Strategies For Living

January 29, 2008

by David B. Wolf, Ph. D.
Satvatove Institute

An Uplifting, Purpose-Filled Spiritual Pursuit

Self-awareness moves us to choose life-enriching principles by which to live, some of which, such as Be-Do-Have, clear intention, and keeping agreements, have been described in previous articles. Spiritual principles for personal growth are universal, and thus, even if we are not able to articulate them, they are familiar, being inherent to our core being. Without actively applying these principles, we run the danger that our existence becomes a sort of animalistic struggle for survival, rather than an uplifting, purpose-filled spiritual pursuit.

What is Our Presentation to the World?

Each of us has a presentation to the world. Sometimes this presentation is authentic, where what is presented outside is consistent with what is happening inside. At other times our presentation is not genuine. We wear masks, facades.

Living From Choice

A spiritual principle of self-development is to live from choice, rather than from fear. Transforming our relationship with fear is an essential process of spiritual growth. Though fear may be present, instead of it being a cue to withdraw it becomes a signal to step forward and courageously take a risk. Sometimes we may put up masks from choice, such as deliberately responding that we are fine, although we don’t feel that way, because we simply don’t want to enter into conversation about our troubles. What we are addressing here is when we wear masks out of fear.

Masks take diverse forms, as varied as our personalities. There is the “happy” mask, where we want to be seen as a happy person, regardless of what may be going on inside. Being “strong” can be a mask, as can being “the class clown”, or “intellectual”. Playing the victim, or the “spiritualist”, or the helpless person, are other forms of facades.

What is Our Authentic Presentation to the World?

Of course, each of the types of masks listed above are not always masks. Each of us has a genuine happy and joyful side, an authentic intellectual way of being, a sense of humor, a strong side, a fragile side. It is when we feel we have to be a certain way, rather than choosing to be that way, that our authenticity is compromised. If I “have to” appear as “spiritual”, at the expense of acknowledging to the world, and perhaps to myself, desires or emotions that seem non-spiritual, then my spirituality is a mask and not a genuine disposition. If I feel I have to show myself as an intellectual, even at times when I would really like to drop that front and be playful, spontaneous, or emotionally expressive, then my intellectuality is a mask.

Are We Exhausted Yet?

Most of us spend much of our energy holding up masks, and pushing down experiences that we resist acknowledging. It is like holding a beach ball underwater, which requires a lot of effort to keep it down. After a while we become exhausted. A characteristic of readiness for spiritual growth is that we are exhausted with holding down our emotional beach ball. That is not how we want to spend our life energy any longer.

Living and Surviving

There is a distinction between living and surviving. Spiritually-based personal growth entails a commitment to living, rather than mere surviving. Surviving is reactive. We are in reaction to the beach ball. Holding our head above the surface, maybe putting on a smile, we show that we are in control. Actually, though, it is a pretense of control. Wherever the submerged ball moves, we move with it, not daring to allow it to be seen. It shifts here or there, and we follow. Who or what is in control? Even if we manage with great effort to keep it under, it is noticed.

Perhaps we conceal our rage, not knowing an acceptable means for its expression. But it comes out in different ways, like our irritability or loss of temper at petty things. It is similar with other components of our emotional beach ball, such as shame. Though we don’t want the world to see our sense of shame, or to recognize it ourselves, it drives our life, pervades our experience and relationships with feeling of inadequacy, of being inherently defective. It prevents us from fully sharing ourselves.

Strategies For Survival

A strategy for survival is to maintain the appearance of control. By doing this, the mask stays up, and the beach ball down. This is related to other strategies of survival, such as avoiding pain, looking good, and being right. “Looking good” means that we are invested in an appearance, rather than in being authentic. For each of us that inauthentic appearance has different forms, as explained in relation to our masks. For some of us looking good might mean showing ourselves as the strong helper. For some, looking good might mean “looking bad”, the rebel, the defiant person who doesn’t accept authority. Of course, blindly accepting authority is no virtue, though neither is indiscriminately resisting it.

“Being right” refers to a strategy where what becomes important is being right with another person, instead of genuinely being with another person. We get to be right, feel superior and self-righteous, at the expense of the closeness, understanding and intimacy we truly desire.

Strategies For Living

A life-enriching strategy conducive for the complete manifestation of our spiritual being is to participate fully in our lives, to give 100%. Not showing up fully for our own lives is at the core of self-sabotaging strategies. In fact, it is the foundation of repeating self-defeating cycles, because by not committing fully we restrict our potential to learn through experience. Acquiring wisdom involves granting ourselves the permission to make mistakes through which we learn.

A term like “experience fully” may evoke images of abandoning one’s intelligence or reason. Actually, to be fully present includes being completely available with all our faculties, including our mind and intelligence. Conscious living entails utilizing our intelligence to enrich and inform our experience. There is a distinction between employing mind and intelligence to enhance our complete contribution and presence, and using our analytical capacity as a barrier to experience. Making distinctions and judgments are a natural function of intelligence. Hiding behind those judgments is a survival strategy, borne of fear, that limits our growth, connection and experience.

Living in the Moment

Related to this, there is also an important distinction between living in the moment, and living for the moment. Living in the moment is being present, with all our qualities and capacities available. In the well known Indian scripture the Bhagavad-gita, Sri Krsna describes a person in this state as being free from lamentation about the past and hankering for the future. He is satisfied in the present. This is not the same as living for the moment, where we may whimsically abandon good sense for immediate gratification. Conscious, present living includes learning from the past, and planning for the future. In doing this, we don’t wallow in lamentation, nor do we brood in anxiety.

Giving ourselves fully to our experience is not the same as wallowing in distressing emotion. When we allow ourselves to fully experience, we feel clean, complete, resolved and ready for the next experience. To wallow in a feeling is a way of holding on to it, rather than letting it go by truly experiencing it completely.

To summarize, some common strategies for survival are being right, looking good, avoiding pain, maintaining the appearance of control, and hiding behind judgments. Life-enhancing strategies include participating fully in our lives, being courageous, suspending judgments, being vulnerable, and living with a sense of urgency.

Be Do Have

January 8, 2008
By David Wolf

Satvatove Institute

I conduct Life Transformation Skills seminars. These seminars provide an environment for spiritually-based personal development. During one part of the training we ask the participants what are some tangible, material things for which people strive. Typically the resulting list looks something like this: cars, computers, a big house, attractive spouse, children, job, jewelry and vacation time. Then we ask why people endeavor for such things. The resulting list includes experiences such as happiness, security, power, intimacy, fulfillment, balance, love, vitality, freedom, strength, courage, joy and affection.

There Is No Intrinsic Connection Between The Things We Strive For And Our Experience

Next, by observing the two lists we consider whether there are persons who possess a large house, a big car and a prestigious job, but who do not experience much joy, power or fulfillment in their lives. Certainly there are. And we consider whether there are persons who experience an abundance of happiness, intimacy and vitality in their lives, although they don’t have the items on the other list. Clearly, such persons exist. The conclusion is that there is no intrinsic connection between the two lists. Although they sometimes overlap, there is no inherent causal link.


With reference to the three gunas, let’s look at the lack of innate correlation between the “things” column and the “experience” column. Tamas is a mode of inertia, where our consciousness clings to a paradigm that may be called Have-Do-Be. In this paradigm we think, “If I could just have $100,000 in the bank, a nicer car, a job with paid vacation…then I could do what I want to do, and then I would be happy, satisfied, appreciated, vibrant…” “If I could just have a nicer boss, then I would be content and peaceful.” In this mindset, our experience is dependent on having. The saying, “What profits a man if he gains the whole world yet loses his soul?” indicates the difficulty with this attitude.


Rajas is the mode of activity, where we adhere to the framework of Do-Have-Be. In this way of thinking we consider that if I could just do what I want to do, then I’ll have what I want, and then I would be free, strong, giving and vital. Our consciousness starts from the point of activity, and experience is contingent upon that.


Sattva guna corresponds with enlightenment. Sattvic consciousness is the natural state of the authentic self. Steady in sattva we live in the paradigm of Be-Do-Have. Fixed in this way of being, experiencing strength, beauty, security, intimacy, warmth, freedom, etc., is not dependent on doing or having. I don’t need to do or have anything to experience satisfaction, aliveness, courage, clarity, etc., because these qualities are who I am, they are my essential nature. It’s not that, in a Be-Do-Have paradigm, there isn’t doing or having. Rather, our doing and having assume full potency, compared with tamasic or rajasic perspectives, because what we do and have flow naturally from our being. They are not separate endeavors. To experience joy, closeness, radiance, and all other qualities of our self is not dependent on what we do or have. In Be-Do-Have, we naturally do things that bold, enlivened, successful people do, because our nature is bold, enlivened and successful. And naturally we’ll have things that powerful, confident, and trusting people have, such as abundance, rewarding activity and fulfilling relationships.

Personal Development Entails Uncovering Qualities of Our Self

Bhagavad-gita, presenting the essence of Vedic teachings, delineates a Be-Do-Have approach to life. In that book Sri Krsna encourages Arjuna to “Be free from dualities…be without anxiety…and be established in the self.” The process of personal development entails uncovering qualities of our self, our being, that have been covered, and fully manifesting them in our lives.

With one coaching client with whom I was working we specifically focused on him being patient and peaceful, qualities that were missing in his life, and which he wanted to cultivate. With earnest he connected with the patience and calm that are inherent to his being. During our next coaching session he described, with surprise, that his supervisor asked him to accept a position with increased responsibility, involving training others. She particularly mentioned that she offered this because of his patience and ability to be calm in stressful situations. Being patient and peaceful naturally resulted in acting in ways that patient and peaceful act, in this instance a more rewarding career activity, and having things that patient and peaceful people have, in this example an increased income. Be-Do-Have.

Creating With Our Word

January 1, 2008

by David B. Wolf, Ph. D.
In the beginning was the word. Just as the supreme creates with his word, we too, as parts of the ultimate source, create our lives with our word. In the Vedic tradition there is a literature called Upadeshamrita, or The Nectar of Instruction. It is a short book, and concludes with a depiction of the most elevated spiritual consciousness. The initial sentence of The Nectar of Instruction describes the importance of controlling words, for anyone interested in spiritual progress.

Throughout the Satvatove programs we have opportunity to be aware of our relationship with our word, and its effect on our life and relationships. Whether or not you’ve participated in the Foundational Seminar, I ask the readers to go through a process similar to an exercise in that course. Bring to mind a time when someone made an agreement with you, and broke that agreement, and afterwards you saw the person face-to-face. Connect with this experience. Write down two or three words describing what this experience was like. Next, bring to mind a time when someone made a commitment to you, and kept it, and afterwards you saw the person, in-person. Again, connect with this experience, and on a separate list write what that felt like.

Now think of an example when you made an agreement with someone, and you broke it, and afterwards you saw that person, face-to-face. Connect inside, and write a few words describing that experience. Lastly, recall an instance when you made a commitment with someone and fulfilled it. What was that like? Write it down on a separate list.

Typically, the broken agreements lists include experiences and feelings such as hurt, embarrassment, anger, undependable, confused, unclear, devalued, and disappointed. In the agreements-kept column we characteristically find words such as trust, grateful, responsible, fulfilled, secure, clear, respected, and honored. The purpose here is not to moralize about the importance of keeping our promises. It’s simply about realizing how our relationship with our word affects our experience of life. When we violate our word, then, based on our experience, as evidenced by the lists we’ve generated, our confidence and trust in others tends to decrease, and feelings like resentment, distrust, and pain are predominant. And, when we honor our agreements, confidence and trust increases, and we tend to develop an experience and environment of appreciation, affection, and harmony.

Connected with this conversation about the results of our relation with our word, I’d like to offer that there aren’t big or small agreements. Consider, for example, that I say, “I’ll call you tomorrow,” and I don’t call you tomorrow. We may think, “Well, it’s no big deal.” With respect to our relationship, however, will the consequences from the broken agreements list manifest? Probably they will. Probably, at some level, your trust for me will diminish, and our relationship will feel less clean than before.

Certainly, we could think of instances where a person breaks his agreement, and the consequences discussed above perhaps will not be in effect. Suppose you’ve agreed to be somewhere at 9 AM. You stop on the side of the road and save someone’s life, and arrive at your appointment at 10 AM. Did you keep your agreement? No, though perhaps in this exceptional instance the unpleasant consequences usually attending violated commitments will not be in effect, because you served an even higher principle. I assert, though, that the vast majority of the times that we transgress our word, harmful effects materialize. Rarely are our “good stories” for not honoring our agreements actually “good stories”, in the sense that our justifications don’t negate the adverse, destructive experiences.

Many of us carry in our subconscious an equation that looks like:

Keeping Agreement =

Not Keeping Agreement


A Good Story

And this formula has corollaries, such as:

Being on Time =

Not Being on Time


A Good Story

It’s not that one side of the equation is always greater than the other. Above we cited an example – stopping on the side of the road to save a life – where the “good story” side may actually be weightier. We’re claiming that the equation isn’t an equality, though usually, more than 99% of the time, respecting our word will create an experience of life and relationship that is much more satisfying than breaching our promise.

To grow entails making challenging commitments and honoring them. If we’re not creating commitment in our life, it’s likely that we’re also not sufficiently stretching ourselves to expand our limits and possibilities. If we do give our agreement, we’ll probably find that, despite our best efforts, we sometimes don’t follow through. A strategy for handling broken agreements with integrity is also a valuable tool for spiritual transformation and restoring relationships.

A strategy we use in the Satvatove community is the “five As.” The five As are 1) acknowledge, 2) accept responsibility, 3) account, 4) apologize, and 5) amend.

“Acknowledge” means to recognize that we have a broken agreement, and to express this to the person whom we transgressed. We’re not justifying, or defending, or rationalizing that we haven’t broken a commitment. Acknowledgement also consists of empathically understanding the pain, disappointment, loss of trust, and other emotions we have caused by violating our word. Accepting responsibility, the second of the As, denotes realization that I responded in a particular way – or neglected to respond in a particular way – that caused me to not honor my word. I’m not playing the blame game; I’m accepting responsibility, and expressing that to the person to whom I broke a commitment. The third A is Account. Expression of accountability consists of genuinely explaining what happened. “Explanation” does not mean “defense,” or “excuse,” or “justification.” This truthful explanation may sometimes be rewarding, such as the example where we save a life at the expense of keeping our word. More often, though, our explanations may be unflattering, such as explaining, “I spaced-out about our appointment because I was watching television,” or “I paid a few bills instead of timely paying my debt.”

Apology is the fourth A, and it’s important to note that it’s fourth, not first. Oftentimes we act like apology is the first and only step in effectively handling a broken agreement. “I’m sorry” can be more about my need to look good, to restore my image, than about sincerely expressing remorse and reinstating the soundness of the relationship. Even more, we can imprudently use “I apologize” as implicit permission to do the same thing again. Without acknowledging what we’ve done, accepting responsibility and honestly accounting for it, apology can be hollow. Following the first three As, apology is a natural step in managing broken commitments. Amend is the fifth A, and consists of doing what we’re able to redress the situation. We may approach the other party for ideas for remedial action.

Through making and keeping agreements we grow and strengthen our relationships. Each of us can identify things we could do, things we should do, to better our lives. My proposal is that before we end our day today we each make a commitment, and keep it. It could be apparently large or small. The significant point is that by creating and fulfilling an agreement, we create a culture of trust, security and optimism.

Feedback And Attitude Of Gratitude

December 22, 2007

by David B. Wolf, Ph. D.

Personal and interpersonal development is founded on effective communication, and much of communication assumes the form of what we sometimes call “feedback”. In listening with empathy we implicitly send feedback that says “You matter. I am interested in you.” Our non-verbal communication is feedback for people around us. When we share an immediacy statement, such as “I feel very respected by the way you’ve listened to me just now,” or “I’m feeling uneasy and tense with you, like maybe I said something that offended you,” we convey valuable feedback while exploring our relationship with another person. Being assertive and utilizing the WIN (What happened; Inside feelings and thoughts; Needs and wants) strategy of communication sends feedback about acceptable boundaries. Sometimes we share feedback about what we experience may be hindering persons in their growth.

As we may experience in sharing feedback, creating fulfilling, satisfying relationships requires permitting the expression of lots of dissatisfaction. Consider the example of a water faucet that has not been used for years. When we first open the faucet, the stuff that comes out may be dirty and contaminated. After a while, though, clean, clear, tasty water flows. If we continued to block the muddy fluid, we would also block the desirable liquid. Similarly, preventing the expression of emotions that may be unpleasant, also impedes our experience of joy, power, connection and other qualities of the spiritual self.

Sometimes we may resist sharing our honest impressions due to concern or fear that persons will think we are criticizing them, and will be angry or reject us. In some circles it is believed that spiritualists do not criticize. When we picture a saintly person we certainly do not imagine a bitter faultfinder, gossiping and constantly maligning others. At the same time a policy claiming that good, humble, spiritually-minded people never criticize can be used to stifle honest, authentic expression, and to engender a culture of fear and repression in the name of spirituality.

The Nectar of Instruction, a book from 16th Century India, provides an interesting perspective on this subject. It explains that an advanced spiritualist is “completely devoid of the propensity to criticize others.” In material consciousness we have a tendency to want to criticize others, to minimize them so that we feel better about ourselves. This is the principle of envy. A true spiritualist has no such inclination. At the same time, a self-realized person is awake, alert, conscious. He does not deny his perceptions. He is keen to differentiate between reality and illusion, internally, interpersonally, and societally. If he chooses to share his perceptions, he does so assertively, with compassion, for the purpose of illumination and personal growth.

Of course, feedback is not necessarily criticism, though it could be received in that way. Suppose we hear comments from another person about ourself. Even if these comments seem completely inaccurate to us, we can appreciate the value in knowing that someone, perhaps representing many people, perceives us that way. With such information we can adjust our presentation, which is different than compromising our genuineness, so that the perception people have of us is consistent with what is inside. If the feedback we hear does strike a chord, perhaps causing us to react, then that may be an indication of an area for our personal growth. Even if the delivery of the feedback was not as caring and compassionate as we might have preferred, and even if we suspect that the comments significantly reflect on the other person’s issues, still we can use the observations about us for self-realization.

For example, suppose I receive feedback that I am cold, aloof, and distant. Maybe I experience myself as warm, close, and connected. Still, it is very helpful to discover what I am acting in such a way that I am perceived as cold, distant, and aloof. With this information I get the opportunity to adjust my presentation so that people experience me in a way that is authentic and consistent with who I am. Or, perhaps such feedback resonates with me, and touches on an area where I know that I want to focus for self-improvement. This might involve identifying relationships in my life where I know I am being remote and withdrawn, recognizing that I want to change this, and committing to do so.

Accepting constructive feedback with an appreciative spirit, we are grateful that this person cared enough about us to be honest. Similarly, by our willingness to share honestly with people in our life, we give them the opportunity to respond honestly to us, to who we actually are. Otherwise, relationships degenerate to a pretentious exchange designed to maintain shallow, false facades, at the expense of vitality and the spiritual fulfillment that results from genuine reciprocation.

There is also directly appreciative feedback, where we share with each other about qualities and behaviors that inspire and move us. In sharing appreciative comments it is especially enriching to be concrete, to specifically state what it is about the other person that we value and admire. For example, “You gave a good class” is not particularly concrete. In fact, it could be considered to be a judgment. Although it may be regarded as a positive judgment, it still may be a barrier to communication, just as negative judgments often are. This sort of compliment does not provide the receiver with as full an experience and understanding of thankfulness as a statement such as “When you spoke about and demonstrated empathy, and about people not caring what we know till they know that we care, and about the power of completely entering the world of another person, I sensed possibilities open up for me, and felt so hopeful and grateful to be alive. I teach high school students, and this workshop has provided me so many exciting tools and principles to enhance my service to my students.” With such a statement the receiver clearly knows what he did that was appreciated, and how the person felt as a result.

Expressing appreciation in sattva guna means that our intention is to celebrate the life-enriching qualities of others, with no motive to manipulate or coerce, or fulfill some personal agenda. Genuine thankfulness is never superficial flattery, as it emanates from a truly compassionate heart. Such sattvic gratitude is a cornerstone of spiritual life. Research has demonstrated that an attitude of gratitude is a key element of a fulfilled life. Philosopher Sam Keen wrote, “The more you become a connoisseur of gratitude, the less you are the victim of resentment, depression, and despair… The sense of gratitude produces true spiritual alchemy, makes us magnanimous- large souled.” Practicing gratitude, intentionally being thankful, transforms how we view and experience the world. It infuses us with power to convert our most challenging times into sources of meaning and inspiration. Consciously being grateful and expressing thankfulness connects us moment-to-moment with the spiritual self’s sense of vitality and discovery. In giving thanks we responsibly participate in the celebration and experience of life.

Receiving appreciation is also a wonderful opportunity to give to people. It is a chance to recognize that we contribute to joy and well-being, that we can be an instrument for the supreme spirit to nurture the lives of others. To receive gratitude in a sattvic manner entails that we avoid snares such as feeling superior and arrogant, or denying that we are deserving, thereby depriving others of the fulfillment of having their appreciation gracefully received.

Here are some exercises for cultivating gratitude.

Exercise 1: Each day for the next month, list three blessings in your life.

Exercise 2: Using principles of responsible and concrete communication, express appreciation to three persons for whom you are grateful, and from whom you have been withholding your feelings of thankfulness.

Be A Distinction

December 20, 2007

by David Wolf, Ph.D.

Being authentic is a key for vibrant living. For most of us, consistent authenticity involves conscious, courageous effort. It’s a challenge to recognize our deceptions and pretenses, and differentiate them from actual self-discovery. Each moment our integrity is connected with willingness to be authentic. Authenticity vitalizes our immediate experience, and also enriches the service legacy we create for others.

The habit of authenticity makes us a distinction in the world, a human being willing to be uniquely ourselves. This isn’t about reactively differentiating ourselves, which is the flipside of following the crowd, but rather full and genuine expression of our spirit. This requires great intention, as social pressures tend towards conformity and conditioned behavior at the expense of honest realization of self.

Intention itself is a spiritually-based principle of personal growth. A fundamental characteristic of intention is clarity- to be completely clear on who we want to be, what we want to experience, and the actions and results that flow from that. In addition to clarity, fully believing that our intention is possible is also essential. A third element is readiness to accept what we say we want for our lives. We can ask ourselves to what extent are we actually prepared to receive the abundance and success of our intention manifesting. This could lead to productively addressing self-defeating beliefs connected with, for example, a sense of unworthiness. The totality of these elements- clarity, belief and acceptance- constitutes clear intention. Clear intention is firm, yet flexible to the indications and will of the divine. Lacking clear intention we are likely to live a life with a script written by others. Living from clear intention we are truly the authors of our life.

Such a life of distinction represents a standard to which others may aspire. Of course, endeavoring for authenticity for the purpose of being recognized as an inspiration for others could well be another strategy for the ego to seek approval. Still, we can appreciate that an effect of an authentic life is that it is inherently a service to others. In fact, we may be most inspiring to those who struggle with the same challenges we handled in our journey. For example, if our path to genuineness is characterized by transforming the needy, helpless script to an assertion of power, confidence and intelligence, then our willingness to be authentic is especially poignant for people playing out a similar script. Similarly, if our transformation is marked by creative expression where formerly there was dull routine, or vulnerability that was covered by bravado, or adventurous risk-taking in place of playing not to lose, we serve as a model for others immersed in those same life-draining, surviving instead of thriving, conversations.

In the Satvatove environment we speak about assertiveness. Assertiveness is founded in authenticity. We need to know who we are and be connected with our core in order to know who or what it is we are asserting. Otherwise, in the name of assertiveness we may be into yet another game.

In a life of distinction we assert and communicate from our being. Otherwise, we get caught up in doing and having, disconnected from being, searching externally for experiences such as satisfaction, power and beauty, that are inherent to our nature. We are human beings, not human doings. Being a distinction is not only personally fulfilling- it is also, from my perspective, an integral aspect of our responsibility as human beings.

Transformative Communication

December 19, 2007

by David B. Wolf, Ph. D.


The Satvatove programs feature an approach to self-empowerment based on transformative communication. This model is founded on the understanding that our identity is fundamentally non-material. This identity beyond the physical body is indicated in spiritual literatures such as the widely known yoga scripture Bhagavad-gita, which states “As the embodied soul continuously passes, in this body, from boyhood to youth to old age, the soul similarly passes into another body at death.” To be satisfying and complete, our self-help endeavors need to recognize this non-physical self. It is common to lose this awareness. Soren Kierkegaard once stated, “The greatest danger, that of losing one’s own self, may pass off quietly as if it were nothing; every other loss, that of an arm, a leg, five dollars, a wife, is sure to be noticed.”
Through the Satvatove system of transformative communication we create a sacred space, in ourselves and in relation with others, that links us with our spiritual nature. Consciousness is transformed as trust is developed, perspectives shift and possibilities expand.Language reflects consciousness. Through transformative communication we become self-aware through language. This awareness is the basis for powerful personal change, which is then reflected in our thoughts, speech and activities. For example, I may notice that in my thoughts and words I frequently use “I can’t…” in circumstances where, in actuality, I could if I chose to. Realizing this I shift to “I am not willing to…” or “I am inspired to…” This is accompanied by a transformation from feeling powerless and down to experiencing vitality and confidence, and is evinced in potent action that generates fulfilling results in my life. Similarly, awareness of my tendency to prematurely give solutions, or probe with closed-ended questions, leads to discovery of an unhealthy need to control. With such self-realization I shift my consciousness to emphasize an attitude of wonder and discovery for life and each person I contact.To effectively apply transformative communication it is important to distinguish between skills and substance. For example, there are skills for non-verbal attending behavior, such as:Sitting squarelyOpen-body positionLeaning forward slightlyEye-contactThese are mechanics intended to convey respect and sincere interest in another person. The mechanics themselves do not necessarily mean that we are attentive and caring listeners, and sometimes effective listening is best displayed without the elements of SOLE. Reflective listening is a technique to express empathy, though an accurate reflection on its own does not intrinsically communicate the quality of empathy. Empathy is the substance. Reflective listening is a vehicle to transmit that substance. We speak of potential roadblocks to effective communication, such as advising, warning and reassuring. While these types of responses to a person with an emotionally-charged situation can often be barriers to communication, they can also convey compassion, understanding and empathy when appropriately utilized. In self-expression, assertiveness is the essential quality, and strategies such as “I” statements and WIN (What happened; Inside feelings and thoughts; Needs and wants) facilitate the expression of that essence.In the trusting space created with transformative communication, we can clear our hearts and activities of unwanted things, such as self-deception, limiting beliefs, and interpersonal games that sabotage relationships. Such clearing opens the door to fully express our being and actualize a life of fulfilling purpose.Christian philosopher Paul Tillich once remarked “The first duty of love is to listen.” A powerful tool for listening and transformative communication is silence. Properly used, silence conveys a grasp of another person’s emotions. While we do not want to use silence to avoid intimate and meaningful conversation, neither is it helpful to avoid silence due to feelings of discomfort. Often we fill silence with empty talk, fearing the vulnerability of silent connection. An attentive, caring silence is sometimes a more powerful way to heal and connect than the most carefully chosen and well-intentioned words. Actual silence means that the mind is also still. Silence doesn’t mean “empty”. It is a gateway to and manifestation of spiritual presence. Bhaktivedanta Swami wrote “Silence means that one is always thinking of self-realization.” It is said that God has given us two ears and one mouth, because we are meant to listen at least twice as much as to speak. Bhagavad-gita explains that true silence is a reflection of the divine within us. In empathic silence we are listening to what the other person is saying, not to what we are saying about what the other person is saying. That is, we are attuned to the person’s words and the emotion and intention behind the words, not to our judgments, planned responses, or comments towards the expression of the other. We are deeply listening, receiving another person with full presence, intense interest and open-heart. Such listening expands the spirits of speaker and listener.

Michael Ende created the character of Momo, a young girl whose silent presence connected people with their inner truth and transformed their consciousness. Daily Momo received a stream of visitors, eager for her association. Ende writes “Was Momo so incredibly bright that she always gave good advice, or found the right words to console people in need of consolation,…? No, she was no more capable of that than anyone else of her age. … what Momo was better at than anyone else was listening. She listened in a way that made slow-witted people have flashes of inspiration. It wasn’t that she actually said anything or asked questions that put such ideas into their heads. She simply sat there and listened with the utmost attention…fixing them with her big, dark eyes, and they suddenly became aware of ideas whose existence they had never suspected. Momo could listen in such a way that worried and indecisive people knew their own minds from one moment to the next, or shy people felt suddenly confident and at ease, or downhearted people felt happy and hopeful. And if someone felt that his life had been an utter failure, and that he himself was only one among millions of wholly unimportant people who could be replaced as easily as broken windowpanes, he would go and pour out his heart to Momo. And, even as he spoke, he would come to realize…he was absolutely wrong: that there was only one person like himself in the whole world, and that, consequently, he mattered to the world in his own particular way. Such was Momo’s talent for listening………Those who still think that listening isn’t an art should see if they can do it half as well.”

Consciousness is reflected in language, and language is not only verbal. There is kinesic and paralinguistic language. We see in the example of Momo the power of deep listening to convey empathy, hope and caring.

Below are exercises to help you cultivate and integrate tools for transformative communication.

For a few days observe how frequently you use empathic understanding in your communication style. After a few days, without being inauthentic or preoccupied with the effort, increase your use of reflective listening. Notice the impact of your use of empathy on others and on the process of communication.

Identify an interpersonal scenario in your life. Imagine you are making a statement about something that is troubling you, and then, taking the role of the person you are speaking with, write three responses, using different roadblocks. Use the roadblocks to which you are most susceptible. Consider the effect of the responses, and identify how each roadblock makes you feel. Then, formulate an empathic response for the scenario.

Example: A course participant approaching her teacher about the behavior of a third.

“I really think you need to speak with him one-on-one. I think he’s doing things that are not conducive for a healthy lifestyle.”

Roadblock response 1: “I think that you should be careful about telling me what to do, or else you may be the one I will want to talk to.” (threatening, warning)

Roadblock response 2: “Oh, he’ll be okay. Don’t worry.” (false reassurance)

Roadblock response 3: “You just go and tell him what you think and how he has to change!” (ordering)

Empathic response: “It is distressing for you to see that he is doing things that may be harmful for him. I can see that you’re concerned about him, and you’d like me to speak with him.”