(Note: NVC is an abbreviation for Nonviolent Communication, a fluid, ever-evolving language process created by Dr. Marshall Rosenberg. It is also sometimes referred to as Compassionate Communication, and is based on universal human feelings and needs, the giving of empathy and making humble requests rather than demands.)
Just as some pet owners ignore their dog’s barking, many of us ignore our jackals howling. Our jackals are trying to tell us we have some painfully unmet need–for respect, for kindness, for fairness, for understanding or any of dozens of other universal human needs.
In the short term, it may be easier and certainly more convenient to just ignore the howling. Sometimes we can pet the jackals, gently reassuring them it’s okay, and they just might quiet down. Sometimes if we meditate long enough, we can silence them and even transcend some of our needs, to some degree. If we can’t meditate, we may hope the howling will soften and stop eventually on its own. If it doesn’t stop, some of us–if we were raised with violent words–actually howl back at our own jackals, threatening or demanding that they shut up and give us some peace of mind. Others give their jackals such a violent tongue-lashing that the jackals become like abused dogs that cower and cannot even do their job, cannot even let you know when you have unmet needs. This can lead to a sense of hopelessness, desperation and possibly rage.
This howling back at one’s own jackals reminds me of a scorpion stinging itself. It also puts me in mind of a biblical quote implying that nobody can do anything to you that you have not first done to yourself, by believing what others say about you. We give other people’s thoughts and words a lot of credence, thus we become very defensive at the first sign of their judging or criticizing us. We become defensive only because we accept their judgment. If we didn’t accept it, we would not have any need to defend ourselves, and we wouldn’t feel the searing pain of judgment. It is only when we have a spiritually profound sense of self-esteem (which stems from deep humility) that we realize the judgments, criticisms and insults from others need not be taken personally and painfully. When we do take insults and judgments personally, it is really a form of beating up on ourselves. Many call this a form of giving power to others over us. It can, in just a few moments, lead to the depths of hurt, anger, hopelessness, despair and depression.
Many of our most common hurts and emotional wounds are sustained as a result of how we take other people’s words and actions personally. We feel deep pain because of the way we unconsciously trigger ourselves based on what someone else says or does which doesn’t meet our needs or desires. There are exceptions where self-triggering doesn’t apply, such as horrible acts of rape and other crimes. But many everyday emotional pains and resentments would be prevented if we could only become conscious of our unconscious self-triggers.
Here again, meditation is one simple way to still the surface layers of the mind and go deeper to find stillness, inner peace, clarity and wholeness of spirit. The word, “healing” comes from the latin root for “whole.” To be truly whole and healed, there is a need to do the work of deep self-introspection, to unearth the unconscious trigger mechanisms that affect our attitudes in everyday life. It’s our own self-trigger hot-buttons that make us so vulnerable to hurt.
It is in a moment of spiritual or meditative awareness that one may have a sort of eureka breakthrough. One may realize he no longer has to let that unconscious trigger program from the past determine how he reacts to hurtful things in the future. That’s a form of emotional liberation, as it is called in NVC philosophy. That’s a stage when we develop the ability to stay conscious of our own source of self-empathy deep within us. At that stage of awareness, we can give ourselves emergency self-empathy when we are triggered. And how fitting is that? We tend to trigger ourselves into the pain, so it’s only logical that we would have a built-in source of self-empathy to reduce or even eliminate the pain.
One of my spiritual mentors, Sant Rajinder Singh Ji, has said, “Pain is inevitable; suffering is optional.” Suffering happens and is intensified by the thoughts we entertain repeatedly about our wounds. Blaming others and/or ourselves. Replaying the painful moment over and over in our mind.
Back to those howling jackals, because we all have some. A more likely way to calm an angry jackal is to find out which unmet needs it is crying out about, and then to look at strategies for meeting those needs. If some of them can no longer be met, then we may need to mourn the loss of opportunities to fulfill those needs. Mourning, while painful and sad, does not lead to depression when it is done in bits and pieces, as time permits and when one is feeling strong enough to handle the stress of mourning. Emotional support, compassion and empathy from others–all of these go a long way toward enabling us to mourn wholly and effectively.