The way you practice yoga, think and speak can heal our world.
A few weeks ago, in part one of Healing Our World blog series, I explained how yoga is not a self-centered practice. (Here is a link to that blog in case you missed it) The goal of yoga is to discover the inter-relatedness of our universe. I have mentioned that the process of finding universality starts with ‘inward gazing’, but the goal is not to get stuck on the inner-centeredness. Via a few examples, I demonstrated how by mindfully listening to our thoughts we can recognize our conceptions of reality. This leads to curiosity, empathy, and open-mindedness.
Though this is a simple concept, it is by no means an easy one to practice. Most of our life is made up of conditioned, habitual thoughts and actions. We are so often in our routine that we don’t even recognize how much our thoughts are running on an auto-pilot. We operate most of our life in a semi-conscious state. Our reactions to the situation have evolved over our lifetime to a point that we don’t even recognize that we mostly react in a knee-jerk fashion to most dilemmas in our life. We have little awareness to how our mind functions; how we reach conclusions, decisions, and opinions.
Mindfulness practice sheds light on our habitual ways. Through mindfulness we actually become free. Free will is something that we take for granted, we think we have free will, but it is not so. Free will is something that needs to be practiced, that needs to be developed. Without mindfulness practice, we are prisoners of our conditioned identity and opinions.
You may ask, how can I practice mindfulness if I am so habituated into thinking who I am? How do I stop regurgitating the thoughts that I already have? How do we break the circle of habit? Thankfully our wisdom literature has enabled us with many ways to cultivate freedom.
To quote the book of Proverbs: “Thoughtless words cut like a sword. But the tongue of the wise brings healing.” In the East, Buddha also focused on speech as one of the most important elements towards cultivating mindfulness. It is simple to see why, since thoughts arise in the mind in the form of words. Words create our inner dialogue, our inner world, our inner experience. Dialogue with others is simply a louder form of our inner communication. Thus it makes sense to watch words if we are cultivating awareness. When I teach yoga, I say it over and over again, the pose is not the goal, the pose provides a physical challenge, yoga is the act of watching how you respond to the challenge. Yoga is not the pose but the awareness of your world through poses. What I am encouraging while teaching you yoga asanas is an acute awareness of your inner dialogue. My goal is that with practice your relationship with yourself and to the world will become more peaceful, loving and patient. Buddha referred to the wholesome speech as words that are truthful, compassionate, gentle and edifying. If you can channel an inner dialogue during your yoga practice that is more truthful, compassionate and gentle, with time you will use these same concepts to relate to stressful situations off your yoga mat as well.
I want to challenge your inner awareness, this is why I often say there is no “good or bad” the real question is; “Are your thoughts beneficial to what is happening right now? What is the purpose of your thoughts? How do your words make you feel, and something that is very hard to answer but I ask anyway, why do you think you are thinking these thoughts right now?” What I am hoping is that my students recognize their ways of thinking and self-correct over time to create what Buddha called a more wholesome speech. I believe if we ask a lot of questions and stay open to the inquiry we all find our way to wholesome speech.
Above I mentioned that Buddha considered wholesome speech to be truthful, compassionate, gentle and edifying. So let’s examine these concepts since it will help with our practice of mindfulness. Truthful speech seems self-explanatory, except our conception of truth is a conditioned thought as well. Thus for truthful speech we must always acknowledge what we do not know. If you are willing to walk into self-questioning and face what you don’t know about any given situation, you may find more space for truth to emerge without assumptions. This requires a willingness to face the unknown, a willingness to let go of control.
Compassionate speech is not the same as ‘being nice’. ‘Being nice’ has nothing to do with compassion or sadly with being nice… Often being nice is a vail of untruth, a way to not deal, a way to play status quo. Compassionate speech is one that is true but also timely in a way that it actually benefits the listener. The listener may need to hear a truth that is not easy to hear, but it needs to be delivered to protect from future harm. Compassionate speech requires us to recognize when it is the right time to speak what we feel must be expressed. The time has to be appropriate for the listener not for the speaker.
Gentle speech avoids what Buddha called ‘Malicious’ or ‘Harsh’ Speech. Malicious speech may be true or untrue, but it is intended to harm, harsh speech is simply harmful but without the intent. You may right away recognize that from the listener’s perspective there is not much difference. I am sad to notice that with the advent of technology our world has adopted harsher and harsher language. The fabric of our society also lost many formalities, some for the better, some for the worse. Whatever the cause may be, our language has become harsher. Distance, the anonymity of the internet for certain adds to this phenomenon since it allows the speaker to avoid the consequences of Harsh Speech that show no regard for the feelings of others.
Edifying speech is a fancy term that Buddhist use to describe fillers such as gossip, chit-chat, idle chatter, jabber, you get the idea. Though this relaxed mode of communication does serve as a bond in our community, it can also be harmful. So to make edifying speech wholesome one must always ask the question: “Does this serve a constructive purpose?” I trust, the second you actually take a moment to answer that question in your mind, before you speak, you will know whether your chit-chat is healthy.
To conclude mindful thinking and speaking requires you to slow down. You get out of the habit of your usual ways of thinking and speaking by careful examination. Breathing will help with this process. If you insert a breath after each thought or before you are about to speak and examine your thought, you will start building mindfulness. Make sure though not to turn your self-examination into self-criticism. We all practice unwholesome speech if we wouldn’t we would not be human; we would be enlightened like Buddha. Instead, have fun with self-questioning. Use terms such as; here I go being harsh with myself… here I go assuming such and such, oh I just gossiped, and I know I did it because it felt good to be part of this group. Over time you will recognize your old thought system that created your identity and you will be on your way of setting up a new one that will create a new one and so forth. Awareness carries the seed for change, acceptance of change and acceptance of the transient nature of the universe.
So when you think to yourself ask:
Why do I think this? Is it true? Am I assuming something? Am I benefiting my emotional and physical being with these thoughts? Are these ideas have to do anything with the present moment? Are my thoughts creating actions that are beneficial and effective?
And before you speak ask yourself:
Why do I want to say this? Do I know everything or am I making assumptions, in which case I should be asking questions before stating anything? How will my statement benefit the listener? Am I causing harm to anybody? Can I be compassionate about a potentially hurtful statement and is it necessary? Is what I am going to say helps the inter-connectedness and peaceful coexistence of our universe?
Oh, I know it is a lot. I don’t get it right all the time. You will not get it right all the time either. But imagine the world where our media, our politicians, our friends, family, and co-workers are all doing their best to breathe more and self-examine more. Imagine the world where we all do our best to practice wholesome speech… – It Could Heal Our World
Other avenues to learn mindfulness: