Monday, December 23, 2019


‘Beloved, let us love one another; for love is of God, and those who love are born of God and know God. Those who do not love do not know God; for God is love.’ 1 Jn 4:7-8.

What are we to make of the story of the birth of the Christ child?

The Nativity Story is so much more than a supposedly literal account of the birth of Jesus. The story is a myth in the truest and most sublime sense of that word. It speaks of the reality of a spiritual—that is, a non-material—event that we all can experience, Christian and non-Christian alike.

What event, you may ask? Well, it’s this—the birth of the Christ child within our ‘hearts’, that is, our minds, the latter symbolized by the Virgin Mary. You see, we all need to wake up, surrender, and be born anew. The message of the Buddha, in two English words, is this—wake up. The message of the prophet Muhammad, in one English word, is this—surrender. The message of Jesus, in five English words, is this—you must be born anew. The point is this—we must change in a very radical and profound way. Furthermore, this change must go far beyond what is ordinarily understood as self-improvement.

Each one of us must undergo a Copernican revolution—that is, a deep, inner psychological revolution, transformation, and mutation—in the way we think, act, and live. We must surrender, let go, and die to self, indeed die to the very idea that there is a separate, independent, permanent self at the core of our being, in order that a new sense of being—metaphorically and symbolically, a new-born baby—may be born in our psyche.

Now, most of what I’ve said above is rank heresy to fundamentalist and evangelical Christians. That does not worry me at all. Indeed, I draw great comfort and pleasure from the fact. You see, I am proud to be a heretic. A heretic is one who chooses, and who chooses to think differently and be different. We need more heretics in the world—more people who are prepared to think and live differently. Indeed, I would go so far as to say that only a heretic can change our damaged, troubled and threatened world. And only a heretic, who is prepared to surrender and throw out of the window all their past thinking and conditioning on matters religious and non-religious, can wake up and change the world for the better. And despite what some would have you believe, only you can make the decision to wake up and be born anew. 

May we all wake up this Christmas.

Tuesday, November 26, 2019


Is your past, or something in your past, holding you back? Do you keep revisiting the past or some incident in the past to such an extent that it’s preventing you from living fully in the now? 

Listen to these wise words from the Indian spiritual philosopher J. Krishnamurti, pictured right and below:

We are the result of the past. Our thought is founded upon yesterday, and many thousand yesterdays. We are the result of time, and our responses, our present attitudes, are the cumulative effect of many thousand moments, incidents and experiences. So the past is, for the majority of us, the present, which is a fact, which cannot be denied. You, your thoughts, your actions, your responses, are the result of the past. 

So, how can we be free of the past? Of course, as I’ve said many times, we should never ask ‘how’, because then we are asking for a method or technique. Methods and techniques are forms of conditioning, which is the past. The past cannot free us from the past. But what exactly is the past? Here is Krishnamurti once again:

… What do we mean by the past? … We mean, surely, the accumulated experiences, the accumulated responses, memories, traditions, knowledge, the subconscious storehouse of innumerable thoughts, feelings, influences and responses, With that background, it is not possible to understand reality, because reality must be of no time: it is timeless. So, one cannot understand the timeless with a mind which is the outcome of time. The questioner wants to know if it is possible to free the mind, or for the mind, which is the result of time, to cease to be, immediately; or must one go through a long series of examinations and analyses, and so free the mind from its background. You see the difficulty in the question.

Self-analysis tends to fail because the ‘analysing self’ is just another manifestation of self—that is, one of the hundreds of little selves (the ‘I’s’ and ‘me’s’ in our mind). How can the self analyse the self, or one of the many other selves within us? No effort of the self can remove the self from the centre of its own introspection and mental machinations. Let’s say that a thought of anger arises in your mind. The part of your mind which analyses the anger is part of the anger. There is simply no way, by that means, to free yourself from the background. True psychological transformation can only arise when one is entirely free of the background (the ‘mental furniture’). Look and observe. Be aware—choicelessly. Don’t analyse or interpret. Just look, observe and see things as they are—both the things outside of us as well as the contents of our own mind. The insight you gain will change you forever—that is, if you want such change in your life.

The good news is that you can be totally free of the past at any moment. It’s entirely up to you. No one else can do this for you. Yes, there can indeed be that ‘total revolution’ or ‘psychological mutation’ of which Krishnamurti often spoke. We can instantaneously liberate ourselves from the past and from past conditioning including beliefs and misbeliefs of all kinds if we refuse to analyse or dissect the content of our consciousness (the ‘background’ or ‘mental furniture’) and simply see things as they really are, without judgment or evaluation.

In what follows, Krishnamurti describes, much better than I could ever hope to do, the essential features of a mind that is ‘mindful’ (or, to use his word, 'tranquil'):

Now, to put it very simply, when you want to understand something, what is the state of your mind? When you want to understand your child, when you want to understand somebody, something that someone is saying, what is the state of your mind? You are not analysing, criticizing, judging what the other is saying; you are listening, are you not? Your mind is in a state where the thought process is not active, but is very alert. Yes? And that alertness is not of time, is it? You are merely being alert, passively receptive, and yet fully aware; and it is only in this state that there is understanding. Surely, when the mind is agitated, questioning, worrying, dissecting, analysing, there is no understanding. And when there is the intensity to understand, the mind is obviously tranquil.

So, this is what you can choose to do—if you really want to be free, forever, and instantaneously, from the bondage of the past. Watch, almost with disinterest, whatever happens, as if it were happening to someone else. Let there be no comment, judgment or attempt to change anything. Note the presence of any unhealthy, painful thoughts, emotions or memories, but give them no power or attention. Don’t suppress or deny them. Don’t resist them, for whatever you resist, persists. Simply observe … choicelessly … and then let go. And let it be.

Acknowledgment is made, and gratitude is expressed, to the Krishnamurti Foundation of America,
Ojai, California, USA. Krishnamurti Excerpts: Benares 2nd Public Talk, 23 January 1949.


IMPORTANT NOTICE: See the Terms of Use and Disclaimer. The information provided on this blog is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Never delay or disregard seeking professional medical advice from your medical practitioner or other qualified health provider because of something you read on this blog.

Monday, October 7, 2019


‘The true journey of discovery consists not in seeking
new landscapes but in having fresh eyes.’ Marcel Proust.

Ever since I studied French in high school I have loved the writings of Marcel Proust, pictured below. However, I have never found his books easy to understand, even in English. Be that as it may, there is so much to discover in his writings. After all, Proust was the first writer to explore in depth the nature of the human mind and the depths of consciousness. No high metaphysician, he reminds us that ordinarily it is in the little things of life that we find what is truly important. There is something extraordinary not just behind, but also in, the ordinary stuff of life—and for that we should be truly grateful.

When one think of Proust, what usually first comes to mind is his magnum opus, À la recherche du temps perdu (In Search of Lost Time; earlier rendered as Remembrance of Things Past), which was published in seven parts between 1913 and 1927. This vast autobiographical and psychological novel, lacking in logical construction just like life which is certainly not a logical sequence of events, has been described as 'an extraordinarily penetrating study of human psychology. ... No other French novelist before Proust had explored the world of the mind with such subtlety, or analysed with greater insight the influence of our subconscious thoughts and feelings on our character and our behaviour' (J Robinson and A Martin, France Today: Background to a Modern Civilisation, Sydney: Novak, 1964, pp 140-1).

For Proust, and for us, time is perhaps our greatest enemy. We are all subject to time from the very beginning of our lives to their end and so much is lost through the changes wrought by the unstoppable march of time. Memories fail over time. We return to a place—a place which, say, we once loved as a child—only to find that it is no longer the same place. Most if not all of the pleasure associated with the place has gone, and much of that is due to the passage of time. Over time, we manufacture innumerable 'false selves''I's and 'me'sin the form of our likes, dislikes, attachments and aversions. All these selves have no permanent, fixed identity. They are all transient and ever-changing. Time, in conjunction with the notion of the illusory self, is a major theme of In Search of Time. Here is the final sentence of the novel:

If at least, time enough were allotted to me to accomplish my work, I would not fail to mark it with the seal of Time, the idea of which imposed itself upon me with so much force today, and I would therein describe men, if need be, as monsters occupying a place in Time infinitely more important than the contrary, prolonged immeasurably since, simultaneously touching widely separated years and the distant periods they have lived through—between which so many days have ranged themselves—they stand like giants immersed in Time.

Now, can the problem of time be overcome? Well, time can be transcended. How? Through mindfulness, that's one way. If we can see things-as-they-really are, we are no longer bound by time. We then experience the eternal now. Those familiar with Proust—and even some who aren’t—will know of the following oft-quoted experience from early in Part One (‘Combray’) of the first volume of In Search of Time, titled Swann’s Way. The subject-matter recounted is the first episode concerning the madeleine (a tea-cake or bun)—the first so-called 'madeleine moment'. There is a second 'madeleine moment' which is recounted in the final moment of the novel. Anyway, the first 'madeleine moment' is described thus:

I raised to my lips a spoonful of the tea in which I had soaked a morsel of the cake. No sooner had the warm liquid mixed with the crumbs touched my palate than a shiver ran through me and I stopped, intent upon the extraordinary thing that was happening to me. An exquisite pleasure had invaded my senses, something isolated, detached, with no suggestion of its origin. And at once the vicissitudes of life had become indifferent to me, its disasters innocuous, its brevity illusory—this new sensation having had the effect, which love has, of filling me with a precious essence; or rather this essence was not in me, it was me. I had ceased now to feel mediocre, contingent, mortal. Whence could it have come to me, this all-powerful joy? I sensed that it was connected with the taste of the tea and the cake, but that it infinitely transcended those savours, could not, indeed, be of the same nature. Where did it come from? What did it mean? How could I seize and apprehend it?

I cannot stress this enough. Mindfulness is not a ‘method’ or ‘technique’. If anyone says that you must use some so-called ‘method’ or ‘technique’ in order to practice mindfulness—that is, to live mindfully—tell that person to get lost (or words to that effect). There is no method or technique’ for seeing things as they really are. In order to see things as they really are all you need to do is remove the obstacles to seeing things-as-they-really-are. Then we can truly 'seize' and 'apprehend' the moment, something that Proust sought to do.

Seeing things-as they-really-are. That is what the Pāli word vipassanā ('insight meditation' or mindfulness) means. The word is composed of two parts—namely, vi, meaning ‘in various ways’, and passanā, meaning seeing. So, vipassanā means ‘seeing in various ways’ as well as seeing things-as-they really-are. Proust refers to this as ‘having fresh eyes’, which is the very same thing. For Proust, and for us, we tend to experience life episodically. A present experience often brings into play involuntary memory, when something encountered in everyday life evokes recollections of the past without there being any conscious effort on our part. As readers of Proust will know, the theme of involuntary memory is all throughout the French writer's text. For Proust, it is the preeminent way of 'defeating' time. In the section on Proust in Eight Centuries of French Literature: From the Chanson de Roland to Sartre, edited by R F Bradley and R B Michell (New York: Appleton-Century-Crofts, 1951), we read: '...using spontaneous or involuntary memory as an instrument, Proust evokes the sensations, emotions, dreams, and experiences that lie dormant in the subconscious mind' (p 555). All these Proust seeks to understand.

Now, returning to the episode of the madeleine, and without wishing to be overly analytical, the writer (that is, the narrator of the novel) recounts the following:

First, he raises to his lips a spoonful of the tea in which he had soaked a morsel of the cake.

Secondly, no sooner does the warm liquid mixed with the crumbs touch his palate than a shiver runs through him.

Thirdly, he stops, ‘intent upon the extraordinary thing that [is] happening to [him]’.

Fourthly, an exquisite pleasure invades his senses, something isolated, detached, with no suggestion of its origin.

Fifthly, the vicissitudes of life thereupon become indifferent to him, for the new sensation has the effect of filling him with a ‘precious essence’. This essence is not in him. It is him. In other words, he is one with the content of the experience, both inner and outer.

There is more to the episode of the madeleine but let's leave it there. Now, for Proust and for us, something tends to get in the way of seeing and experiencing things-as-they-really-are. What is that? Well, it is pretty obvious. We stop. Yes, we stop—and we start analysing, judging, comparing, and so forth. Then the newness and freshness of the experience dies on us. In order to penetrate the core of reality, the illusory ‘I’ of us, the so-called ‘perceiving self’ needs to disappear. Krishnamurti wrote:

When you look at a flower, when you just see it, at that moment is there an entity who sees? Or is there only seeing? Seeing the flower makes you say [i.e. think], ‘How nice it is! I want it.’ So the ‘I’ comes into being through desire, fear, ambition [all thought], which follow in the wake of seeing. It is these that create the ‘I’ and the ‘I’ is non-existent without them.

In truth, there are only the following three ‘relational’ elements in order for a stimulus to be perceived: first, the sense-object (or simply the object in question); secondly, a sense organ; and thirdly, attention or consciousness. It is more-or-less the same with our thoughts and thinking, except we have no sense-object and sense-organ involved as such. 

Now, in order for there to be an immediacy and directness about our moment-to-moment experience of life, those three occurrences need to occur more-or-less simultaneously---that is, no separation. If those three events are not simultaneously experienced---and that will happen if we engage in thinking, analysis, comparison, interpretation, or judgment in connection with the object in question (be it external or internal)---then the chances are that what will be experienced will be nothing but ... the past! Yes, the reality of the immediate experience will subside. Indeed, it will die! Any consciousness of it will be in the form of an after-thought or memory, as we glance back to re-experience, and (sadly, yes) evaluate, a past experience.

Back to Proust. Another memorable encounter in the first volume of In Search of Time is that concerning the hawthorn hedge and flowers. The incident is also recounted in Part One of the first volume:

… I found the whole path throbbing with the fragrance of hawthorn-blossom. … But it was in vain that I lingered beside the hawthorns—breathing in their invisible and unchanging odour, trying to fix it in my mind (which did not know what to do with it), losing it, recapturing it, absorbing myself in the rhythm which disposed the flowers here and there with a youthful light-heartedness and at intervals as unexpected as certain intervals in music …

And then I returned to the hawthorns, and stood before them as one stands before those masterpieces which, one imagines, one will be better able to ‘take in’ when one has looked away for a moment at something else; but in vain did I make a screen with my hands, the better to concentrate upon the flowers, the feeling they aroused in me remained obscure and vague, struggling and failing to free itself, to float across and become one with them. They themselves offered me no enlightenment, and I could not call upon any other flowers to satisfy this mysterious longing. And then, inspiring me with that rapture which we feel on seeing a work by our favourite painter quite different from those we already know, or, better still, when we are shown a painting of which we have hitherto seen no more than a pencilled sketch, or when a piece of music which we have heard only on the piano appears to us later clothed in all the colours of the orchestra, my grandfather called me to him, and, pointing to the Tansonville hedge, said to me: ‘You’re fond of hawthorns; just look at this pink one—isn’t it lovely?’

And it was indeed a hawthorn, but one whose blossom was pink, and lovelier even than the white. ...

Proust/the narrator recounts that as a young boy he found the whole path throbbing with the fragrance of hawthorn-blossom. What a wonderful experience! But look what happens. He breathes in the invisible and unchanging odour of the hawthorn flowers and tries to ‘fix it in [his] mind (which did not know what to do with it)’. Ugh. He then loses the directness and immediacy of the experience, then briefly recaptures it, and so on. The young boy receives some unexpected help from his grandfather, who says, ‘You are fond of hawthorns; just look at this pink one; isn’t it pretty?’ That, my friends, is the essence of mindfulness. If we can just look and see, that is, observe without judgment, analysis or interpretation, we come to see the ‘formlessness of things’.

Ordinarily, the conditioned, undisciplined mind wants to attach itself to something, that is, some object or thought. It is wants to grab hold of something. Actually, our mind is pure consciousness in its pure, unconditioned state, so that when we truly observe there is no observing self, there is simply awareness—pure unadulterated awareness. Is this direct and immediate experience possible? Yes, indeed, but it takes practice. That’s where the practice of mindfulness comes in handy. We need to learn to give our full attention to the ever-fleeting present moment by removing the hindrances or obstructions to our so doing.

Begin now. There is no time like the present. When you look, just look. When you hear, just hear. When you smell, just smell. When you taste, just taste. When you touch, just touch. Avoid the temptation to grab hold of something, that is, attach your mind to something. In truth, your mind can never attach itself to the present. If you try, you will always end up losing direct and immediate contact with the present moment as it unfolds ceaselessly into the next present moment and the next and the one after that.

I will finish with these words of Proust. ‘My destination is no longer a place, rather a new way of seeing.’ A new way of seeing. That is what mindfulness is all about.


Tuesday, September 3, 2019


Mindfulness meditation, without being embedded in a solid ethical foundation, may be of little benefit, according to the results of a recent study published in the European Journal of Social Psychology.

The study provides preliminary [sic] evidence that brief mindfulness exercises may not automatically increase prosocial and moral behavior but can produce a mixed pattern of moral consequences, perhaps depending upon the context.

The corporatization of mindfulness, in the pursuit of wealth and profit, worries me greatly, as it does many others. Mindfulness may help a firm’s bottom line but unless the practice is grounded in a solid moral and ethical foundation, it is an abomination. I have worked in the ‘big end of a time’; it is very much a ‘dog eat dog’ environment. For the most part your work colleagues are your competitors in a merciless ‘race to the top’. Unfortunately, this race is all too often devoid of ethical values. I see a lot of people who end up broken through all of this.

Mindfulness, whether Buddhist, Christian or secular, must be accompanied by a mindset that is open to the needs of others and suffering humanity generally. The basic rationale of mindfulness must be a genuine desire to become a better, more caring human being. In the words of J. Krishnamurti:

We are talking of something entirely different, not of self-improvement, but of the cessation of the self …

: Schindler, S et al. ‘Potential negative consequences of mindfulness in the moral domain.’ European Journal of Social Psychology. First published: 21 Jan 2019 Issue online: 8 Jul 2019.





Tuesday, June 25, 2019


New research from Griffith University in Australia provides support for the thesis that mindfulness helps to maintain and improve relationships in the workplace. 

Dr Amy J Hawkes from Griffith’s School of Applied Psychology and co-researcher Carla Neale were inspired to conduct the research due to the limited evidence supporting mindfulness in the workplace. 

Most of the 496 team workers surveyed noted that they interacted with their teams daily or a couple of times a week. The respondents were of various ages from various industries including retail, admin, hospitality, health, education. In collating the responses, the researchers found that being higher in mindfulness was significantly and positively related to team-member exchange, and that this relationship was mediated by emotion regulation.  

‘There’s already a lot of evidence that suggests if you have a mindful approach towards life then you generally have better relationship satisfaction with your partners or with your friends,’ Dr Hawkes said. ‘However, our study looked at this in relation to relationships with colleagues at work, and that’s the leap that hasn’t been documented very much previously.’ 

The study examined ‘dispositional mindfulness’, which is a person’s trait or natural level of mindfulness. Practising mindfulness in meditation or tasks could potentially boost your baseline mindfulness. Survey respondents rated their own level of dispositional mindfulness, which indicated the level at which they were naturally aware or unaware of what was happening around them in a nonjudgmental way.  

‘Our study looked at whether people’s dispositional mindfulness had an impact on how they rated their co-worker relationships as cooperative and supportive,’ Dr Hawkes said. ‘People who are more mindful reported higher quality relationships with their colleagues, and that that seems to be explained by how they’re processing and responding to what is happening.  

‘This ability to process emotions, how they’re feeling in that moment, and then respond appropriately and not snap, is something is that is starting to appear strongly in mindfulness literature as being an explanation for why mindfulness might help these relationship processes. 

Dr Hawkes said the next step for this research could be to observe workers within an organisation then run some mindfulness interventions to track improvements to co-worker relationships. 

Study: Hawkes A J, and Neale C M. ‘Mindfulness beyond wellbeing: Emotion regulation and team?member exchange in the workplace.’ Australian Journal of Psychology. First published: 6 June 2019.

Tuesday, May 7, 2019


‘In the beginning was the word …’ (Jn 1:1).

Words are so important. Words are things. Words create reality. Powerful stuff! A good public speaker needs to be a good wordsmith. Without that, no one can be an effective public speaker. In order to be a good wordsmith, you must love words, love books and love reading—and be a good and well-informed reader as well.

A public speaker is a purveyor of information through the medium of performance. Yes, performance.  What is ‘performance’? Well, it refers to the act of presenting of some work (eg a play, concert, recitation, lecture, etc) as well as the completion of a task with the application of knowledge, skills and abilities. Public speaking is both an art and a skill, or rather a combination of skills including but not limited to good vocal quality, a good sense of pitch and a good sense of rhythm. With its extension in the form of debating, public speaking is one of the ‘lively arts’, together with such others as music, theatre and ballet.

Public speaking has always been a big part of my life. I first studied elocution with Lucille Bruntnell (late Royal Academy of Dramatic Art, London, being the original dramatic interpreter of A A Milne's classic characters). Later, while still at high school, I studied voice production for speech with Sydney’s original voice and radio coach Bryson Taylorwho tutored many famous Australian broadcasters. More recently, I have been studying speech and drama at the National Institute of Dramatic Art (NIDA) in Sydney. I have spent years and years lecturing to thousands of university students, reading lessons in churches, delivering monologues (poems and speeches from plays), and participating in several high-level public debates. In recent times, I have been facilitating training sessions on public speaking. What's more, I still have to work on my own voice; in March 2002 I had a microlaryngoscopy and polypectomy to repair a torn, haemorrhagic left vocal fold and remove a polyp that had grown on the fold. After the operation, I had to see a speech pathologist for some time to learn to use my voice again. It wasn’t fun! And my voice is no longer as strong as it once was and I can become hoarse fairly easily.

Public speaking does not appear to come naturally to most people. Most people seem to have an aversion to public speaking. Indeed, it has been said that our three greatest fears are death, being asked for money, and speaking in public. I’ve already mentioned that public speaking is both an art and a skill. Now, as respects it being a skill, public speaking is for the most part an acquired skill. In addition to having a well-organised and tightly structured speech, and being one’s own personality, an effective public speaker has developed a number of speaking skills which collectively produce a high standard of speech. Those skills include, of course, the ability to speak well. In order to improve the quality of your speech you need to learn to breathe using your diaphragm. Diaphragmatic breathing gives the voice depth and conveys a sense of assurance and authority, which is extremely important for a public speaker. 

The ability to speak well also requires, among other things, good articulation (the proper use of the moveable organs of speech which form our consonants and vowels), enunciation (the art of speaking clearly so that each word is clearly heard), resonance (vibrations that create tone through and within your mouth, throat, and nasal passages) and phonation (the process by which the vocal folds produce certain sounds through quasi-periodic vibration and resonance). You must also have a certain presence. The word ‘presence’ refers to a certain charisma and charm that a speaker, actor or performer possesses that draws in an audience and commands their full attention. You must also say what the audience wants to hear. You must also be natural—and yourself—for it is only by being yourself that you will ever be original. Learn from others but don’t copy them. They are not you.

Now, where does mindfulness fit into all this? Well, mindfulness plays a vital role in public speaking. Some commentators take the view that it is perhaps the most important ingredient of the art and skill of public speaking. Anyway, it is essential that you remember to be mindfully present at all times during your speech or presentation. You will know your audience better and connect better with your audience when you are more aware of yourself. Awareness is an integral part of mindfulness. However, mindfulness is not simply awareness but awareness of awareness—that is, reflexive awareness or ‘two-dimensional awareness’. 

Mindfulness is also all about remembering. Never forget that. Remembering what? Well, mindfulness is remembering what is present, remembering to stay present in the present moment from one moment to the next, and remembering in the present moment what has already happened. In other words, mindfulness is all about keeping the present in mind, remembering to be here, and remembering to stay herenow. Mindfulness is the work of reminding yourself not just to be aware, and to say aware, but that you are aware. First and foremost, remember this—you must practise mindfulness. When it comes to public speaking—as well as actingpresence work, as well as voice work and proper breathing, is important. Say to yourself, ‘I am here … I am present … I see you and I let you see me.’ Remember those words before you start speaking—and also when you're speaking.

Now, before you start speaking, free and align your body, especially your head, neck, back, hips, legs and feet. Release tension in your body, especially your jaw, and in your mind. One way of doing that is to stretch and gently massage your shoulders, chest, neck, jaw and face. Don’t forget to free your breath with some vocal warm-ups, and breathe deeply. Deep diaphragmatic breathing is good for the voice and also helps to relax your whole body as well as your mind. 

During your speech or presentation, avoid going on auto-pilot. It is so easy for us to become hypnotised by the flow of words. So, how does one avoid going on auto-pilot? Well, there are several ways.

First, remember to maintain good eye contact with your audience. Look around your audience and gauge their reactions to your speech or presentation. It is essential that you avoid visual information overload and overkill. Research indicates that it is more difficult to process information when it is coming at us in both the written and spoken forms at the same time (eg using PowerPoint). The human brain processes and retains more information if it is digested in either its verbal or written form, but not both at the same time. If you do decide to use PowerPoint, avoid death by PowerPoint. Make sure the slides don’t take over; it is so easy to overload your slides with too much information. Don’t be trendy and faddish just for the sake of it; the weight of evidence is now very much the other way. Secondly, remember to vary the vocal elements of pitch, pace, tone, volume and speed. Thirdly, remember to make good use of pause. Fourthly, remember to stay aware of your posture and your breathing at regular intervals—and make any necessary adjustments. (Note. Correct posture is really about poise which involves correct head-neck-back relationship and good core muscle support.) 

Here’s something else. Although we tend to focus most of our attention on the words of our speech or presentation, research suggests that the total impact of a communication is as follows: 7 per cent words, 38 per cent vocal noise, and 55 per cent non-verbal. The latter includes such things as our body language, the way we dress, the time allowed for our communication, the seating arrangements, and the physical environment.

The author delivering a lecture some 19 years ago.

Key elements of mindfulness practice, such as attention and observation, as well as intention, are also very important when it comes to public speaking. Those elements can be applied to all aspects of what is known as vocal progression—namely, presence work, breath work, and voice work, with the latter involving capacity, support and placement for expressive communication, phonation, resonance and articulation. 

Always keep in mind your intention. For example, your intention may be to impart knowledge and information or perhaps to entertain. Don't forget to remain attentive and observant. When it comes to public speaking, mindfulness requires an alertness of mind, which is the instinctive ability to sense the text and the structure of the work being read. The secret is to stay focused on the action of each moment as it quickly becomes the next moment, and then the moment after that, and so on. The attention of your mind moves with the flow of action, word by word, phrase by phrase, line by line, and so on throughout your speech or presentation. Never get stuck in the moment, unable to move on to the next, even if you make a mistake. Make the necessary correction, if such action be required, and move on. Life moves only in one direction. 

And while I am on the subject of mindfulness and observation, if you really want to improve your speech, start by observing others and, most of all, yourself. I love these words from P D Ouspensky (In Search of the Miraculous), who is quoting his teacher George Gurdjieff:

Self-observation brings man to the realization of the necessity for self-change. And in observing himself a man notices that self-observation itself brings about certain changes in his inner processes, he begins to understand that self-observation is an instrument of self-change, a means of awakening. By observing himself he throws, as it were, a ray of light onto his inner processes which have hitherto worked in complete darkness. And under the influence of this light the processes themselves begin to change.

Good public speaking takes practice—lots of it. Seek feedback from your audience and learn from your mistakes. Most importantly, don’t take yourself too seriously. Indeed, you will be a better public speaker if you don’t.