Speaking Mindfully

Many people don’t realize that their noisy environment doesn’t mean that the person on the other end of their phone line can’t hear them; hence, people’s tendency to shout while talking on cell phones. Next, there’s the matter of subject content. Some folks are under the impression that the minute they whip out their cell phone, a magical, sound-proofed phone booth somehow materializes around them – at least I hope that’s what they imagine, because I can’t imagine any other viable reason for loud, public discussions, on buses, in the realms of phone sex; angry break-ups; and discussions with health care providers in which riders discuss their medical diagnoses, as well as provide contact information and social security numbers.

These experiences have caused me to reflect, deeply, on my own speech habits. I have never been one to broadcast my dissatisfaction on the bus, but I realized that I, too, had some work to do in the area of ‘right’ or mindful speech. An academic by profession, I enjoy challenging, artful, well-articulated discussion. But once I left the academic arena, I learned that one cannot reason with unreasonable people. Additionally, people who resent the advantages you’ve enjoyed will simply tune you out because they believe you think you’re their “better,” either because you do, or because if they’d had your advantages, that’s how they’d think, so they imagine that that’s how you think…

Though I am a practicing Buddhist, I was raised in the Christian tradition. So, I am constantly reminded that wisdom is wisdom. Just as Christianity teaches that the Christ is in us all, so Buddhism teaches that we are all [b]uddhas. Problematically, it’s much easier to see the differences inherent in these beliefs than the commonalities. Recently, while riding the bus, I heard a woman traverse through a series of cell phone conversations about her faith in Jesus, and then yet another discussion in which she told her “ex” that he’s a “piece of sh*t,” should “drop dead,” and “leave her the f**k alone.” Spontaneously, a Bible verse I’d learned, long ago, about the tongue, which hadn’t really impacted me as a Christian, but has recently aided me in my Buddhist practice of mindful speech, reentered my consciousness; namely, James 3:9-12.

9With it [the tongue] we bless our Lord and Father, and with it we curse men, who have been made in the likeness of God; 10from the same mouth come both  blessing and cursing. My brethren, these things ought not to be this way. 11Does a fountain send out from the same opening  both  fresh and bitter water? 12Can a fig tree, my brethren, produce olives, or a vine produce figs? Nor can salt water produce fresh.

Whether or not we know or care, people are  listening  to us. It makes no sense that the tongue chanting or praying in the morning is the same one arguing, damning, and gossiping the rest of the day. Everything we say speaks of, or points towards our “opening,” i.e., source. Is that  source bitter or fresh? Just as some believers’ “God” literally ‘spoke’ this world into existence, so, too, do I literally speak into being the conditions of my own existence, on a daily, moment-by-moment basis.