Archive for December, 2007

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.”