Paul Klee - Heroic Roses

wise speech

We each find our own way in these challenging times. It helps to take good care of ourselves. Breathe. Meditate. Exercise. And connect with others.

Well, that was one hell of a week, last week!

The Kavanaugh hearings and political posturing. Thousands died from a massive tsunami in Indonesia. 1600 plus children were bused to an unregulated camp in the Texan desert with no access to education or communication. The UN published a landmark report on climate change telling us we have a little over 10 years before we cross a line into catastrophic climate change.

And those were just a few of many difficult to digest stories last week.

Many are still struggling to find a hand-hold while sliding down the face of a cliff of strong emotions and reactions, of fear, rage and despair.

We each find our own way in these challenging times. It helps to take good care of ourselves. Consider disconnecting our devices for a few hours each work day. Breathe. Meditate. Exercise. And connect with others.

But let’s be careful how we connect with others!

This week I am trying really hard to work with the fourth precept of ethical conduct. The Buddha called these precepts “The Five Gifts,” because by doing our best to live by them we give a precious gift to others and to ourselves – the priceless offering of safety, fearlessness, and kindness.

For me, the jury only took five minutes to deliberate — and their verdict is unanimous — I sincerely need to work on the fourth precept: wise speech!

Especially as I engage with others who may not share my feelings of outrage and despair over the events of last week.

I like the way mindfulness teacher Phillip Moffitt describes how to work with this fourth precept:

To the best of my ability, I will say what is true, useful, and timely, and practice deep listening such that both my speaking and listening reflects loving-kindness and compassion.

The Buddha was very clear about wise speech. In one sutta passage he urges folks to restrain themselves from false, malicious or harsh speech, as well as idle chatter and gossip.

Jack Kornfield elaborates:

In the vernacular this means not lying, not using speech in ways that create discord among people, not using swear words or a cynical, hostile or raised tone of voice, and not engaging in gossip. 

Re-framed in the positive, these guidelines urge us to say only what is true, to speak in ways that promote harmony among people, to use a tone of voice that is pleasing, kind, and gentle, and to speak mindfully in order that our speech is useful and purposeful. This is wise speech.

That’s a tall order (for me, anyway!)

Fortunately, it is also a mindfulness practice par excellence – meaning we can actually train ourselves to listen and speak from the heart.

For example, this week, while interacting with others, I am trying to consciously feel my breathing, relax any tightness in my body, and try not to concoct a response in my head while the other person is still talking.

You who practice know very well how mindfulness allows us to recognize what we are about to say before we say it. This is like hitting a secret pause button before responding. Mindfulness gives us the sacred freedom to choose wisely when to say something, which words to use, in what tone of voice, and to check that the words come from the heart.

Joseph Goldstein once commented he would like to change the name of wise speech “speech from the heart.”

Speaking and listening like this can be profoundly transformative.

Christine Longaker, a hospice worker, writes: “You must listen with your whole being, not just your ears.”

Thich Nhat Hanh calls this “deep listening.”

Joan Halifax calls this “listening from the heart.”

And let’s not forget the Quakers, who call this “devout listening.”

Sharon Salzberg adds that practicing with this fourth precept of “wise speech” (as it is often translated from the Pali language)

… nurtures that karma of joy, or serenity in truth, or integrity, so that our speech and our actions — our being in the world — manifests from the heart. It’s called sila in Sanskrit — uprightness of heart.

I will leave you this week with the words of Jack Kornfield:

Sila on one side means restraint, non-harming. On the other side, its positive dimension is loving, caring. My teacher Achan Chah used to love to talk about sila and the precepts. He would just light up, go on for hours, and be so happy talking about a virtuous heart.  

We hear so little about it in our culture, in our time, and yet it’s so important. It’s the foundation of any path with heart. And it’s beautiful. It’s like the heart gets cleansed by our true words, by our virtuous action. It makes our life upright and strong.

Wishing you all well as walk this “Path With Heart” together.

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