Truthfulness (with ourselves)

I undertake the training rule to abstain from false speech.

This is the most basic formulation of the guideline about speaking. Because the Buddha spoke about this topic often, and because his words were remembered, recorded and handed down (thank you), I’ll be spending some time on it.

Talking is a part of many of the activities we do, so the opportunity for reflection is pervasive. It occurs to me now that, with the exception of taking or refraining from intoxicants, we can break or keep the other four precepts with our speech alone: harming life (or not), taking what’s not offered (or not), or (mis)behaving sexually.

Truthfulness is a foundational virtue. If everything we said were true as far as we could know, we’d be well on the way to living a blameless and happy life.

I include our inner speech in this consideration, that is, our internal monologue. The way in which we talk to ourselves colors what we think, how we act, and how we interact with others, so that might be a good place to start.

What do I mean by our inner monologue? The voice or voices that we carry inside us. It could be the inner critic, or the inner cheerleader, or the commentator, who might be clear or confused, soothing or hostile. This inner voice pretty much always represents a particular point of view. We have mental habits that may become so familiar that we don’t even notice them anymore. Some people are naturally inclined to review experience as it happens with a positive slant. Others will habitually have a negative or sour take on what’s happening. It’s this inner voice that makes the same experience utterly different for each person involved. I remember being shocked at my father’s funeral at how different my siblings’ experiences of our early years were. It was as if we’d grown up in different households, and in a sense, we had. Our experience, as we re-create it in our minds, is unique. This is also why people respond differently to stories or movies. We put ourselves into the picture; we make everything we experience, even in a story set in another era and place, about me.

Nothing wrong with that, and until we’re enlightened, there’s not too much we can do about it. But we can start by noticing it, and maybe nudging the internal tone of voice away from the negative and towards at least the neutral, if not the positive. If you’re quiet enough, you can hear this internal chatter. Try to hear what it’s saying, and try to discern how it colors your world. Are the things your internal voice is saying true? Would someone else think they were true? Is another point of view possible?

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