February 4, 2012
Affirmation: I am committed to cultivating loving speech and deep listening.
What do you like to talk about? What topics make you sit up and get interested in the conversation? I remember the first time I heard the phrase, “If you don’t have anything nice to say, come sit here by me.” It was in the movie Steel Magnolias and it was spoken by Olympia Dukakis. It’s a famous quote from Alice Roosevelt Longworth (1884-1980) who actually said, “”If you haven’t got anything nice to say about anybody, come sit next to me.” All I can say about that is I hope I’m remembered for saying something more along the lines of John Lennon, “Let’s Give Peace a Chance” or for something like the above affirmation, “I am committed to cultivating loving speech and deep listening” by Tich Nhat Hanh as written in Coming Home.
When I heard those words in Steel Magnolia I was shocked. I was so surprised that someone so openly relished talking badly about another. I don’t know why I felt that way. I think most of the people in my life make an effort to be kind to and about one another. Sure, there’s the occasional slip but I don’t I have a lot of people in my life who talk maliciously about others. I must confess that I can be guilty, guilty, guilty about getting caught up in the conversation when it becomes “gossipy.” I can be very curious about what they have to say and there have been times in my life when I have had a tough time with someone and felt a desperate need to share the experience with another, all from my slanted point of view.
Is it alright to talk about others? Do you think it’s OK to tell tales about people? When you begin talking about another is there a way to do it with love and kindness even when they have injured you? When I am wounded or slighted, I usually seek support from loved ones by telling my story. It’s not usually just the facts. It’s usually about my emotional reactions. Most of us need to seek comfort from others when we have a difficult experience. We need to tell our story but we get to choose how we tell it. Do we tear down and berate the other or do we do it with kindness and gentleness, even towards our enemies?
I am very judgmental about judgmental people. When someone in my life has a tendency to label people as “good or bad”, “nice or mean”, or as “someone they like a lot” which means there are others they don’t like at all; I find myself recoiling from them. It seems to me if they are going around judging everyone else, they must have a very definitive opinion about me and I become very leery.
Many years ago I hired a young person to help me do some painting around the house. In the process I needed to empty out my closet and I was somewhat embarrassed by the number of shoes I owned. I mentioned it to him adding an apology and he stopped me before I even got all the words out. “I’m not here to judge anyone.” I’m not here to judge ANYONE! Yes, I would like to claim that as a character trait. I do affirm “I love unconditionally, non-judgmentally and non graspingly.” It’s an intention I’ve set for those who are close to me in my life but when it comes to the rest of the world, can I be non-judgmental? Probably not, but, I can try. The truth is I seldom have the whole picture. I only have that little piece that I can see.
I belong to a gym that has a huge senior population. When I was there this week, there was a new plaque on an easel and I stopped to check it out. It was a photo of a plane from WWII with a huge hole in the right wing. Framed with it was a thank you from one of the members, Hal Shook, for the service of the people who work at our gym and an award, The Legion of Honor, that he received in 2011 more than sixty years after the end of the war. He had sent it to the facility as a token of his gratitude. After I viewed the framed presentation I found myself wondering about all those people I usually see there. I began to wonder about what I’ve been missing by not getting to know some of these individuals. I am sure this gentleman is not the only hero that’s walking around that gym. I wonder if I were to see him, what sort of judgment would I form? I would not have even guessed at his honorary past. Why then should I judge at all? My job is simply to observe.
In Kripalu Yoga they incorporate BRFWA into their practice. It means we “breathe, relax, feel, watch, and allow.” Nowhere does it tell me I need to judge my practice or myself. The other lesson is not to make Yoga into a completive sport. “Stay on your mat; don’t go invading someone else’s practice, watching them and comparing yourself to them”. These are the same lessons we can take with us into the world.
I actually think the affirmation should be, “I am committed to cultivating loving thoughts and deep listening.” Maybe if I worked on that regularly, the loving speech would simply become second nature.