Loving speech and Deep Listening Under Stressful Circumstances

Photo by Shawna Donaldson.

Loving speech and Deep Listening Under Stressful Circumstances

Discussion date: Thu, Jun 09, 2022 at our weekly Thursday evening practice

Thursday Evening Online Program

June 9, 2022, 7:00 to 8:45 pm Eastern Time


Dear Still Water Friends,

The heart of the Fourth Mindfulness Training cultivating loving speech and compassionate listening in order to relieve suffering and promote peace in ourselves and others in our lives. At times of high stress, it becomes even more important to practice this beautiful training so that we can balance out the intensity of the stress we carry with the tenderness of this practice. We, Eric and Shawna Donaldson, have been under the stress of moving out of state, and have had plenty of opportunities lately to work with this training.

This March, as Eric’s job began to consider bringing employees back into the office, it became apparent that he might be able to work remotely from outside the Washington DC metro area. This opened the possibility for us to move from Maryland to be closer to our grandchildren in Durham and Charlotte, North Carolina. We mentioned the moving plan to our neighbor, whom we planned to use as our realtor.

Our original plan was to move to the Charlotte area and to be settled by September 1. We planned to put our house on the market the first full weekend in June. Well, to make a long story short, our house sold before it was listed, and we had our closing date before the first weekend in June.

Suddenly, we found ourselves in a situation where our Maryland home was sold and we did not have a North Carolina home to move into. Our early attempts to purchase a house in a very hot Charlotte real estate market were unsuccessful — several very generous offers were not accepted. Fortunately, we had another offer accepted over the weekend, and we are moving quickly toward a closing date. We are scrambling to get out of our old home by June 23 and into our new home starting June 30 (if all goes well). With each step, we have been washed over with waves of stress, but with each breath we have embraced our practice of mindfulness, although certainly imperfectly at times!

One strategy that we have found helpful is to pause during times of heavy stress and acknowledge our larger purpose. It only takes calling to mind the smiling faces of our grandchildren — Mason, Liam, Romee, and Kendall — to help us remember that we are doing all of this because we choose to. It’s a good thing and we are grateful.

It has also helped to make the time to meditate regularly and to take notice of what we are feeling in our bodies and in our minds. It is amazing how stress alters our perceptions and our physiology. Making the time to take care of ourselves is the best possible way to help relieve stress and to cultivate loving speech and compassionate listening even when everything does not seem right.

In The Long Road Turns to Joy, Thich Nhat Hanh (Thay) writes about using walking meditation to calm himself during an especially stressful time:

In 1976, I went to the Gulf of Siam to help the boat people who were adrift at sea.  We hired three ships to rescue them and take them to a safe port.  Seven hundred people were on the ships adrift at sea when the Singapore authorities ordered me to leave the country and abandon all of them.  It was two o’clock in the morning and I had to leave within twenty-four hours.

I knew that if I could not find peace in that difficult moment, I would never find peace.  So I practiced walking meditation all night long in my small room.  At six o’clock, as the sun rose, a solution came to me!  If you panic, you will not know what to do.  But practicing breathing, smiling, and walking, a solution may present itself.

As Thay explains, oftentimes a stressful moment is just a mindful breath away from a more peaceful moment. Just the act of mindfully carrying a box across the room to organize its contents has been helpful. Through this process of being aware of the stress and moving along with it, we have become more skilled at giving ourselves compassion and then extending it to others around us.

This Thursday evening after our meditation period, we will recite the Five Mindfulness Trainings and our Dharma sharing will focus on the Fourth Mindfulness Training, Loving Speech and Deep Listening.

We will begin the Dharma discussion with these questions about our practice of the Fourth Mindfulness Training:

  • How do you experience practicing Loving Speech and Deep Listening during times of deep stress and during normal times?
  • What helps you manage your stress? What makes it more challenging?
  • Are there elements of the Fourth Mindfulness training that are particularly difficult for you?

Please join us.

The text of the Fourth Mindfulness Training is below.

Warm regards,

Eric and Shawna Donaldson

The Fourth Mindfulness Training
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 its roots, especially 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 release the 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 make daily efforts, in my speaking and listening, to nourish my capacity for understanding, love, joy, and inclusiveness, and gradually transform anger, violence, and fear that lie deep in my consciousness.


in: Dharma Topics
Discussion Date: Thu, Jun 09, 2022