Right speech with right effort

Or maybe: right effort regarding speech.

It occurred to me after the last post that we can get tangled up in the efforts we make to keep our speech wholesome and helpful. Like any of the Buddha’s instructions, it is easy to misunderstand them as imperatives instead of training rules. So, very specifically, if we notice that we have just done something unskillful with our speech, our first reaction is likely to be self-criticism, with a little sigh of “can’t help it”. Some people will even dose the self-criticism with something like “I’m hopeless at this, no way I can do it any better”, or worse, “I give up! It’s too hard!”.

This is for sure not what the Buddha meant for us to do with these instructions. Although it may not seem natural, he indicated that we should undertake the workings of our own minds and bodies as a STUDY, a field of learning.

It does take extra effort, especially if we have to first give ourselves a little beating; but we can investigate what just happened and look into its causes. What made me lose my temper and say things I didn’t really mean? What part of me felt under threat? Was my response based on the only possible interpretation of the circumstances? Did I speak in haste without understanding the situation?

Here’s a mundane example. When I swim at our local pool in the mornings, often there is a small group of women who stand at the end of the lanes and have a chat. Usually the chat covers the ends of three different lanes, not always next to each other, so it can be pretty loud. Many times I will start swimming while they are chatting and a half hour later, they are still chatting. Today I noticed that I was thinking, again, “why do they need to stand in the pool, clogging up the lanes and have this conversation? Why can’t they just go out to the lovely tables and chairs and continue? They could even get their cups of coffee right there.” Stroke, stroke, breathe, breathe.

There was the seed of a thought, “Could I ask them directly to move?” Well, no, especially since one of the regular chatterers is either a lease-holder or employee of the pool. But I kept looking in to my own desire to break up their party. I recognized it as aversion, and also as unnecessary aversion. They were really not obstructing anyone, and this might be their only social connection in a day, at least for some of them. So why did I feel like telling them to get into one lane rather than three? It had to do with ME being the one (very slightly) inconvenienced, with them not seeing ME and getting out of MY way. This may not be exactly it, but it comes pretty close.

So, what to do? In a public place, we have to give way to each other, to yield to each others’ needs. This is my (incomplete) lesson for today from investigating my impulse to speak unskilfully.

1 Comment

Filed under Speech

One response to “Right speech with right effort

  1. Susanne

    Great example. I think almost always my annoyance comes from not having things exactly as I would like them. I have been making it a habit for some time now of just keeping my mouth shut until I have examined the annoyance. That is unless it’s on the road, where I have a hard time not saying things like “you idiot”. Not to the other driver but just out loud in the car.

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