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Navigate the Heart-Canvas

Learning the layout of the Heart-Canvas is the first step toward clarity, motivation and connection. In this post, you will learn where everything is located and a few tricks for finding things quickly. We first turn our attention to identifying our Feelings, which is on the left side of the Heart-Canvas, shown in picture 1. The following example will be used throughout this post to demonstrate using the Heart-Canvas.

Example: let's say that I just facilitated a weekend workshop and it went very well.

are you celebrating or mourning?

1. Am I “Celebrating” or “Mourning”?

Feelings are an indicator of needs being met or not met. The first question is “Am I Celebrating or Mourning?” If you’re feeling something pleasant and harmonious, you’re likely celebrating that your needs are being met in some way -- search in the upper half of the feelings section, identified in the far left as “Celebration.”

If you’re feeling something unpleasant and discordant, you’re likely mourning that your needs are not being met – search in the lower half of the feelings list, identified in the far left as “Mourning.”

Example: I'm celebrating that the workshop I facilitated went well.

what's the intensity of my feeling?

2. What’s the “Intensity” of my feeling?

Feelings in the Heart-Canvas are organized by intensity – i.e. the words on the left-hand side are low intensity feelings. If you’re celebrating needs being met with low intensity, you might identify with feelings such as centered, mellow, relaxed or comfortable. If you are mourning needs not being met, you might identify with sad, longing, bored, confused or tired.

If on the other hand, you’re celebrating with high intensity, you might be feeling joyful, passionate, ecstatic, blissful or delighted. Similarly, if you’re mourning with high intensity, you might feel devastated, horrified, angry, furious or rage.


Example: the range of intensity of my feeling is around a 3, as shown in the picture above.

search for feelings within a range of intensity

3. Search for feelings within the selected range of “Intensity.”

The next step is to gauge your intensity from low on the left to high on the right. Identify a number from 1 to 10 that indicates your level of intensity, and then search within a range of that number (slightly higher or lower).

Example: in the figure above, the intensity shown is around a 3 -- the word that matched the internal feeling was "Content."

which quadrant matches your need?

"In expressing our feelings, it helps to use words that refer to specific emotions, rather than words that are vague or general." - Marshall Rosenberg [NVC, Chapter Four: Identifying and Expressing Feelings, p. 43]

4. Which quadrant matches your need?

Now that you’ve identified at least one feeling, you’re ready to explore the needs associated with it. Needs in the Heart-Canvas are shown on the right side using the metaphor of a flower.

Needs are organized in four main quadrants. The flower pot is used to symbolize the Physical needs, such as survival, and sustainability. Meanwhile the sun symbolizes transcendent needs, like meaning, flow, beauty and harmony. Personal needs, such as autonomy, honesty and well-being, are on the left side of the flower. Inter-personal needs like community, empathy, and peace are on the right side. Identify which quadrant matches your need.


Example: the "Personal" quadrant is selected from the picture above.

pick the petal closest to your need

5. Pick the petal closest to your need

Now that the quadrant has been selected, search for the flower petal that closely describes your need. The metaphors of the pot, the flower petals and the sun form a core list of universal human needs:

Flower Pot: Survival

Flower Petals: Sustainability, Autonomy, Honesty, Well-Being, Community, Empathy, Peace, Meaning

Sun: Transcendence


Example: given that the "Personal" quadrant was selected, the "Autonomy" petal seems closest to the experience.

fine tune the need to match the experience

6. Fine tune the need to match the experience.

Now that you’ve identified the core need, you can look at the other needs associated with it to more closely match your experience.

Example: The autonomy petal got me close; "mastery" more closely matches the experience of facilitating a workshop well.

Now that you have an overview of navigating the Heart-Canvas, you are ready for using it in a "Self-Empathy" journaling practice.

"The more directly we can connect our feelings to our needs, the easier it is for [everyone] to respond compassionately." - Marshall Rosenberg, [NVC Chapter Five: Taking Responsibility for Our Feelings, p. 61]

Where did it come from?

The Heart-Canvas came out of James’ morning journal practice, which was taking longer than he wanted. During a journal session in January 2014, as he connected with his desire for learning, growth and efficiency, he realized that organizing feelings and needs with some structure would make it faster and deepen his learning. He organized feelings by relative intensity, which took the pressure off the belief that "there's only one right feeling" in each moment. The needs flower was inspired by Jim & Jori Manske's needs wheel, and modified to match the natural metaphor of a flower - giving full representation to personal, inter-personal, physical and transcendent needs.