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.

11 11, 2010

Status: The measure of value we present

November 11th, 2010|relationships, Self|4 Comments

One of my loves is the theatre.? I’ve studied acting, clowning, and improvisation, and I’ve performed onstage for years, everything from bedroom farce to Dracula to Shakespeare.? I love it because it brings me to a heightened state of aliveness.

My love of acting has little to do with the adulation that comes from the applause for a good performance, but it has everything to do with acting’s relationship to an inner exploration.? In acting, you explore your very identity.? You explore creation.? You explore going within yourself in order to be someone else.? You find other beings and energy inside yourself. By doing this, you expand yourself – and expand everyone else who watches.

All of the other actors I know who value this aspect of acting as I do are also very spiritual people.? We may not write inspiring prose and we may not belong to any congregation, but we see a temple in the exultation of unhibited emotion.? Having surrendered within to our many selves, we’ve received a firsthand glimpse into the oneness that we all share.? And through all this, we’ve learned incredible amounts? about ourselves through the intricate tapestry of our most visible measure of ourselves: relationships.

It would be too much in this one post to recount the many lessons in the playfulness that is theatre, so for now I’ll focus on one critical element any actor learns quickly: status.

Status as a Flow of Energy in Interactions

It may be unfashionable to mention status in the politically-correct culture of the “land of the free”, but we are all influenced by it on some level.? We know when we are speaking to an “important” person.? We are affected by this knowledge.? The energetically sensitive feel how energy naturally flows to the “higher status” person.? There’s always a reaction to this.? Sometimes the effect is on our emotional reaction, from admiration to resentment.? Sometimes the effect automatically creates a dynamic in the relationship: subservience or combativeness.? Not everyone reacts the same way, but everyone feels it.? We react to it even more because we’re not supposed to notice it.

Education, on the level of status, has made us blind.? We’re supposed to believe that the homeless person living in a cardboard box is a human being with the same value and perfection we have, but I have yet to see someone interact with a homeless person on that level.? In my experience there’s disgust, aversion, or pity – all signs of the perception of status and the flow of energy from it.

In this competitive world, the cultural model is built around status.? It governs the intrinsic framework of relationships.

Most of us notice status but don’t think of it consciously.? We want to “succeed” but in order to do so we must go up a rung on the status ladder.? Being “successful”.? Owning a house, or a nice car.? Being respected by others.? Showing mastery in something and being able to come across well at social events.? Academic success.? Even spiritual mastery is subject to the concept of status — the idea of “ascension”, or “old” souls being somehow better, are perfect examples.? Being accepted as “enlightened” is very high status.? But we don’t think of what status truly is, and especially not what the ultimate expression of status is.

Exploring Status Yourself

One exercise in theatre is to “play” status.? Everyone is awarded a different number between 1 and 10, with 10 being the highest status.?? I invite you to play this at a party; it’s great fun and a wonderful tool for growth.

panhandlerNumber one, the lowest status, takes as little space as possible.? Shame is the sea in which this status swims.? It’s as if you were homeless and were just waiting to be rounded up.? You make little eye contact. Your motions are hesitant. You are beaten before you even begin.

As the status scale increases, there’s increasingly less shame and an increasingly strong, proud, engaging bearing.? Yet while going up the scale, you’re always in a state of comparison.? You notice your relationships with others: who is lower status and who is higher?? You need to please the ones with higher status.? You give in and give them energy.? Life force flows to them, leaving the lower status empty. At the same time, you must protect your place from those “lower” than you are and maybe even get some energy from them. Yet you remain ever vigilant against them, happy when they appear to be in their “place.”

As an aside, it is for this reason that it’s no accident that it’s those on the lower status of society that are most angry towards illegal immigrants.

What is interesting in this game, and is the reason I’m mentioning this here, is what happens at the top of the spectrum. These are the people with ultra-high status.? If you’re close to the top, you know you’re above most of the world, but there’s still insecurity and full of comparison.? There is still someone above you, somewhere, somehow. You are still comparing. In our society, this might be the ultra rich — they know they have status, but they are still in competition and are looking for some way they can finally feel above it all.

At the very top, however, is a paradox: the ultimate status is with those who move beyond it. ? To these people there is no such thing as status.? The person with the “highest” status is unconcerned with games of comparison or worthiness.? They know their value.? They see their importance.? It is indisputable.? There is no question and no game.? They can be who they are without any reluctance, guile, or mask.? They can relate to others as they are. They can be in torment and doubt, and yet still be they are, without shame, and know it has absolute value. ?It is as if they were born into unspoilt royalty.? Life is full of bounty and beauty, and there is no question that the universe finds them full of value and their desires welcome.? This is true status.

enlightenmentWhy do I mention this?? Because it is inextricably linked with the western spiritual quest.? There are thousands upon thousands of blogs on personal growth and advice giving.? In my experience, very few of them give from a sense of complete fullness.? Instead, there is a desire to feel good from having others appreciate the inspiration and insight.? (One of the reasons I stopped writing for a time was because this impulse was very strong within me.)? This is status: the more others appreciate you and give you applause and energy, the higher your status.

And yet, part of this is the problem of Arrogance: when you gain energy from putting forth something that is not fully who you are, not from true vulnerability, then you keep yourself from the highest levels of status and worth.?? By trying to raise your status out of lack, you entrench yourself as “lower status”.

The idea of the ‘evolved person’, the manifested man, the enlightened one, is also intrinsic to the highest status.? The manifested person is at the highest status, wherever he is.? He could be among nobles or beggars — it doesn’t matter.

My ‘ideal’ of how to live within status is the ideal of living in the highest status and treating every other thing in the Universe as also in that status.

Imagine this for yourself.? You are at the highest status.? Everything supports you and naturally gives you energy without depleting itself.? The universe responds naturally to you.? And yet you interact with everything as equals.? You see the smallest blade of grass as also of the highest status.? There is nothing to defend against, no lack, and even no status.? There is only plenty.

In short, the ideal is to live in beingness — fully vulnerable as who you are. This is the ultimate expression of status.? Think of Siddhartha by the river in his old age. He shows his perfection as he is whether he is surrounded by adulants or insects.? It is an expression of completeness.

Many people on a western spiritual path use the greeting ‘namaste’ without really considering what it means, but it is another way to express this ideal. Your highest nature welcomes and greets the highest nature of that which is around you. You welcome and embrace all that you are, and you treat every other thing in the Universe as reverentially as your own highest nature.

So I say to you all:???????? Namaste

I now ask you: from your own deep honesty and vulnerability, what is the truth of how you view your status in relationship with the world?

7 01, 2010


January 7th, 2010|pain, relationships, Self, transformation|8 Comments

I recently read Urban Monk’s post on forgiveness and it brought thoughts of my own, some of which I commented on there.

statueOne of the disagreements I have with what some people write about forgiveness is the idea that it??s about letting go of hatred. ?Hatred, in that mindset, is an evil which must be expunged. ?To me, that??s a misguided idea of what hatred is.

Forgiveness is simply letting go. That??s it. ?No more than that. ? And by this, I don’t mean “getting rid of”. ?Letting go means a positive non-attachment. ? It beings being ok with things being there, but letting go of the need for anything to change. ?Being fine with the present moment – whatever it is. ? Hatred can still be there. Hatred is not incompatible.

When we think hatred has to go for forgiveness to exist, we pretend forgiveness.

If forgiveness has to look a certain way, of course we’re going to fake it. ?We want to look that way too. (more…)

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.

18 02, 2008

I love you, you’re perfect, now change. Happy Valentines day!

February 18th, 2008|freedom, love, relationships, transformation|2 Comments

Happy (belated) Valentine’s day all! Sorry for the lack of posts, but I am going through my own transformations and there are times for silence as well. (I actually wrote this on Valentine’s day, but got around to posting it now)

For this writing, I’m going to focus on a particular dichotomy that is pretty universal amongst our relationships and in ourselves. This is the conflict apparent in the following two statements.

  • I love you fully and completely.
  • I really don’t accept ___ about you.

(one example for the latter might be “I don’t accept that you want to back away from any issue that may cause pain or conflict”)

Again, this is very common – in fact it’s the stereotypical ‘I love you, you’re perfect, now change!‘ motto. This isn’t a symptom of a neurotic mind; it is part of being human. The question is, how do we work with this instead of trying to be a romantic Jesus by denying what truly goes on?

As Walt Whitman wrote in ‘Song of Myself’ : “Do I contradict myself? Very well, then I contradict myself, I am large, I contain multitudes. ” Most of us recognize this in ourselves to some extent. Part of us wants to relax under the sun, and another part wants to fix up the home and do ‘valuable work’. So how to bring this unity into our lives?

Paradoxically, both within ourselves and in relationships, we always move towards a more loving direction when this contradiction and lack of acceptance is allowed and not resisted. It is by loving that we aren’t all-loving beings that creates the room for it. We’ve all heard that you cannot love another more than you love yourself. What I’m saying is you cannot love anything more than the permission that exists to not love it. This sounds complicated, but isn’t if you think of love as total and unconditional acceptance. It is a totality that includes its opposite.

In relationships, when there is no freedom to not accept parts of the other, then when this occurs (and it will occur, for we are not Buddha yet), it will remain silent and denied. This denial, like all denials, shows up as tension, lack of trust, maintaining an image of what loving behavior is, and so on. That disowned part of Self atrophies. It thinks: ‘If she really saw me for who I am, she’d see I don’t love her for who she is, and therefore she wouldn’t love me because what I profess to be is different from what I am.’

The above two statements occurred for me recently, and I voiced them. The effect was very freeing. By saying ‘I don’t accept ____ about you’, I was in effect saying I don’t love all of you yet, but I want to. Oh, how I did want to – but I wasn’t there yet. It created a space for both of us to be human, warts and all. The paradox again is that without that space, there’s no love anyway.

The problem with romance in our culture is that it is rarely a true and deep connection based on reality and the present moment. It’s a pie in the sky dream. We learn romance from Hollywood movies and high schools, where the ideal of love is more important than any real emotions occurring. It’s more important to strive for that ivory pedestal of an ideal relationship than to bring every bit of one’s Self forward to the relationship.

Unfortunately, there simply is no shortcut to truly loving with our whole being. And yet the paradox is that the love is already there. All the relationships I’ve been in, extremely dysfunctional ones included, have always had that deep love at the core of my being, connecting to their own deep love within them. We all already know about Love if we go deep enough inside ourselves; we’re only learning to bring it up through all the surface personality layers so we can live it.

Love in the sunset It’s even more essential to give ourselves this inner space and freedom. We can think in terms of the law of attraction if we want; we can use affirmations; we can proclaim that we love ourselves unconditionally. But unless there is room for not loving ourselves â???? for the hate, non acceptance and harsh desires to be someone else â???? then there will not be love, for there is no room for it. This is of mindfulness – a space of simply watching what arises naturally, without any attempt for control or change. The essence of mindfulness is spaciousness.

I wrote this on Valentine’s day and it’s traditionally a time for romance. Let’s make it a time for love as well. Welcome all of your Self, and welcome all of whomever you interact with. It’s only when you welcome hatred â???? not to cultivate or flame, but simply in giving it mindful space â???? that we make room for love to work its magic on it. There’s always room for that.