Do the solutions find you?
[Please note: The views and opinions expressed in each post are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of BayNVC as a whole.]
“Get connected to the needs, and the solutions will find you.” Since 2005, I’ve been living with this idea, a statement I heard Marshall Rosenberg make a number of times during my first two years of training in NVC.
At around the same time, I heard nd resonated with the following recipe for life: “Relax and do the next obvious thing.” I’m not sure where I heard this, perhaps from the author and spiritual teacher Adyashanti.
Both statements have become very central to how I live.
For me, each of these was an invitation. I wanted to try them out in my life and see what happened. First, a few questions came up.
“Get connected to the needs, and the solutions will find you.” What do we mean by needs? What do we mean by “getting connected” to needs?
“Relax and do the next obvious thing.” What does it really mean to relax? How do I know what the next obvious thing is?
Well, by needs, we mean the list of words on an NVC needs list, right? Sustenance, rest, safety, community, empathy, love, creativity, autonomy, meaning, and all the rest of those universal human needs that motivate everything we say, do, or believe. (If you’re new to the needs list, you can find one here.)
And yes, for sure, I am referring to those words when I refer to “needs.” But I’m also remembering that sprinkled throughout Marshall’s teaching I heard statements like this one: “Needs language does not fully describe the life energy moving in us, the divine life energy, the beloved life energy. However, needs language is the best way I’ve found to refer to that life energy in words.”
So, “connecting to the needs” can certainly sometimes mean seeking out the words that describe the needs you’d like to meet in a certain situation, and the needs of the other people involved, then saying “OK, can we find any solutions that meet all these needs?”
In other words, identifying and naming the needs is sometimes enough. The people involved in a situation hear the needs, and put their brains together to find ways to meet these needs. New ideas flow, solutions come to mind, and those involved end up happier with the situation than they were before. Great!
Sometimes, though, naming the needs in this way does not yield such quick solutions. Does this mean we have not found all the needs yet, or that we’ve not thought hard enough about how to find strategies to meet them? Maybe. But perhaps the deeper obstacle is that we have not really connected with them to the extent that is possible. Letting “the solutions find you” sometimes requires us to connect not just with the words that describe the needs we’re trying to meet, but with the life energy within us that those needs words are pointing at. This means replacing thinking with silent attentiveness, visualization, and feeling.
I attended about 15 days of training with Marshall Rosenberg, and, as I remember it, just once or twice I heard him say something like, “I’m not going to attempt to convince you to try my next suggestion, and some of you might dismiss it as magical thinking, but I invite you to try it and see for yourself.”
Marshall proposed that when we’re struggling to find solutions to meet certain needs, we start by naming the needs, and then bring them into our awareness and present moment experience.
Imagine you have a sense that balance is a need you’re not meeting as much as you’d like. Perhaps you can use your memory to remind you of the experience of meeting this need to the extent you’d like. Maybe picture the scene in your mind’s eye. Remember how meeting the need felt in your body.
If you have no memory of this need being met, try using your imagination instead. Imagine how your life would look, what it would feel like, if you were meeting this need for balance to the degree you’d like to meet it.
Now, hang out with that feeling. Take some breaths. Don’t rush to find any external solutions. Then, if you still want to invite solutions to find you, place a question in your mind, such as: “Balance… how do I better meet my need for balance?”
Remain quiet and pay attention to whatever enters your awareness. If thinking starts up, simply interrupt the train of thought and repeat your question. Sit quietly again, and pay attention to what is arising in your awareness. If a barking dog distracts you, repeat your question and sit quietly and attentively again. How long do you do this for? That’s up to you. 30 seconds? 30 minutes? However long you want. Continue until you decide to stop.
Once again, this is not a thinking exercise. Maybe you’ve already tried brainstorming and thinking through possible solutions, but, for the need you’re working with, workable solutions have not found you! So now you’re trying a more meditative or contemplative approach.
I often carry out this process after getting into bed at night. After asking myself the question, I pay attention as I start to drift off into sleep. That’s it! Being “experienced” or “inexperienced” at meditation does not really enter the picture. I just place the question in my mind, fall asleep, and often wake up in the morning to the gift of a brand-new solution. Many times, I’ve raced for my computer or phone to write down the idea, fearful that it’s going to slip away if I don’t capture it in writing!
The process might involve the needs of others, in addition to my needs. The question might be something like, “How can I meet the need for balance in my life, to the degree I would like, while also contributing to my partner’s need for support, to the extent she would like?”
And what about “Relax and do the next obvious thing?” Well, I’m still exploring that one. I’m confident it’s possible for me to be more relaxed than I’ve ever been so far, and I’m also pretty certain that I can develop greater discernment about what is the next obvious thing to do. It’s a work in progress.
Meanwhile, what I described above is itself a version of “Relax and do the next obvious thing.” Lie down in bed, take some deep breaths, visualize, feel, ask yourself your question about the needs you’re wanting to meet, breathe some more, rest your attention on what comes into your awareness. Relax. You’re putting no effort into brainstorming or thinking through the possibilities. Drift off to sleep, then see whether a solution has found you when you awake.
I did not dismiss Marshall’s suggestion as magical thinking. I’d heard it said that “the brain is great at carrying out tasks, so give it a task to do.” It made sense to me that if I give my brain the task of coming up with a solution that meets certain needs, it will work on that. If I give my brain the job of coming up with logical reasons why someone else is wrong and I’m right, it will do that. In fact, it’s so conditioned to do the latter thing that I don’t even need to ask it to. I prefer to ask it to do the former thing!
So, I tried Marshall’s suggestion and I saw for myself. The solutions may not find me every time, but they find me often enough that I continue to be enthusiastic about this approach. These are solutions that arise from the life energy within myself and whomever else is involved.
As a bonus, whether the solutions find me or not, the act of visualizing and feeling, as if the need is already met, is frequently a very enjoyable experience all on its own. I get to meet the need internally, even if there’s no change to my external circumstances!
Newt Bailey is the founder of the Communication Dojo workshops. His passion is sharing nonviolent communication, through workshops, videos, and other materials, in a way that is quick to integrate and put to use.
In his private practice Newt works as a trainer, coach, and mediator in corporate settings, with a focus on executive and “office hours” coaching. Newt also works privately with individuals and couples as a coach and mediator.
Newt’s next 4-week series, “The Gift of Empathy,” starts on May 21st in San Francisco