In 2005, when I was beginning to consider the possibility of certifying as a Center for Nonviolent Communication trainer, I often wondered, “Why become a Certified Trainer? What are the benefits to certifying? What needs does it meet?” I asked that of many Certified Trainers. Most acknowledged that the label itself can open some doors, but otherwise, I didn’t hear much else to convince my rational mind that the process was “worth it”. Trainers didn’t receive referrals or support from CNVC – in fact, there wasn’t even really a “Center” at all. There weren’t any special Trainer gatherings, or advanced trainings that required one to be a Certified Trainer. There was no package of benefits or warm welcome from Marshall. At the time, as far as I could tell, all that occurred was that one would get a one line contact listing on cnvc.org, and access to a Yahoo group that looked very much like the certification candidates Yahoo group. In return, I would be asked to read an interminably long document about the process and its requirements, pay over $1000 to attend an ITT, pay close to $1000 in fees for the certification/ assessment process alone, develop a relationship with a Trainer I had never met, having them both read all my most inmost thoughts in journal form and then “evaluate” one of my trainings, ask people I personally know and don’t know to fill out a “feedback form” about me, and finally be asked to give 10% of my income each year to a Center that doesn’t really seem to exist. Nice.
What motivated me to actually send in my first $75 and register as a Certification Candidate? Three memories come to mind. At the time, these weren’t exactly the conscious reasons for me to begin the Certification process. However, in retrospect, I see them as the true driver for my actions.
The first memory is of CNVC CT John Kinyon showing up weekly to meet with a group of us who were interested in being NVC leaders. Often there were only two of us there. Financially, we were hardly covering his time and travel expenses, time away from his wife and newborn child, a distance almost a two-hour’s drive away. Even so, week-after-week, he would show up, with his warm presence, complete honesty, and an authentic desire to contribute and offer support to each of us in our learning. What really floored me was that he always treated us as companions on the Path – he would spend as much time asking questions about our experience as we did asking about his. As much as I resisted the thought, we were peers. John trusted in my wisdom more than I trusted in it myself. My mind wanted to understand where the whole trainer path led to. In John’s mind, I was already there. It seemed there was nowhere to “get to”. Suddenly, the whole idea of certifying became more of koan for me to study, than a question for me to answer.
The second memory I have is of CNVC CT Bob Metz, whom I shared a room with at a Robert Gonzales training in Carefree, Arizona, in 2006. I remember grilling Bob with those same questions, “Why certify? What are the benefits?” Bob was patient with me, taking the time to respond to each and every question and “but” that my monkey mind would throw at him. Somewhere in there, one comment he made stuck out: “I’d like to see you in the trainer community.” Those may not have been his exact words; it lingers in my memory more as an image: an open place in a circle of individuals, arms around one another, and two hands of open invitation extending towards me. A request.
The third memory is almost more of a feeling. In those early years of my NVC training, in encounter after encounter with CNVC Certified Trainers (John, Bob, Robert, Miki, Wes, Susan Skye, Barb and Doug, Marshall, Jim and Jori, Jane Lazar, Holley Humphrey, Catherine Cadden, Jake Gotwals, Jack Lehman, Mark Schultz, Mary Mackenzie, to name a few), I found the same consistency of presence, empathy, humor, understanding, warmth, generosity, and humility. I felt proud to be in community with them. These people were actually being the change I wanted to see in the world. Deep in my bones, I could feel how uncanny, rare and precious that was, that each and every member that I encountered of this Certified Trainer community would walk with such integrity. Something was working here. (remarkably, with all the CT’s I have met since that time, I have felt that consistently except for a small handful of individuals).
Once I registered, it was three years before I would actually be certified. It seemed that at each stage of the certification process, I would lose steam and doubt whether it would ever be completed. There were times when the process would lack meaning for me and I would question anew the value of it all. Then there would be the moments that brought the meaning into full relief, beyond a shadow of a doubt. These moments would offer encouragement and trust in the process. Three moments in particular hold special importance. Together, in my mind, these were the “actual” stages of my Certification process.
In November 2007, I attended my fifth retreat as part of Robert Gonzales’ LIFE program. The participants had been journeying together for almost two full years. We were Robert’s first LIFE program “class”, and as such, there had always been the sense that we were on a voyage of complete discovery – we weren’t “taking” a tried-and-true curriculum; instead, we were part of the creation of it. On the last day of this retreat, I was scheduled to depart on a flight that would eventually take me to Kabul, Afghanistan, where I was going to co-lead NVC trainings with Catherine Cadden, Jiva Manske, and Naghmeh Yazdanpaneh, trainings that we ourselves had planned, organized and fundraised for. The flight time required that I leave the retreat a few hours before the other LIFE participants, so a “goodbye circle” was held.
Many appreciations and well-wishes were shared. Just when I thought we were complete, Robert spoke up, “I’m experiencing a feeling that I can’t seem to find the word for, something like ‘pride’.” He had tears in his eyes, and he was taking time with his words. He went on to say that there was something about my leaving the retreat to go share this work in the world that felt like a realization of his vision for the LIFE program. As unexpected as this was to hear from Robert, I was even less prepared for my response.
Waves of full-body weeping came over me. The recognition came that I was releasing years of longing for words like these from my deceased father, a longing that I didn’t even know that I had. It was a rite of passage moment. I understood Robert’s words as, “Yes, you are your own man now; you have my blessing to go out into the world”, as if they came from my own father’s mouth. I also touched a different level of my relationship with Robert – it was as if, in that moment, I had for all intents and purposes been Certified. It was like the old Zen story about a monk named Ikkyu. Ikkyu recounts a life-changing moment he has just experienced on a moonlit lake to his master. The master shouts, “That’s NOT Buddha’s Enlightenment!” Ikkyu calmly responds, “It’s good enough for me.” The master breaks into a smile and applauds, “That’s Buddha’s Enlightenment!”. For me, that moment with Robert was my Ikkyu moment around Certification. From then on, the one and only distinction I could see between me personally having the title of “Certified Trainer” and that of “Certification Candidate” was the label. Although intellectually I might have thought that before, it was at that point that I actually began to walk as a Certified Trainer.
In early 2009, I made the decision to complete the final steps for formal Certification. At that point, I hadn’t communicated with my assessor in over a year, and any desire I had had for the title of Certified Trainer had long been forgotten. What I hadn’t forgotten was my appreciation for John, and Bob, and Robert, and Marshall, and all the other trainers who had given me a Path and the inspiration to follow it. It was time to give back, not out of a sense of debt, but out of a sense of honor, respect, and gratitude.
Some might question why I felt the need to complete the formal process when I was already settled into my own walk as a trainer. For me, it had to do with relationships. Just as it doesn’t feel right for me to meditate without acknowledging that the gravity of the earth makes it possible for me to sit, it didn’t feel right for me to act as an NVC trainer in the world without acknowledging that it was the work of Certified Trainers who made it possible for me to do what I do. For me, turning away from the formal process in that moment would have been akin to ignoring the value of what John, Bob, Robert and all the others went through to get where they were. And, interestingly enough, that sense didn’t change for me, even when I considered that most of those trainers didn’t go through a certification “process”. Because of the strength of that sense, and the energy I felt once I made that decision to complete formal certification, I consider this moment a key second stage in my own personal Certification process. Years before, the CNVC CT community had lit a Path through its example and I followed. It was time to bring the journey home.
The requirement for the final assessment in the Certification process had always bothered me. My assessor, Penny Wassman, was in British Columbia, Canada, and I lived in San Francisco, California when I began the process, and Chapel Hill, North Carolina when I was close to the end. Not only had I never met this person, nor had she ever attended any of my trainings, but I would be expected to fly to another country on my own dime, and be assessed, not on the basis of a training I led, but on how well I responded to her questions. This, even though I had a strong relationship with other Certified Trainers, some who had watched me grow over the span of 3 or more years, and some of whom I had co-led or assisted trainings with? Come on!
Then, life got interesting. Not only did Penny turn out to be more of a human being than my grumbling mind made her out to be, but as we began dialoguing about this last requirement for Certification, a new idea began to emerge. It seemed that two of my friends from the NVC community, one of them from my LIFE program, were also being assessed by Penny, and also interested in finding an alternative to the “standard procedure”. They were proposing to fly Penny to Washington D.C., where they lived, and invite her to co-lead a training with them. As D.C. was only a stone’s throw away from Chapel Hill, and my friends Lynd Morris and Bob Wentworth felt like community to me, the idea of us all creating something together sung to my heart, meeting all my hopes and desires for what “assessment” could look like.
On October 3rd and 4th, 2009, Penny, Lynd, Bob, Catherine Cadden (by now my life partner), and I co-led “NVC and Me”, a weekend NVC training offering a wide variety of sessions intended to support NVC practitioners in developing a sustainable daily practice. Although cramming so many trainers and their unique gifts into such a short amount of time was, well, a bit of a cram, the process of planning, organizing, leading, and harvesting the training, including dealing with such hot-button issues as money and “stage-time”, was everything I had hoped assessment could be. To be in there, right in the thick of the everyday issues of being a trainer, with my assessor, and my community, practicing NVC, felt like the realization of the whole process of Certification. It wasn’t about me and whether or not I would be Certified – it was about a community of whole-hearted individuals, practicing this Path we call NVC, and witnessing what it is make decisions and live together from a place of connection, rather than separation. I remember October 4th, not as the day I got Certified, but as the day that Penny, Lynd, Bob, Catherine, and I celebrated love and human connection, and reaffirmed the value of NVC as a consciousness and tool for that. To me, this was the fitting final step of the whole Certification process: NVC community assessing NVC and certifying it. Yup, it works; yes, we did it; and boy does it feel good! (and Penny, if you made it this far, I want you to know that I treasure the cup you gave me that day – I drink from it daily).
From my own experience, I believe that the CNVC CT Certification process is a kind of transmission from “warm hand to warm hand”. Those were the words that the Zen master Shunryu Suzuki used to describe the process of Dharma transmission, the passing of a given lineage from one Zen master to the next. By this, I think he meant that true connection could be touched directly and instantly, and that the way it’s shared is through a meeting of those who know. This was my experience, and I have deep gratitude for the individuals in the NVC community, many of whom I have already named, that let me in on the secret. To each of you, I want you to know that this is what I share with others whom I “teach”. My life is forever enriched by this understanding. Thank you. May all our needs, which include those of all that we touch, be fulfilled.