Speaking Mindfully in the Midst of the Storm

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Dear Still Water Friends,

This Thursday evening, after our meditation period, we will recite together the Five Mindfulness Trainings and focus our discussion on the Fourth Training on 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 deep listening in order to bring joy and happiness to others and relieve others of their suffering.

Knowing that words can create happiness or suffering, I am committed to learning to speak truthfully, with words that inspire self-confidence, joy, and hope. I will not spread news that I do not know to be certain and will not criticize or condemn things of which I am not sure. I will refrain from uttering words that can cause division or discord, or that can cause the family or the community to break. I will make all efforts to reconcile and resolve all conflicts, however small.

Our discussion will be facilitated by David Martin-McCormick, who wishes to focus especially on mindful speech in highly emotional situations. How do we use mindful speech when we are already fired by anger or weighed down by sadness? Even in these situations, how do we find a way to build connections rather than push others away, or run away? Can you remember times when despite the emotions, you were able to find the rights words? And can you remember times when you failed to do so?

We hope you can be with us. An excerpt on anger and mindful speech by Thich Nhat Hanh is below.

Warm wishes,

Mitchell Ratner
Senior Teacher

Mindfulness of Ourselves – Mindfulness of Others
by Thich Nhat Hanh
excerpt from a talk delivered September 28, 2002
Peace Walk 2002, Memphis, Tennessee

There’s a seed of anger in every one of us. There is also a seed of fear, a seed of despair. And when the seed of anger manifests, we should know how to recognize it, how to embrace it, and how to bring [ourselves] relief. When the seed of fear manifests itself as energy in the upper level of our consciousness, we should be able to recognize it, to embrace it tenderly, and to transform it. And the agent of transformation and healing is called mindfulness.

When the seed of anger is watered, when the seed of fear is watered, whether by yourself or by another person or by the mass media–because the mass media in this country has watered a lot the seed of anger and fear in us–we should know how to recognize, embrace and bring relief to our anger and our fear.

So, when you recognize your anger, embrace your anger tenderly with that energy of mindfulness, it is called mindfulness of anger, mindfulness of despair, mindfulness of fear. We should be able to learn and help the young people to learn how to do it. It’s very important.

Mindfulness has the power, has the capacity of helping us to recognize what is there in the present moment. When anger is there, we recognize the fact that anger is there. When fear is there, we recognize the fact that fear is there. And the practice is not to fight, to suppress, but to recognize and to embrace.

The first function of mindfulness is to recognize what is there, positive or negative. The second function of mindfulness is to embrace it and to get deeply in touch with it. If it is a positive thing like a blue sky or the beautiful face of a child, that becomes something very nourishing, very healing for us. And if it is something negative, like hatred or fear, we should be able to embrace it and bring relief to it.
The third function of mindfulness is to help us look deeply into the nature of what is there; in this case, fear or anger. The nature of something means the root of that something: how this fear has been created; how this anger has manifested. Look deeply into the nature of our fear and our anger in order to see their true nature. When we understand, when we have insight into the nature of our fear and our anger, that insight will help transform our fear, our anger into positive energies.

Even if the other side says things that are full of wrong perceptions, blaming and judgment, you are still capable of listening with compassion. This is extremely important. And that is possible only with the practice of mindful breathing and the maintaining of compassion during the whole time of listening. We have to train ourselves for at least one week in order to be able to do it and to help our beloved one get relief.

When you are the person who speaks, you practice gentle speech, loving speech. You have the right, and you have a duty to tell the other group of people, the other person, what is in your heart. But you have to use the kind of language that can convey your feelings, that can convey your insights, your suffering to the other person; namely, the language of love and kindness.

If you do not use the language of love and kindness, then you touch off the energy of anger and hatred in the other person, and he or she will not be able to listen to you. That is why it is very important to practice loving speech, gentle speech. That is the subject of the fourth mindfulness training in the Buddhist tradition.