It’s Okay to Improve. Meet Robert Rabbin.

As the number of nonduality conferences and meetups grows there is demand for developing speaking skills. Organizations such as Toastmasters, Speaking Circles, Dale Carnegie, are well known. Perhaps one of the most effective avenues for improving speaking skills comes from Robert Rabbin’s training.

(Okay, I know that in nonduality “improve” is a dirty word. But fake nondualists are a little like kids. If you tell them their writing needs to be edited, they’re cool with that. Tell them their writing needs to be improved and they’re all like, “Well man I’m not into improvement okay? Why can’t you just BE WITH what I’m saying? Huh? It’s not about imPROVEment. It’s about being with what is. Like you’re not in the moment man. You need to BE in the moment.”)

But tell the same guy or girl that their writing needs EDITING (not improvement) and they’re all, “Oh yeah, that’s cool. Editing. Yeah, I’m into that. Do you know a good editor?”

But I’m into improvement and if you don’t like that, too bad. (Today’s nonduality is your nonduality. You don’t have to shape it to please anyone.)

My message is that your speaking can be improved by the teachings of Robert Rabbin. (And maybe he wouldn’t favour the word “improvement” either, I don’t know.) I don’t see the problem with the word. According to, to improve only means “to make or become better in quality.” Nondualists do that with their writing, their websites, their conferences, their family lives, their cooking, their relationships, with everything.

“Improvement” gets a negative connotation when it is seen as an avoidance of finding out whether there is a self to improve. But nonduality is paradoxical. You will not find a self to improve and yet we do things to improve ourselves: we get our writing editing, we take classes, we learn new things, we keep up with change, we work on better ways to express ourselves. There is no self to improve and we take steps to better the quality of our giving, even though there is no other to receive anything.

Success in the field of nonduality means being at ease with paradox.

Here’s Robert Rabbin talking about authenticity in public speaking, published in his recent newsletter:

How to Speak About Changing the World

by Robert Rabbin

I arrived in the US on 23rd May, after living in Australia for more than five years. Since my arrival, several people have alerted me to a number of webinars and urged me to listen. I’ve listened to about a dozen of them, all having to do, broadly speaking, with personal growth, spiritual development, and global evolution.

Well, it’s not true that I listened. I tried to listen. I wanted to listen. I gave my time and attention to listen.

But I couldn’t.

I kept getting headaches — not so much from what the people were saying, but from how they were saying it.

In spite of the following generalization, I feel it is accurate to say that in terms of speaking style, all the people, men and women alike, spoke with passion, sincerity, clarity, conviction, urgency. Perhaps the most noticeable style trait was intensity, even if the intensity was quiet and soft. In terms of content, most had well-developed, if extremely intellectual, presentations. These are positive reviews, and one might think that I should have been able to listen all the way through. I couldn’t.

It wasn’t for lack of interest, as I’ve lived in this world of personal growth and spiritual development for 40 years, as a student, speaker, writer, and self-awareness teacher. I share what I’ve learned as I travel through and work within personal, organizational, social, and cultural circles. My interest was sincere. But I couldn’t listen.

Here’s why. No one was playful. Without playfulness, I can not listen to anyone for very long, especially when the topic is something as significant as global evolution. When people speak to me without playfulness, I start wheezing. I get what I call “subtle body asthma.” I can’t breathe. My head starts to pound and my ears ring. The oxygen is sucked from the air.

Playfulness is an important word and principle, one that I use often in my RealTime Speaking programs, in which I teach people how to speak authentically. I’ve spent considerable time reflecting on this word, what it means, and why it is so important and powerful. Playfulness means “nothing to defend.”

Perhaps the greatest barrier to authentic public speaking is people’s fear of being seen. To avoid the risk of transparency, vulnerability, and intimacy in speaking, people hide. They hide behind all kinds of things, including the need to be right.

Needing to be right and it’s corollary, the fear of being wrong, blocks authenticity in speaking. The antidote is playfulness: nothing to defend. I say often: speaking authentically is about being real, not right.

Please think about this for a moment. If in your speaking you are not trying to be right, and you are not afraid of being wrong, you have nothing to defend. You shift from a right/wrong, good/bad polarity to simply, “Here is what I have to say.” We are not trying to be right. We are not afraid of being wrong. We are just expressing our “truth,” how we see things in this moment.

With nothing to defend, we fall almost inevitably into being playful. When we relate to others playfully, when we speak playful, we create such an open space for all kinds of things to happen. Within this playful space of relating and speaking, there is no pressure, no push, no pull. It’s as if we don’t even care to produce a result! We’re just playing. Who doesn’t want to join in and play?

Being playful does not compromise our sincerity, conviction, or clarity. It does, however, drain the life out of intensity. Intensity is the antithesis of playfulness. The intensity is the bully on the playground, stealing all the joy, spontaneity, pleasure, and connection that we experience in play. Intensity ruins the playfulness, beats it up with needing to be right.

I started teaching self-inquiry and meditation in 1986, shortly after spending more than ten years studying with my meditation teacher. Even then, at the beginning of my teaching, I spoke with passion, sincerity, clarity, conviction, urgency. Mostly, I spoke with intensity. I was so intense that people would literally fall over, unconscious. I mistakenly thought they had entered some state of samadhi, catapulted by my brilliance or by the swirls of shakti, energy, that were always gusting through the room.

No, they were not experiencing samadhi. They were escaping my intensity. My intensity was a bundle of passion, conviction, clarity, urgency — all rolled up into a nice little club of “I’m right.”

I’m happy to say that I no longer speak with intensity. I haven’t for years. I can still bring it, but what I bring is not intensity. People no longer fall unconscious when I speak. I am never trying to be right. I am only trying to be real. I can even say that I don’t try to influence or persuade my audiences. In a manner of speaking, I don’t care if my speaking has any effect or not. I don’t care. Isn’t that an odd statement from someone who’s motto, for 25 years, has been, “Have Mouth, Will Travel.”

Isn’t that an odd statement for a speaker? After all, what is speaking if not a beautiful and powerful means to inspire, influence, arouse, incite, people? Isn’t our speaking a marvelous way to effect change? I suppose. But I have to tell the truth here: I don’t care about that. I just care about being real.

As an aside, I am now often told that I have an extraordinary capacity to inspire people along their path of personal growth and spiritual development. From what people say, I am equally adept in assisting people to become much more aware, competent, and responsible in their work lives. I don’t just preach to the choir. Many of my students, clients, and audiences are not already aligned with my particular point of view. They do not share my interests or values. That doesn’t seem to matter. They all listen.

Isn’t that the first order of business for any speaker: to compel your audience to listen wholeheartedly and with full attention?

I don’t try to produce any effects in my speaking. I don’t really care what happens. But people do listen, and most will say they become expanded and elevated in some way, maybe personally, or spiritually, or professionally, or relationally. If I were to attribute a cause to these effects, I would say it is simply my playfulness.

This may not seem like a big deal, but it is. I couldn’t listen to any of the speakers because to my ears, they all needed to be right. All the speakers had premises upon which their presentations were based. It is there, in their premises, that the rightness exists. A premise is a basis, stated or assumed, on which reasoning proceeds. Intensity comes from belief in our premise.

The speakers I tried to listen to believed too much in everything they said. They did not play. I could not listen.

I know this may not make quick or easy sense. It took me years and years of inner work, as well as teaching and pubic speaking and teaching public speaking, to understand. It’s subtle. It’s profound. It’s a kind of enlightenment.

I am a very effective speaker, in that people listen and are effected. I don’t care. I just notice that it happens. I’m in it for me, selfishly. I’m sorry to say that I am not interested in trying to change anyone, let alone the world. I speak because it is my high wire; it is where and when I become fully and extravagently alive. Shakti fills every cell of my body. I feel hundreds of miles tall. I feel that everyone is my friend and I am their friend. I speak because I must. But I am not in love with what I say. I am not suggesting my motive is admirable. Certainly, I’m not suggesting it be embraced or imitated by anyone. I thought I should share that as part of this writing.

All my speaking these days is wrapped up in just ten words, the ten words that comprise The Five Principles of Authentic Living. These ten words are all the content I have. Be Present. Pay Attention. Listen Deeply. Speak Truthfully. Act Creatively. Everything else I might say is a response to people, situations, and ife in the most personal and specific of ways.

I make everything up and I speak playfully. I am at the same time a serious, focused, concerned, competent, and effective person. I just don’t need to be right about anything. I prefer to play. I have noticed over the years that as my intensity lessened and my playfulness increased, more and more people would listen. More people wanted to play. Now, everybody listens, because everybody wants to play.

If we are going to speak about global evolution and changing the world, and if we want to arouse and engage people not already in the choir, I suggest we learn how to speak playfully.

That means giving up intensity and needing to be right. There are so many levels to that. Speaking to be real, not right — it seems paradoxical. Nonetheless, I recommend learning to speak playfully if you want to speak about changing the world.

Robert Rabbin’s training

4 thoughts on “It’s Okay to Improve. Meet Robert Rabbin.

  1. David Hodges

    Thanks for posting this. As someone who is called on to give talks before audiences from time to time, I found this helpful. “Speaking to be real, not right” – well said. And these ten words: “Be Present. Pay Attention. Listen Deeply. Speak Truthfully. Act Creatively” – very succinct and helpful.


  2. Robert Rabbin

    Hi Jerry: thank you for that very entertaining post! For the record, I am heartily in favor of the word “improvement.” In terms of public speaking, I talk of improving, or increasing, one’s effectiveness. Being effective, as in producing an effect, is very important in speaking. We’ve got to develop our skills in order to improve our effectiveness.

    If any of your readers doubt the validity of the word improve, let them go to a dentist who didn’t graduate dentistry school!

    In conclusion, I’d like to mention that an “edited” version of my article is available on my Blog: .

    With respect,

    Robert Rabbin


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