Once again, Love has come into my life! And yes, I’ve been surprised and overjoyed by the depth of its expression in me.
Before I share the juicy details, I’d like to first explain how I experience Love. Although I use the word love culturally as a feeling, such as I “love” the beach, my family, my friends, sunsets, and asparagus, the deeper expression of Love lives within me as a need. When my need for Love is touched, the experience of it is deepening, enriching, and rather than being a static experience connected to a person, place or thing, Love as a need connects me to the heart of our human existence. We all have a need for Love, yet not everyone “loves” the water—or asparagus—as I do! Love as a need is a universal experience. When Love is touched, I (we) experience a connection with our common humanity.
In March, my friend Zina and I began our second year of teaching Nonviolent Communication to a group of 17 women in the BEST Program at The Tennessee Prison for Women in Nashville, Tennessee. Supported by The Nashville Entrepreneur Center, the Building Entrepreneurs for Success in Tennessee (BEST) Program was started by Karen Vandermolen three years ago as a way to support and invest in the futures of men and women in Tennessee’s prison system. The application for entry into the program is an intensive, eleven-page application process with a written essay. The women who enter BEST truly want what the program has to offer!
Here’s my love story. Each week, as Wednesday approaches, I find myself thinking of the faces of these women who now live in me. I smile at the thought of them. I feel such a tenderness within me as I recall their faces, hear their laughter, and remember the words they’ve shared with us. Even now writing this, I’m misty eyed because of the experience of Love living in me as I think of them. A song called “Given To,” often sung by Nonviolent Communication Founder Marshall Rosenberg, describes my relationship with Love and these women, discovered through the gift of NVC:
I never feel more given to than when you take from me -
when you understand the joy I feel giving to you.
And you know my giving isn’t done to put you in my debt,
but because I want to live the love
I feel for you.
To receive with grace
may be the greatest giving.
There’s no way I can separate the two.
When you give to me, I give you my receiving.
When you take from me, I feel so given to.
—Ruth Bebermeyer, 1978
In our class, we draw the infinity symbol to demonstrate that, in this experience of sharing with one another, there is no distinction between the giving and the receiving. There is a flow from one merging with the other that is continual. Love as a need is being fulfilled in me and you as we live in the continuum of our shared experience of it.
Recently, someone shared with me words of wisdom that perfectly express and explain my wonderous experience with these women each week. My colleague said, “Carlene, you really can’t teach Nonviolent Communication. NVC is what emerges when we equalize the power in relationships.”
It’s true. My friend and I came to offer a new way of thinking and being, called Nonviolent Communication. We share it and live it because NVC has radically changed our experience of living in this world. Our joy has been to “teach” and model it, exposing the transformational power offered by its practices.
And yet, in a setting with high, barbed-wire fencing surrounding every building and every inch of the perimeter of the property, unseen eyes watching our every movement within the container of prison life, sliding steel doors that slam so tightly with the sound of authority and power-over, and the ever-watchful guards dressed in masculine, dark colored garb enforcing the rules of the prison, there IS a light, a burning flame unextinguished by these forces of power. It’s the shared experience of Love, alive and well, and carried by the courageous hearts of the women who live there! The heart knows no bars, no barbed wire, when the need for Love is experienced. I’m radically reminded of this through the lives of these amazing, beautiful 17 women, my companions in life.
P.S. - Listen to the heart of Love, as Marshall so tenderly shared it in the latter part of his life, in the brief clip linked here.