Dear Still Water Friends,
Before I was a mindfulness practitioner, if you had asked me about right speech. I would have used words like honest, authentic, and real. In practice, what I meant was: if you irritated or frustrated me, I would let you know how angry and upset I was. It was the best I could do at that point in my life. Compared to other approaches I had used, such as passivity or passive aggression, it seemed to be an improvement.
Thich Nhat Hanh’s teachings, and especially his re-visioning of the Fourth Mindfulness Training, Loving Speech and Deep Listening, led my to rethink my “let the angry truth be told” communication strategy. I learned that my thoughts, words, and actions were my contributions to the world. It was good to be aware of the suffering they might cause to myself and others. The Fourth Mindfulness Training reads, in part:
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.
In the Heart of the Buddhist Teachings, Thich Nhat Hanh extends this responsibility to writers and artists:
We do not have the right just to express our own suffering if it brings suffering to others. Many books, poems, and songs take away our faith in life. Young people today curl up in bed with their Walkmen and listen to unwholesome music, songs that water seeds of great sadness and agitation in them. . . .. Film-makers, musicians, and writers need to practice Right Speech to help our society move again in the direction of peace, joy, and faith in the future.
How do we do that? How do we express our suffering without bringing suffering to others?
This Thursday evening, after our meditation period, we will recite the Five Mindfulness Trainings and focus our sharing on the fourth training. We will begin by reflecting on these questions:
- When has someone lovingly communicated their suffering to you?
- When have you lovingly communicated your suffering to someone else?
- What lessons have you learned?
- What lessons are you learning?
You are invited to join us.
The text of the Fourth Mindfulness Training is below, along with related excerpts by Brené Brown, Silvia Boorstein, and Thich Nhat Hanh.
You are also invited to join the Still Water community the weekend of Friday, February 20 to Sunday, February 22. for a Sharing Silence: Practice Retreat, at the Charter Hall Retreat Center, in Perryville, Maryland.
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.
Brené Brown on Blame and Accountability.
From her talk The Power of Vulnerability (It also occurs in an animated short.)
Here is what we know from the research. Blame is simply the discharging of discomfort and pain. It has an inverse relationship with accountability. Meaning, that people who blame a lot, seldom have the tenacity and grit to actually hold people accountable. Because we expend all of our energy raging for fifteen seconds and figuring out whose fault something is.
Accountability by definition is a vulnerable process. It means me calling you and saying: “Hey, my feelings were really hurt about this. … And talking. It is not blaming. Blaming is simply a way that we discharge anger. … And blaming is really corrosive in relationships. It is one of the reasons we miss our opportunities for empathy. Because when something happens, and we are hearing a story, we are not really listening. We are making the connections as quickly as we can about whose fault something was.
Silvia Boorstein on Delivering the Message Without Anger
From It’s Easier Than You Think: The Buddhist Way to Happiness
I think people are frightened that giving up arguing and fighting will make it impossible for them to communicate candidly. I love teaching people that if you deliver the message without anger, you can say anything you want to anybody in the world, both making your point and feeling heard. The message could include the fact that you feel or felt angry, but it need not be a current demonstration of that anger.
Thich Nhat Hanh On Mindfully Expression Our Suffering
From The Heart Of The Buddha’s Teaching: Transforming Suffering Into Peace, Joy, And Liberation
Sometimes, when there are blocks of suffering in us, they may manifest as speech (or actions) without going through the medium of thought. Our suffering has built up and can no longer be repressed, especially when we have not been practicing Right Mindfulness. Expressing our suffering can harm us and other people as well, but when we don’t practice Right Mindfulness, we may not know what is building up inside us. Then we say or write things we did not want to say, and we don’t know where our words came from. We had no intention of saying something that could hurt others, yet we say such words. We have every intention of saying only words that bring about reconciliation and forgiveness, but then we say something very unkind. To water seeds of peace in ourselves, we have to practice Right Mindfulness while walking, sitting, standing, and so on. With Right Mindfulness, we see clearly all of our thoughts and feelings and know whether this or that thought is harming or helping us. When our thoughts leave our mind in the form of speech, if Right Mindfulness continues to accompany them, we know what we are saying and whether it is useful or creating problems.
Deep listening is at the foundation of Right Speech. If we cannot listen mindfully, we cannot practice Right Speech. No matter what we say, it will not be mindful, because we’ll be speaking only our own ideas and not in response to the other person. In the Lotus Sutra, we are advised to look and listen with the eyes of compassion. Compassionate listening brings about healing. When someone listens to us this way, we feel some relief right away. A good therapist always practices deep, compassionate listening. We have to learn to do the same in order to heal the people we love and restore communication with them.
When communication is cut off, we all suffer. When no one listens to us or understands us, we become like a bomb ready to explode. Restoring communications is an urgent task. Sometimes only ten minutes of deep listening can transform us and bring a smile back to our lips. The Bodhisattva Kwan Yin is the one who hears the cries of the world. She has the quality of listening deeply, without judging or reacting. When we listen with our whole being, we can defuse a lot of bombs. If the other person feels that we are critical of what they are saying, their suffering will not be relieved. W hen psychotherapists practice Right Listening, their patients have the courage to say things they have never been able to tell anyone before. Deep listening nourishes both speaker and listener.