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Heartbreak

Over the last year, several things have happened that lead me to reflect on the nature of love & heartbreak.

Last autumn, I lost connection with my closest friend. This happened suddenly and without warning. It was an intensely painful and frightening time. Without realising it, I had come to rely on the close connection we had created. Before this friendship, I hadn’t experience such close connection or even known it was possible.

In May 2015, I went to Chicago to attend the Leveraging Your Influence  retreat lead my Miki Kashtan. In one session, Miki told us that if we committed ourselves to living NVC and to spreading it to a wider audience, “know this, you will fail”, a reminder that such commitment really requires resilience and the knowledge that we won’t always succeed.

A few weeks later, I stumbled across a David Wyte audio book When the Heart Breaks at Sounds True. Whyte reminds us of the inevitability of heartbreak: love is rarely symmetrical.

At Spirit of NVC camp in summer 2015, during a heart connection exercise, I remembered a fragment of a poem or prayer that suggests “Love like you’ve never been hurt”. My heart immediately replied “I can only love as though I’ve never been hurt, I will return broken hearted again”.

A transforming experience, taking leadership of myself

In the summer of 2015, I went to John Dawson’s public speaking workshop Taking Your Place in the World in Bristol. I was aware that speaking in front of an audience was a problem for me and perhaps obstructing progress in other areas. Speaking while sitting, in a group such as an NVC practice group, had never been a problem. As soon as I stood before an audience, fear and panic rose, my throat constricted and a thin voice poured out an incomprehensible stream of words.

John invited each of us to stand in front with the other participants acting as audience, sitting with blank faces. Three times I stood there, the fear, if anything, getting worse. I was shaking and getting out a few words to describe the experience. I think John may have been getting concerned about me. Towards the end of the second two-minute spell at the front, I half remembered the invitation to listen, not only to my inner critic, but also to my inner ally (an inner voice like a supportive, encouraging friend). If I gave words to the thoughts that arose from this idea, my ally might say something like “I see your belly full of fear and I love your fearless heart”. It’s a valuable lesson from Focusing that, when I’m afraid, it’s only part of me that’s afraid, there are other parts that aren’t.

Some way through my third spell in front of an audience, rooted to the spot and trembling with fear, I had one of those “ah ha!” moments. I realised I was waiting for someone to give me permission to be there. What would it be like to claim the space, to give myself permission? Without planning to, the deed was done. I took leadership of myself. Perhaps this is what NVC trainers mean when they talk about “being in our power”. As I claimed the space, I realised I wasn’t rooted to the spot and was able to move about the space as I spoke to different members of the audience.

Afterwards, I thought (and hoped) this was a breakthrough. And so it proved to be — after that, each time I took time in front of the audience, I was enjoying myself more and more. By the end I was loving it.

Even if life and career don’t involve public speaking, being fearful and unwilling to speak to an audience is likely to be holding us back. If you live in the UK, I recommend John highly (and don’t get paid for doing so).

Where next gentle soul?

I’ve been listening to Pete Seeger, Bob Dylan and Byrds songs of the 60s for the first time in a while. I was a child in the 60s and a teenager in the 70s. The music of the late 60s and early 70s had a huge effect on me. I was probably too young to appreciate the Summer of Love in 1967, but the sentiments of the time continued into my formative years. Bob Dylan had a label on his guitar which said something like “This machine defeats fascists”. We really believed folk music had overcome dreary conformity and obedience, and that Rock n Roll would soon liberate everyone. When America’s war in Vietnam ended, I imagined the end of all war and a time coming soon when no nation would see the need for an army. I imagined that everyone would live in peace, that everyone would have enough to eat and somewhere to live, that no one need be scared of their neighbours or their government. I know I wasn’t the only one.

The “counter reformation” was a lot stronger than I expected. The forces of dreary conformity reasserted themselves. By the time Thatcher & Reagan came to power, I’d all but forgotten these values and got swept up in the greed of the 80s. Music became, for the most part, disposable fluff. I actually stopped listening to popular music radio in the late 80s as I realised I was listening to hours of dross in the hope of hearing something with a bit of passion. No one wrote songs like “Blowin’ in the Wind” or “Chimes of Freedom” any longer, not even Bob Dylan.

I believe our values come from two sources: some we learn from family, school and peers. These we would change if we chose to. I believe we also have core values we are born with and these we can repress or ignore, but cannot change. The music of the 60s still speaks to what I believe to be my core values. Perhaps I sound hopelessly idealistic or foolishly optimistic. I still believe it isn’t too late for peace, that humans could share the Earth’s gifts fairly, that everyone could have enough to eat and somewhere to live. I know I’m still not the only one, but these values are rarely expressed and seem less mainstream than they did 50 years ago. The music of the 60s speaks more loudly to these values than ever and I’m loving hearing it again.