Sindhu of Flower Girl’s Rural India commented on my sense of my new found spaciousness. She said that she felt the same:

“I practice Silence “Mouna”

My dad used to practice this for a Mandala period, when he would be on complete silence….I am refraining from responding unless otherwise required. I have reduced responding nearly 70% to 75%. (I’m very talkative)

It has given me real inner peace.”

In 9 days I leave for Spirit Rock Meditation Center to do the last retreat of my Mindfulness Yoga and Meditation Training. While we can talk a bit during the yoga training, the rest of the time we are in silence. I can’t tell you how much I love that. But when I tell people that I’ve been on more than few silent retreats, even yoga teachers say, “no way could I do that.”

Those sentiments lead me to thinking about speech in general, but particularly the first principle of ethical conduct in Buddha’s Noble Eightfold Path which is RIGHT OR WISE SPEECH.

Silence makes people uncomfortable. I’m not a big talker to begin with, especially around people I don’t know, and that makes people uncomfortable.

We had to read Phillip Moffitt’s book Dancing With Life: Buddhist Insights for Finding Meaning and Joy in the Face of Suffering for this retreat (and I highly recommend this book.) When I read the chapter on Right Speech I kept nodding my head:

“The practice of right speech is built around meeting three conditions simultaneously:

Say only what is true and useful and timely. If any one of these criteria isn’t met, then silence is the wise form of speech. This is such a simple formula and easy to recall even in moments of strong emotion, but it is very hard to execute even under the best conditions, because the grasping mind corrupts speech faster than it does action….

You may not realize the aggressive nature of your speech until you try to make it a mindfulness practice….

Applying the filter of saying only what is useful is even harder. We live in a culture where ‘speaking your truth’ is promoted as a form of empowerment and good communication. Yet this is not the case if your words don’t provide useful information or better understanding….

Practicing right speech includes actively refraining from giving unsolicited opinions or stating your view when it serves no purpose….You also don’t use the truth as a weapon for making yourself look better in comparison to another, or to put others in their place…don’t use speech to satisfy your ego.

Right speech involves listening from the heart…you give full attention to the words of others and listen without judging, preparing a response, or comparing….

You may utilize right speech with others, but have violent, unsettling or crippling interior speech.”
(DWL, pp.233-236)

I am the first to admit that my mouth has gotten me into trouble over these many years. Not that I say malicious or hateful things to people, but I am outspoken and am guilty of giving unsolicited advice (especially about yoga.) But the longer I am on this Path, I am much more mindful of things I say. Believe me, I try, and intention and motivation are everything. I think before I open my mouth and if it serves no useful purpose then I usually keep my mouth shut (my friends might disagree with that but they can also keep their mouths shut…;)).

I also pay close attention to when I listen with an open heart. I notice whether I am fully present when someone is speaking to me. I notice whether my Ego is telling me “I wish they’d shut up….hey, I have to get some rice milk on the way home…I have to call….” I think you get the idea. I have heard the Dalai Lama admit that in meetings even he thinks “this is boring. I’m hungry. I want some tea.” True story.

Now with the internet and things like blogs and Facebook, it’s this Buddhist’s opinion that Right or Wise Speech is even more important. Right Speech also refers to the written word.

As bloggers many of us have dealt with trolls on our blogs, people who write nasty comments or argue with everything you write or insult your other readers. Useless.

As for emails I’m sure there is not one person reading this who has not regretted firing off a nasty response to someone and it’s come back to bite them in their yoga butt. I am very familiar with that one. I wrote an unflattering email about someone and sent it to the person I was writing about instead of to the person I had intended to send it — definitely the epitome of mindLESSness, not mindfulness. But I had the guts to own up to it and called the woman to apologize. I knew that this yoga teacher had said some untrue and nasty things about me before I wrote my email but two wrongs don’t make a right.

As for blogs, online newspapers, and Facebook and MySpace, we all know the things that are said publicly on those websites. Accusations, misrepresentations, insults, oneupsmanship, always having to get in the last word, you name it. We can agree to disagree but it’s good to remember to “say only what is true and useful and timely.” As I told my husband four years ago when he was not supportive of my going to India the first time, “if you have nothing positive to say then don’t say anything at all.”

One of my students told me about her 9 year old niece who she said was out of control ADD. She said that ever since the girl was born there has never been a moment of silence in her brother’s house, that a radio or TV is always playing, ever since this girl was one day old. I thought that supported Jon Kabat-Zinn’s belief in his book Coming To Our Senses that it is not the ADD child who is dysfunctional, the entire family is dysfunctional — we are an ADD nation. Think of all the people you see and know who are always texting, talking on a cell phone, or listening to their IPods non-stop. The thought of never being still or silent boggles my mind. We all know people who talk just for the sake of talking and end up saying nothing.

I am far from perfect and it will probably take me another lifetime or two to get over my penchant for sarcasm. I can certainly be the queen of yoga snark. I will always speak my truth but I’m definitely more mindful of what I say and how I say things. Intention and motivation are everything and each moment of mindfulness and awareness is a step closer to awakening. As Sarah Powers said in the last workshop I did with her, her favorite teachers are the ones who are also human as they teach and try to live the dharma. I am certainly human.

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6 thoughts on “shhhhh…..

  1. Mindfulness of speech is something that has been on my mind as of late; trying to practice it, including mindful listening. It’s hard sometimes. Seems like there are a lot of talkers in this world who keep going and going and going. Someday I plan to attend a silent meditation retreat. I hope you tell us about your training.


  2. this is a deeply meaning-full post and I thank you for sharing your thoughts…I so often open mouth and insert foot, something I find I avoid more if I talk less! I so enjoy your blog and somehow thought you had stopped blogging…I don’t know why and may be another case of mind-lessness on my part…anyway, I always leave here with a deep sense of peace..Namaste to you..


  3. Mouna is great. But its not easy to do. Especially if you have a large group of people together, where someone is always ready to let loose with some form of communication that can lead to breaking the silence.I agree about our ADD world. We absolutely have so much going on all the time (right now I have 7 tabs open in my browser) that when we are faced with silence, or ‘nothing to do’, we don’t like it. At my parents and sister’s places’ the TV is almost always on. My two year old niece already loves the Wiggles and a whole host of other kiddie shows. And she shows early interest in Nintendo, although she can’t play yet! Plus, she’s been fed chocolate already. I can’t tell you how much I disagree with children being fed sugar before they’ve learned how to eat their vegetables properly! Anyway, I digress. My Guru asks all of his students to cultivate quiet time, every week. Even if its for a day or half day. Just… time when you aren’t going to speak, and use that time to reflect on your inner workings.Its amazing how much more energy you have when you’re not blabbing all the time, just because you think you have to.


  4. Yep, Mouna is too tough to practice. We were brought up at home like that. We cannot talk loud or make noise. But I am little Tom boyish. Though I know the values of silence, I still want to experiment lots of things and know by myself. Sometimes it has led to lots of troubles but I know always, I can come back. This time, I owe again to my friend, a good samaritan, who make me realize how silence can be more louder than anything else. When I was losing my temper seeing all the nasty checks, I was reacting very badly.. very badly. But when I started to accept the fact that there are pples who take a ride when they get a chance, and let go the same way it come anonymous.. it relieved my pressure. I am cutting down things that can provoke me in the negative side and silence is the best thing to do that .. luv & peace


  5. RE: Sending e-mail to the subject of e-mail–I’ve done the same thing! Sent an e-mail about a landlord TO the landlord. It was quite unflattering, and while it was also true, I still felt HORRIBLE. I was trying to blow off steam, not be hurtful.I think I’m pretty good at giving someone my full attention, mostly because it seems like hardly anyone does that and it bothers me to be in a conversation, and the other person is fidgeting or having a quick side convo about the dessert and when I stop talking, they insist they were listening. It’s not that I’m trying to be a snot about it, it’s just that I feel stupid talking if I don’t think the other person is paying any attention, so I’ll just stop. I wish more people would give someone their undivided attention. I certainly strive to do that for others.RE: Speaking only when it’s “true and useful and timely”–wow. That is going to take some real work for me. I’m going to have to pick up that book.


  6. I thought about this post a lot and ended up writing a whole post about it myself, < HREF="" REL="nofollow">here<>. Too much to say just for a comment!


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