Mindfulness Yoga – Right Speech
Lecture Notes recorded on September 5, 2013
Have your ever had an experience when you said something and immediately you realized it was not a good thing to say? Sometimes this unskillful way of speaking creates small discomforts within the other person, sometimes it brings unamendable damage within a relationship.
Tonight we will focus on the Third Noble Eightfold Path – Right Speech, learn how to be more mindful with our speech. Speaking kindly helps us to cultivate a harmonious environment around us, so everyone including ourselves can benefit. On the other hand, wrong speech can cause us harm and bring in many problems.
When I was young, my father always wanted us to do well and work hard, he demanded quite a lot from us. I remember he often said to my mom, “You are so stupid! You can’t do anything well!” These words often made my mother cry. My mother believed she was stupid, and she worried a lot about making mistakes and suffered from self doubt for many years. It took her over two decades to heal herself from this damage.
If you think about it, one harmful sentence can create years of suffering within the other person. It is very important to be mindful of our speech, so that we create a better community and more loving relationships.
First of all, the “Right” of Right Speech is referred to wholesomeness as opposed to the “good” from “bad”. It is the kind of speech that can nourish the wholesome seeds within and around us. Right speech has four qualities:
1. They are always truthful
2. Uplifting – free from ill thinking or unkindness
3. Gentle – not too hard and not too soft
4. They are moderate – it’s neither useless nor meaningless
Let’s take a deeper look about each quality:
Speaking truthfully means to speak without discrimination, without our biased view, similar to speaking from the perspective of an honest reporter of an event. This is not easy because most of us see the world through our own filters.
For example, some people think this room is too big, some think this room is too small, some think this room is just right, but none of these descriptions can describe the real size of the room. It’s our filters (comes from our past experience) that influence how we see the room, but how we see the room does not reflect the reality of itself. Similar to using the Right Speech, we want to practice just reporting the facts, without adding anything more or leaving anything less (we will speak more about this later).
If you notice your speech is filled with discrimination, or you are saying something to put down others or ingratiate someone, then it is wrong speech. Notice our body language can also convey wrong speech. A shrung can say a lot, and this might cause harm to others.
Sometimes if speaking the truth will hurt others, then it is better to keep silent or wait until the right time to share. On the other hand, if keeping silent would convey a lie, then we must speak. For example, if keeping silent makes other have a wrong perception of the fact, then we need to speak the truth.
You can always reflect before you speak, “if I say this sentence now, is it going to bring wholesomeness within and around me?” This question will protect you from speaking mindfully, knowing when to speak and when to be silent. Timing is also very important. If you notice your friend is doing something unskillful and you want to convey the positive message, you have to wait until he or she is calm enough so that the message will be heard, otherwise you would only create more pain to your friend, not kindness and support. At this moment, you can ask yourself, “If I say this now, is it going to help the situation? Is it going to create hurtful feelings to the other person? Is it going to help the situation?” These question will give you the insight knowing whether you should speak or not.
Be aware of your words, notice whether they inspire hope, nourishe self confidence, or they put people down, leading others to feel unsupported and unloved?
Be mindful of saying “should”, “should not”, because these words enforce your values onto someone who is different from you. Forcing others (no matter how subtle it is) does not help anyone. Instead, you can use the word, “what if”, “consider the possibility”, “can” etc. The transformation has to come from the other person from within, not from ourselves, so we can only offer suggestions for our friends and let them make the decision for their own life.
Refrain from gossiping, even if it’s something that you know is truth. Because we see things from our own filters, different people can describe their own “truth” (forgetting some pieces of information and adding some), and in the end, it will still lead to a distortion of the truth itself.
Practice looking deeply into the intention behind your words. Sometimes we say something nice with the intention to want to be liked or to have others feeling gratitude towards you. By being mindful of our words, we practice speaking to uplift others rather to inflate our own egos.
Be aware of the choice of words and the tone of voice you use, just speak appropriately, to the point.
Be mindful to speak to the point and speak only to nourish the wholesome seeds within and around us. Most of the time we talk about meaningless things and they are not useful in our growth. Be aware of the jokes you use and see whether it causes discomfort or harm to others. Pay attention to your words to see if you tend to exaggerate or downplay the facts.
When I practice the Right Speech, I came across a few questions, “What if I come across an unfair situation and I feel mistreated, how can I share with my friends about my suffering and also practicing the Right Speech? How shall I share with my friends about the incident without engaging in gossips?”
The key is about sharing from your personal truth. Instead of saying so and so did this and you felt that he/she is mean, evil, and wrong, you can just share with your friend about how you felt in the incident, such as, “When I boss gave credit to my colleague instead of me, I felt being treated unfairly and unrecognized.” Also, when you share, examine your intention, do you just want to share your pain or do you deep down want others to stand on your side, be your alliance?
Also be mindful of whom you are sharing with, if you are sharing with a party with a conflict of interest, then you need to examine your intention whether you want to manipulate the situation (and being unfair to your boss) and play victim.
If you hear others gossiping, there are two things you can do:
1. End the conversation – maybe you can change the topic so that your friend can come back to the present moment
2. Discourage the people from speaking negatively
It’s important to edit your thinking before you put it in the form of a speech. Sometimes it’s better to be quiet rather than saying the wrong thing. It’s just as important to listen to yourself speak as you are speaking. Practice rehearsing your line before saying it out, and check whether it is true? Uplifting? Gentle? And moderate?
As we start practicing the Right Speech, sometimes you rehearse the line in your head and you know it’s not good to say it but the habitual energy is so strong that you end up spilling your thoughts out. That’s okay. Forgive yourself and try again. Slowly and slowly, it will be easier.
When you want to offer advice, check with your intention. Do you really want to help the person (does the person REALLY need your help? Has he/she asked for your help?) A good practice is to only offer advice when you are asked.
Lastly, when you notice your words are not skillful and you have caused harm to others, when you apologize, make sure you feel apologetic before you apologize to the other. Otherwise, your body language, your tone of voice, and your eyes do not express the Right Speech and this might cause more harm than good.
The practice of Right speech helps us spend more time to reflect on our thinking and our intention. The more we observe our unskillfulness, the more we can transform them, and the more we can understand others’ unskillfulness. Our understanding nourishes our love and kindness, and our words will come out with compassion.