Framing from the Heart

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Silver Spring, Maryland, Community Online on Thursday Evening
December 10, 7:00 to 8:45 pm
Open to all Online on Friday Evening
December 11, 7:00 to 8:45 pm

Dear Still Water Friends,

This morning I read editorials in two prominent national newspapers commenting on a nomination to a cabinet position in the in-coming Presidential administration. The first newspaper referred to the selection as an “identity pick” and decried the nominee’s lack of experience and expertise. The other newspaper cited the nominee’s “unorthodox background” for the position and referenced managerial experience in addition to ethnicity as advantageous characteristics.

I recognized that both newspapers were engaging in a type of communications framing. Framing, what we say and how we say it, is a concept from linguistics. Words evoke a phenomenon or body of knowledge. Repeated use of words related to a topic or in a certain context reinforce a worldview and system of values. For example, “identity pick” and “diversity pick” may refer to the same action, but are designed to reinforce differing sets of values related to that action.

Although extensively used in political discourse, framing is not unique to political communications. It is a characteristic of human communications. Different frames are invoked when we receive communications framed as a lesson, as feedback, or as criticism – even though the content of those communications may be largely the same. Cognitive scientists and linguists help us understand that use of frames, conscious and unconscious, strongly impacts the values, beliefs, and – ultimately – actions of individuals. They counsel awareness of what we say, how we say it, and what values we may be reinforcing with our communications.

In the Fourth Mindfulness Training, I see similar advice to be aware in our communications. It is an invitation to practice “framing from the heart.” When we frame from the heart, our communications are rooted in the insight of interbeing. We honor the Buddha nature in ourselves and others, and frame our communications in a way that relieves suffering and waters seeds of reconciliation.

According to traditional teachings, we can offer this heart-based frame by asking three key questions: Is my communication true? Is my communication beneficial? Will my communication be accepted? Only then should we speak.

As my understanding of the Fourth Mindfulness Training has evolved, several insights have come to inform my practice.

First, loving speech is not necessarily “nice” or comfortable, nor is it a call to be silent. It is respectful of our mutual humanity. In Peaceful Action, Open Heart, Thich Nhat Hanh writes:

You can be very firm and uncompromising, but you can still use loving speech. You don’t have to shout or become hostile to get your idea across. Loving speech can convey your feeling and idea to the other person in a way that they are able to hear it and take it in more fully.

Second, deep listening and loving speech are very much two sides of the same coin. It is difficult to speak in a way that another person can hear unless I am listening deeply to cultivate understanding of our shared suffering and joys.

Third, the same words presented with loving intent may be received differently at different times. The practice of deep listening helps me develop a sensibility to when the time may be “ripe” for a communication, as well as how to frame from the heart, so that communication is offered and received in a spirit of mutual benefit.

Finally, sometimes it is important to speak truth in love, even if the other person is not yet able to hear. Our practice is to lovingly water seeds, even when they are buried under deep suffering.

I have found that thinking about the training in relation to the Four Noble Truths can provide some practical structure to framing my communications from the heart. My mapping of the Four Noble Truths and the Fourth Mindfulness Training is offered below for your contemplation.

When we gather for practice this Thursday and Friday evenings, I invite you to consider how practicing with this training is currently manifesting in your life:

  • What beliefs, assumptions, or attachments do you encounter as you reflect on the teaching?
  • What do you notice about your body when you reflect upon this practice?
  • What aspects of this training excite or encourage you?
  • What discomforts or challenges you about this training?
  • Are there people or circumstances with whom it is easier or more difficult to practice loving speech, deep listening, or both?

I am looking forward to exploring these questions and more during our dharma sharing this week.

With gratitude,
Lori Perine

This Thursday and Friday evening’s program serves as one of the preparatory classes for practitioners who wish to formally receive the Five Mindfulness Trainings on January 2, 2021. More information about the classes and the transmission ceremony is available on the Still Water website.

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