mindful speech

20150802_095818At the end of August, I returned to Denver for another long weekend at beautiful Orgyen Khamdroling, Anyen Rinpoche’s center. This was the second retreat in the Phowa: Dying with Confidence series I’m attending. Once again, I found the experience nourishing in unexpected ways. This time one of the pieces that resonated most with me was the importance of decreasing sensitivity in order to give rise to the mental spaciousness in which compassion and wisdom can grow.

The natural tendency of so many people, including myself, is to filter every interaction and experience through ego: what does this conversation tell me about how this person views me? How do my words add to or detract from the self-image I want to create? What do I need to do to make others understand that this negative situation is not my fault? How can I make sure that others know how much I’ve contributed to this positive situation? So much energy goes into the endless cycle of these thoughts. 

In the month or so since my return, I’ve been trying to be aware of my motivations before I speak. It’s been interesting to see how much of what I want to say is reactive, an attempt to prove or defend myself. At base, I want people to like me. I want them to know how hard I’m trying. I want credit for the things I do right and I want to avoid blame when things go wrong. I want the good opinions of others to make me feel good about myself. These are probably very common motivations for speech. But I can see how they are rooted in misguided attempts to protect my self. They reinforce habitual patterns that contribute mostly to my own suffering and the suffering of those around me. My inclination is to spend a lot of mental energy on saying something advantageous instead of speaking from my heart only that which is true, timely, and of benefit.

My mindfulness practice community has four principles to guide Dharma sharing:

  • We share from our hearts. We say what is true for us, what really matters. It may be helpful to imagine the words literally emerging from our hearts, from our center of being. Unless it is specifically requested, we do not advise, fix, or correct others.

  • We listen from our hearts. We give each other the gift of our full presence and of our compassion. We are attentive not just to the words, but to all of what is being shared. We listen to understand, affirm, and appreciate.

  • We are of lean expression. We say what is essential and try not to ramble, recognizing that others may wish to share.

  • We stay present. Sometimes we call this practicing spontaneity. If we are preparing what we have to say, we are not listening to others, and our sharing may abruptly change the energy of the conversation. We learn to trust that what needs to be said will be said.

These four are a succinct and beautiful rephrasing of the Buddhist exhortation to right speech. They are just as relevant outside of the meditation hall as within it. Even the most esoteric of my spiritual practices has these as a foundation.


How I Stay Tethered

I return to the story about the monk

who put everything he owned into a boat

and rowed it into the middle of the lake

and then sank it. He did not give the stuff away,

not wanting to burden anyone else

with things. I would like to take

a red canoe to the center of a lake

and sink it with these thoughts—

why should anyone else need to worry

the ways I have worried on behalf

of the world? My only fear is that

they would displace so much water

the lake would flood and who knows

how many might be hurt then. No, I think,

better to take them for a walk.

Oh those thoughts, like unruly puppies,

biting at my ankles and running off—

and isn’t it like me to call them back

or run after them, afraid they’ll get lost.

–  Rosemerry Wahtola Trommer, http://ahundredfallingveils.com/2015/09/15/how-i-stay-tethered/

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