Nonviolent Communication – Penny Wassman’s NVC Journey

By Penny Wassman. Penny is leading Nonviolent Communication: A Process of Life at The Haven April 23–30

In the Fall of 1998, I was immersed in spiritual study, clear that I wanted to involve myself in work that would enable me to more actively and tangibly contribute to life and really unclear as to how that might manifest for me. I had a few labels attached to me: Parent, Spouse, Businesswoman. There was life for me in the first two, but emptiness in my work. Well into my fifth decade, I had a sense of missing the boat somehow.

One particularly dreary October day, I received a gift in the mail: Dr. Marshall Rosenberg’s book, Nonviolent Communication, A Language of Life. Immersing myself in the book, I was captivated by the Nonviolent Communication process. With intrigue and hopefulness, I began to integrate NVC awareness into my life.

I learned that NVC is much more than a language. It is a particular way of attending to life and of noticing thoughts – often, as in my case, self-deprecating thoughts and critical evaluations of others. NVC offers a way of separating those mental constructs from what had actually occurred. As I began to notice the difference between the two, I began to extract meaning from my experience. From the ashes of thoughts like “I’m not good enough” rose the realization that vitality, purpose and contribution were aspects of life that were important to me. I realized that I could choose to pay attention to those qualities and open myself to strategies that would offer deeper fulfillment of them. As I took ownership of my own challenges and developed ability to address and fulfill qualities of life that I valued, I began to experience more ease and connection in my relationships. Even when I didn’t agree with others’ opinions or choices, I could connect more fully with the pulse of life that was underlying the behaviors that may have been perplexing to me – values like understanding, acceptance, purpose and meaning – values just like my own.

I began to learn more about NVC, organizing trainings for my Victoria, BC community and seeking wider training myself. Then, tentatively in 1999, I began sharing NVC with others. In January, 2000, five keen NVC neophytes, John Nicol, Leah Bailey, Craig Knight, my husband, Ray Wassman and myself founded the BC Network for Compassionate Communication – our mission to nurture and support the learning of NVC in British Columbia.

A new chapter began in my life when, in March, 2001 I was certified as a trainer for the global Center for Nonviolent Communication (CNVC): . Gradually, I began to share NVC with diverse groups beyond small community gatherings to educators, health care providers, First Nations, and to corporate, provincial and federal government groups. My work expanded to include international trainings organized by the Center, then, in the summer of 2005, I was asked by CNVC to work as an Assessor, a role that I continue to fulfill as I guide people through the 2 to 5 year CNVC trainer certification process. Throughout my learning and contribution, the NVC process I share sustains and supports me. It is very important to me that I live what I teach. Authenticity and empathy are, after all, the cornerstones of NVC.

Since I first became aware of NVC more than a decade ago, I’ve been grateful for its invitation to personal empowerment and self-determination, never more so, perhaps, than with the diagnosis I received a few years ago of an “incurable” neurological condition. Increasingly in life, I understand the correlation between my thoughts and feelings and the awareness I can bring to this recognition with the question, “What are my values/needs in this situation?” For me, life and all its abundance is revealed when I hold my attention in this way – literally, a plethora of choice. In simple terms, I can choose to put energy on the label “incurable disease” and buy into what that might imply, or I can choose to put energy on what matters to me: health, vitality and contribution. So I exercise, watch my diet, seek alternative help, educate myself and stay predominately medication-free. My personal life is full of rich interactions – some experiences are painful, some full of joy – all offer opportunity to grow, learn and live fully. And my work life, no longer empty, nurtures, vitalizes and sustains me

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