intensive, both Robert Gonzales and myself were putting together all the experiences from our lives of attending intensive retreats of this nature, like Enlightenment Intensives, Vipassana retreats, Zen Seshins…, combining it with the compassionate and free atmosphere of Nonviolent Communication. Finally we put together a retreat that seems more like a one-week sacred ceremony of gently inviting our hearts, our souls, our very core nature, the flow of life that streams through us, into this world.
We don’t come to the retreat in order to learn, train, heal…, we come to invite ourselves into fully awakened presence to Life. We come to be with life as it shows through us and through others, arising in the moment. As this is the only thing we seem to have anyway; our direct connection with the mystery of life in the moment of now, into which we are anchored with the portals of our bodies.
For many participants it feels like waking up fully to this life. And, along the way, increasing our capacity to stay awake, fully present, in the wholeness of it.
The ultimate promise of self-connection
For me this is the very essence of self-empathy; the ultimate wholeness, the ultimate embrace of life. In order to fully be, to fully meet life, to fully engage and to, last but not least, fully enjoy this mystery of existence.
When there is no more two – me self-connecting with myself -, when the somewhat schizophrenic experience of having 15 different feelings and 7 different needs inside of me transforms into a peaceful stream of life, when the apparent compartmentalization of the experience of life turns into oneness in the present moment, when the me and you and them melts back into the wholeness – then, I finally experience true self-connection.