Cultivating Loving Speech and Deep Listening

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Thursday Evening “Silver Spring Community” Online Program
December 9, 2021, 7:00 to 8:45 pm

Friday Evening “Open-to-All” Online Program
December 10, 2021, 7:00 to 8:45 pm


Dear Still Water Friends,

This Thursday and Friday, we will turn our attention to the fourth of the Five Mindfulness Trainings, Loving Speech and Deep Listening:

Aware of the suffering caused by unmindful speech and the inability to listen to others, I am committed to cultivating loving speech and compassionate listening in order to relieve suffering and to promote reconciliation and peace in myself and among other people, ethnic and religious groups, and nations. Knowing that words can create happiness or suffering, I am committed to speaking truthfully using words that inspire confidence, joy, and hope. When anger is manifesting in me, I am determined not to speak. I will practice mindful breathing and walking in order to recognize and to look deeply into my anger. I know that the roots of anger can be found in my wrong perceptions and lack of understanding of the suffering in myself and in the other person. I will speak and listen in a way that can help myself and the other person to transform suffering and see the way out of difficult situations. I am determined not to spread news that I do not know to be certain and not to utter words that can cause division or discord. I will practice Right Diligence to nourish my capacity for understanding, love, joy, and inclusiveness, and gradually transform anger, violence, and fear that lie deep in my consciousness.

At a recent retreat for practitioners in the Plum Village tradition, I was asked to present introductory remarks to welcome the gathered community. The Fourth Mindfulness Training served as my guide. I sought to speak words that “inspire confidence, joy, and hope.” I felt this was especially important, as the retreat participants had experienced social divisions and injustices that has spanned generations. Thus, my aspiration was not only to create a container that would nourish joy, hope, and reconciliation, but also to avoid watering seeds of anger or despair that were very present and activated in many of the participants.

The initial feedback to my remarks was positive. Then a few days later, I received a heartfelt email from a participant. They expressed their perception that my remarks displayed a certain lack of awareness. With loving speech, they shared the individual and generational pain they had experienced due to that perceived lack of awareness, and recommended some materials to me so that I could expand my understanding.

My first reaction was to be taken aback and mortified that my mindfully chosen words had had an impact that was exactly contrary to my intention. The orientation of my habit energy was to offer an explanation and defend myself against what I perceived as a misperception on their part. Yet, as I practiced with the distress and defensiveness that was arising within me, I recalled this teaching of Thich Nhat Hahn, which is also rooted in the Fourth Mindfulness Training:

Deep listening is the kind of listening that can help relieve the suffering of another person. You can call it compassionate listening. You listen with only one purpose: to help him or her to empty his heart. Even if he says things that are full of wrong perceptions, full of bitterness, you are still capable of continuing to listen with compassion. Because you know that listening like that, you give that person a chance to suffer less. If you want to help him to correct his perception, you wait for another time. […] Deep listening helps us to recognize the existence of wrong perceptions in the other person and wrong perceptions in us. The other person has wrong perceptions about himself and about us. And we have wrong perceptions about ourselves and the other person…[Wrong perceptions] should be removed by deep listening, compassionate listening, and loving space. (From Oprah Talks to Thich Nhat Hanh.)

I recognized that I needed to water the seeds of understanding and spaciousness in myself. Only then could  transform my fears and aversions sufficiently to respond to the participant from a place of Deep Listening, rather than reactive defensiveness. By pausing to practice in this way, I was able to respond from a heart of true understanding with Loving Speech. I was also able to feel and express gratitude for their generosity in helping me expand my awareness.

When we study the Fourth Mindfulness Training, it is common to reduce the training to an imperative to “say nice things” or “speak with kindness.” However, for me, this training brings me to a greater insight of the power and insufficiency of speech. This insight can guide us to practice using speech that is purposeful and nourishing for the particular present moment in which we find ourselves. Changes in circumstances from moment to moment will affect whether our speech has the capacity to nourish or to harm. Sometimes what is called for in the moment is not speech at all but listening of a quality that offers our full presence. By practicing this way, we can grow this capacity and be better able to water seeds of peace and reconciliation within ourselves and others during moments of discord.

As we prepare for our practice together this week, I invite you to reflect on the Fourth Mindfulness with these questions:

  • How am I being invited to grow in awareness of when my speech is nourishing and purposeful, and when it is not?
  • What opportunities are arising for me to practice deep listening, especially with those who are “wrong”?
  • Where in my current practice are their invitations to recognize and transform perceptions or beliefs that contribute to divisiveness and discord?

Finally, please enjoy the practice  song, Watering Seeds of Joy, performed by Sister True Vow, Abbess of Blue Cliff Monastery’s White Crane Hamlet. The lyrics, offered below, remind us to water seeds of love and compassion in our own consciousness, so that we are less likely to water seeds of suffering in ourselves and others.

With kindness and compassion,

Lori Perine

Upcoming Still Water Special Events:

  • Online Book Talk with Kaira Jewel Lingo  — Saturday, December 11th, 4:30-6:00 pm
    The Still Water Mindfulness Practice Center is pleased to join with The Opening Heart Mindfulness Community and the Washington Mindfulness Community for a talk with Kaira Jewel Lingo on the release of her new book, We Were Made for These Times
  • Beginning 2022 with a New Year’s Day Walk and Celebration — Saturday, January 1st, 2022, 10:00 am – 12:00 pm.  You are warmly invited to join the Still Water community on New Year’s Day for a walk and celebration at the Audubon Naturalist Society’s Woodend Sanctuary. Friends and family are welcomed. However, because it is a wildlife sanctuary, dogs and other pets are not allowed in the sanctuary.
  • Transmission of the Five Mindfulness Trainings — Saturday, January 8th, 2022
    The Still Water Mindfulness Practice Center will again join with the Mindfulness Practice Center of Fairfax to transmit the Three Refuges and the Five Mindfulness Trainings. This year the transmission ceremony will take place online on Saturday, January 8th, 2022, beginning at 9:00 am and ending before noon (Eastern time).

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Watering Seeds Of Joy by Sister True Vow

My mother, my father they are in me
And when I look I see myself in them.
The Buddha, the Patriarchs, they are in me
And when I look I see myself in them.
I am a continuation of my mother and my father,
I am a continuation of all my blood ancestors.
It is my aspiration to preserve and continue to nourish
Seeds of goodness, seeds of skill, seeds of happiness
Which I have inherited.
It’s also my desire to recognize
The seeds of fear and suffering I have inherited,
And bit by bit, to transform them, transform them.

I am a continuation
Of the Buddha and the patriarchs,
I am a continuation of all my spiritual teachers.
It is my deep aspiration to preserve, develop and nourish
Seeds of understanding, seeds of love, seeds of freedom
Which they have transmitted to me.
In my daily life I also want to sow
Seeds of love and compassion
in my own consciousness
And in the hearts of other people.
I am determined not to water the seeds of
Craving, aversion and violence in me.
I am determined not to water the seeds of
Craving, aversion and violence in others.
With resolve and with compassion
I give rise to this aspiration:
May my practice be an offering of the heart.


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