By Jonathan Borella
The Fourth Mindfulness Training: Loving Speech and Deep Listening
Aware of the suffering caused by unmindful speech and the inability to listen to others, I am committed to cultivating loving speech and compassionate listening in order to relieve suffering and to promote reconciliation and peace in myself and among other people, ethnic and religious groups, and nations.
Knowing that words can create happiness or suffering, I am committed to speaking truthfully using words that inspire confidence, joy, and hope. When anger is manifesting in me, I am determined not to speak. I will practice mindful breathing and walking in order to recognize and to look deeply into my anger.
I know that the roots of anger can be found in my wrong perceptions and lack of understanding of the suffering in myself and in the other person.
I will speak and listen in a way that can help myself and the other person to transform suffering and see the way out of difficult situations. I am determined not to spread news that I do not know to be certain and not to utter words that can cause division or discord. I will practice Right Diligence to nourish my capacity for understanding, love, joy, and inclusiveness, and gradually transform anger, violence, and fear that lie deep in my consciousness.
The worst things I’ve ever said, I said to people I love. In my work, I often encounter people who are angry, frustrated, and impatient. They’re language is often harsh, accusatory, and prejudiced. Still, I am able to receive their energy, embrace and transform it, and offer my own words from a place of stability and calm. Historically, however, I’ve had a much more difficult time practicing this way with people whom are close to me. How is it that mindful speech comes naturally with complete strangers, yet our words with loved ones are so easily tainted with anger and irritation?
This phenomenon brings to light the role attachment plays in our relationships. My dad once told me, “I expect the best from you because I love you.” It took me a lot of deep looking to understand the truth and wisdom in that statement. Though, where there are attachments and expectations, there will also be unwholesome mental formations. Close relationships with other people naturally imply a certain set of expectations; that’s what makes them close relationships. We expect honesty from the people we trust – responsibility from the people we share resources with – kindness from the people to whom we make ourselves vulnerable. When our expectations aren’t met, as will eventually happen, our attachments are revealed and suffering ensues. When this suffering manifests, we have to be careful with our words.
The mindfulness training recommends that we practice mindful breathing and walking to look deeply into the roots of our anger. Looking deeply into our anger, we see what it is made of: love.
For several years, I watched someone I cared about spiral down a path of self-destruction. I was so angry. I cared for her very much and didn’t want her to suffer. When we are angered by unkind words spoken to us, its because we have a degree of love for ourselves. That anger is rooted in love is a transformative insight.
Knowing that anger is just an unskillful manifestation of love, we can have confidence in the training’s exhortation to not speak when angry because our words will likewise be unskillful. Instead, we hold our anger tenderly in awareness and ask, “What do I really care about here?” Gently contemplating this question as we practice mindful breathing and mindful walking will reveal the unmet need that prompted our anger. At this point, we may notice a feeling of sadness arise. This is the soft spot in our heart that anger was attempting to protect. Anger may redirect the pain, but it will not heal the wound. This misapprehension is the lack of understanding of the suffering in myself and in the other person discussed in the training.
Understanding comes when we embrace our anger and recognize that something we care about isn’t being cared for. Then, we shift our attention away from the angry thoughts and sense of ego-pride and to the soft spot in the heart, where dwells the love that inspired us to care in the first place. If we have the courage to linger here, soon even the feelings of sadness will calm down and we will have the insight, clarity, and stability we need to engage the situation with Loving Speech and Deep Listening.