Updated: Sep 22, 2020
“Before you speak, ask yourself, is it kind, is it necessary, is it true, does it improve on the silence?”
-Sri Sathya Sai Baba
Communication is an inevitable part of life, as we know.
And the why and how we communicate can be just as important. There is the communication that we have with and through the self. This comes in the forms of our own personal self-talk and the way in which we express to others through our language style, tone, etc. When we communicate with others, there is also variation in the more overt or subtle qualities. We unconsciously (or sometimes consciously) communicate through body language, we could make a bold statement or merely a brief gesture that sometimes even holds the same weight. There are also the ways that we communicate through outside media such as art, music, writing, etc. The point it, we are constantly communicating in one form or another. There are so many dynamics and nuances within this human form of connection, and we are continually learning new tools for better communication.
Here is where mindfulness is greatly beneficial in communication. Have you ever said something in the heat of the moment to later look back and feel shocked or embarrassed? Of course…we all have right? We refer back to the interaction and identify what went wrong, how it could have been better handled, and question why it unfolded that way in the first place. Sound familiar to some extent? What we sometimes don’t acknowledge in the midst of our emotions is the presence of the breath, awareness of the body, and focus in the grounded connection that our body makes with the earth. When we’re wrapped up in a swirl of emotions or urgency to react, we can simply notice:
Where is my breath?
Where is my breath living in the body?
What is the quality of my breath?
What physical sensations are present: heat, tingling, expansion, and contraction?
Can I breath into a space that feels discomfort, pressure, intensity, and/or tension?
Where does my body connect with the earth?
Where can I locate a stable foundation within my body?
Can I feel into the triangles of my feet: ball of the big toe, little toe, and heel of the foot?
We can discover tools to be more compassionate in communication with others and ourselves and realize that presence and observance are largely helpful in enhanced communication. When we find ourselves negatively engaging in self-talk we can pause. When we notice this harmful pattern, we can observe the tone of the mind in order to shift our focus. We allow ourselves the space to notice so that we can feel into how that mental chatter is affecting our body, breath, and sensations. Once we are able to identify with what is present, we have the ability to choose to breath into love, understanding, or anything that opposes the negative mental tapes that keep playing over and over. We discover that on the other side of disempowering self-talk is gratitude for our talents, functioning body, and the gift of the present moment. We come back to the body and stand in a new power by slowing down, listening, observing, and shifting the habit.
As yogis, we strive to speak from the heart and practice mindful speech. Instead of filling the silence with added words and unintentional chatter that doesn’t feel authentic, we can more selectively choose when it feels necessary to communicate. Part of this practice lies in the mindfulness of observance as discussed prior. Instead of wasting words to simply fill space, we can tune into Satya and draw from the truth within us. In the Buddha’s Noble Eightfold Path, he introduced “Right Speech” as a component to mindful living. He described this practice as:
“Abstinence from false speech,
Abstinence from malicious speech,
Abstinence from harsh speech, and
Abstinence from idle chatter.”
Put simply, we are encouraged to not lie, not use speech in manners to create discord, not use hostile words or tones within our voice, and avoid gossip. Through these pillars of reminder, we are prompted to speak through truth and kindness in order to promote harmony. We are asked to communicate more gently, kindly and in a mindful way that makes our speech effective and purposeful. When we choose this type of mindful communication we make a commitment to the awareness of body, mind, and heart. We are more easily able to recognize what we say before we say it, and this allows us to come back home to our own freedom. We can look to the heart as our foundation for where speech can grow. Rather than cultivate moments of reactivity through anger, confusion, and other strong emotions, we can look to the heart as a compass towards love, empathy, and kindness. And over time we may notice that certain forms of communication create happiness, while others result in sadness.
Even though it would be great to adhere to this model perfectly, we are after all human. It is a comforting reminder that no one is perfect and we are all doing the best that we can with wherever we are. We are also taught that these “mistakes” are a critical part of our learning process. In order to understand the impact of lying, exaggeration, aggressive speech, pointless banter, etc., we will usually experience how these actions influence disruption in the mind, body, and heart. Our goal is to remove this tension and agitation so that we can more skillfully engage through kindness, peace, and right intention. And as we are on this journey together to learn, learn again, and learn some more, we can always remember the meditative act of pausing, noticing, and more mindfully responding through love and compassion.