Has any person ever not had the thought, at one point or another, “Wow, I wish I hadn’t said that.”? Or felt remorse after sending an email? I think it’s a pretty common human experience to not always speak or write as wisely as we might like upon reflection. I know I’ve certainly had my fair share of regrets. One thing I’m hopefully learning to do right now is to reduce the opportunity to feel such shame and remorse. By cultivating awareness moment to moment, we can probably avoid saying the wrong thing. By asking ourselves whether what we have to say is 1) necessary and 2) beneficial before we say it, we also will end up speaking less but more meaningfully when we do. I know this is easier said than done, but I can think of few things more important in developing ourselves and our relationship with others.
Unfortunately, at one point I had the realization when reflecting on Right Speech, that I had written something critical about an organization on this blog. Being new to blogging, I wrote something for narrative effect without considering carefully that by putting it up on the Internet it was becoming something that was a permanently searchable archive that anyone with an Internet connection could access. The point at which I had this realization was on a meditation cushion in Burma, several weeks away from having access to a computer and web connection for editing purposes and months after the original post. So, if I had done damage, it was likely already done and a couple more weeks wouldn’t be the end of the world (or so I reasoned so as not to totally torture myself), but the reality is that even after removing the potentially defamatory words, the thought about this unwise action has come back to haunt me several times. I’ve learned a hard lesson and as such, it’s raised the question whether or not the Internet is an appropriate venue for communications of this sort, or for someone that’s trying to cultivate more skillful speech, at least when one feels still so unskillful…
This may therefore be a swan song post, but I will think about it and reconsider if I trust wisdom will prevail.
The Buddha thought speech was so important that he included it among both the moral precepts that every disciple, lay or ordained, follows, and he also included it in the Noble Eightfold Path – the means to end suffering. A lay person that takes an additional three precepts on as a lifetime practice, the ajiva atthamaka sila (not the training precepts or atthanga sila I observe as a yogi – for more info on the distinctions, see here) abides by them in an even stronger way. The elements of Right Speech are to refrain from false speech and to speak only truth; to abstain from engaging in malicious speech (i.e., slander); to abstain from engaging in harsh speech (i.e., profanity, etc.); and to abstain from engaging in frivolous, unnecessary and idle talk (i.e., small talk and gossip). Here at Shwe Oo Min, unlike most meditation centers, we are allowed to talk. We are neither encouraged nor discouraged by the teacher, but are strongly advised to speak only of Dhamma and our practice. Even when we do that though, it is so easy to fall into our personal story lines or to fall into habit patterns of wanting to be witty or funny and lose sight of what really matters.
Especially in the West, we spend our lives constructing a self identity, a charming personality and yet, as Sayadaw U Jotika, who also studied with U Tejaniya’s teacher Shwe Oo Min, says, the “I” is the single greatest burden we carry around in our lives. It is so much to deconstruct! Perhaps nowhere is it more apparent how we cling to a permanent idea of self than in the context of social networking (and blogs too…). The information we choose to share and the images we choose to represent us become so self-identified. The news articles, the interests, the avatars, the humor, the originality of our words we think all make us “me”. We spend so much time culling just the right stuff to formulate our persona on the Internet – something archived and in many ways static and so counter to reality where everything is constantly changing!
One thing I’ve realized through meditation is that most of the thinking we do is conceptual and a function of language. Words are great – they give shared meaning to common experiences and enable us to communicate with one another – but they are also very limiting, taking on individual bias and conditioning, and more important, creating a huge distance between the experiencer and that which is being experienced. We can rarely directly know what is happening because we form stories, based on past experience, of what a thought about an object means. So we end up with thought upon thought upon thought as opposed to experience. And if you think of this beyond the level of individual consciousness to universal consciousness (we are conditioned from the beginning of human existence, maybe even time!) it’s mind-blowing how trapped we really are by concept.
So, is it possible to take words both more seriously and more lightly? Knowing both their limits and their depth? Can we try to be more kind and less angry when we speak? Can we pause and think about what we are going to say first? Can we listen more attentively? Can we be more aware of everything that is happening as it happens, and better understand the complex emotional-mental-physical network that is our body and mind? Try it. See what happens.