Archive for the ‘self-help’ Category

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.


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.”