Sunday, November 2nd – Wise & Mindful Speech, part 3

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:

  1. What does gossip feel like when you are gossiping?
  2. What do I think “necessary” speech actually means?
  3. 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?
  4. What does it feel like/what is my reactivity when someone gossips about me or speaks unnecessarily?
  5. If I catch myself before I gossip or waste words, what does it feel like to inhibit that way of speaking? Good? Bad? Mixed?

Sunday, October 26, 2014: R.A.I.N. Practice – Building Awareness

Hi Sangha!

This week we will continue our conversation about the RAIN practice. RAIN is an acronym for a meditation practice that helps support you in relating with difficult situations/emotions/mind-states. Last week we introduced the topic,  using the questions below. If you missed last week, consider these:

  1. Why do you want to face difficult emotions? It’s hard work after all!
  2. How do you do that? What does that look like? What kind of qualities of mind do you need to do that?

In answering those two questions, the steps of R.A.I.N. (it’s an acronym)  become rather self explanatory in terms of understanding why the tool is set up as it is. It’s a way of systematically building the capacity to open to what’s going on.

It stands for:

R – Recognize what’s going on, seeing what’s happening
A – Allow, opening to what’s here. Not necessarily liking it. But acknowledging it.
I – Investigate with kindness, become Intimate with what’s happening
N – Natural Presence/Non-Attachment/Non-Identification, the recognition that your sense of you is not limited by emotions/sensations/stories. the “N” represents more of the result of the practice, rather than intentional activity. You might relate to this as a sensation of spaciousness.

This tool, of course, is just a tool. It doesn’t mean that you should “deal with” everything in your life immediately. It doesn’t represent a magic bullet that will fix things. It’s meditation – that means it’s (a) a practice 🙂 , (b) needs to be understood in its full context. Learning this tool does not negate other conversations we’ve had about honouring when you need to take space from something (and watch the comedy channel for a bit).


Experiment with the R. and the A.

  • Recognize what’s going on, be curious, what does this feel like in the body? Being mindful to not get lost in story lines. when in doubt, stay in your body.
  • See if you can Allow it. As you recognize what’s there, you might also notice your judgements, your dislikes for what’s present. Try to acknowledge what you’re feeling. Offer a sense of “yes” or “I consent”. This doesn’t mean you like what’s here. But that you aren’t denying it’s presence.
  • Did you notice? You can do this practice with anything! Not just negative emotions. So just drop in, take a mindful breath, recognize and allow. Get familiar with these steps.
    • We can get really attached to positive emotions, like a safety blanket we don’t want to let go of. So they’re very fruitful to work with too!

Please remember, learning this tool is going to be most effective with things that are manageable to you. We don’t run around the block and think we can run a marathon, right? Same deal. Be patient. Be mindful of doubt. Be flexible with yourself.

If this practice is really jiving with you – there’s plenty of online resources. The teacher Tara Brach is where I am drawing from, for instance, check out the following link that includes a talk and guided meditation on Dharma Seed, by Tara.

See you Sunday!

Sunday, October 19, 2014: Balance in your practice

At Sangha we’ve been discussing the role of heart-practices, with a particular focus on how they balance the ‘wisdom’ or ‘concentration’ practices. Consider the following quote from Pema Chodron:

Most of us, consciously or unconsciously, would like meditation to be a chill-out session where we don’t have to relate to unpleasantness. Actually, a lot of people have the misunderstanding that this is what meditation is about. They believe meditation includes everything except that which feels bad. And if something does feel bad, you’re supposed to label it “thinking” and shove it away or hit it on the head with a mallet. When you feel even the slightest hint of panic that you’re about to feel or experience something unpleasant, you use the label “thinking” as a way to repress it, and you rush back to the object of meditation, hoping that you never have to go into this uncomfortable place.

The trick is… depending on the instructions given, the particular meditation practice you’ve set out to do you might actually need to label something “thinking” and return to your object of meditation. The subtlety comes from learning if you are repressing or letting go, and learning to know when that something  that’s come up is (regardless of the practice you’re doing) actually what you need to be making the focus of your meditation. For instance, consider our past conversations with the hindrances – sometimes some thought might be popping up because of restlessness, not because it’s particularly paramount/realistic that you solve your  grocery-list/dysfunctional-relationship-with-your-sister.

What goes hand in hand with learning when to (dis)engage, is being able to engage skillfully. To that end, we will spend the next few weeks learning about the practice called “RAIN” (an acronym for the four stages in the practice).

Recognize what is happening
Allow life to be just as it is
Investigate with kindness

This practice in this form is relatively new, and was designed to be accessable both in formal practice and daily life. This is how Tara Brach describes the practice,

RAIN directs our attention in a clear, systematic way that cuts through confusion and stress. The steps give us somewhere to turn in a painful moment, and as we call on them more regularly, they strengthen our capacity to come home to our deepest truth. Like the clear sky and clean air after a cooling rain, this mindfulness practice brings a new openness and calm to our daily lives.


RAIN directly deconditions the habitual ways in which you resist your moment-to-moment experience. It doesn’t matter whether you resist
“what is” by lashing out in anger, by having a cigarette, or by getting immersed in obsessive thinking. Your attempt to control the life within
and around you actually cuts you off from your own heart and from this living world. RAIN begins to undo these unconscious patterns as soon as we take the first step.

This week we will start with the first two steps.

To prepare for group, please:

  • Start investigating and  Recognize what is happening
    • When do you recognize a strong emotion?
    • How would you characterize a strong emotion?
    • Are you noting both physical and mental/emotional aspects of the experience?
  • Consider if you’re Allowing life to be just as it is
    • Try investigating the difference between “allowing”, “repressing”, and “putting up with”
    • If/when you feel able to allow something, what does that feel like? How would you describe that/explain how to do it again?
  • Finally – Please note an emotional experience and the context surrounding it from the week that you’re prepared to work with
    • Start small. As Shantideva says, “with little cares, we train ourselves to work with great adversity”. This is especially true when learning a new tool!
    • For instance, note a time you get irritated this week.