My reasoning for focusing on the practice of mindful speech is due to its straightforwardness and its applicability. As I’m fond of saying, “You can be mindful of anything.” Speech is no exception. In addition, speech is one of the most common activities that we do every day. So, constantly working on being aware of our speech strengthens our ability to be mindful. Finally, speech is a powerful thing. It has the ability to express love and hate and everything in between. Mindful speech can be a powerful tool for creating more peace in the world.
from “DAY 185 – The Guiding Principles of Mindful Speech” by Ange Gunn
with a reference to Gil Fronsdal’s talk “Mindfulness of speaker part 4”
One of the hardest things to stay mindful of is our speech. The best starting point for being mindful of anything is on the cushion meditating. The more we sit and study our minds while in meditation the more aware we are of our internal states and how we are functioning in the world at that present moment.
When we are aware of our inner emotional landscape it’s easier for us to follow the path of our values and principles with awareness and care.
It can be overwhelming to figure out what needs to be done to be more mindful of our speech. Here are some principles Gil suggests practitioners follow while taking the path towards liberation:
– Avoid causing harm to yourself through your speech: Negative inner talk only creates a negative inner emotional landscape. Show as much compassion to yourself as you would towards others and watch your life begin to change for the better.
– Have compassion: Minimize the harm you do onto others through your speech. Ask yourself what it is like for other people who are subject to your speech. How would you feel if someone said the same thing to you? Put yourself in someone else’s shoes.
– Go beyond just coping: Maximize the good in your speech as you take steps towards awakening.
– Avoid lying: This is one of the five Buddhist precepts.
– Don’t engage in the following:
– slanderous speech: don’t speak badly about others
– harsh speech: don’t use profanities or language meant to shock
– gossip: don’t speak about others when they are not around, even if you are saying something good
– idle speech: don’t bore people with your speech or hog the conversation
Principles are a great rule sheet of things to do and not to do, however, there’s no point in following them without first asking ourselves the following questions:
How motivated are we to practice mindful speech?
Are we looking for liberation/ enlightenment?
Where does the practice of mindful speech fit into our lives?
What do we really want our lives to be about?
If we are motivated to practice, but then find ourselves gossiping idly on the phone to a friend before practicing mindful speech on the dog while doing our laundry, we may need to rethink whether we are truly motivated to practice mindful speech on the path towards liberation or simply because it seems like the ‘right thing to do’.
Don’t be afraid to consider the answers to these questions deeply. The one thing that always attracted me to Buddhismwas the fact that the Buddha told practitioners to question everything and work from a place of personal practice and experience rather that just what was expressed by teachers or found in Dharma books.
I’d love to say that I’m practicing the principles I outlined above, but to be honest I’m more likely to be on the phone gossiping with friends or speaking mindfully to my cat while doing laundry. I guess that means I should get working on the principles, but I guess the truth is that I have some answers to those questions to figure out first…
Although the reading is relatively general, this week I challenge you to pay attention to (i.e., be mindful of) two aspects of your speech: 1) gossip and 2) idleness or unnecessariness. For the purposes of our discussion, let’s use the author’s definitions from above with two alterations:
– gossip: don’t speak about others when they are not around, even if you are saying something good (here, let’s put the caveat that sometimes when you are at work or making plans, you need to say something about someone who isn’t there that’s not gossip).
– idle speech: don’t bore people with your speech or hog the conversation or use speech solely to make yourself feel better about silence.
As you go through the week, each night before you sleep, reflect on how you spoke during the day and make notes in your journals of 4 instances when you used your speech for gossip (or refrained) or your speech was unnecessary (or you refrained from unnecessary speech). Here are some specific questions to think about:
- What does gossip feel like when you are gossiping?
- What do I think “necessary” speech actually means?
- When I gossip or I prattle needlessly, what’s going on under the surface? Can I recognize a sense of “lack” fuelling the intentions behind my words?
- What does it feel like/what is my reactivity when someone gossips about me or speaks unnecessarily?
- If I catch myself before I gossip or waste words, what does it feel like to inhibit that way of speaking? Good? Bad? Mixed?