I just sat down on the sofa in my living room, after having had a loud “discussion” with my teenage daughter. The argument wasn’t anything profound, simply whether she would be willing to drive her sister to a friend’s house using her own gas, which she has recently started paying for. As I sit here now, I can feel the wake of irritation in my body, and at the same time a wave of disappointment that I again forgot my intention to speak and listen mindfully. This intention has been at the forefront of my practice since August. It was then when I decided that I deeply longed to be able to speak to others in such a way that I could tell the truth with “words that inspire self-confidence, joy and hope” (from Thich Nhat Hanh’s translation of the 4th mindfulness training.) I’m pretty sure that what I just said to my daughter did not inspire self-confidence, joy or hope in her.
Each morning, when I first get up, I set an intention to be aware of what I am saying when I say it, so that I can speak and listen from my deepest values. It sounds easy, doesn’t it? Since I started this practice in August, I have remembered to set my intention every morning. But so far I have had maybe 10 occasions when I was able to be mindful of my speech while actually in a conversation. Not as easy as I thought. It’s like as soon as I open my mouth, I lose the connection with myself. That’s why I sometimes prefer writing email, because it gives me time to breathe and to connect with my inner Self before I communicate, and gives me a chance to double check my intentions.
My intention to speak mindfully grew out of my larger longing to contribute to the lives of other beings, to create peace and ease in others, as well as in myself. I feel this longing in a wider context, when I imagine how wonderful it would be for the whole world to be able to communicate mindfully, without the need for weapons of mass destruction, without the need for missile defense programs, and the like. In my deepest heart, I believe that such a world is possible, although from my own very small experiment in mindful speaking, I have a sense of the challenging nature of that possibility. If I can’t control myself from making rude or simply mindless comments to my own child, how much harder is it for an entire nation to speak peacefully to another nation?
Many spiritual activists have suggested that the place to start with peace is within ourselves. As Thich Nhat Hanh says, “Nonviolence and compassion are the foundations of a peace movement. If you don’t have enough peace and understanding and loving-kindness within yourself, your actions will not truly be for peace… The practice of deep listening should be directed towards oneself first.”
In an interview with Cyndi Lee (a mindful yoga teacher) in elephant journal, she says, “You start working for peace with your own mind and your own body… Whatever the issue is, you make peace with the body you have, make peace with the parents you have, with the talents you have and don’t have. Start with your own mind and body — make friends with yourself. The Dalai Lama said that because we all want to be happy, the seed for compassion for other people is naturally cultivated. First you have to get to know yourself.”
So while we hold the vision for world peace, we can begin by practicing with ourselves. The practice of yoga asana is a wonderful way to slow down enough to listen compassionately to ourselves and to witness the way that we are speaking to ourselves. If we don’t listen to our inner voices, and aren’t mindful when we speak to ourselves, we’re unlikely to communicate mindfully with our fellow students when we leave class.
This month, I invite you to join with me in the practice of mindful speaking and listening. We can start by noticing how we speak to ourselves and to others. And together we can challenge ourselves to speak the truth using words that inspire self-confidence, joy, and hope, in ourselves and in all beings. And we can trust that the ripples from our mindful communication will begin to bring more peace to our world. Most importantly, when we forget and speak harshly to ourselves and others (like I did with my daughter) we can use that opportunity as simply another bell of mindfulness reminding us to go back to our breath to find the support we need to practice mindful communication at the next opportunity.
If you (or anyone you know) are interested in sharing the practices of mindfulness and yoga with kids, I invite you to attend our Budding Yogis “Teaching Yoga to Kids” certification weekend, November 14-16. I am teaching with the amazing Linda Feldman, who directs the Budding Yogis kid’s program at Circle Yoga. Please click here for more information or to register.
a bow to you and your beautiful practice,