I don’t know about you, but I’ve accomplished a lot in my life through force, “willpower,” punishments and rewards, and deadlines (emphasis on the “dead” part, which is how I often felt at the finish line of projects and degrees).
I’d been conditioned to think that coercion, from myself or others, was the only way anyone got anything done—that left to our own devices we’d squander our lives and do absolutely nothing to contribute to the world—so I dominated myself and allowed others to dominate me into doing the things I loved until I no longer remembered what it felt like to love them.
I stayed in jobs, in relationships, in places, in situations, as long as there was even a shred of enjoyment. I was praised for my “stick-to-it-tiveness”—my tenacity, loyalty, and dedication. And I was pretty chronically angry and depressed from sticking with strategies that didn’t actually touch my needs.
Nonviolent Communication offers a vision that we all share the same universal human needs, and that there are infinite strategies to meet each of those needs. Violence arises when we lock into one strategy (one approach, one person, one group of people) to meet our needs, even if that strategy overpowers other parts of ourselves, other needs we have, other people, or our environment.
What would life be like if, instead, we put all of our needs on the table and came up with a creative set of strategies that touched all those needs?
What if we took our needs more seriously than our strategies?
I’ve lived into this “infinite strategies to meet every need” way of seeing the world for a decade now, and while it’s relatively simple to understand, it is not always easy to live. It asks us for presence, for creativity, for humility, for flexibility, for incredible and sometimes wrenching vulnerability.
That’s why I see it as spiritual practice. Like in meditation or prayer, I sometimes lose my focus, and whenever I notice, I do my best to gently, kindly redirect myself to the question, new in each moment: Sweetheart, what are you feeling and what are you needing?
When I launched Gather Together in September, there were a lot of needs I was hoping this learning community would meet for me and the community of participants. One of those needs was continuity, and so I scheduled the sessions as back-to-back weekly meetings.
By the end of the first four-week session, I realized that holding space for a group on a weekly basis took a lot more of my time and energy than I’d expected or allotted. And while I’d wanted to offer folks continuity—a place they could come every week to be nourished—I was receiving feedback from a fair number of participants that making it after work every week was hard for them. That they enjoyed coming, that they wanted to come, and that they couldn’t swing it every week.
I was tempted to shift gears after the first four-week session, but since I’d committed to trying this format for six months, even reserving the space for that full amount of time, I kept going through the second four-week session.
While it definitely makes sense sometimes to give a situation a real chance, the despair I began to feel was a clear, loud signal that I wasn’t acting from a place of curious exploration, I was unconsciously following some internal “should” that I “stick to my guns” (notice the violence embedded in willpower language).
As soon as I realized that I was acting from an unconscious place of internalized self-domination, I was freed to once again be in true choice. Within a day, I’d changed the reservation dates for the space, announced the change to the community, and updated my website. And once again, I felt joy and enthusiasm for this project.
What would you change in your life today, if you trusted your needs would still be met—or even better met?
If you’re near Berkeley, CA, come gather with us Saturday, November 21, to focus on Building a Compassionate Support System that can utterly transform your life.
Much love and empathy,