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Decolonizing Nonviolent Communication with Meenadchi

decolonizing nonviolent communication Meenadchi

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A couple of decades ago, a friend introduced me to a book called Nonviolent Communication by Marshall Rosenberg. Over the years, I’ve tried imperfectly to use its gentler forms of communication. At various points in life the techniques of NVC, as it’s known for short, have saved me from losing a lawsuit, losing a job, and losing a partner. Still, these techniques didn’t always work for me. When our producer Annie Nguyen recently introduced me to a book called Decolonizing Nonviolent Communication, it put words to those challenges.

The book’s author, Meenadchi, a somatic healing practitioner, spoke with me recently about the ways that she’s updated nonviolent communication to account for the power structures in our society that exacerbate conflicts, and the interdependence between people and our environments that may have been missing from nonviolent communication’s original formulation.

I find her approach, distinctly Buddhist as a “middle way” that helps us draw strong boundaries and fight the injustices in the world, while still holding love and compassion, even for our enemies. Meenadchi’s therapeutic work centers on social change and embodied transformation. She specializes in healing members of communities impacted by gender-based violence, complex trauma, and serious mental illness.

[00:02:01] Scott Snibbe: Meenadchi, I’m so pleased to have you on the podcast today to talk about some of the ways that you’ve compassionately updated nonviolent communication and that you share in your book, Decolonizing Nonviolent Communication.

[00:02:30] Meenadchi: Thank you, and thank you for such a sweet introduction.

Meenadchi’s relationship with Buddhism

[00:02:33] Scott Snibbe: I am excited to talk to you about how you’ve updated NVC. However, I wanted to know if you could first talk a little bit about your own background and what relationship you and your work have to Buddhism. 

[00:02:55] Meenadchi: I feel like it has like a very deep relationship with Buddhism for a couple of reasons. First, I’m Sri Lankan Tamil, so there was a genocide and ongoing erasure of Tamil people by the Sri Lankan government that was really spearheaded for decades by Buddhist monks.

One of my first orientations to Buddhism is they were the guys who came in the orange robes to burn everybody in our houses. One thing that I might also add in and share, as it pertains to the work, is that it’s a really good anchor to remember that a thing is not inherently good or helpful or bad or anything. But it’s always the question of how are we embodying the practices and how are we putting the tools to use.

One of my first orientations to Buddhism is they were the guys who came in the orange robes to burn everybody in our houses.

Then also in relation to that and beyond that, my family’s Hindu, so I was raised Hindu. There’s this comic book, Amar Chitra Kadha, that a lot of Hindu kids grow up reading that tell different stories, and one of the stories was about the Buddha, and that the Buddha is an avatar of Vishnu, and that is like every culture trying to claim something for their own. But it definitely gave me a way of embracing and being with Buddhism as part of my extended culture and fabric, which it is in other ways because I have family members who are Sinhalese who are Buddhist.

 Amar Chitra Kadha comic books

What is nonviolent communication?

[00:04:29] Scott Snibbe: It was certainly shocking for me when I first heard about what you talk about and a few of the other cases where Buddhists have been violent and oppressive because the very first principle of Buddhist ethics is nonviolence. It reminds me of this quote from one of the teachers I really respect. He said, As long as you call yourself a Buddhist, you are not yet a Buddha.

For people who haven’t heard of it, can you briefly explain what nonviolent communication is?

[00:05:04] Meenadchi: Nonviolent communication is this really awesome, beautiful, helpful communication modality that has all these structures and tools within it about how we can listen more deeply to our feelings and our needs and how we can articulate our requests, make requests of each other in ways that are intended to be like not blame oriented. To make it so that people are more likely to help us meet our needs and just be in healthy collaboration. I’ll say the way I was introduced to NVC was in 2002; there was a ceasefire back home. I was home from college and my Amma—my mother—was like there’s this woman who’s doing a fundraiser to go back home and teach nonviolent communication.

We both didn’t know what that thing was, but we got to learn who that woman was. It was a really rich experience and both my Amma and I really benefited from having these tools for these are different ways we can talk to each other, and we don’t have to do it the ways that have not been working for us.

Then over the years, that same person who introduced me to NVC—her name is Jayanthi Siva—she was really the one who introduced the concept of decolonizing nonviolent communication. Because what she found, and also what I got to experience with her through the work, is that when these tools are taken in different cultural contexts, they don’t translate one to one.

They have to feel different. They have to sound different. Even in the U.S. the way nonviolent communication is conventionally offered, ignores systems of power and trauma responses; it’s really theoretical. An unfortunate reality is that it sometimes strips people of their authenticity. 

Even in the U.S. the way nonviolent communication is conventionally offered, ignores systems of power and trauma responses; it’s really theoretical.

Just sound the way you want to sound, just speak the way you want to speak. When I’m teaching, a lot of what I teach is that you bringing your authentic voice into the world is the most nonviolent thing that you can do. Then we figure out how you want to say the thing you want to say.

What parts of NVC worked for you and what didn’t?

[00:07:15] Scott Snibbe: I tried talking to my brother with NVC. My brother and I are really close, but we also have conflicts and I tried using NVC early on with one of those conflicts, What I hear you saying is you’re frustrated with blah, blah, blah. My brother is very sharp-witted, punk rocker skateboarder. He was like, Okay, Scott, what I hear you say is I’m a complete a-hole. This is one of the ways it can go wrong. If someone hears you and it sounds fake and inauthentic, it just doesn’t work, among many other failings.

Can you talk about what parts were working for you when you first encountered it and also what didn’t?

[00:08:02] Meenadchi: The things that worked was, conventional nonviolent communication places a high responsibility on taking ownership for what you’re feeling and taking ownership for what you’re needing. It was such a revelation to be like, Oh, my feelings might be triggered or activated by something somebody else does, but these are my feelings and I get to claim them. I get to talk about them and then I get to invite other people to collaborate with me so that my needs can get met. I think that was the stuff that really worked, that ownership piece.

The stuff that didn’t work, was this language, the formulaic way of doing things. Also, the conventional NVC model is observations, feelings, needs, and requests. It ends with a request, an invitation for connection. That also didn’t work for me, it doesn’t translate. The final step is maybe setting a boundary, maybe saying this does not work for me anymore.

A lot of the populations that I work with have been systemically oppressed and marginalized, so sometimes you don’t want to make a request, you just want to yell. You just want to express yourself so fully and how angry you are. Sometimes that is the pivot point, the thing that’s needed to break the relationship open to a next level of truth or honesty and vulnerability. For me, and in my model, the final step is choosing what is it that you want to say, and what is it that you want to do?

When is anger healthy?

fire burning with embers

[00:09:46] Scott Snibbe: That’s what I found too and also some other people I know who have updated NVC that you can kind of go around in circles forever, sometimes like reflecting, reflecting, reflecting, but never advancing. You talk about anger as a dangerous, powerful force in life; and you differentiate between two types of anger. This really struck me because it really resonates with Vajrayana Buddhism, Tibetan Buddhism is a form of Buddhism I practice, which is also called Vajrayana Buddhism across the different cultures through which it evolved.

In Tibetan Buddhism, there’s a view of a healthy type of anger. You talk about a forward-moving, flame-like anger that fades quickly. Then also a toxic anger that lingers and does damage. There’s a similar view in Tibetan Buddhism that when anger is clouded by a delusion of separateness and blame, then it’s totally poisonous.But there’s a purified form, they call it mirror-like wisdom, where it’s a very clear seeing of what’s happening and what might need to be done.

Can you talk about when is anger healthy? What role it plays in decolonizing NVC and how to express it? Because you’re saying expressing anger can be what you need to do as that last step. But how do you do that without blame and criticism? 

[00:11:33] Meenadchi: One of the things that I teach is that it’s important to have access to anger. It doesn’t mean we have to choose anger but if that portal—like being able to access anger in your body—is not open, if you’re afraid of anger, if you think anger is shameful, if you think that anger is inherently bad and stuff it away, then you’re never really going to know if the “peace” you’re creating is authentic versus people-pleasing. If you don’t have access to something then you just never know. So, first, it’s important to have access to anger.

If you think anger is shameful, if you think that anger is inherently bad and stuff it away, then you’re never really going to know if the “peace” you’re creating is authentic versus people-pleasing.

Second, I often think about things and teach from the perspective of what I feel in my body. One of the things that I know helps me differentiate between when I’m in healthy anger versus something toxic, which may actually be grief hiding underneath the anger, is what I call healthy anger, when acknowledgment is offered or when a change is made, that anger just shifts. It’s like the anger doesn’t have a deep desire to stay. That anger just wants to be present in order to create momentum for the change to happen. But it doesn’t feel attached.

It doesn’t feel attached and as if it wants to be held forever. It just wants to be presenced and then be released. Whereas this other thing that I sometimes refer to as toxic anger—because oftentimes it’s actually grief underneath, grief needs to be held for so long. So usually when we tap in, we tap in, we tap in, that’s the thing that’s there. It sometimes comes out as anger because it’s less vulnerable to be angry than to show how sad you are.

How do we access what underlies a toxic emotion?

[00:13:18] Scott Snibbe: You talk about accessing your grief, finding the thing underneath anger, but that’s really difficult. I find it difficult. Often I have to wait a few days or years or decades to dig down there.

How do we get access to what underlies a more toxic emotion?

[00:13:36] Meenadchi: Two things, one, we don’t do things alone. I know that a lot of people are really accustomed to doing things alone. It can feel “easier.” But I promise growth is exponential when you have a practitioner, a facilitator, someone you feel safe with, but we don’t do things alone because other people can support just reflecting and seeing something that is present. Sometimes emotions can come up more clearly in a safe container. 

Two, we just let it vibe. Sometimes stuff is just going to roll, a little rollercoaster ride, then we take a stroll around the amusement park, we get some cotton candy, and we get back on again. It’s just as much possible. Healing and connecting with your emotions is going to be a lifelong process. I promise. So as much as you can take the pressure off, This has to be all healed, dusted, and done by a certain time.

How to deal with anger

[00:14:33] Scott Snibbe: Be gentle on yourself. When we do a self-compassion meditation, that’s what we often do is picture ourselves in front of ourselves and think, What if that person were my best friend? How would I treat that? You really want to become your own best friend.

For someone listening, how would they deal with their anger? What would you recommend for your specific life? Do you have examples from your life where it was challenging with anger, and you were able to hold it and eventually go through it?

[00:15:05] Meenadchi: I’m a big fan girl of the episode you did with sujatha baliga, so I’m really going to reference that and say that, I held on to a lot of rage and anger about a lot of things, until it occurred to me how much of a cost there was to feeding the flames.

It was taking something out of me, it was no longer replenishing, it was no longer nourishing. I really like what sujatha said about being angry until you don’t need to be angry anymore. There are lots of things in the world to be angry about. I think my answer is for anybody who’s feeling angry, Listen, check-in, does it still feel good? If not, there can be other things that you can find and feel.

How do you grieve in a healthy way?

grieving in a healthy way

[00:15:59] Scott Snibbe: Her great story is meeting His Holiness the Dalai Lama and him asking her—this question that could sound very provocative—Have you been angry long enough? She’s a victim of childhood sexual abuse. Somehow that question was really transformative to her because she realized that she had been angry for long enough. It was many years, and she was ready to move to other ways of processing.

How do you grieve in a healthy way? Those thoughts can spiral into hopelessness and worse. How do you keep that balance of healthy connection with those emotions? What if you can’t connect with them?

[00:16:44] Meenadchi: There are so many nuances that everybody is carrying. I think the things I’ll say are: One, trust your intuition with how deep you want to unpack an emotional experience; two, if you have had a successful experience unpacking, let yourself celebrate. It’s enough for now. Let yourself appreciate and celebrate that. 

Then the other thing that I will share, people are terrified of unpacking big emotions because there’s the fear that it will overwhelm us once I open this can of worms, there’s no going back, and I’m going to become a worm monster. Sometimes that does happen. But often the reverse is also true, that when we open the thing that we thought was a can of worms it’s just like a really gentle caterpillar. It’s just waiting to be held, to be given a little leaf to munch on so that it can turn into a butterfly and set itself free.

Connecting with the divine

[00:18:02] Scott Snibbe: I will quote Mr. Rogers, one of the nicest white male patriarchs you’ll ever meet, who said, What’s mentionable is manageable. You have a very beautiful quote, “Each person who has ever caused harm to me, or been impacted by harm through me, is a divine being, who is also a divine part of me.” This isn’t a type of language we hear that much in our everyday lives, in the news, and so on. 

Each person who has ever caused harm to me, or been impacted by harm through me, is a divine being, who is also a divine part of me.

Can you talk about what that means, and how you manage to feel that?

[00:18:47] Meenadchi: Sometimes it’s a theoretical principle, it’s something I have to go back to, but that is a principle that I was introduced to at a very young age. My name, Meenadchi, is after an incarnation of the mother goddess. I literally grew up knowing I was her, thinking I was her, knowing that I was an incarnation of the divine. 

That same comic book I referenced, Amar Chitra Katha, has a story about how God is in everything and everything is God. For me, it’s just something because I learned it so young. It’s a principle that I’ve been able to always come back to which I think when I teach is certainly not something that I ask or expect others to feel.

It doesn’t feel appropriate to ask someone to apply a principle to their life that is not true. You don’t have to feel like somebody who hurt you is a part of you, but it is true that that is part of my practice and my truth, and it anchors a lot of my work.

[00:19:52] Scott Snibbe: For someone who is listening and is moved by that but has no idea how to do it, do you have any suggestions for first steps or how you took your first steps to it? It sounds like you were raised with that idea. I was also raised with some of those ideas, so it’s a little easier. 

If you weren’t, are there some methods you can recommend?

[00:20:15] Meenadchi: I would say just be really slow and gentle. For listeners, just touch something that’s around you. Take a moment to notice and think about how many hands touched this table. Where did this wood come from? How many lineages has it passed through in order to arrive and be here for me to have my laptop on and be in this conversation? We’re just wildly interconnected all the time. 

What are needs and how do we get them met?

[00:20:55] Scott Snibbe: That’s really beautiful. I want to get back to the nuts and bolts of NVC. Typically, NVC is used in resolving conflicts. I have another beautiful quote from you, “We don’t always take healthy actions or choose healthy relationships because we’re not always in healthy alignment with our needs.” Needs is a very core principle of nonviolent communication.

We don’t always take healthy actions or choose healthy relationships because we’re not always in healthy alignment with our needs.

Can you talk about what needs are? My wife and I still try to use this language like, okay, can we translate that into needs and we struggle. Can you talk about what needs are and healthy and unhealthy ways of getting them met?

[00:21:31] Meenadchi: Simple, tangible things or needs are usually one or maybe two words. They don’t have anything to do with anybody personally. You can kind of imagine that they’re pretty universal. Everybody has a need for dignity. Everybody has a need for housing. Not everybody needs to live in this particular area of Los Angeles or whatever. But we need shelter and we need belonging. We need safety. 

Then you think about, I think anybody who’s ever been in or in a romantic relationship has some experience with getting your needs met in an unhealthy way, because I think most of us are not necessarily coming from family dynamics or backgrounds where we saw relationships modeled well, but they’re what we knew.

If I want to belong and if I want to have access to intimacy, if I want to have access to love, then here are all these weird ways I have to twist myself and do things that don’t feel great or try and make it work. Then over time, we learn and we’re like, Oh, I don’t have to do it that way, I can pursue relationships. I can pursue love and I can pursue friendship, and it can look different, and it can feel different. 

That core need, the need for intimacy, the need for care, et cetera, are very much the same. But as we improve in our self-awareness, we can choose healthier and healthier ways of getting those needs met.

[00:22:57] Scott Snibbe: Those ways of getting needs met, NVC calls strategies. You say that conflict doesn’t occur at the level of need. What’s the conflict to have at the level of needs? You need a place to live, so does that person. The conflict comes in the strategy.  Fighting over one place to live or how to get enough money for one and so on.

Would you be willing to share an example from your own life of some healthy strategy for acknowledging needs and resolving conflicts?

[00:23:30] Meenadchi: I can share something that sort of happened today. I think the key is self-awareness and that is just something that builds over time. So, I had a loved one, there was something I was working on for work and this loved one was like, You might find this resource that I have really helpful. I was like, Okay, yes, I’ll buy that from you. Then I got the resource, and I was like, I’ve seen this before, she showed it to me when she was building it, and I had already told her that I didn’t like it, that it wouldn’t work for me. I was like, Girl, why did you sell me this?

[00:24:16] Scott Snibbe: I didn’t like it when it was free and I like it even less now that I had to pay for it.

[00:24:22] Meenadchi: So I emailed her and I said, Yo, I completely forgot that I had already seen this. You probably forgot too. I said, I love you and I want to keep buying stuff from your business. The ask that I have, Sell me stuff that you know that I will love.

This was a business decision, my business decision. I don’t need anything but sell me stuff that you know that I will love. She then shared that she’s going through a really rough time, and I could tell from her text response, there was some activation in her text message.

We started getting into a conversation, that was very clearly not going to be fruitful. She was like, Would you like a refund? I was like, Sure. Then she was like, Actually, a 50 percent refund feels better. I was like, What? What I wound up saying was, If you remembered that I didn’t like it and sold it to me anyway, a 100 percent refund would be great.

If you didn’t remember, and we both just forgot, I don’t need a refund at all. What’s important to me is that you sell me stuff that you know that I will love. We can share that responsibility. Then I also said, We don’t have to have this conversation right now. There’s no rush, no urgency because I could track that I was starting to get activated from her activation.

We weren’t responding to each other with the qualities of kindness and care that I know that we both deeply value. Then this strategy of, let’s just take some space, let’s look at the underlying needs. The underlying needs are not about me getting a resource that will work, it’s not about the $150 that I spent. The underlying needs are how much this friendship matters and understanding and being able to have a real sense of trust and capacity. She’s not in a place where she has a ton of capacity to engage with conflict. So then, let’s just leave it, let’s not worry about it for right now, we can deal with things later.

[00:26:29] Scott Snibbe: What’s really sweet is connecting to a deep felt need that I need that the other person connects with to that you had a need for a good relationship with this person. I’ve been married for a long time and my wife, and we go through waves, but our relationship’s gotten so much better lately. Marriage is a contract, it’s a little bit yucky in our culture because it’s a legal contract, so we think of it in capitalist terms, but I found when I started to think about our relationship as just a gift—when you first are with someone, of course you have no demands. You’re trying to win this person’s affection and concern. 

modern day marriage

But I realized that I really should have that attitude all the time. It’s everything. There should not be any demands, expectations, like contractual obligations, even in a marriage.

[00:27:47] Meenadchi: I think it’s definitely a really nice ideal to strive for and to move towards. I am a monogamous person, but a lot of the people that I’m in community with are polyamorous and there’s some really beautiful work that’s being done there amongst communities where people are very conscious of like, I don’t expect one person to meet all my needs. We’re going to be in conversation about how needs can get met in a variety of interesting ways.

[00:28:19] Scott Snibbe: I think even if you’re monogamous, it’s the same because when you put all your eggs in one basket with your partner there, it’s just bound to fail. You need a whole village full of friends and family and connections, besides your partner. Back to strategies, you say that’s where conflicts occur, not at the level of needs, but the strategies for getting them met. 

What about people who are feeling down on themselves that they don’t think it’s even possible for their needs to be met?

[00:28:51] Meenadchi: I’ve had a lot of clients come to me and be like, This is my racist boss or my sexist boss. How do I make them change? I’m like, Bro, you can’t make them change, that’s just not the way the math works. Transformation is internally motivated and oriented. If you want them to change, you first and foremost have to have capacity to meet them where they’re at, and not everybody wants to do that. On that end of the spectrum, where you cannot get your needs met, then the need that you can work towards is self-connection so that you don’t lose your mind in that situation. From there, there is this spectrum of learning, of being able to take agency and choose.

A lot of times, I see people in relationship dynamics, whether it’s roommates, romantic, friendship, and something’s not working, but the person is not willing to honor their own boundary or to honor their own needs. If you’re clear that this is the way you want your need to be met, and the other person is not willing to do that, this iteration of the relationship has to end. You don’t have to kick that person out of your life if you don’t want to, but you have to honor your own boundaries. I think that is an incredible practice because it’s scary to be alone. It’s really scary to not have the quality of connection that you want around you.

[00:30:24] Scott Snibbe: When Stephen King was asked what people most afraid of, he didn’t say knives or people coming back from the dead; he said change. I found it with my wife and big things need to change in our relationship year to year. Because we’re changing and even when we both know they’re right, it’s actually something like you feel in your body.

Like something’s being ripped out when you make it. When you make a change, even when you need to do and it’s beneficial, it can be as strong as breaking up, getting divorced, or as small as spending less time together, spending more time together, stop speaking in certain ways.

I had a conflict like that at work with somebody. A superior who was doing what I saw very harmful things in retaliation and I remember talking to a coach and they said, That person’s a narcissist, what do I do? You have to phrase everything in terms of them because they only think of themselves. I was like, Really, that’s it?

It was okay for me beause I do have a certain sense of like self-confidence and safety, but obviously a lot of people don’t have that and don’t have as much power and are traditionally marginalized. When you’re dealing with racism, sexism, your job, your livelihood, how do we deal with someone who’s using a harmful strategy on us like abuse, manipulation, defensiveness, asserting power things like that? You talked about walking away as one option but what else is there when you feel stuck? 

Where DNVC diverges from NVC

[00:32:24] Meenadchi: This is probably a place of divergence for DNVC, which is what I call decolonizing nonviolent communication, and NVC, because sometimes I think there is nothing that we can do. All we can do is find places to replenish ourselves, we can find places with people who will hold grief alongside us.

But sometimes some of those situations require a community movement or a global movement. It is not something that can be resolved on an interpersonal level. It needs such deeper space-holding and practice, and we don’t always have those resources. So grieve and find the way out as much as you can.

[00:33:11] Scott Snibbe: That overlaps so much with the Buddhist view. I was lucky enough to have an interview with Yangsi Rinpoche, an incredible Rinpoche teacher. I asked him a similar question, he said, At a certain point you have to acknowledge there’s 7 billion people on earth and problems that have existed for centuries, if not millennia, and you do your best to create the causes, you create the causes for change, but the time frame on which those changes will ripen, you’re not under control of.

It’s something a lot of people don’t get about Buddhism, and it’s a little scary, is that you have to acknowledge the limits of your agency, and realize that the thing you can have a control over is your mind, but you don’t have that much control over the world.

You have to acknowledge the limits of your agency, and realize that the thing you can have a control over is your mind, but you don’t have that much control over the world.

At the same time, you’re so good at this balance, you do have agency. You talk about acknowledging those systemic power structures that are having an enormous impact on us that are out of our control. Yet, the way out of them is to find our agency again.

[00:34:22] Meenadchi: True, I’ll weave in the three principles that I have for nonviolence. The three principles are that we have access to a sense of choice, that we feel connected to our own bodies, and that we feel connected to the collective body, meaning we can feel that other people matter.

I think under systems of capitalism, racism, all these other things that are present, it can feel like I don’t have a choice. I’m not able to choose. How can I feel my body? I’m so tired all the time, either from working or from navigating these terrible environments that don’t recognize my humanity.

What I offer is that it is a practice of reclamation. How do we reclaim access to our sense of choice? How do we reclaim access to our own bodies? How do we reclaim access to feeling like we’re part of each other? My ask is not for you to matter less, but that we can matter in this together.

Connecting to the body

[00:35:19] Scott Snibbe: It’s very beautiful. Let’s speak to a specific. Let’s say a person at work feels like their supervisor is behaving in a racist way and their supervisor is a narcissist, they’re not very good with empathy. What tools would you offer that person? 

[00:36:03] Meenadchi: I don’t ever offer blanket tools but I would work with that person to see what they’re holding in their body. Where is the grief? Where is the anger? Where is the frustration? Where is the helplessness? So that they can start to feel things again. 

From there I would ask questions, would cultivate, would inquire, to find, Okay, this is the circumstance you’re in. What do you want to do? If you’re going to be in it, while you’re in it, what action feels the most aligned for you? We’ll work with them to move towards that. Even just saying that feels good for my body because those brief moments where someone acknowledges your reality is true, can feel like a really good sip of water. Then you’re like, Okay, I can walk another five miles in the desert.

[00:36:40] Scott Snibbe: Yeah, that’s why the reflecting is so powerful. Even the racist boss in this example, that you don’t have to agree with what a person says in order to just say that they said it. It has a very powerful, defusing effect to say, what I hear you say, which is very mechanical, you can say it in your own way, but you want this or you’re saying this, somehow that’s a part of NVC works that has worked very well for me and a lot of my friends who’ve tried it.

There’s Bessel van der Kolk, his book is very popular, The Body Keeps the Score. What does that mean to you when you feel it in your body?

[00:37:33] Meenadchi: Before we say words that are angry or frustrated or anything like that, you can usually feel it somewhere in your body, like your jaw starts to get tense or your shoulders start to hunch up or your tummy is in knots. There’s this idea that if we can listen to the body cues a little bit earlier, then we can have a sense of relaxation because we understand what’s going on for us. Then we can say something differently, instead of just kind of word-vomiting all over people that we love because we’re so upset.

[00:38:05] Scott Snibbe: I want to talk more about this because the way people talk about semantics today it’s really powerful and valid, but it’s mostly about finding the tensions. It works well for people, but this approach doesn’t work that well for me. Laurie Anderson, when I interviewed her said this, You kind of just meditate on the body, you feel a tension here, down by your kidney or something, and all of a sudden this memory is released and finally let go.

There’s another way that we use the body in Buddhism, especially Vajrayana Buddhism, is this kind of picturing how you might be at your best. How do you do that? What does that feel like? What is the positive side of using your body in ways of growth and aspiration?

[00:38:55] Meenadchi: For a lot of people accessing the body is real tricky for many different valid reasons. If you can find something that has felt a little bit good, like you ate a meal that you really liked, or you saw a butterfly one time and you feel that kind of flutter in your chest.

Going on this beautiful ramble is, as we’ve been talking about nonviolent communication has been very conflict oriented, but I always encourage students to use these tools to tell people in their lives how their needs are being met. Like when your partner refills your water cup without you even needing to ask, just notice how sweet that feels in your body and invite yourself to amplify that as much as you can to find it again and again. For better or for worse, the things we focus on are the things that grow.

Sometimes circumstances are really hard. I don’t ever want to deny or minimize aspects of what is true. There’s something really rich that can start to emerge. As we let ourselves remember the things that feel good. I’m thinking about my favorite cartoon when I was a kid was Thundercats. It was so much fun, Saturday morning cartoons, just tap into a memory that feels real good and like, let that be your practice.

The importance of not labeling others

[00:40:23] Scott Snibbe: In Buddhism we have this too, my teacher, Elaine Jackson, a wonderful, long-time practitioner, says as soon as you have a negative thought about something—like about your partner is a good example. If you have a romantic partner, silly things like, Oh, they didn’t clean up, or they’re, they’re late, or they don’t want to spend time with me, whatever.

Not silly things, they’re actually important things, but they’re relatively small. To turn that around and remember all the good and think, Wait a minute, she’s my best friend, and she loves me more than anyone in the world. So to remind yourself of the good. Rick Hansen talks about this too, basking in the good.

I want to get back to some of these difficult strategies because they’re very hard to get over if you’re raised with them. Or if you just read the New York Times, they use pointy language. They sometimes use phrases that blame, and criticize—phrases that begin with “You this,” “They that.” 

I have another great quote from you. “Use these tools only to live up to your own definitions of nonviolence and violence, not to label others.” It’s very asymmetrical; buddhism is asymmetrical in that way, too. You have a different standard for yourself and others. 

Use these tools only to live up to your own definitions of nonviolence and violence, not to label others.

Can you give an example of how that works?

[00:41:58] Meenadchi: A lot of times with conventional NVC, what I would see people doing is they’d chastise others like, that’s not the way you’re supposed to do it.

[00:42:07] Scott Snibbe: NVC police. 

[00:42:09] Meenadchi: Just leave it alone, bro. If you know how to do the thing, you do the thing. We are coming from such different learning and unlearning, relearning journeys. We’re all at different places.

The most we can do really is speak our own truth, speak in alignment with our values. There are ways that I spoke 10, 15 years ago, which are not in alignment with how I would want to speak right now. They’re like two different people. We’re allowed to change. We’re allowed to grow. It’s a common communication thing to use “I” statements and not to use “You” language or whatever, but you can use an “I” statement and use it to blame somebody.

Just like what your brother said. There’s just an invitation to trust that everybody’s doing the best that they can to speak authentically the way that is true for you in this moment, to stay live, and in connection and also responsible for the quality of connection that you either presently have or want to build towards, because things are going to change. You might not even agree with what you said yesterday. 

How to put everything into practice

[00:43:26] Scott Snibbe: They say something very strong in the Buddhist tradition I come from, which is that you could study Buddhism your whole life, become the master of the knowledge, and if you don’t meditate, you gain almost nothing in this life. There’s a lot of spiritual self-help wellness materials out there right now.

How do we actually choose the ones that will work for us and really put them into practice?

[00:43:50] Meenadchi: One, we just hold the awareness that reading a thing or listening to a podcast is not going to transform my practice. We hold that as an awareness so that we don’t fool ourselves. Two, let’s say you read my book and there’s a whole bunch of tools and things to try, try practicing them in a role play with somebody. When you’re not actually angry, you’re not actually upset and you’re like, Okay, let’s set the stage and pretend that I’m really mad at you because I keep asking you not to leave your socks on top of my desk, and you put them there all the time. 

Then practice having that conversation and implementing the tools in a no stakes, nothing is actually happening because I promise you, your body will start reacting, and you’ll be like, Oh, there is stuff in here. That’s the place where you can start applying the tools beforehand and becoming aware of your own bodily reactions so that when something does happen, you can move more fluidly into implementing the tools.

[00:44:53] Scott Snibbe: It’s very important. It can be fun too, if you’re with another person, then you can bring in humor.

Thank you, so you’ve agreed to lead us in a meditation. Can you just talk a little bit about what that is? We’re going to air that meditation in the next episode.

[00:45:16] Meenadchi: I’m going to lead a meditation on being able to find and feel good things in the body. This conversation has been really nourishing for me. I’m hoping that it’s been nourishing for the listeners. If you just imagine those speckles of nourishment and what might happen when we practice playing with them and amplifying them, that’s going to be the intention and the vibe of the meditation.

[00:45:41] Scott Snibbe: Thank you Menachi for this extraordinary conversation. For people listening, your book is extraordinarily concise. It is so difficult to write something short. It is so much easier to write it long. It’s really one of the most beautiful, short, helpful books I’ve read. Thank you so much for spending time talking to me and for writing your wonderful book, Nonviolent Communication.

[00:46:12] Meenadchi: Thank you, and thank you for having me.


Hosted by Scott Snibbe

Produced by Annie Ngyen

Marketing by Isabela Acebal


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