It takes effort to refrain from the different forms of wrong speech. Depending on our inclinations, we may have the habit of rough speech, or of divisive gossip, or of nattering, meaningless speech. There are many forms of complaining (not to say whining) that make up a lot of our public, and perhaps private, discourse. What do our own words tell us about our attitude towards the world we live in?
Practicing right effort can help us. It starts with noticing — noticing when we are speaking carelessly, or when we’re tempted to speak harshly, or to wander into the realm of untruthfulness. We can also notice how good it feels to congratulate someone sincerely, to feel real joy for another person. Even compassion, if it’s not mixed with pity, can bring a peaceful feeling with it.
It’s also important to notice where our effort is directed – are we trying to avoid taking responsibility for our actions? Or are we seeking out ways to cultivate the wholesome? We each have a fundamental “home base” attitude that we start the day with. Have we embraced the possibility of abandoning the unwholesome and cultivating the wholesome, today?
To take up the practice of right effort, we have to acknowledge that we (still) harbor some unwholesome intentions. We also have to believe that it is possible to consciously change our habits. Lastly, it’s good to understand that an attitude of rigid rule-abiding is not going to get us where we want to go; black and white thinking will rarely allow for clear perceptions of life’s complexities and competing energies. In my experience (so far), the key is in re-directing our attention from “out there” to “in here”. What is the condition of our heart right now? Is there fear and dread, or an openness to what may come? Are we willing to remain in “don’t know” status until it becomes clear(er) what’s needed? For a naturally impatient person like myself, this is a daily exercise.
Right effort is also sometimes called right energy. Is our energy focused? And if so, on what? Keeping track of our words (external and internal) can give us an accurate guide to what directions our energy is taking.
The factors of the eight-fold path are:
1. Right View (of the ownership of action)
2. Right Intention (renunciation, goodwill, harmlessness)
3. Right Speech (truthful, harmonious, gentle, meaningful)
4. Right Action (non-harming, non-taking, good conduct in sensual matters)
5. Right Livelihood (legal, peaceful, honest, non-harming)
6. Right Effort (abandon the unwholesome, cultivate the wholesome)
7. Right Mindfulness (body, feeling, mind-states, dhammas)
8. Right Concentration (the four jhanas)