When NVC entered my life, it entered with some force. After almost two decades of passionate environment journalism and activism, I was utterly frustrated with both, and didn’t quite know why. Unknown to myself, I was in depression.
The breakthrough came in the form of a question posed by my NVC teacher Shammi Nanda, when I was struggling to express my dilemma to him. “Do you feel the pain of mother earth in your body?” he asked.
My own answer, a simple ‘yes’ that came gushing up like a volcano, literally pulled the carpet from under my feet. I did not quite know why just an affirmative felt so earthshaking, but I was suddenly quite clear that neither my job nor my current mode of activism – both of which I had been passionate about – were serving a crying inner need to do something to heal the earth.
With this much clarity, but with very vague ideas about what I wanted to do, I quit my job about two months later. It was an intuitive leap into the unknown.
But the tables turned on me. I had thought to start some meaningful ecology-related work, but here I was, hooked to NVC. I started a practice group in my hometown of Nagpur, and ran it for almost a year, deepening my practice, and sharing NVC with others. I started translating Marshall Rosenberg’s book on NVC, A Language of Life, into Hindi, a job I am still at.
In the process, I felt my communication patterns change. I felt more space within me to hold the perspective of the other person in empathy, and the grip of the old pattern of rushing into judgments began to loosen. I was also learning to communicate my own side of the story by using the NVC tools of ‘Observation, Feeling, Need and Request’. My conversations became both more effective and more harmonious. Interpersonal conflicts and anger began to recede from my life and my respect for boundaries – both mine and others’ –increased.
My inner space was growing clearer, and it was growing more and more possible for me to clearly define what I needed, and why, and to make my choices in accordance with that.
As a writer and poet, I had always had an intimate connection with words. However, with NVC practice, I began to discover a new dimension to the use of words, and their power. Simple changes in my diction – for instance, saying “I think this is….” or “This comes across to me as….” instead of simply, “This is….” gradually began a shift in my perceptions, and I began to be less attached to my own viewpoints – seeing them as what they were – viewpoints, rather than the absolute truth.
For a long time in life, I had had a deep desire to make peace, and had this trust that dialogue could make it happen. I had long fought a losing battle trying to bring into action broad adages like “Be positive”, or “Try to stand in the other person’s shoes,” and so on. As a Buddhist practitioner, I had struggled with ‘right speech” and gotten nowhere. But at last, I had found a set of very doable, or as my Buddhism teacher described them, nuts and bolts, tools, with which to put my beliefs into practice, and at last I felt I was getting somewhere.
I was also putting together a little collection of NVC success stories of my own. Once I was invited to an art residency, which, I later found out, was hosted by an orthodox right-wing organisation whose rules I found restrictive. To my own surprise, I was able to hold a harmonious conversation with the organisers and was not only allowed exemption, but also invited to come back and work with them again.
But excited as I was, at the back of my mind the question of what I ‘really’ wanted to do was drumming away. NVC had touched a deep chord inside me, but no insight was coming on the other deepest concern in my heart – ecology and its healing. The mysterious term ‘mother earth’ kept coming back to me with varying intensity, and for the life of me I could not translate it into anything doable or even logically graspable. Why do I identify so intensely with mother earth? I had no answer.
What did I want to do in that area? More precisely, where did I want to start? And how was it going to connect with my newfound passion for NVC?
After many months of pondering, I decided to make a start with my most direct passion – uncultivated forest-based foods. I decided to undertake a country-wide journey in gift culture – another idea I had picked up from Shammi’s life – studying the forest food traditions around the Mahua flower – at one time a staple food among the indigenous, but now demonised for the liquor made from it.
What was to become of my practice group? The little community I had built around NVC? Again, I did not know. I just had to go.