Archive for January, 2008

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.