The ability to speak does not make you intelligent” – Qui-Gon Jinn


The Lost Art

One of the most important skills we can attain in life is genuine and effective communication. Besides being a skill that is both acquired and learned, conversation is also an art to be mastered. Unfortunately in the post-911, pseudomodern and technocentric world, the art of conversation has largely been lost. The intrusion of instant messaging and social media in to people’s lives is rapidly replacing face to face conservation and relationship building on real human terms.

How many times have we walked in to a public space and found people engrossed “trance-like” in their smart phones? How many times have we aborted the opportunity to engage in conversation with a stranger simply because it feels awkward or we find we no longer had the skills or never had them in the first place? Would it be fair to say that many people find a deeper connection to their mobile phones than to fellow humans they are with?

Modern commentators call it the “lost art of conversation”. Modern technology has given us the tools to communicate with almost anyone, anywhere, anytime. Should you so desire you can join a social media group on virtually any subject and in short time be making friends or enemies online. Is this real communication however? Are we really connecting with other members of the human race? Is the “art” of conversation being lost and with it deeper connection with others? Are people alone even in a crowd?


A Deeper Connection

Connection is deeper than mere words on a computer screen. Communication is more than a shallow and awkward conversation in the cafeteria. I remember moments in my life when I connected with others at some deep and almost mystical level. Time froze, the senses were heightened, I stood present in the moment and felt truly connected with another soul;

…Soldiers in the back of an Army truck returning from patrol, tired, weary painted faces hidden in shadows and momentarily lit by the glow of a cigarette. A bottle of Vodka passed between them as a harmonica played and silence spoke of the common bond and brotherhood that we shared…

….A passionate and heated argument with a friend over treasured ideals. Words are spoken that cannot be taken back; blows are exchanged and then laughter as we forget the insult and pick each other up… 

….Around a camp fire with friends made on the road. A guitar plays and voices are raised in song, glasses are raised. There is laughter and spontaneity and anticipation of possible love and long lasting friendship. Strangers are connected under a clear sky and a pale moon…

….My baby daughter sits on my knee her eyes convey so much love and trust that my heart feels as if it will burst…

….Desperate to stay sober. A stranger listens to my story.  Someone who understands what it feels like to hit rock bottom….Sober now, I listen to someone who shares a similar story of what it was like, what happened and how they changed…

Mere moments in life that we remember. How we connect can remain with us forever.


The ability to speak

Alcohol gave me the freedom to take life to excess. Conversations on the deeper and philosophical meanings of life would last through the night. No topic was off the table. Secrets were shared and blood oaths made from one to another. There were breakthroughs and moment of deep insight. Nothing was off-limits, we could dance naked in the moonlight around a fire and howl like wolves. At times I felt as if the world were in my hands. Yet I was miserable. In fact I was disconnected, alienated and separated from others. Alcohol cured me of the ability to speak, to truly communicate.


The greatest compliment that was ever paid to me was when someone asked me what I thought, and attended to my answer” – Henry David Thoreau


I lacked the most basic communication skills. I refused to listen, I put words in people’s mouths and cut them off. Conversations tended to be one sided and I often spoke with authority on subjects I knew nothing about. I was easily distracted and rarely focused on what the other person was saying. Opinion mattered more than conceding error of thought or judgement. Words were often charged with emotion or a haughty arrogance. Honesty received from others was often treated as an affront especially if it were critical. Dissenting opinions were treated with scorn. People were ignored and judged. I could be charming, cold and rude in the same conversation. My body language screamed belligerency and intimidation and often it was.


You want to go home and rethink your life.” – Obi-wan Kenobi


More than Mind Tricks

The Jedi were masters of communication, although not all of them were great conversationalists. Jedi tended to say what needed to be said and to avoid small talk. On issues that mattered however the Jedi were firm in their beliefs and unwavering in their principles. They could convey their thoughts clearly with tact, conviction and even wit  and humor. Jedi were also good at listening and asking open questions that provided answers and allowed the speaker to open up. In seeking knowledge they knew how to engage with others through charm, persuasion and confidence, drawing out the benefits of a conversation.

The Jedi knew that in order to achieve their purpose they had to communicate face to face with others and be empathetic. Displaying diplomacy, decorum, paying attention and having a willingness to listen to all, including those they disagreed with. Deals were brokered, alliances formed, promises made and matters “resolved” the “old way” using the spoken word, eye contact and body language. When circumstances called, there was the “Jedi Mind-Trick”.  The Jedi used effective communication refined as an art.

What is the message? Jedi knew what to say and how and when to say it. The Jedi were mindful enough to know when to be silent and let the others speak. They could appear open, passive or guarded as the circumstance dictated. Body language was used as effectively as words. Jedi avoided judging others or appearing arrogant.



“The wisdom behind conversation is that by acknowledging each other’s humanity through open and communal exchange, we are testifying to the vibrancy of human nature.”  – Sakyong Mipham “The Lost Art of Good Conversation”.

These days we seem to have hours to peruse our social media stream and phones but no time to connect face to face, in person. Even when we do it can feel strange, even awkward. Feeling at odds people will reach for their phones and try to “connect” remotely when there are people in front of them they could be talking to.

Lets face it, we all do it. I send emails at work to a person who is sitting a short walk away because it’s easier and quicker. It means I don’t have to give non-verbal cues and have a record of the conversation in case something is misheard, misconstrued or forgotten.

Texting has become the preferred alternative to conversing on the phone. Surveys conducted in the UK and US revealed that more than half of respondents communicate primarily through text. The percentage is higher with Millennials’. Conversation like letter writing or hard bound books is becoming quaint and out of fashion.

Beginning a conversation is an act of bravery. When you initiate a conversation, you fearlessly step into the unknown. Will the other person respond to favorably or unfavourably? Will it be a friendly or hostile exchange?” – Sakyong Mipham “The Lost Art of Good Conversation”.



Try conversation, that is, share in communication with another in such a way that you both become more enriched from the experience. It seems easy enough but it also takes effort, concentration, mindfulness and self-discipline;

  • Pay attention to what is being said;
  • Be mindful of words, tone, context and flow;
  • Be mindful of body language, yours and the others;
  • Look the other person in the eye;
  • Use humour and wit where appropriate;
  • Actively listen, acknowledging what is being said;
  • Resist being distracted;
  • Know when to speak and when to listen;
  • Be civil and respectful, even if the other person fails to.

Who would have thought that communication is like meditation or anything else worth doing? It takes effort and application.


The most precious gift we can offer others is our presence” – Thich Nhat Hanh

Be Present

Getting sober meant re-learning a lot of basic life skills. One of the skills that I still struggle with is communicating with others. The truth is I was never taught how to talk to people. Being introverted did not help either. I’ve learned that conversation is the most effective and genuine communication tool. Being an art it requires patience and practice. With lack of use it can also be forgotten but it is never too late to recover and remaster the art. The gift of sobriety and more importantly life is the ability to connect with the world around us, with people and experience life in full.

The gift you can give others is to be present.


Speak your truth quietly and clearly;
and listen to others,
even the dull and the ignorant;
they too have their story.”
– Max Ehramm “Desiderata”

Mindful Relationships

Have you ever thought about your relationships? I mean really sat down and thought long and hard about what your relationships mean to you, where they are at and where they are going. Have you ever considered the part that you play in the success or failure of past and present relationships and how they played out?

The Garden of Love

The Stoics believed that a rational and reasoned human being sought to derive the best possible outcomes in a mutually beneficial relationship. People do not exist for our own sake, we exist for the sake of each other. We are meant to be interdependent units that live in a system that depends on cooperation and collaboration between us and others; between human beings.

One could argue that the Stoics advocated “mindful relationships”. They believed that relationships were cultivated like a garden. With mindful effort and the correct amount of attention, sunlight, water and nutrients the garden will grow and prosper while the garden that is neglected will wither and die.


Mindfulness and People

Relationships can be challenging but also very rewarding. People that actually take time to reflect on their relationships and the way in which they manage them are more likely to create positive partnerships. One of the ways which we can recover a failing relationship or improve an existing one is through mindfulness. First we need to consider what kind of relationship we are in and where improvements are required before we can take meaningful action to improve them.

There are three types of relationships which exist and each is directly correlated to the degree of mindfulness generally applied:

1. Co-dependent relationships

Co-dependent relationships are based on an imbalance between two people that results in a dysfunctional dynamic. Usually this manifests as one person being over reliant on the approval of another. Without that recognition and approval the person feels invalidated, unloved or unwanted. Often these relationships are prone to subtle or open abuse by one party on the other usually without much resistance. The abuse is tolerated for the sake of the relationship. Because the person feels trapped in it they are unwilling or unable to demand change or leave. Mindfulness is not a factor in these relationships.


2. Independent relationships

Independent relationships are those in which both parties in a relationship are happily going about their own business without requiring the consent or support of the other. Often people in an independent relationship will appear to be living “separate lives”. They are on different wave lengths in their respective professional lives, personal interests and even family activities. A stable medium may exist for years but such couples generally drift apart after a while and find that they have little to nothing in common when they are forced to confront their relationship and face each other.

Married couples who dedicate all of their time and effort to raising kids and pursuing career and financial goals for example fit in to this category. When the kids flight the nest and retirement looms they are virtual strangers as they have failed to nurture their own relationship over the years. The degree of mindfulness in this relationship is low and based on ensuring that the other person is there and capable of functioning in their “role”. Life is purely one of routine and rushing from one thing to the next.


3. Interdependent relationships

Interdependent relationships are mindful relationships because partners understand, know and appreciate each other for who they are and what they bring to the relationship. Each is free to be their own person but at the same time they are there to support, validate and nurture the other in their own aspirations. Communication is the key foundation in the interdependent relationship as is the acknowledgement of the others views and needs. An open team approach resides over the relationship where each works with, not against the other. A dominant party does not exist as each are equal partners. Mutual trust and respect is a natural outcome. Such relationships are compassionate and honest and built to last.

Mindfulness for Life

In 2004 a study conducted by the University of North Carolina found that couples who practiced mindfulness saw real improvements in their relationships. The practice of mindfulness meditation also resulted in significant reduction in levels of stress and interpersonal conflict within the relationship. It could be argued that mindfulness could be the relationship therapy that many of us need.

A book was published in 2016 on the subject called “Mindful Relationships” (Exisle Publishing) by Dr Richard Chambers and Margie Ulbrick. The book explores “how we can use mindfulness to:

  • develop a more compassionate, friendly relationship with ourselves and others
  • increase awareness of our own and others’ relational patterns
  • calm and soothe our emotions and be there for others
  • communicate more effectively
  • enhance connection and empathy
  • reduce defensive patterns, allowing for more authenticity, and
  • work effectively within families and larger systems such as workplaces.

Case studies are included throughout to highlight key principles, as well as practical exercises to enable the reader to develop their mindfulness skills”.*



Mindfulness meditation** and recent modalities like Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) ***are two easy and practical ways to improve quality of life.  Mindfulness techniques can be applied to help with physical, emotional, mental and spiritual well being and personal development. To draw a Star Wars parallel, Yoda would have been an expert in mindfulness and given his age and general happy disposition and vitality the benefits of the practice clearly paid off!

By practicing mindfulness we are more likely to be in tune with our own feelings and the feelings of others. This opens the way for understanding and empathy. We begin to appreciate the needs of the other person and focus less on our own needs. As we start to pay more attention to our partner we find that it is reciprocated in return. Emotions can be played out in constructive ways. Rather than getting angry and resentful about our partner we can actually express ourselves in an open and transparent way. Through effective communication and active listening we engage in dialogue and come to mutual understanding. No one likes to be shut down or blocked out by their loved one. Mindfulness encourages us to engage with our emotions and with people in a calm and measured way without compromising our values.



Meditation is the most effective approach to cultivate mindfulness. The beauty about meditation is that it can be done alone or in group or as a couple. The intimacy and shared experience of meditation can build a stronger bond between people. The practice allows us to pay attention to our thoughts and remove the noise from our mind allowing us to be more open to others. We achieve a greater sense of inner peace and tranquillity. If those around us also meditate and practice mindfulness we begin to reside on similar mental wavelengths. Harmony is created. I believe that partners who meditate together are more likely to stay together. So if your partner is up for it, meditate and tend to your garden


You will know (the good from the bad) when you are calm, at peace, passive” – Yoda




*** (The Happiness Trap Book)

Jedi practice Lightsaber



Lightsaber dueling is the Jedi’s sport of choice.

Jedi duel with lightsaber replicas to practice living in the present moment. It’s hard to think about the past or the future if you are dueling with a lightsaber! Lightsaber practice actually has a multitude of benefits. Dueling helps improve a Jedi’s coordination, flexibility, and balance because when dueling with a lightsaber, it becomes an extension of you. It’s a good form of cardiovascular exercise too. The real lightsaber only exists in the Star Wars Universe, but for the Jedi the lightsaber is a powerful symbol that represents alertness, mindfulness, agility, discipline, skill and living in the present moment.

(Jedi 33 Traits)

Elegance and Power

Mention Jedi and the first thing that comes to mind is the beautiful and elegant Lightsaber. The primary weapon of defense of the Jedi was a symbol of the order for thousands of years. The Lightsaber was also lethal and bought the Jedi close to their opponent.

Unlike a blaster or a support weapon a Jedi had two choices with the Lightsaber. They could deflect lasers back to their origin striking the opponent alternately they used it as a sword. The Jedi would close in and bring the Lightsaber to the enemy.

A Symbol

The Lightsaber was also a symbol of hope and light. When Lucas invented the Lightsaber perhaps he intended it to be a symbol of the chivalry, courage and decorum of the Jedi. Throughout the Star Wars saga the Lightsaber remains the most poignant symbol of the struggle between good and evil. The Lightsaber inspires awe and wonder as much as the swords of the old Knights did during the Middle Ages.

(The Lightsaber) is the weapon of a Jedi knight. Not as clumsy or random as a blaster. An elegant weapon for a more civilized age. For over a thousand generations, the Jedi knights were the guardians of peace and justice in the old Republic. Before the dark times. Before the Empire. – Obi-wan Kenobi “A New Hope”.

There is no such thing as a Lightsaber in our Universe, at least not yet. Even if it were created it is unlikely to be used as a close quarter weapon for the simple reason that anything that gets close to a Lightsaber gets burned. It would be too dangerous to wield. Real world Jedi use replicas and schools have sprung up in Europe and the United States that teach the art of Lightsaber dueling.


French Cane Fighting

I don’t train with a Lightsaber replica, in fact I don’t even own one.  Fortuitously my martial arts uses a weapon of defense which is as elegant but far less conspicuous than the Lightsaber; the humble cane.

Cane Fighting is an integral part of the French martial art called Savate. The cane was historically used as a training device to teach Officers in saber fighting. With the banning of carrying swords and long knives by the French Emperor the public adopted the cane as a suitable alternative. The cane became an accessory to the French gentleman. Across the channel the British caught on. Canes with hidden blades were sold, some could fire a small caliber round as a last resort.

Today we seldom see people in the street with canes unless they are infirm or elderly. The cane is still taught as a form of defense along with other stick forms however it has limited use as an able bodied person carrying a cane would likely attract as much attention as a person wearing a robe and replica lightsaber.


Rapide, Aesthetique et Lethale

My first cane lesson went like this. I was taught the “salute”, “en garde” and the basic strikes, blocks and feints. Then there were the basic foot movements, advancing, moving side ways, retreating. In cane fighting one is always moving, never stationary. It is similar to fencing but far more dynamic.

The French have a codified version in which points are awarded for “touches” and which illegal moves are penalized. The street version (Canne de Defense) however mixes cane strikes with lethal booted kicks and sweeps, grappling, holds and punches. When the opponent is down the handle can be used to pommel the opponent until he is senseless. The hook of a walking cane can be used to lock, hold and sweep an opponent.

The sport known as “Canne de Combat” is probably the closest thing I have encountered to Lightsaber dueling. It is fast, fluid and requires aerobic fitness, agility, stamina and presence of mind.

The cane has served to remind that one should always lead with their sword hand and sometimes it is smarter to “riposte” than “lunge”. It is also handy to know when to withdraw. These lessons are useful in other areas of life as well.

Verbal Fencing

“The words of the reckless pierce like swords, but the tongue of the wise brings healing.

Proverbs 12:18


Our words are also like Lightsabers. They can do harm or bring light and healing. We can us our words to rally people together or we can use them to create rifts and division. Words are powerful. We must know when we use our words that they may cut as deep as a Lightsaber. They may wound others but also ourselves.

The art of communication is mastered over time and with many mistakes. It seems simple enough though. One person speaks, the other person listens and responds.

An ideal exchange involves active listening with feedback and validation. Listen without judgement and keep silent resisting the urge to cross talk. Speak clearly using unambiguous language and are conscious of nonverbal cues such as body language. Seek understanding and we provide the listener with the chance to make their case. Accusations without evidence and value judgements are avoided. Focus on the issue at fault not the person.

Words are like swords, if you use them the wrong way, it’ll turn into ugly weapons.”  – Gosho Aoyama

Sheath your Pride

When we communicate be mindful of Verbal Fencing. In the past I could not stand to be corrected and contradicted. A divergent opinion to my own would spark disagreement, argument and resentment. In recovery I have learned to swallow my pride and avoid tit for tat exchanges. An argument should remain objective and not intended to hurt. There are no points for “touché”, “riposte” and “counter attack” in an argument. No one wins in a bout of verbal fencing.

Always remember that the tongue is the only part of the body which gets sharper with use.


The Lightsaber within

We may not carry a Lightsaber on our belt but we can carry one in our heart. For me the symbol of recovery is three lightsaber joined in to a triangle and surrounded by a circle. The Lightsabers represent Humility, Respect and Temperance, the circle represents Faith. These are my cardinal principles which I measure myself against. They are my swords with which I use to recover and improve every day.

What is your Lightsaber? How do you use it?

 “For the word of God is alive and exerts power and is sharper than any two-edged sword and pierces even to the dividing of soul and spirit, and of joints from the marrow, and is able to discern thoughts and intentions of the heart.” – Hebrews 4:12


The ability to speak does not make you intelligent” – Qui-Gon Jinn “Episode 1: The Phantom Menace”

Jar Jar Binks was one of the most annoying characters created by George Lucas in the prequels. Many Star Wars fans cringe at the Gungan buffoon and derided the prequels for introducing him. Jar Jar Binks is actually like a lot of people we meet and not all of them act that way when they are drunk though they may at times sound like him. They are usually drawing a lot of attention their way and speaking a lot without actually saying anything useful.

How often do we kick ourselves after we have said something better left unsaid. We often catch ourselves too late. It would be better to think before speaking. There are also times when we wish we had said something but we didn’t. Not speaking up also seems at times as bad as saying the wrong things at the wrong times.


Silence is a virtue or so we are told. The teachers in my catholic school would remind us often that children are seen and not heard. Silence was imposed and voicing an opinion was discouraged. I have discovered that often the greatest wisdom comes from the mouth of a child. Plain truth belies innocence. One should always speak their truth quietly and clearly. Listen to your kids or Grand kids often.

Learning when to speak and when to keep silence is an art. We all want to be heard. Sometimes we are not given the chance. The loudest and most assertive speakers generally get the floor. Passive and quiet people are usually not heard above the din.

The Power of Quiet

I’ve usually found the loud, gregarious and boorish types who insist on being heard above others have the least to say. The ability to speak does not always imply intelligence. In our society it seems that the most vocal and the loudest get the most airplay time. There is nothing wrong with that as it is a sign of open discourse which keeps Democracy alive. This is true as long as others are not silenced and forgotten. The loud and arrogant have a right to be heard but so do the quiet and humble.

Usually the quiet types are the ones we need to listen to. Their silence might not hide ignorance but a reluctance to speak. They may also know that saving your voice for when it’s required is often the best approach. You see them in the back of the room at meetings. They are also the silent person at work and the quiet achiever in the team. When they speak up I usually listen intently. The quiet ones usually have something I often lack; diplomacy, wisdom and tact.

“[The Spartans] conceal their wisdom, and pretend to be blockheads, so that they may seem to be superior only because of their prowess in battle … This is how you may know that I am speaking the truth and that the Spartans are the best educated in philosophy and speaking: if you talk to any ordinary Spartan, he seems to be stupid, but eventually, like an expert marksman, he shoots in some brief remark that proves you to be only a child”. – Plato

Who would’ve thought the Spartans were the silent types? Many guys I met who were Special Forces Operators were quiet and unassuming but also sharp as a tack. The mark of a true warrior. A lot of people mistake being quiet for being weak, often a big mistake! The guys you met in a Bar who were loud and telling war stories were usually from rear units or had never served. Big mouths are usually compensating for some deficiency.

Speak Up!

Francis Bacon said that “silence is the virtue of fools”; this is true for those who remain silent when they should have spoken up.  Never remain silent when to do so would be an injustice. If we speak up and learn that despite what is apparent we are wrong then we can make amends. It is too late after something wrong happens that we could have otherwise prevented by raising our voice. It often stuns me when I learn that an accident has happened in the workplace and I hear someone say “I could see that was going to happen”. My first question is “Why didn’t you say anything?” . We all have a responsibility to speak up when it is required.

The fictional Jedi by nature were not gregarious, they were assertive and they did speak up when it was required. They did however speak mindfully; they measured their approach and considered their words particularly over delicate matters. The Jedi used tact and diplomacy. Words were not wasted. They said a lot in few words.

Listen Up!

We have two ears and one mouth, so we should listen more than we say.” –Zeno of Citium

Being a good listener is also a virtue. When we speak we are moving from the known to the known. Listening takes us from the unknown to the known, we learn something. Then in order to communicate effectively one must actively listen and respond being mindful of what we say and how we say it. Language is only partially verbal; body language, facial expressions, eye contact, hand motions, tone and the most subtle cues often communicate more than words. By listening actively we are communicating.

Women in particular are expert at picking cues and know when a guy is not listening. So for the sake of serenity, Listen!

A good listener is not only popular everywhere, but after a while he knows something.” –Wilson Mizner

Meesa throw it all together

Knowing how to listen and when to speak and when to hold tongue is an exercise in self discipline and mindfulness. As an alcoholic I often feel compelled to allow my emotions to drive my tongue. It takes real presence of mind to catch myself. A speech injected with anger or resentment may get an impact but it is one we learn to regret later. Angry or yelling we don’t hear anything, not even ourselves making a mess of things. In recovery we learn that anger and resentment does not serve us. To throw anger at others through our words makes us feel worse not better.

“”First learn the meaning of what you say, and then speak.” – Epictetus

Jar Jar Binks eventually made it to the Galactic Senate and despite his clumsiness with words and actions still proved to be a worthy ally up until the fall of the Republic. The fact that he became a politician seems a parody of our own society where sometimes the politician with the biggest mouth ends up in the highest office. We should still be willing to give those people the benefit of the doubt when they say things that are less than intelligent. After all many of us said things that we wish we hadn’t and expected the same courtesy from others.