Saying What We Really Mean

Saying What We Really Mean

Discussion date: Thu, Dec 08, 2011 at our weekly Thursday evening practice

Dear Still Water Friends,

The Fourth Mindfulness Training undertaken by the lay students of the historic Buddha was very simple: musavada veramini, "to abstain from false speech." In the "Cunda the Silversmith" sutra the Buddha explains what he meant by abstaining from false speech:

He speaks the truth, is devoted to the truth, reliable, worthy of confidence, not a deceiver of men. Being at a meeting, or amongst people, or in the midst of his relatives, or in a society, or in the king’s court, and called upon and asked as witness to tell what he knows, he answers, if he knows nothing: ‘I know nothing’, and if he knows, he answers: ‘I know’; if he has seen nothing, he answers: ‘I have seen nothing’, and if he has seen, he answers: ‘I have seen’. Thus he never knowingly speaks a lie, either for the sake of his own advantage, or for the sake of another person’s advantage, or for the sake of any advantage whatsoever. (Translation by Nyantiloka, The Words of the Buddha.)

Thich Nhat Hanh in his formulation of the Fourth Training expanded the training to include other elements of right speech, skillful communication, and emotional self-care:

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.

This Thursday evening, after our meditation period, we will recite together the Five Mindfulness Trainings and focus our discussion on the Fourth Training. We will start our discussion with an aspect of right speech that is implicit in both the Buddha’s and Thich Nhat Hanh’s formulations, but not emphasized: authenticity. Authentic speech is not just factually true, but honestly and openly conveys our feelings, emotions, needs, strengths, and vulnerabilities. Authentic speech encourages others to know us as we really are, to hear what we really mean. When we speak authentically, we open more channels of communications and nourish connection.

About five years ago, I took lessons from a voice teacher. One of the elements we worked on was putting more feeling, more texture into my spoken words. It was not easy for me. During one of our sessions I broke down in tears. I realized that growing up I disconnected from my words because I didn’t want to be known. There was no one I trusted to see into me and not hurt me. The speech patterns had persisted, even though as an adult I want to be known, want to create relationships of trust. Stephen Levine in his poem “Half Life” highlights the sense of isolation and distance that occurs when we are not able to express who we really are:

We walk through half our life

as if it were a fever dream

barely touching the ground

our eyes half open

our heart half closed.

Not half knowing who we are

we watch the ghost of us drift

from room to room

through friends and lovers

never quite as real as advertised.

Not saying half we mean

or meaning half we say

we dream ourselves

from birth to birth

seeking some true self.

Until the fever breaks

and the heart can not abide

a moment longer

as the rest of us awakens,

summoned from the dream,

not half caring for anything but love.

You are invited to join us this Thursday. We will start our discus ion on the Fourth Train ins with the question: What keeps from being fully embodied in our spoken words? What supports us?

Also, please note that on Saturday, January 7, 2012, the Still Water community will join with other mindfulness communities in the Washington area for a Five Mindfulness Training Transmission Ceremony. If you are, or might be, interested in taking one or more of the trainings through the Still Water Mindfulness Practice Center, please send an email to or let me (Mitchell) know in person. Even if you are not receiving the trainings this year, we invite you to attend the ceremony to nourish your seeds of spiritual commitment and to offer support to those who will be receiving the trainings. Details about the transmission ceremony, and the full text of the Five Mindfulness Trainings, are available on our web site,

Warm wishes,

Mitchell Ratner

Senior Teacher

Still Water Special Events in 2012. You Are Invited to Join Us

Register now or mark your calendar.

Celebrating the New Year, New Year’s Day Brunch, Saturday, January 1, in Silver Spring, Maryland

Transmission of the Five Mindfulness Trainings, Saturday, January 7, in Oakton, Virginia.

Still Water Arts of Buddhism Tour at the Freer Gallery, January 14, at the Smithsonian Institution’s Freer Gallery, Washington, DC.

A Calm Mind and a Joyful Heart: Introduction to Mindfulness Practice, February 6, at Crossings in Silver Spring, Maryland.

Smiling like a Buddha: A Ten-Session Mindfulness Meditation Class, February 13 – May 7, at Crossings in Silver Spring, Maryland.

Settling into Silence: Still Water Practice Retreat, February 17-19, at the Charter Hall Retreat Center, Perryville, Maryland.

in: Dharma Topics
Discussion Date: Thu, Dec 08, 2011


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