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Nourishing Right Speech: Wise Woman Discernment

Posted: October 31, 2010

Recently, I was working with a client who spoke for half an hour about her life before we went into the next step of the session. Every aspect of her life seemed filled with anger, sadness, resentment and bitterness. Everything was unfair and the more she talked the more I saw that her feeling that 'everything is unfair' became stronger, bigger, bolder. When I would interject with an idea to help her reframe the experiences she was talking about so that they might be more useful, she would immediately return to the negative talk, holding on tightly to the pattern.

I have worked with many people over the years, mostly women, and I have listened to countless personal stories, some deeply heartbreaking and others amazingly joyful. Most, a combination of both. I have noticed what makes some people thrive and what has others simply have the experience of surviving life. I have noticed that those who feed themselves nourishing thoughts and use nourishing words do well even in the most difficult of circumstances.

Many years ago I spent some time with a very wise crone. She was typically quiet, preferring solitude to company. She had very dark eyes, almost black and they held a great strength in them. It was a beautiful fall day and we sat outside folding laundry in front of her little house. I was talking about a worry of mine. Within a few minutes of listening to me, she stopped me with one finger to her lips and she 'ssshhhhhhed'. I stopped talking immediately, a bit startled. She said, 'Dear, you have to be more careful with talking this way. Creator is smart, but don't be so sure that the Creator knows the difference between your worries and your prayers. If the strength of the worry is as strong as a prayer or stronger, then you are in trouble.'

I felt an immediate hot flush of embarrassment and I must have been frowning because she laughed; a deep belly laugh. 'Don't look so scared. Just keep your mind and your words clean. Speak up when you need to but try not to use poisoned thinking and talking.'

I hadn't realized that my worries had been 'poisoned thinking and talking.' I'd been struggling with the actions of a person that I knew and I worried about the negative impact of her actions. That day, the wise woman's words led me to wonder about gossip also. I'd been part of a group of women who had two women in it who liked to gossip quite a bit. Their gossiping seemed to draw the rest of the group in like horrifying news draws in viewers to watch. I frequently found myself uncomfortable in the group and began to distance myself. I asked the wise woman about gossip.

'There is big danger with this kind of poison talk,' she nodded in agreement, folding a dish towel then placing it on top of the stack. 'This kind of person might lie. Maybe they are lying up here,' she tapped her head, 'and they think then it is ok to tell this lie to others because they don't know the truth,' she shrugged. 'Doesn't matter. This kind of person likes to make tea with a lot of honey so that no one can taste the bitter poison mixed in. The sweetness of the honey makes people want to drink and then it's too late. Be very careful when someone offers you this kind of tea. Don't drink it.' And she gave a quick 'phhhtwoooo!' - spit on the ground then looked at me to do the same.

In the Buddhist tradition, Right Speech is actually more than the idea of correct speech or not gossiping about another. It is the full expression of a true life practice. Right Speech is not separate from Right Livelihood or Right Action. It is interconnected to all aspects of the Eight-Fold Path, Right Mindfulness, Right View, Right Intention, Right Concentration and Right Effort.

We live in a time when what is on T.V. often supports and cultivates disharmony, sarcasm, hate and violence. No one on the sitcoms are ever happy and power, control and deceit seem to be the norm. Anger and violence in thought and action arise together and support one other. Kind words, thoughtful actions, right actions and clear intention also support each other.

It is sometimes challenging to always 'do the right thing' or 'say the right thing'. And yet, at every moment we have a choice in how we wish to be in this world. We have only the moment we are in - nothing more and nothing less, and, this life is rather short - ask any mother who has an 18 year old. It isn't human to deny the emotions that we have, but if we learn certain skills we can respond rather than react, observe rather than jump in too quickly. If we are mindful, we can make better choices so that we are nourished by the thoughts and words we choose.

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