NVC People – Interview with Cath Burke | Parent Allies

‘NVC guides us in reframing how we express ourselves and hear others. Instead of habitual, automatic reactions, our words become conscious responses based firmly on awareness of what we are perceiving, feeling and wanting. We are led to express ourselves honestly and with clarity, while simultaneously paying others a respectful and empathic attention. In any exchange, we come to hear our own deeper needs and those of others… The form is simple, yet powerfully transformative.’

Marshall Rosenberg, Non Violent Communication.

In the second in our NVC series we’d like to introduce you to Cath Burke; London based NVC trainer and OpenFloor dance facilitator. Cath holds powerful retreats with a gentle grace; spaces in which to shed skins, reconnect to long-guarded wounds and reach a place outside of persona. All safe. All welcome.

Hello Cath! Let’s jump straight in…

How would you describe your childhood and how it’s affected you as an adult?

Some of what I’ve discovered about my childhood is that I experienced a lack of emotional attunement which had the effect of deadening down my range of emotional experience. Rarely were emotions expressed in my family so I didn’t learn this either. In Marshall Rosenberg’s words, I became a ‘nice, dead person’, also a ‘good girl’, a ‘perfectionist’, all ways my young self adapted to try and fit in and meet needs for acceptance, love and attention. These adaptations to my childhood experience showed up in adult life as withdrawal in the face of conflict, an inability to know or express how I felt or what I wanted. In certain situations I had a sense of being invisible and completely powerless to do anything about it. With the help of NVC and dance I have been able to change this pattern. It was a long road but now I have no trouble feeling emotions and standing up for my needs, whilst holding the other person’s in mind too.

The ‘good girl’ in me still shows up as a tendency to work beyond my limits, to push and over-burden myself. Some part of me is still trying to prove herself worthy of acceptance! This is why self-compassion, self-care, rest, ease and gentleness feature as needs that require a lot of paying attention to in my life.

What regular practices do you engage in to maintain/restore connection to your own needs?

‘Conscious’ dance! Open Floor and 5 Rhythms. I’ve belonged to the same dance group for 12 years. Dancing is where I get to express myself creatively, where I come alive and present which is deeply relaxing and energising. Meeting and dancing over and over with the same group of people gives me a strong sense of community and belonging and I have met life-long friends in this group. Self-acceptance – on the dance floor I’ve learned to feel comfortable in my own skin, to be at ease with who I am, to follow what feels good, to let go of trying to please others. To trust spontaneous impulses and enjoy the surprise connections that can unfold; to laugh and cry and rage shamelessly. The quality of presence and awareness that comes with this ease of being feels both simple and mysterious and is where I ‘know’ everything is alright, even if it isn’t: I could describe it as connecting to ‘ what is’, others might call it ‘spirit’, ‘big mind’, ‘higher power’, ‘awareness’….

Yoga and meditation – attending a weekly class and doing my own practice at home when I’m feeling stressed or lethargic. Yoga meets so many needs, for example, it’s both enlivening and relaxing; takes me to a place of mental balance and calm; it gives me a sense of my own strength and empowerment.

Walking in nature. This is restorative somehow, in physically moving and taking in the beauty of the landscape, the sensations on the skin of wind or sun. There’s nothing ‘to do’ on a walk except walk and see and that’s deliciously restful and peaceful for me. Walking in the woods gives me a sense of stillness and awe – maybe it’s the combination of soundless space and majestic trees.

Running. A weekly – ish run round my local park for 20 minutes or so. Never thought I’d get into this. Not in a million years, but I’ve taken it up recently in a bid to care for the health of my heart. And I find it surprisingly do-able. It connects with a sense of strength, power, life-force. It tires me out but wakes me up!

With ALL these practices I can often feel an initial reluctance, especially when I’m cosy, comfy and warm at home. I am not a fitness goddess – very far from it!!! But I trust in the benefits, give myself a encouraging umph, and am always glad I did!

Retreats. Taking time out completely from my regular life to simply BE and deliberately stop working. The last few years I’ve been doing Movement of Being retreats (http://beingmoved.com). Needs met: presence, awareness, rest, ease, acceptance, insight, peace, stillness, challenge, growth, movement. They all serve me to take more steps towards wisdom and compassion.

How do you soothe yourself when you ‘slip up’ and may be experiencing anger, guilt, deep upset..?

Empathy journaling. If I find myself upset in some way and reactive, I like to write down all my judgments, ‘let rip’ on paper or out loud to myself! This takes me into my feelings and from there I identify my needs. A lot of soothing happens this way. I might then make a request to myself to take me one step closer to meeting my needs.

I also make empathy guesses to my ‘inner child’, if I recognise that a young part of myself is upset in a situation. It might go something like this, “I’m guessing you’re distressed because you so long to be treated with kindness and gentleness, to be seen for your intentions?” “No wonder, you’re upset, given what’s happened.” So in this way I accompany my young self to a steadier and calmer place.

Do you consider it our aim, as people in general, to overcome the impact of our emotions and feelings on our communication? For example, are we striving to move beyond experiencing anger?

My understanding is that the purpose of NVC is to live compassionately with ourselves and others, to experience life as a flow of mutual giving. I think that, first, being able to feel your emotions, and second, welcoming them, is key to being able to communicate with honesty and kindness.

What’s helpful with anger is to pay attention to the urgent unmet needs that your anger is alerting you to. This is the practice of translating your judgments and feelings into what you are longing for – consideration? protection? support? understanding? I don’t think the point is to “move beyond” experiencing anger. It’s about using the energy of anger to fuel action in service of your unmet needs. Instead, embrace your anger. Ask yourself, what’s going on here? You could dance to the ‘outrage’ tracks (see below) and feel the power of this energy!  There is something important that needs attending to. If you’re able to do this and attend to your unmet needs, then you will likely find yourself ‘beyond anger.’

Expressing your anger to the person you’re angry with can be destructive, if you tell them all the judgments you have about them and what is wrong with them, or give them the ‘silent treatment’. However, it’s probably inevitable that we will fall into these old habits despite our best intentions. When this happens then we can consciously endeavour to repair any loss of connection.

There are times however, when it’s important to express outrage. If I do this skilfully I will be fully connected to my unmet needs and express them alongside my outrage. I call this ‘clean’ anger because I’m not expressing my judgments and blaming the other, but I’m letting them know what I care about and what I’d like.

Top five ‘bring you back from the brink’ tunes?

Don’t just listen to them, move your body to them!

Shout by Tears for Fears and I’m Only Human by Rag n Bone Man. When you’re outraged, listen to those jackals, release that  energy!

My Sweet Lord by George Harrison. To reconnect you to your hopes and best intentions. Might leave you feeling loving and joyful!

Everybody Hurts by R.E.M. To accompany you in grief, hurt, despair.

Palladio by Escala. Feeling nervous, scared? Allowing yourself to move and really feel it is the route to calming down.

Would you like to share anything about how you came to develop your work and where we can learn more about it?

I first came across NVC in 2006 through a friend who recommended Marshall’s Book (NVC: A Language of Life) when I was struggling with conflict in my relationship with my partner. I had no idea then what a journey I was beginning: a life-long examination of why I react as I do and how to change that. There began a slow but seismic shift in attitude towards a compassionate understanding of myself and others. Around the same time I began to explore conscious dance. Little did I know this would bring about healing on so many levels, beginning with reconnecting me to emotions I had stopped feeling long ago (though I didn’t know I had!) Both NVC and dancing have been my pathways back to life from an emotionally deadened place.

Round about 2013 I realised I wanted to share both practices with others. I certified as an NVC trainer in 2014 and as an Open Floor Movement Practice teacher in 2016 (www.openfloor.org). I began running workshops and retreats combining both, specifically exploring NVC practices through movement to music, such as self-connection, empathy, requests, saying no, boundaries, setting intentions ….

You can find out what I’m offering in 2019 here: http://www.empathymatters.net/workshops-5.html

Including an NVC & dance holiday retreat in the south of France in May.

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