Speech - A Mindful Act
By Jim Pescud
An ancient story tells of a spiritual healer who is asked to pray for the recovery of a person who is very ill. The room they are in is crowded with relaitves and friends of the sick person. A man present scoffs at the reciting of prayers, stating that words had no power to heal. The healer says to the man, 'you are an ignorant fool, you know nothing of these things'. The man becomes enraged, his face flushes red and his whole body shakes with anger. The healer speaks again to the man, 'when a few words have the power to enrage your whole being, why should other words not have the power to heal?'
What we say and how we say it can deeply affect those we speak to and the way we speak also affects us as well.
The words we use to describe people we don't like or simply don't agree with, can be quite brutal at times. What effect does this have on your body and mind? I'm not just referring to stress levels here, I'm also talking about a hardening of our character. The use of judgmental, abusive and sarcastic words have become a part of everyday communication in our culture over recent decades. This can be seen in the print media, on 'talk back radio', in parliament, and especially on TV. In televsion 'sit coms' it is interesting to see this being played out as entertainment. In fact, what is being played out is separtaion and isolation, a 'me-versus-you' view of life.
We rarely consider how powerful speech can be. When we do, it is usually in retrospect, through the feeling of unease which sits in our body after we have spoken to someone in an unskillful way, or the feeling of lightness when we have spoken with kindness. Speech is such an everyday thing that we forget its power and its value.
When we speak, we are talking with another human being. But we can become complacent with this reality. We can stop seeing the person and only focus on the purpose, as we see it, of the conversation. So who are we then comunicating with and what is the source, the energy, of our communication? The person we are talking to can, in such an instance, be reduced to a role, a function, or even a conduit to meet our needs. We, of course, have an agenda, something we wish to acheive. But it is possible to communcate with the purpose of having our needs met, while at the same time having the other person in our awareness as a full person.
Another aspect of our communication is our views, our beliefs. Our views involve the person we are speaking with but they are also concerned with views and beliefs we hold regarding ourselves. We are often only partially aware, if aware at all, of the views and beliefs which drive our emotions, actions and speech. We may not like the way the other person is dressed, they may have a haircut we don't like, or have tattoos that we find off-putting, or they might look like someone we don't like. Any of these things can adversely affect how we talk to someone.
Our communication is also influenced by our attitude towards ourselves. We may have certain expectations as to how we 'should' be spoken to, and when these expectaions are not met we can establish a particular attitiude towards the other person which colours the rest of our dealings with them. If we have a feeling of low self worth, this can play itself out when we talk to other people. We might feel offended very quickly, righteous indignation sitting on our shoulder ever ready to spring into action.
We can play out various roles through our speech. By talking down to people we might gain a sense of superiority, or alternatively we can be the 'victim', playing this role again and again, only ever able to see the other person or the situation as the source of our suffering. We can in such situations feel justified in verbally attcking others, and this, for a short time, builds up our sense of self. But the feeling usually doesn't last long, and we can be left feeling deeply regretful for what we said and how we said it.
The fact is, we are usually unaware, or only partially aware, of the driving forces which shape our speech. Speech is a process, a process made from the psychological, emotional, and I would add the spiritual, components of others and ourselves. If our focus is on the outcome of our conversations, on us getting what we want, then we miss the conversation itself and all its various nuances. We are unaware of ourselves playing ourselves out through the vehicle of this conversation. And we are unaware that we are actually communicating with another human being. Yes, we know this at a superficial level, but not at the level of what it means to be a human being, not at the level of the heart and the spirit.
There is much talk these days about mindfulness. But what is mindfulness? It's just what I have been writing about here. it is being aware of what is happening for us at this very moment, what we are doing, saying, feeling, and how that is affecting others. If we aren't aware of the impulses behind what we say, then we are simply the product of them, and have very little control over the process.
Being mindful of our speech is a powerful way to get in touch with who we are. This can be a first step in taking conscious charge of our life. Through the act of being aware, unconscious habitual reactivity is replaced with conscious creative responses. When we come from a place of greater awareness, the strategic mind is less active and the heart has a greater part to play in our cognitions. This, I would say, is a more balanced way of being in the world, as opposed to the overly strategic and 'me' centred form of communicating which dominates our culture.
You don't need to be analysing yourself as you talk with someone. You simply need to keep in mind their humanity and regard them with a sense of kindness. The quality of the energy of kindness and compassion influences our tone of voice, and even the words we use, without us even being conscious of this happeniong. You can feel the results of this process in an openess and lightness in your body.
A practice - for the next week (more if you can, like forever) try to have as your first priority in any conversation, a sense of kindness towards the other person, and towards yourself. So we are focused on the process of our speech with a kind and generous heart, and less focussed on the outcome. For example, next time you're in a shop, take in the shop assistant as fully as you can, notice that they are breathing, just like you, know that they wish to be happy and don't wish to suffer, just like you. Try to keep in mind their humanity, speak with a sense of kindness towards them. Notice the tone of your speech to them, the words you use, your responses.
After your conversation, take a moment to be aware of how you feel, what your body feels like. Is there more space and lightness?
Don't become caught up in the outcomes of conversations. We may not get what we want, we might have been spoken to rudely. No matter what, we walk away knowing that we offered a gift, a gift of kindness, whether the other person was in a place to receive it or not. When you offer a gift of kindness to another, whatever the outcome, you also receive from this gift. You receive the kindness and generosity which you offer. Be attentive, be mindful and you will feel this gift. You will feel it in your body, in your whole being. It is light, spacious and relaxed. And if the other person was also able to receive this gift of kind speech from you, well, how wonderful is that!
Speech - A Mindful Act
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