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Spiritual Practice and NVC

Honoring life by consciously experiencing what's alive in the moment, fully in body, heart, and mind, and engaging in responsible and compassionate interdependence is an aspect of spiritual practice that NVC supports.  Specifically we can break this down into three aspects;

1.  Wise Awareness of Experience

2.  Trust in Aliveness

3. Responsible Engagement in Interdependence


Wise Attention to Experience

In most spiritual traditions you cultivate a focused and clear mind, whether through prayer, ritual, meditation, or other means.   NVC gives you an opportunity to apply that mental clarity to the discernment of at least five types of experience; observations, thoughts, feelings (which include body and energy awareness), universal needs, and request or actions to meet needs.  In addition, NVC asks you to engage in the mindfulness practice of noticing and trusting authentic aliveness.

As you see your experience more clearly you also see that it is not the experiences themselves that create suffering, but rather it is your relationship to them – clinging or aversion.  When you cling to or attempt to avoid your own experience, you attempt the impossible.  The result is frustration and longing.  Your experience is constantly arising and changing, in the moment there is only to meet it and let it go, again and again.  The more that you are grounded in this truth, the more you can meet every experience, in yourself and others, with equanimity, compassion, and wisdom.  NVC supports this understand by providing a means to honor experience with empathy rather than trying to manage or control it.

Without the skill to meet your experience with empathy you may default to the avoidance of pain / discomfort and the pursuit of pleasure / comfort.  Much of this kind of behavior arises from a confused relationship to feelings and needs.  Here are two major common confusions:

  1. You have likely had the consistent experience of feelings being accompanied by shaming, accusing, pleading, blaming, dismissing, minimizing, manipulating, criticizing, etc.   All these are versions of clinging and aversion.  Thus when you are asked to turn toward your experience, share your experience, and hear the experience of others, these painful associations also arise.  When you can't discern the difference between an actual feeling and your reaction to it, you imagine the feelings themselves are the problem.  Thus, tension, fear, and defensiveness block your ability to meet experience with equanimity and compassion.


  1. When you face a difficult decision, you may be caught in the idea that needs are in conflict and thus must choose to meet some needs and deny others.  This is a form of aversion and results in suffering.  Needs are never in conflict.  It is the imposition of inflexible strategies to meet them that create conflict. NVC asks you to separate universal needs from the strategies to meet them.  This includes time.  Often needs appear to be in conflict because you link them to a specific time.  It is true you can only attend to one need at a time, but this doesn't mean you must neglect or push away other needs.  True equanimity doesn't pick and choose one need /experience over another, but rather has space to embrace all experience without attachment to one way of doing things.


Mindful NVC practice teaches you that feelings are just feelings, needs are just needs; they are neither good nor bad nor heavy with meaning.  Meaning is heaped upon feelings and needs by thoughts and beliefs.  Needs are basic to every living being and provide a map of thriving.  They arise, along with feelings, according to your perception and experience in the moment.  Understanding these basic mechanics of your experience at ever more subtle levels helps you find liberation from clinging and aversion.  When you can meet others from this place of freedom, it makes it easier for them to access equanimity and compassion.   The gift of your practice ripples out.

Trust in Aliveness

When your mind is deeply calm and focused, or in the midst of a peak experience, you access what is always there - the substrate of life; a bright, clear, joyful aliveness.  NVC asks you to trust this as your guide.  Aliveness goes by many names:  in the zone, intuition, something that "feels right", alignment, buoyancy, connection, spirit, the tao, etc.  When you release thoughts of what should or shouldn't be, and what you or others "have to" do, you are able to notice where aliveness is guiding you.  Of course, this is simple to say, but not so easy to realize.  Your mind is complex and has layers and layers of conditioning that prevent you from having clear contact with aliveness.  You get fooled by excitement, pleasure, or other strong emotions.  Aliveness is not an emotion.  You can practice opening to aliveness by asking yourself a simple question each day, "What am I telling myself about what should or shouldn't be and what is most deeply true in this moment?"


Responsible Engaged Interdependence

NVC practice implores you to be deeply responsible for your life and how you impact others. The concepts and skills of NVC help you manifest this responsibility in daily life.  Honest expression in NVC means sharing the subtle aspects of your experience, not just a confused ball of experience that usually gets expressed as opinions and judgments.  Making a request regarding your experience serves two purposes.

First, it acknowledges the truth our absolute interdependence.  Second, it relieves others of the job of figuring out how to interact with you based on myriad unconscious, implicit, and sometimes passive-aggressive messages.  When you make a request, it not does not mean you are saying, "Hey, if you do this thing for me, then I will be happy."   This notion that your happiness can be found somewhere out there in the perfect environment and behavior of others is highly promoted in our world, so it is very difficult for those who are new to NVC to grasp the depth of self-responsibility and conscious interdependence that NVC is actually promoting.


When you share your authentic experience and request, you are saying;  "I would like to be an active and responsible part of this complex system of interdependence.  I want to find a way for us to work together to serve all life."  From this paradigm you learn to disentangle focus on your own experience that is selfish (disregarding of other's needs) and focus on your own experience that is self-responsible (in consideration of other's needs as well as your own).  Part of moving into a new relationship to your experience is realizing that leaving yourself out of the equation entirely is not of service to others.  When you are fully engaged, true collaboration can occur.   


Take a moment now name one principle of NVC that you have integrated fully into your life and one principle you would like to practice.

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2 Responses

  1. Feb 19, 2017

    Hi La Shelle,
    Thanks for this recent commentary on NVC & Spirituality. As usual your bright and clear insights into NVC practice shine through. The connection between NVC and spirituality is profound and yet not often recognized in its fullness. It has been my focus too because spirituality needs to be grounded in accurate experience of body, feelings and needs, and NVC needs to be appreciated for its careful and wise guidance into the open depths of experience.
    Hope you are well & sending you love & warmth,
    Paul Shippee

  2. Feb 21, 2017

    I am touched by your words here Paul and heartened by the sense of community I experience reading them

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