14 12, 2017

Feelings are always right

December 14th, 2017|emotions, Intimacy, non-monogamy, relationships|1 Comment

Intense feelings can literally be an intense pain in your gut. They’re hard to sit through on your own, and they’re often a cause of conflict and stress with others.  And even when they’re not intense, they can often be socially inappropriate, leading people to lie either verbally or with our body language.  So it’s easy to think of them as problems, pushing them away and trying to be ‘rational’.

But pushing them away causes even more buildup and problems.  And in the aftermath of #metoo, with the public acknowledgement of decades of hurt and resentment laying there for many, it is vitally important we find ways to actually work with the quagmire of built up feelings. This means going beyond venting and online shaming – many groups perhaps have a deep need for their own version of Truth and Reconciliation. This by necessity means working with what’s going on, deep in our brains and bodies, in a way that promotes actual transformation and doesn’t see them in a negative light.

20 02, 2016

Before you commit – bond

February 20th, 2016|Intimacy, relationships|1 Comment

He’s just afraid to commit

How many times have you heard that kind of proclamation over your lifetime?  If you’re like me, you’ve probably heard it hundreds of times, and believed it for at least the first hundred.   I’ve also heard much about the “hook up culture” and with so many options, some people never want to have any commitment,  such as written in the blog post “This is How We Date Now”.

I’ve committed in a relationship (to monogamy and time) many times, most of the time because it just felt like ‘this is just how it’s done”.   This has been labelled the relationship escalator, where you unthinkingly take what you think is the natural next step.  I had little idea at the time of what makes a real, supportive, long lasting connection that involved deep intimacy, and so I just followed what I thought was the model that led to it (commitment), at least until I felt something wasn’t working.  Then I would often blame myself, thinking I was doing something wrong, trying to behave ‘better’ and trying to work with my emotions and act in a loving manner.  Needless to say, that didn’t work, and resentment inevitably built because of all the suppression I ended up doing.  

6 05, 2011

The games we play in our voices

May 6th, 2011|beauty, freedom, Intimacy, love, relationships|0 Comments

I was listening to a speaker once, some time ago, in a community room at the top floor of a hospital. He spoke passionately and vehemently about mental health, about meditation, about positive thinking, and above all about community. I could hear his thoughts: I know the solution for you. I have overcome all you can dream of. I can be your guide.

His voice entranced, and I found myself wanting to believe. Surely there must be a simple solution to discontentment, to anxiety, to feeling isolated – these are with me still. The heartaches inside were in that moment were no longer beautiful, but the enemy, a cloud of terrorism sniping at me. And yet, after 10 minutes of a guided meditation, I found myself less peaceful. Feelings gathered: Resentment. Feeling manipulated. You don’t listen. Voices of my childhood, compounded with interest. Gathering myself later, I realised that this reaction wasn’t a problem, but a reflection of the actual dynamic, to the timbre of his voice and how things were said.

The voice is the primary means of relation we have. It’s how we make connections. It’s the impetus for learning how to truly listen to others, to be loving. It’s also how we influence and try to find a sense of power in this world. As such, everyone has tactics and communication styles they use when they’ve been disempowered, to try to find a sense of power again. It’s the double horns of a defence that can also be manipulation and control. Some do this unconsciously, some consciously. In response to others, we then have our own reactions to these games, or at least unconscious until we see what’s actually going on.

One of my favourite skills I’ve learned from acting is in the studying of people. What is someone’s goal when communicating? What’s the subtext of what they are saying? Sometimes 7% of communication is through the words; the rest is nuances in the voice and body language. Being conscious of the other 93% is the best tool I have for understanding dynamics and people at their essence.

The times I love both in watching others and in being with others are when things seem real. Conversation flows at its flowing, unmodified pace, without a seeming effort of anyone to appear to be someone else. The pace, tone, and intonation changes in sync with the emotion and what’s being communicated. There is a dynamism, flexibility and fluidity involved. When there’s anxiety, the voice is shaky and unprotected, perhaps quicker. When there’s disappointment, there’s that sense in the voice of having tripped, of falling down. When there’s joy, there’s a sunlight beaming in the voice.

It’s that sense of unprotectedness, ingenuous honesty and transparency of whatever’s there that makes me feel connected. Seeing another’s despair communicated makes me appreciate rapture even more. It’s the beauty of the human condition, a connection to a raw state. It’s not the forced connection of someone moulding themselves so as to relate, but the manifestation that it’s our bare humanness, as we are, that connects.

And yet, most of the time, we limit what we communicate. We put on masks. We have styles where we’re trying to protect ourselves or get something.



I want to identify some protection mechanisms I’ve noticed in the voice. These are ways of manipulation and control, the ways we aren’t natural. I find identifying them helps me let go of my own tactics and be gentle with myself in my reactions to others. (A gracious thanks to the theatrical vocal teacher Patsy Rodenburg for many of these concepts) Being aware of protection mechanisms can help one see “oh, I’m doing this, so maybe now I can let go – or at least laugh at myself for keeping doing it.”

Not all tactics are aggressive. In fact, most people in western culture have learned ways to defend themselves by non-aggressive or even withdrawing mannerisms. We have been taught suspicion of the used car salesmen, yet often have little awareness of how most subtler strategies can affect us strongly. Perhaps you can recognise yourself or someone you know in these.

I’ll start with the easiest one to recognise:

The Aggressive, Overbearing Speaker

This is the prototypical drill sergeant. The voice is usually deep and resonant, but always with confrontation at least implied. The chest is puffed up and the body leans forward, as if the person requires another to push back to keep their balance. While resonant and full, there’s little gentleness, nor room for warmth or sadness.

While this is the prototype for strength in military fashion, it also makes sure the environment is too unsafe for vulnerability. There is little room for compromise or friendship, but certainly room for fellow soldiers. Often it is a cover for emotions never felt and constantly kept at bay by the image of toughness and pushing others around through the voice.

The Hesitator

While someone who hesitates and stammers may seem to be powerless, there is a hook – that the listener is left hanging, waiting for the next word, dangling onto a potential completed idea. In the pause that follows, the hesitator can gauge the audience and draw others in the direction they desire, albeit unconsciously. Even though there is discomfort in the hesitator, there is a power in making others feel they need to tread lightly for fear of blocking the next phrase. If a room is feeled with kind, gentle people the hesitator can steer a conversation in a manner that a clear, fluent speaker never could.

The manipulation is that we are made to think that words and thoughts are being created organically before our eyes and ears. We excuse the habit in order to be generous and because we think the person is naturally shy or reserved. Yet this hesitation can constructed carefully over years – even if unconsciously – in order to learn about others without revealing one’s self. It is useful in that it leads others to vulnerability and openness without having to reciprocate. One sided vulnerability is also an imbalance of power.

The Whisperer

Otherwise known as the “de-voicer”, this is someone who goes quiet, either via a quiet voice or by simply not speaking. This is often used by guru-figures as a way of drawing people in.

It may not seem apparent as a way to manipulate others until you observe your own body in response to when you are trying to actively listen. By withdrawing and speaking more silently, the whisperer forces listeners to strain, to lean forward and to figuratively bow at his or her feet. It is de-centering to be around for a long time.

It can indeed be a hypnotic technique and is often used by executives, politicians, or theatre directors. Because it is more subtle (quiet voices are rarely perceived as dangerous) it can be more effective than being overbearing.

The Waffler

This kind of vocal manipulation involves abandoning clear and succinct language in favor of rambling thoughts. Buzz words obfuscating real meaning are often the norm. The language used can be learned and embellished, giving the impression of education and erudition, yet leaving the listener with no clear idea to latch on to.

Even more so, the listener can easily feel that they are at fault for not deciphering the message, and so can try to argue using the same language form which they are not nearly as comfortable with as the waffler. It can be a useful defensive habit to avoid answering direct questions or avoid unpleasantness, or even to convince others of something using impassioned, yet unclear words. This is a habit often cultivated by politicians, so-called experts in talk shows and doctors trying to avoid telling the whole truth.

The Role Player

The role player communicates as if everyone around them was the same. They have chosen a role –  e.g., mother, helper, or coach, to use positive roles – and infuse their voice with this at all times.

Imagine the feminine presence of someone who addresses everyone around them as if they were a prepubescent child. The automatic reaction is either subservience or rebellion, both dis-empowering states. Or the counsellor who, through a lifetime of practice, has learned to infuse their voice as someone who truly loves and accepts all others, who contains nothing but love and compassion, irrespective of what they are feeling. I am not talking about a natural voice infused with compassion, but rather a constructed voice, an artifice. This creates a pied piper, hypnotic effect where the listener reacts as if it were true, that the speaker is indeed showing love at this moment and can be trusted.

Not all roles appear “positive”, but they all have one thing in common; it is an attempt to control how others react to you by inviting them strongly to jump into the role that matches what is played.

Deeper Connection Through the Natural Voice


All of these styles of communication are at the same time both weaknesses and sources of power. They enable us to make an impact of source, but also limit that impact to a vastly restricted playing field. They have usually developed over a lifetime, and as such they are not let go of easily, especially if there are rewards.

The problem is that in each of these, there is learned helplessness. There are always times where a soul-driven cry to speak is heard – and at these times, if our habits are too entrenched and opposite from the silent voice inside made vocal, we will be helpless. They atrophy our range and full humanness of expression. When we surrender to the monotonous use of a single habit in communication, we surrender many of our vocal rights and abilities to connect with others and be an active member of a community or family.

Again, it is through being ourselves, as fully as is humanly possibly, that we discover basic truths: We are connected at a deep, visceral level not through doing anything, but through being true and natural. Feeling loved grows from a foundation of being genuine. Warmth comes naturally when we’re being simply human, showing that there is basic goodness in however we are.

3 05, 2008

The flame of blame

May 3rd, 2008|buddhism, emotions, Intimacy, love, pain, relationships, transformation, wholeness|4 Comments

I don’t know about the rest of you, but past months have had some wild emotional swings to it, and some days I’ve felt as depressed and dark as I have felt in my life. It doesn’t help that my mobility is very limited by this illness which continues, of course!

One big issue of being online a good deal is the blame game. You know the story: you don’t see the other person face to face to see their inflections, so you can easily interpret words in a way very different than the other intended. Then this triggers emotions, and of course this means that the other person must have issues – or at least should have said things differently. It’s them, not me! This is not just online; it is reproduced all through our culture at all levels, as demonstrated by one of my own thoughts not so long ago:

“Why am I feeling so awful, like I’m being hit by something again and again? Let me look at what’s happened to me recently. It must be because of one of those things. Well, my best guess is you, so I’ll go with that.”


One definition of the word blame is simply “to hold responsible“. The more standard usage of the word is more “to assign fault” – but I like the responsibility aspect more. I’ll get into that later.

Now, what’s wrong with that thought I had? Aha – there is nothing wrong, for that would be blaming in itself! But if you look deeply at my mental processes, there was an assumption that there was a cause, a singular factor that produced my state, and that changing this one ingredient in the broth would change everything.

It’s all very well to say “do not blame” as an unspoken commandment of maturity. But if you look deeply at this urging, there’s a blaming aspect in that too. So what if you do blame? That makes you ‘wrong’. And thus you start blaming yourself for blaming.

Some of the online discussions that I’ve seen lately have quoted “let he who has not sinned cast the first stone” as a way to shut up and hold responsibility to someone who brought an issue to the public eye with a little bit of blaming. But of course, directing blame to those with some blame doesn’t help move out of it. In fact, the use of that quote for such a purpose is quite ironic, is it not?


Rather than continue to focus on the word “blame”, I prefer to use “responsibility”. Blame is a loaded term; you hear it and you think “bad! evil! I can’t have that!”. But if you think in terms of holding someone responsible, perhaps you can look at it differently. So let’s look at one basic thought here:

“You are responsible for these feelings in me.”

This is one of the most common thoughts in relationship fights. It’s happened in talks with my own mother countless times, which probably makes me rather normal. It’s happened with friends and strangers, on both sides. Yet beyond the pervasiveness of it, I hope you can see that it is never true. How can someone else have responsibility for my emotions? They may have an effect on me, but so does the weather, the day at work, back pain, getting interrupted by telemarketers, and so on. There is no way to isolate another person’s effect on you, and there is certainly no way another can avoid triggering me at all times. In Buddhism, this falls largely under the thought of dependent origination; there are so many factors involved that it is impossible to truly isolate a cause. And yet we do this because we seem to need to. Assigning responsibility is just another form of the blame game.

Some people see this, see the futility of blaming others, and then go the other direction. “I am always the one responsible for my experience.” While this sounds empowering, what happens if you have one of the darker days of your life? What if someone yells at you and you feel awful? What if you get let go from a job for economic reasons? Are you responsible for this, in the sense that we’ve talked about? This is a heavy burden to take on, if you think this way. While appearing noble and mature, it is in fact a way to blame yourself. Culturally, this may get you pats on the back, the image of maturity, and sympathy from friends, but it is absolutely unnecessary.

Letting go of it all

It is impossible to not blame when you have any thought of assigning responsibility to anyone or anything.

Let us repeat that: By assigning responsibility to anyone or anything for a given result, you are assigning blame. It is the need to look for a cause for an experience that is the major factor in blame. So if you want to let go of the blaming process, you must let go of a need to assign responsibility.

You may be thinking now, “But what is life like without this? Isn’t our culture based on people being responsible for their actions? Wouldn’t the world go to hell if there wasn’t responsibility placed for everything?”

In a word, no. Keep in mind that we’re talking about mental processes here. Much in the same way there’s a difference between the physical sensation of main and the experience of suffering, there is a major difference between the natural consequences of one’s actions and assigned responsibility. Consequences are how we learn and grow. There is no way that these can stop. However, the mental “it’s because of him” thought process can stop.

Eckhart Tolle, who’s been very friendly with Oprah recently, bases his entire teaching on being completely present in the Now. In other words, it is by surrendering to the experiences of living with such utter completeness that you can work on letting go of the ego-mind and the pain-body. This applies especially to the times when you are immersed in pain, anger, and the attribution of this to something.

So how does this relate to what I’ve been saying? It is simply that the root of the need to assign responsibility and blame is the desire to avoid whatever experience you are going through. If you have peace and equanimity about what was brought up, you would simply let them be there, and they will move on as all experiences do. But when there is a desire to avoid the experience, then you must find a reason for it so as to control future experiences to make sure it doesn’t happen again.

Again, any time there is blame, there is always a lack of surrender to an experience. It is this resistance that creates the labels of ‘bad’ which turn into the desire to control events and hold someone accountable. When a feeling is seen as just a feeling – no matter how uncomfortable it is – then it enables you to move away from the perception of blame into a more expansive perception. Ironically, this expanded perception also enables you to make more conscious choices in your life about what experiences you wish to attract. In other words, it is by letting go of control that you can choose your life more consciously.

The wrap up

Working on the blaming tendency is not a simple “oh, just stop doing it.”? It is a lifelong process.? It is also connected with so many things; the journey to balance the centers, mentioned in the last article, is very connected with it.? But let us end with something simple.

So the next time you are in a situation where you want to blame, ask yourself these questions:

  • What experience do I want to avoid at this moment?
  • What, exactly, am I labeling as “bad” here?
  • What would happen if I simply allowed that experience and what is “bad” to be present to the ultimate degree?
  • What would happen if there were no labels at all?

There is no magical solution to blame; all such attempts will naturally have blame in them, because they will be based in the labeling of blame as ‘bad’. It is the allowing of Self and others, simply as they are, that is the different path to blame.

26 12, 2007

Trusting Perceptions and Higher Communication

December 26th, 2007|Intimacy, love|8 Comments

One of the most fundamental aspect of any growth or spiritual path is the trust in one’s own perception. There is no question it is an incomplete perception; so long as you have a body, you will not see even a minuscule fraction of the totality of the universe, or that of your Self. But it is still your perception. It is your link to your soul. It is the basis for all growth, for if you rely on someone else’s eyes and intuition, you are not living your own life, discovering your own Truth, but are being a guinea pig for other’s experiments with Truth. As J. Krishnamurti said,

“All authority of any kind, especially in the field of thought and understanding, is the most destructive, evil thing. Leaders destroy the followers and followers destroy the leaders. You have to be your own teacher and your own disciple. You have to question everything that man has accepted as valuable, as necessary.”