I remember vividly my first encounter in 2011 with Robert Gonzales, a certified trainer with the Center from Nonviolent Communication, when – within the first morning of a three-day retreat – he uttered:
“Living from a protected heart is an undoable contract with ourselves” (… or so I remember it)
At the time, I was going through the hugely dizzying roller coaster and unraveling of a relationship that I was considering more than “difficult” or even (warning: label ahead…) “abusive.” No relationship counseling or even the communication skills I was learning at the time were helpful to bridge the widening gap that was in front of us.
My new skills of finding out more clearly about my needs and holding them dear (something I wasn’t used to doing consciously then) actually fueled more of the fire and anger of this untenable disequilibrium in our relationship. (This could be the subject of a whole new series of posts – and is so dear to my heart when I now have the honor of teaching these same skills to new people and women in particular).
I truly thought I needed to “protect” myself – and was even judging myself to be “too weak” or “soft” and telling myself that I needed to build my protective walls up even more.
So you can imagine how I found Robert’s invitation to live from an undefended heart quite not in touch with my “reality”!
Over the following three days of the retreat, I listened and got to witness him over and over in deep supportive empathic listening and connection with people just like you and me who opened their hearts so deeply, vulnerably, and courageously to him. I slowly began to recognize, feel, and more profoundly, befriend this armor of protection that my inner “guard” had built around my heart.
I was able to become more conscious and aware of its presence, of its vigilance, and – beyond my initial self-judgment that it shouldn’t be there – to just start by paying it a visit, be in companionship with it – as uncomfortable as it could be.
Slowly, slowly, I got to be curious about all that it was holding dear and precious, that it was “protecting,” so I could support it, with gratitude, in letting go of the grip and firm hold it had on my heart and uncover what is true, beautiful, and also vital to my aliveness. I discovered brand new and “core” needs in me such as “curiosity” (toward me, you, life), “trust” (in myself mainly, in our innocence, in our pure essence as human beings as we were gifted at birth), and a deeper realization that someone else’s needs were never really in competition with mine.
Living from a protected heart was keeping me more in a “survival” mode than a “living” one.
It was keeping me in a win-lose dynamic that continued the cycle of pain and hurt, just as having one’s needs met over another person’s never quite brings the peace or joy or satisfaction one is looking for.
Today, although my guard is still here, and sometimes wakes up in sensing “danger,” we have this continuously growing friendship that allows me to engage with it, thank it again, and let it know that I’m OK, that I take into great care and consideration all that it’s wanting me to know and to hold at all costs, and that I can handle it from there. My heart remembers now what it feels like to trust and feel safe from within.
From that place, I can now experience with greater ease curiosity towards what is precious in someone else’s heart and hold “our needs” altogether and respond from a place of open -, sometimes broken-open-, hearted essence.
I’ll be transparent: It’s not easy to hold it all every day, and as I often say, “Life is a journey, not a destination…”. But today I have greater trust in my capacity to come back to an undefended and open heart and act from a place of deep compassion – and fierce love – toward myself and “the other.”
So what happened to this relationship?
Based on what continued to unfold in actions and words that really did not work for me, and with my new ability to hold my needs for safety and trust as my responsibility to honor (because expecting it from another just wasn’t happening and wasn’t effective on top of giving my own power away), I did choose separation and ended our relationship agreement as it was.
What was – and still is – different for me, though, from the years of anguish and despair in trying to salvage what we had, was the strong and peaceful love that I felt toward myself – and toward this person even – and the understanding that this would be the best solution to honor each other in the future.
Today, I don’t hold anger or resentment toward this person – or myself – for the end of our relating. I even experience greater compassion and love for us all who are trying to live life to the fullest, seeking happiness – or relief from pain – in places that will not fully satisfy us. I recognize that everyone is on their “perfectly imperfect” journey, myself included. Above all, I hold my needs for safety and deep trust as core pillars in my relating to anyone more than ever before.
So, from my heart to yours, if you find yourself in a place of “needing protection,”* I offer the following practices to support your holding of safety and trust (and maybe some other unmet core needs of yours):
- Journal or listen with greater curiosity to your thoughts about needing protection “from”. Uncover what stories you may hold about yourself, the other person, or life in general.
- Pay an internal visit to your sensations. How are you feeling? Where is that feeling lived in your body? This part may be the most uncomfortable one, but I found it crucial in increasing awareness of how often I may feel the tightening or fear living in my body.
- Get support or learn several somatic ways to relax your nervous system. I was once asked, “What did you enjoy as a baby to be soothed?” A simple rubbing of your wrists on each other, a tapping of key meridian points with techniques like Emotional Freedom Technique (EFT), muscle-testing, or even a simple weekly massage can help your body remember what it truly feels like to “be safe”.
- Consciously focus on the needs that are crucially missing for you. Bring up a memory of what it feels to “be safe” or again bring up the thought/memory of a friend or anyone in your life with whom you have experienced deep trust. Stay in this memory. “Take a bath init.” Track how it feels in your body. It helps your body to remember what this memory feels like, so it can access it faster and faster each time.
- When you feel this relaxation and feeling of deep safety and trust, from this place of open-heart, think about: What do you need to ask of yourself, or of another, to experience more safety or trust in your life right now?
Need more clarity or practice? You’re in for a treat! Robert Gonzales is coming near DC, visiting Philadelphia Feb 13-16**. Early bird discount is available until Feb 1st. I hope you will consider treating yourself to this gift that keeps on giving.
If you are longing for more companionship on this journey to reclaim your sense of undefended self, I offer deep empathic and restorative one-on-one or partners coaching sessions using the models and practices taught by Robert Gonzales and many other teachers. Also see the upcoming “Reclaiming Ourselves” Women’s Program, which will launch in March, in Washington DC.
*If you are in a relationship under which you are feeling in any way afraid for your physical, mental, or emotional safety and more, do call the Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-SAFE(7233) or go to your nearest Domestic Violence Center.
** This event is offered by Heart To Heart, a Philly organization focused on providing transformative education in jails, prisons, and communities. I invite you to find out more about them and how to support their mission.